Art of the Day

1 Feb



Bread. by Jasper Johns (born 1930). Cast lead, sheet lead with polystyrene and paint relief, 1969. There are several versions, one of which belongs to the de Young museum of San Francisco and another to the National Gallery of Australia.

Observations from a blog called Seeing Absence:

American bread is like canvas – an essentially incomplete object. It’s light as air; its appearance nondescript, and its flavor, well, nonexistent. It exists only as a complement to something else. For a foreigner, tasting, seeing, or holding American bread is all about experiencing the various things it isn’t – absences. Individual preferences will flavor the absence. I, for example, think that the slice is missing butter and jam – and it may be peanut butter for you. The problem is that this is an art object, and modern art has been making conflicting claims about ordinary objects. One day we are to find wonder in the mundane. Then, wonder is declared pretentious and the ordinary is what it is – trite and ignored. Either way, as an art object, the seemingly incomplete bread is actually complete, and absence of jam or peanut butter is an erroneous projection of our minds. But my vision refuses to cooperate. I want the jam. Jasper Johns once said: “I’ve always considered myself a very literal artist.” Is absence of jam literal enough?

My comments:

Conceptual art is a kind of enigma in art history, and I’m not sure yet whether I wholeheartedly buy into it yet. I feel like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, for being truly 100% original in its creation, was great as conceptual art because it was one of the very first artworks that really questioned what is art, a question that still has yet to be answered and has only been made more complicated by contemporary artists. But after Duchamp, most conceptual artists have basically taken his idea and just applied it with slight variations to new artworks. 

I kind of feel like Johns’s work above isn’t really covering new conceptual territory. Is he not using the bread, which when stripped bare of condiment may have nothing really to it, as an allegory for the true nature of art? This true nature of art would say that, when stripped bare of its conventions (all the things we normally associate with art and art making, including the canvas, the paint, the landscapes, the nudes, the bowl of fruit, etc.), there is basically nothing left. Art is just life. Is this true? Are art and life one and the same? If so, then maybe the reason they are considered separately from everyday life is because we automatically change our state of mind to be receptive when staring at something we assume or perceive as “art”. Perhaps if we were in the state of mind that we take on when we’re trying to be open-minded about art, all of life would look like an artwork. I think you could make an argument for that. After all, artists source their subject matter from observation of the world around them; do they make things into art completely in their minds, or does nature help them out? 

As with all conceptual art, it’s impossible to know for sure if these were the questions Johns was hoping to provoke in viewers of this work. Maybe he had no particular goals in mind, and just wanted viewers to think at all, rather than have the passive, almost brain-dead reaction that many people have in front of paintings of flowers or children-these paintings are almost like junk food compared to Bread, which is healthy brain food.

One Response to “Art of the Day”

  1. tara February 2, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    Your comment smake me reflect on Martha Stewart magazine photography. her magazine elevated everyday things to high art and beauty. which makes me think that Martha actually did more to increase respect for home maker and the home “arts ” than the women of the “womens movement”

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