Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sweeping Motions

Something caught my attention today in my research about Jasper Johns. A google search of Racing Thoughts, the piece LaValle wrote about yesterday, led me to a description of a phenomenon that is a symptom of a psychotic disorder that people diagnosed with bipolar disorder sometimes get. They hear things quickly pulsing through their minds, things like words of a song or the grocery list etc. It is not voices, as in schizophrenia but is something else, termed “racing thoughts”, it can last for hours and seems painful. Johns’ use of words in title to describe his work led to a connection to Wittgenstein, a philosopher of the late 19th century who questioned the effects of language on people’s visual perceptions. One of W’s ideas is that you could prove that things are true or they are false, with no third alternative. He wanted to do this with ideas.Imagine a picture explaining an idea, no words necessary, this is what W was going for. Here is how he said to get there: if a landscape painter’s points on a canvas are not correlated with points in space the picture would not succeed to say anything, likewise no sentence constructed out of them would say anything. Therefore each would lack sense. But, if they were given the necessary correlations they would make sense and thus be true. Language is the same, if something threw a light on logic it ought to also throw a light on the structure of ordinary factual discourse. W questioned how language affected what people saw. He wanted to separate words from meaning and used art to describe this idea. The big plan, remember, was to do away with explanation. In 1961 Johns read these philosophical writings, He said
“Art should not come from the mind, but from the spark between the world and the eye that creates, according to Johns, "the final suggestion [that] has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement."
Then, in 1962, he painted Fool’s House, to reflect some of these theories Wittgenstein wrote about.

The broom hangs by a hinge. It was used to make the marks we see in the pattern, it was dipped in the paint that makes the painting that the broom made. My description is starting to sound like a children’s song lyric isn’t it? The broom is marking it’s own path, and words are used to label everything on the canvas from a cup hanging on a hook to a towel. Arrows are used, so we’re sure to associate the word with its object by use of this handy symbol. The piece is a diagram, like a bar graph or a pie chart of what is in the fools house. The fool must be Johns, to whom these items must have belonged. As one writer said of the piece, “The oversimplification and literalism of the works are rife with dead pan humor mixed with somber meditation on the meaning of things.”
The best part of all, for fools like me, is the fact that the Portland Art Museum has a print of this piece and will be displaying it in the upcoming show “Word and Image” which will be up this fall. Now you will be all brushed up when it gets here.

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