I’ve learned a lot more about seeing from painters than I have from photographers or filmmakers.
I don’t mean to denigrate the history of photography or cinema with this remark
-by no means!-
I just want to emphasize that nowhere else has the act of seeing been questioned as radically and redefined again and again (and continues to be) as it has in painting. It is from painting that photography and cinematography emerged. (And they in turn have inspired painting again.)
But the chasm between the world and a photograph of the world or between the (hi) story of humankind and stories in movies is simply not even nearly as deep as the abyss, yes, the black hole between the blank canvas and the finished painting or tableau. “Gemälde”- I love this beautiful, old-fashioned German word.
The painter (and this he has in common with the writer) always starts over from scratch, with himself and with the world. Sure, painters and writers develop a routine, too, but I’m not talking about craft. I’m talking about the path that a painting has to travel (yes, a book as well) until it finally is one.
But now I’d like to stay with painters: Their path first leads them entirely inside, into the soul or the mind or the heart or their identity (whatever you want to call it) but in the end there is something that has to stand entirely on its own, outside. The “picture” then exists out in the world and reflects it, in the dual sense of the world.
It’s only from the painter that I got this idea (from Paul Klee or Jan Vermeer or Paul Cézanne or Edward Hopper or Andrew Wyeth or Cy Twombly and all the others) that a picture can reveal an entire external world and at the same time an entire internal world. That’s why I have always thought of “all my painters” as incredibly brave. And I count Leiko lkemura among these great adventures and “death defiers.” No, she isn’t braver just because she’s a woman, or a Japanese woman living in Germany. She’s braver because she makes herself so wide open, because she’s so curious about the world, and at the same time lets us have such a deep look inside her. Otherwise, these images couldn’t possibly come out of her.
I have to admit at this point that l don’t feel differently towards painters than towards other artists, including filmmakers and photographers: I prefer those who’d rather find and discover, and I appreciate them more than those who are into inventing and making things up.
I don’t quite know how to explain it. I think that it has something to do with the fact that the “finders and discovers” seem more willing to accept gifts. Being open to receiving gifts is a great capability, as it requires a certain courage and sincerity, but also that trait that bears an entirely anachronistic name, which is “humility.”
And that’s where Leiko and I meet again in our shared admiration of that great master of cinema, Yasujiro Ozu. You can regard his more than 50 films as one single long work which stands, again and again, humbly “in service” of his characters, in service to the Japanese family. That was his only subject, and looking at this family lovingly, but like through a magnifying glass, measuring its changes with the seismograph of his camera, he transcended it and made it the entire world’s family and its changes the changes of all our families.
Only those who are willing to receive gifts can truly pass them on to us as well.