the art of ballOOn-painting

by uwe kurz

On Chance And Coincidence In Art


In art there is not only one type of coincidence/chance. Frequently the coincidence and chance experiencing meets unconscious personal experiences or problems and fullfills in this case a symbolic function. Coincidence and chance can refer in addition to formal ones and technical questions, then it concerns selective perception of the coincidental one led by the artistic »interest«.


Very often chance and fantasy are inseparably connected. Visual impressions or memory pictures, which exist only in the conception, produce graphical associations, in which there has to be the prerequisite to an analogy: the object, which produces the association, has to be be formally mostly similar to the associated contents. In the further interpretation a new meaning is given to the chance/coincidence find and it is transformed into another object. Remember Picasso´s »bull´s head« made from a saddle and a steering bar of a bicycle.


Many artists dealt with themselves with the chance and the coincidental one in art. Leonardo da Vinci wrote 1500 in his »treatise of the painting«:

... Do not note this opinion small, in which I guess/advise you, it may appear to you not annoying, sometimes to stand still and have a look on wall marks, in  or into ash in the fire, into the clouds, or into the mud and on other such places; you will discover very marvelous inventions to them, if you regard them quite. Because the painters spirit gets such new inventions by it...

In the middle of the 19th century two poets experimented independently with chanced pictures made of inkblots. In France Victor Hugo and in Germany Justinus Kerner. While the first developed not a certain coincidence/chance procedure and experimented freely with splashing ink and unintended inkblots, Justinus Kerner availed himself with his »Kleksographies« or folding printing. Therefor he splashed wet color or ink on a paper, folded it in the middle and pressed it together, so that large extent symmetrical chance pictures could develop, which he interpreted associatively, worked them out and supplied them with his own poems.


More than half a century later the Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach was occupied with the same procedure, this time however not under artistic aspects but under a psychoanalytical aspect (»Rorschach Test«).

Something interesting happened in 1984 when Andy Warhol created some oversized paintings of Rorschach´s Inkblots and so they were led back to art.


In the further development of the art in the 20th century chance and coincidence played an important part. »Its majesty the chance« was recognized officially and finally by many artists, especially by the Dadaists e.g. Marcel Duchamp, who arranged experiments in the type of a lab test: cords with a length of one meter are thrown from a height of one meter to the ground and the so produced curves were cut into wood rulers for further development, later with his »ready mades«, Hans Arp, the painter, poet and sculptor, Joan Miró, who splashed colours from buckets on the ceramic(s) walls of the art gallery Zurich/Switzerland and distributed the colours with brooms, Max Ernst with his Frottages, Grattages and Décalcomanies, who shaped the term of the »liberating procedures«. Ernst also had a strong influence on other painters e.g. Jackson Pollock, the action painter with his »Drip Paintings«, but he did not appoint himself explicitly to the coincidence/chance.


Different material was used, in order to obtain coincidental and chance results, but I know only one artist, who used balloons for art happenings, but with a different intention and in a different manner: Niki de Saint Saint-Phalle.
Direct shots with a rifle on innocent-white relief-like gypsum assemblages brought color bags, colorfilled ballons, spray cans and colorfilled buckets, which were hidden under the white surface, to explosions, so that the colour could splash and merge over the picture. These shooting happenings in the beginning of the sixties made her known and established her in the circel of the »new realists«, they were Nikis first release from an extra great father. She shot for fun, to see the picture bleed and die and said even:

Instead of becoming terrorist, I became a terrorist of art.


What is now exactly »coincidence and chance« in art?


Hans Ulrich Reck (in Gendolla / Kamphusmann) says it succinct in a few words:

There is no coincidence and chance in art, very much looks only in such a way having something to do with chance.

And on another place:

In art there is no coincidence/chance, only strategies of outwitting, which appear to someone as coincidence, who was yet not able to check up them as lists.

So the artistic methods of Surrealism and Dadaism, Pollock and Cage to Informel, arte povera and Beuys, which were often assigned to the realm of the coincidental and chance in a very naively way, appear in a different light. One can suspect that the artists just give way to the God coincidence/chance only where he does not blur their discourse anyway. Also John Cage is quoted:

When I began to draw lots with coins, sometimes I thought: hopefully I will get this and that results.

The work of an artist is reactive and projectiv and so the coincidence/chance

is immediately transferred into the plan of the painter. In the extend, as this happens, chance can not be separated  from the intended design any longer. The subjective relationship to the artistic planning decides on the character of the coincidental one. In this sense everything at a medium is coincidental, which does not correspond with the intended plan of the artist, and which is absolutely felt as not belonging to this medium.
(Ehrenzweig: Ordnung und Chaos, München 1974)

In so far there is not much really coincidental at splashing and spraying colours, because already in early times artists understood to use adroit techniques to take advantage of  apparently uncontrollable procedures (e.g. the merging of colours). More importantly than the appropriate technique are the options. Jorn Asger determines in his final speech for the form (München 1990):

Select, that means not to know, that means to sacrifice something. Select, that means form or exclude: that is art.



E. Bruegel: Praxis Kunst Zufallsverfahren Hannover (Schroedel), 2000
P. Gendolla/Th. Kamphusmann (Hrsg.): Die Künste des Zufalls Frankfurt/M. (Suhrkamp) 1999
W. Riess: Befreiende Verfahren I Diezenbach (AS) 1996
the same: Befreiende Verfahren II Diezenbach (AS) 1998



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