On the one hand, one doesn’t tell an artist what to do

The post I just finished about Cady Noland reminded me of Jasper Johns. First is his only public statement about not showing or reproducing Short Circuit, the Rauschenberg Combine that at the time (1962), still had a Johns flag painting inside it:

Dear Sir:
I’ve always supposed that artists were allowed to paint however-whatever they pleased and to do whatever they please with their work–to or not to give, sell, lend, allow reproduction, rework, destroy, repair, or exhibit it…

Jasper Johns: Writings, Sketchbook Notes, Interviews

The second, I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it, but it was so vivid in my mind, I figured it could only come from one place: Michael Crichton’s 1977 catalogue for Johns’ retrospective at the Whitney. And sure enough:

He is direct about his work, an area of his life which he jealously guards. Once, at a dinner, a wealthy collector who owned several important Johns paintings announced over coffee that he had an idea for a print that Johns should do. He said that Johns should make a print, in color, of an American map. The collector argued his case cogently. He pointed out that Johns had done other prints in color based on paintings from that period; he alluded to the significance of such a print to the whole body of Johns’ work; he mentioned the opportunities for the sort of image transformation which Johns’ other color prints had explored; and he pointed out the peculiar arbitrariness that had led Johns do to map prints several times in black-and-white, but never in color.

A hush fell over the table. There was a good deal of tension. On the one hand, one doesn’t tell an artist what to do, but on the other hand, the suggestion was not uninformed, and it did not come from a source the artist could casually alienate.

Johns listened patiently. “Well,” he said finally, “that’s all very well, but I”m not going to do it.”

“Why not?” asked the collector, a little offended.

“Because I’m not,” Johns said.

And he never has.

Now I want to read this whole book again.