Picasso, British artists, and the mystery of artistic creativity
by Anton Jarrod
I was most fortunate to be able to view the exhibition at Tate Britain in London earlier today, “Picasso & Modern British Art”. It seemed to me that a good selection of various artists’ work was on show, which allowed one to regard the ways in which Picasso’s work inspired and anticipated some of the work of British artists, and how certain artists responded to some of the same artistic and aesthetic concerns, subjects and themes related to the experience of being human. Of course, there are always constraints of one kind or another, which sometimes means that exhibitions such as this one are not always complete, but, overall, from the ordinary perspective on such things, it was still a perfectly decent exhibition that provided an opportunity to see some fine works of the last century. However, I am quite sure that more competent individuals would be able to provide a more insightful critique than I could offer, so I will turn my attention to other things.
Thinking more generally about “artists” and the work they produce, especially as regards non-standard apprehension of non-standard disclosure, which is a subject about which I may be able to provide certain insights, it is interesting to consider such things as the experience of the artist, the work that is produced, and how that work relates to that experience. In short, it is useful to consider the mystery of artistic creativity, and what it can and cannot tell us about the apprehension of wider reality. Of course, and as I often (perhaps tiresomely) suggest, it is a very large subject; one cannot do it justice in such an informal article as this. Nevertheless, it may still prove beneficial to even a casual reflection, especially if it would lead the reader to something more complete.
If one considers for a moment the painting by Picasso titled Man with a Clarinet (1911-12), which was in the exhibition, and one considers particularly the process by which the painting came into being, which is to say the whole process by which a blank canvas becomes Man with a Clarinet, and which must in fact include all the realities on which such a process depends – biological, social, neurological, aesthetic, historical etc. – which may be simply referred to as Reality, one is compelled to consider the curious relation between such things as the physical eye and the sensation it affords, the artist’s perception, and the artist’s manipulation of physicality (hands, movement, paint etc.) to create the image. Indeed, even a full reflection upon these things must take its time. At some point, one may be led to consider, to a greater or lesser degree, the nature of the prior Reality on which the emerging or finished image depends, of which the painting is the result and to which it testifies. Of course, such a consideration is both ancient and perennial, and is dealt with in many of the older and more recent disciplines of enquiry; interested readers may readily find various kinds of treatment of the subject with minimal effort.
Although there are many different ideas, the standard position regarding the nature of that Reality might be summarized as follows: the artist, or indeed any individual, receives impressions of reality through sensation, such as through the physical eyes, which become the primary materials or the data that form the basis for the imaginary process. Through the individual’s interior mental processes, these data become reconfigured and transformed in a variety of ways, for example: as a completed, imaginary form, or as a distinct intention, or as something less distinct but which becomes more so, becomes “formed”, through the interactions of the artistic experience itself. What results is essentially and absolutely equal to what went in: every point of the final image can be traced back to some physical sensory experience. It cannot be any other way, for “where” else can the point come from, if “there” does not exist? Nothing can be added to the originally experienced sensations, for there is nothing additional: what appears to be added originally comes from and must be traced to prior experience through sensation. The aforementioned Reality is, and can be, nothing more than the one previously apprehended by the senses.
In this view, the human imagination is a transformatory device, which supports a continuum between input and output: fundamentally, nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, and all that occurs is a transformation. Originality can only be an apparent fact, mere appearance, and even the most radical transformation must be but superficiality. Indeed, what else can be going on if there is nothing but physical realities? The artist merely regurgitates prior experience into a different pattern, but the resulting configuration is not new, only different.
The standard view of imagination, as a faculty that can deal with nothing but that which comes through the physical senses, may still be entirely compatible with non-standard understandings of human capacity. In the non-standard view, ordinary imagination does indeed depend and operate upon physical sensation alone. However, there also exists the capacity to apprehend and sense independently of physical sensation. Here, one encounters that which may become added in the transformatory process of the artistic machine: something from a wider reality, inaccessible to physical sensation. The non-standard view understands that what is apprehended is exactly what is revealed, disclosed, to the inherent capacity by world disclosure; it is that which the individual cannot apprehend and obtain from physical sensation. The standard and non-standard understandings essentially differ through this assertion concerning human beings’ capacities to apprehend something independent of physical sensation. Here, one meets with the old dividing line, with those on the one side who say such a thing is possible, and those on the other who say it is not. Essentially, in the old language, it is the discussion of the possibility or impossibility of “revelation”.
Indeed, so much to say, but space and time are limited! Perhaps, as one returns to the painting by Picasso, and all the other work at the exhibition – and as one thinks about art in general – one might have just enough time to consider the following: if non-standard apprehension is impossible, as the standard view must logically assert, where is the originality in Picasso or any other artist? If there is originality, from where does it spring, given that it cannot be in transformation itself? How much of non-standard apprehension enters into the creation of those images, if such a thing is possible? What are the possibilities for art in the absence of the possibility of originality? What, then, of the artist, or any original thinker? If there is nothing but the regurgitation of physical sensation data, nothing but reconfiguration – not only in art but in all human production – how is development and evolution possible, or movement, which must, then, be illusory? Of course, one could say, “who cares?”, but one cannot ignore for too long that which may entirely undermine the very basis of being, life, reality and experience.
- Picasso and Modern British Art at Tate Britain (u4art.com)
- http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/picasso-modern-british-artp (Tate)
Image Source: http://www.bloomberg.com/image/iBvSyZkZhoJA.jpg