“In my work I have tended to take an action to do something and then to see that it could be done differently and then to try to do it differently. And I’ve simply gone about experimenting with alteration of my ideas rather than settling for any particular idea as being important or useful. I’ve more taken as useful, the idea that the mind could adjust itself in different ways to anything.” 

(Jasper Johns, Whitney Museum of American Art)

This Sunday, after viewing the Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, I was shocked. Jasper Johns, 87, is not only an incredibly creative artist, but also an apparent genius. 

The exhibition, featuring approximately 65 years of Johns’ work, pays homage to the artist’s active participation within the current artistic scene. It holds his most recent piece: a painting of an astrophysicist’s map of the globe, created in march of 2020, while the artist remained in lockdown. How ironic—although confined, the artist was creatively stimulated, able to expand his artistic curiosity in a new way.Separated into two parts, half of the works culminating in the Mind/Mirror exhibit are housed within the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the other half are within the Museum of American ArtThis decision emphasizes the dual nature of the artist’s curation of works. The display of doubles, as portrayed through the mirror, imbues the exhibit, and is undoubtedly the telltale indication of a work belonging to Johns.

Utilizing flags, maps, and numbers—things the artist believes are rather common—Johns transforms ordinary, everyday objects into artistic masterpieces that evoke true meaning and questioning. Focused obsessively on perception, Johns experiments with the way a work is viewed by a person. Similarly, he focuses on how a given work can be altered by a distinct physical position. The artist continuously interrogates what a work can amount to in the subject portrayed. Similarly interested in physical composition, Johns utilizes a wide spectrum of artistic mediums within his work. Ultimately blending thought, writing, perception, feeling, and creation, the artist offers us a testament to his outstandingly curious vision.

As students, curiosity motivates our most compelling interests. Through our studies, we essentially experiment with, what Johns considers, “what the mind already knows.” However, what we learn within the classroom is transferable. In what appears as the distant future, yet is closer in actuality, we will take on a similar role as the artist does himself. Although, this time around, we will be the creators, ready and willing to probe our knowledge for the unexpected, in any of our intellectual endeavors. 

 Johns himself has regularly dumbfounded the art world, offering creations that never fail to enduringly shock. His success thus far, as both artist and pure human, is owed to this progressive nature; the artist renders no work complete until it has touched the barrier of what is just out-of-reach, calling into question all that has preceded its existence. If we learn one thing from Johns, it is the inclination to overlook limitations and surpass boundaries. As we grow into ourselves, both as students and people, this concept will remain invaluable, if not, essential to our curiosities.

While one might be quick to evaluate this iconic creator solely in terms of his art, I believe it just as important, if not the more imperative, to consider the persona that drives the creative machinery. For when we do this, we are left with a stronger understanding of our own creative impulses, gracefully mirroring the artistic genius we call to praise.

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