Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some thoughts on Oskar Kokoschka.

I am reading right now Nobel Prize Winner Eric R. Kandel's magnificent (over-my-head) tome called "The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present." It's quite an undertaking reading this. It would probably do my career better if I were watching "Ice Road Truckers" in the evening, but there are some things I must do solely for myself.

Right now I am learning about one of Oskar Kokoschka's first portraits. It's called "The Trance Player, Portrait of Ernst Reinhold." For whatever reason (probably because few have heard of Kokoschka today) I couldn't find a reproduction in color, so the black and white will have to suffice.

There's something to be learned about writing copy from this portrait, as obtuse as that sounds. Kokoschka said of it, "The portrait of Reinhold, a picture especially important to me, contains one detail that has been hitherto overlooked. In my haste, I painted only four fingers on the hand that lays across his chest. Did I forget to paint the fifth? In any case, I don't miss it. To me it was more important to cast light on my sitter's pysche than to enumerate details like five fingers, two ears, one nose."

This struck me because Kokoschka is writing about not the details in his work but its subconscious. Not the details but the meaning beneath the layers of paint. The disturbance and turmoil in the hands, not its digits.

I have said before on Ad Aged that I believe most clients (and yes, most creative directors) cannot really read. They look for the trees, almost always missing the forest. They might see a "badly" painted hand and miss the contrast between the serenity of the portrait's face and the turmoil below.

They see only something wrong.

We work--when our business is at its best--in an impressionistic industry. It's not what's said and what's shown that registers--it's what is conveyed--conveyed in dozens of invisible and mysterious ways.

We are not, in most cases, best-served by having all five fingers on our metaphorical hands. We are best served when we create feeling and impressions that go beyond mere typing.

Some more Kokoschka: The top being a depiction of the artist and his lover, Alma Mahler. His turmoil, her serenity.


bob hoffman said...

"Advertising is an impressionistic business." Love that thought. Most clients want to make every ad into a court case.

Elias said...

Interesting to read bits about Kokoschka. Especially since Alma Mahler was also Gustav Mahlers turmoil and destruction (at least in how he told it). She must have been a woman of special character, clashing with artists of highest caliber.

Love the point about advertising being impressionistic. So true, yet so hard to sell.