A work that really inspired me this week was a 1962 painting by Jasper Johns titled “Diver.” I was in a lecture this week in one of my art history classes and this particular painting was briefly discussed, however it really stuck out to me as an incredible amalgamation of many of the themes Johns focused on throughout his career.
This 14-foot-long canvas in a private collection is divided into three registers (although the painting contains five panels): the far left including a “device circle”, the middle consisting of a grayscale, and the far right containing Johns’ signature encaustic strokes of primary color. Examining a single canvas by Johns can be difficult because they are often aloof and seemingly meaningless in their banality, so combining three of his major motifs: grayscale, the “device circle”, and his signature thick strokes of color with text can be even more of a complex and daunting task. I do not think, however, that the object of this painting is to make the viewer decipher it, but rather to merely see it and understand its relation to viewer as a unique individual.
Johns was fairly vocal about his thoughts on interpreting his works, and, any art work for that matter. He thought that language and trying to grasp for an overall meaning in his works corrupted the experience of looking at art. He was quoted saying “Everybody is of course free to interpret the work in his own way. I think seeing a picture is one thing and interpreting it is another.”
Thus I do not appreciate “Diver” for the meaning I think I see in it, but rather its visual effects and the way I interact with it as an individual viewer. Its vibrant and contrasting colors, combinations of handicraft and industry, and text and image, interest me because I do not understand what it means, but it engages me in such a way that provokes an inner dialogue about not only the purpose of art but also the function of an artist.
What do you think about Jasper Johns’ “Diver”?