In an interview, I have forgotten where, Barnet Newman is asked what he wants with his paintings. This was long time ago and I don’t mean to propose that Newman is forever but his answer is still cool, or perhaps more sweet. He answers something in the direction: “You know I just want the paint on the canvas to be as beautiful as it is in bucket.” Personally I didn’t know he used buckets. Tubes would be favourable as that would keep the scale more modest. Modernists, omg.
In parentheses there’s for me something strange about this quote, something that has nothing to do with the words but rather that it feels really odd to consider a personal looking like Newman to say something so cute. Especially the older Newman, with a monocle, moustache and a lit cigarette. In my imagination somebody that looked very differently, somebody far less prominent or proud of him or herself, formulated that beautiful sentence or is it nonsense?
On the canvas whatever is there, whatever traces or not somebody has made on it, it cannot not be recognisable as something. It’s like with clouds if you look long enough they start to look like something. They certainly always look like clouds and that’s all great but then the shape of a dog appears or the three musketeers or, well it’s always something. What’s on the canvas is always something, this or that. It just can’t be… because even “I don’t know maybe it’s…” is already something. Probably this or probably that and when it is it is already a location, a position to which one can formulate a perspective, an articulation.
In the bucket however the paint is still untouched by probably this or that, it is all the possibly and all the not possibly. Even better it is also all that that is beyond what something can or not possibly be. The paint in the bucket is everything, perhaps one could even say that it is infinity. Not, really it’s after all paint and in a bucket in the studio of Barnet Newman, but still.
The moment the paint ends up on the canvas it passes from the realm of potentiality to the realm of possibility. To me it’s obvious that – that is potentiality – that Barnet Newman is referring to.
An impossible project certainly but – and it certainly had different implications in post-wwII New York – isn’t that exactly what painting or art in general must circulate around. Potentiality.
In recent years the proposal aesthetic experience has surfaced. Nothing new and one can wonder what it is? Something tells us that an aesthetic experience is different than other kinds of experience, but what is that? If aesthetic experience is the same as any other experience one could compare the experience of watching a Kippenberger and having an ice-cream. Having an ice-cream is also an experience, first or second time. If this was the case it would also not be any fundamental difference to stand in front of a “real” Kippenberger or a reproduction in a book, and each time the Kippenberger would be more or less equally excellent, good or bad, too this or that. Might there be something specific about aesthetic experience after all. Might it even be so that the same Kippenberger only generates aesthetic experience once and only in a certain individual? If so we would have to consider that aesthetic experience is not just individual but that it is singular. It is this experience and only this one, it is singular.
Which is perhaps also why one can when somebody asks, why this Kippenberger and not this or that one, answer: “I don’t know, I just love it”. Concerning art it is imperative to not love a painting for a reason – I love it because I love it. And we are back with Newman, the moment when you love something because because you don’t love it for this or that, for what it possibly is. You love it, instead for all what it is and not, and for all the what it is that one can not even imagine imagining.
It is no surprise why this idea of aesthetic experience has been silenced for quite some time and why it still resides is some sort of limbo. When Jacques Derrida proposed that language is the capacity though which we have access to the world it came with a price – along the lines of phenomenology – that only what could be accommodated by language could exist. In that very moment the only thing that could exist had to be probably this or that or, if you like, I don’t know which is still something. From Heidegger we know that nothing is also something and in that moment probability ruled the world. If there was something else that had to be put under a blanket and forgotten, hence aesthetic experience and potentiality had to leave the building. So if post-modernism was good at pronouncing the death of this or that, it certainly killed of art, not this or that art but the very essence of art, the specificity of aesthetic experience, and experience that carries the possibility of an encounter with potentiality.
Of course modernism got it all wrong. Aesthetic experience, the essence of art or potentiality can not be captured, put in a bucket if you like and observed. Well, even if one could capture it, the moment when it gains stability and is recognizable it has already entered the realm of the possible. There is no potentiality in a painting, non of them, but painting, as any other art carries with it the possibility for the emergence of that peculiar moment that some call aesthetic experience others potentiality and Barnet Newman called, “as beautiful as it is in the bucket”.