In an interview with Nicholas Serota from 2006 Gerhard Richter is asked how it at a certain moment happened that he started to make out-of-focus paintings. The interview is from a documentary and in this particular section Richter is sitting in an oversized totally fancy sofa. One can sense from the tone of Serota’s voice that he is looking forward to a juicy response that will touch upon art historical mysteries or secret conflicts nobody knew about circulating in the Cologne scene of the late 60s. Richter, dressed more like a Chinese worker than a stinking rich superstar touches his nose and changes position, says after a slightly too long pause.
– Well you know, at that time it was… possible, adding a very generous smile. I can’t recall what happens afterwards but it doesn’t matter, the answer is intriguing enough on it’s own.
What first comes to mind is that Gerhard Richter is just another asshole that obviously and under no circumstances would reveal anything especially nothing that in any way could smudge his genius. Gerhard Richter doesn’t get inspiration he is inspiration in it’s much pure form. If one Mr Richter ever gets inspired from somewhere else than himself it is from God and God only, but that is probably only when he has a headache or is haunted by a vague hangover after yesterdays opening party. Well, it was just some retrospective who cares where, really. Conclusion Gerhard Richter is a shit.
But what about a different interpretation. Perhaps Richter said something more than about focused or out of paintings but instead touched upon something central to aesthetic production in general.
It was possible. Doesn’t that mean that there were no reasons, or no no reasons. It was just possible and I, i.e. Richter did it, out of focus. Of course after the fact art historians or critics can make up a thousand feasible narratives. Do their detective work and track it all down to some childhood trauma, a revenge plot, technological development, a Marxist unpacking of a historical moment or why not just blame capitalism – neoliberalism was invented at the time so capitalism will have to do.
But what if there were no reasons or no no reasons for real. It was possible, proposes that contrary to other kinds of decisions or unfoldings aesthetic judgment or decisions doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with causality. Aesthetic judgement, what green colour to choose, is not a matter of probability, at least not in its entirety. You ask a painter or whatever artist why that one there and most probably the answer will be come across as a rather silly if not stupid. – Cuz, you know… yeah, or something about emotions, feeling, energy or inner necessity. – It could be no other way, and there was no negotiation or probability.
What Richter, the old modernist or not says, is that aesthetic judgement is beyond reason or rational. It can be analysed but some part of it moves beyond probability and measure. One could also say that aesthetic judgement is self-referential because it refers only to itself as itself and that the experience of taking such a decision, whether that is in the studio in front of the easel or in the exhibition space or museum, is not the experience of taking a decision but to make or generate a decision where there previously was not available to make. Since the aesthetic experience is self-referential the outcome of this production is contingent and thus is the experience not of making a decision but of making a Decision. Which since this experience by necessity is empty means to experience oneself as potentiality. Perhaps that is that underlying, that determination that all aesthetic production comes down to, that feeling of generating a decision for no particular reason and to be touched however gently by potentiality.
With a different set of words perhaps what Richter said is that in aesthetic production, just because it is formulated around contingent decisions, hope resides.