About Asger Jorn

Asger Jorn's speech on the occasion of the presentation of his 3 paintings to the Library of Silkeborg

Asger Jorn's speech at the Library of Silkeborg, September l0th 1953. Translated from an unpublished Danish manuscript by Guy Atkins.

l0th of September 1953
(Translated from an unpublished Danish manuscript by Guy Atkins).

On the occasion of the transfer of my decoration of the library of Silkeborg to the town, I would like to mention the background for this project.
First I would point out, that these pictures are not given to the town out of gratefulness - quite the contrary. It is not a payment for kindness shown by the town, the only thing I have to be indebted to the town for is that it is willing to receive my art in such an honourable place. I can with perfect justice call this a favour, and my gratitude is twofold, because the favour done to me by Silkeborg came at the point, which is the only one which interests me: my art.
It is a fact that art can't be paid, partly because there is no economic cover for an artistic effort, and partly because a work of art in itself has no value at all.
This calls for an explanation and it may be this, that no painting, however good it seems to us is anything in itself except chemicals smeared on a flat surface. The value in the work of art is in the spectator, you see, and a painting has no bigger value than the mental and intellectual forces it arouses in the spectator. I know that some people in Silkeborg will be unmoved by my art, when they see my paintings, yes several will even be unpleasently affected by the sight of these stains of colour, because they don't say anything to them. Some of them will keep silent and some will talk. Exactly with this knowledge, and because I know that these people are the only criterion of art, I am grateful. I am grateful, because there after all is somebody who will see something in what I have produced.
When I explain why I have chosen to give these paintings to Silkeborg it is necessary first to explain a little philosophical distinction which exists between what we call occasion and what we call cause or reason.
Because I have lived in this town for some years and profited by its social institutions I want to show it some consideration. So these paintings have arisen. Every person has in himself a need to manifest his strenght and his ability in his surroundings. I have been lucky after a disease to be able to begin working again. In order to demonstrate this common will to activity, to satisfy something in my need of self-assertion, I can say that these paintings have arisen spontaneously. Should these paintings be able to measure up to the demand made by the community, their value has to be continuous, because many people are wounded in life and only recover with support from others. I do not reach so high and it has never been my intention, because behind the spontaneous occasion for my work there is a settlement with my past life, which is directly reflected in those pictures, and which represents their real cause.
I have never forgotten while I worked that the very place where the pictures are hung was once intended for decorative work of my first teacher in art, the painter Martin Kaalund Jørgensen, I feel that by doing this work, which they were not rich enough to let Kaalund Jørgensen do, I have claimed an artistic inheritance. This decorative work Kaalund Jørgensen projected as a world of images inspired by the myths of Johs V Jensen. When my paintings arise under the name works on the silent myth, this in a strange and unexpected way is in keeping with the first project.(1)
When I used the word silent myths it was for a personal reason. I mean that the relations of pictorial art to the formation of myths has to be silent, consequently not illustrative.
In this part of Jutland where the life of the myth has grown strongest and is kept deepest for millenniums, here where I come from and where I have known the richness of the narrative imagination of the people, here I wanted to place a monument to the anonymous strenght of the word, not to a single myth, nor to a single cycle of myths, because the myths of the Edda, of the heroic poetry, yes perhaps particulary the myths of the Kalevala, have inspired me like the myth which is to be created today in the people who are glad to tell, racy and fertile.

You understand that I gladly used these intentions upon a library, but when I chose the library of Silkeborg it was for a special reason. Here for the first time as a young man I found the way to the art of the big world. Yes I may say that it was here that the resolve and certainty of my artistic mission ripened and improved. With the inspired powers with which the chief librarian Peder Nielsen built up this library he was also one of those who formed me and gave my life its trend. So you see why it was naturally here I returned to express (2)
Although we come from the west I may still say that my mother's family come from this part of the country, and therefore my mother and her family are intimately connected with this task, I said just now that I in these years in a way have made a settlement with my past life, I have taken stock of the past and I have come to the conclusion, that my debt to the past will never end. Therefore I have, with my friend Johannes Jensen (3), tried to compile it all in these compositions. It is amazing how much music can give to painting when the conductor's baton is in the hand of a master. I will even confess that these works would hardly have been finished if I had not leant on Johannes Jensen's help. Whether this is a reason for gratitude I don't know. I can't tell you whether I have reason to be grateful to my mother, because she has fought for me and my brothers' and sisters' existence and tolerated our excesses. I will not thank the librarian Nielsen, nor the town nor anyone, no more than I want thanks from anybody. I have always been an ungrateful man, and I incidentally say that the Dane generally thanks more than he ought to. I only want to point out that the mingled feelings which move in our mind are always earth-bound, always chained to the foundation from which we are grown, and this thing I can say thruthfully, that I have lots of feelings of all sorts, a richness of emotion which is bound to Silkeborg.

Asger Jorn
(Translated from an unpublished Danish manuscript by Guy Atkins).


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