“How to Draw a Bunny”

The documentary How to Draw a Bunny takes viewers into the mind of the eccentric and collagist Warhol-inspired artist Ray Johnson. It was very difficult to get a clear answer from Johnson regarding anything regarding not only his artistic techniques about his life. He appeared to have distinct passion to keep his past and thoughts ambiguous at best. During interviews, Johnson would often delve off into completely unrelated lengthy tangents. The introduction to the interview between Johnson and Sevim Fesci states “Johnson’s answers are striking to the reader for their immediate, though good-humored deflection of Fesci’s straightforward questions” (18). When Fesci asks Johnson why he came to New York, Johnson makes to mistake in letting Fesci no the interview will not be dictated by him: “No. You’re pursuing a question-answer kind of way and well, I’m not really very interested” (18). Already apparent at the start of the interview, Fesci had his work cut out for him if he was going to receive any substantial feedback from the reserved artist.

Johnson also criticized the sale of artworks. He felt that the commercialization of art was contradictory to the very purpose of art itself, which was a personal expression of the artist and only meant to be witnessed by others for a short period. Johnson said “Someone [should] come in and look at [art] in the space of five minutes, and perhaps, that is all the time I think it should be. And they should be thrown away and not used anymore” (21). Johnson felt that the meaning of an art piece could only be conveyed by first moments during the first viewing of it. After this point, the art becomes no longer a representation, but an “object” (21). An example, Johnson was unhappy when he saw one of his paintings published in a magazine. Not only did he not approve of the piece being next to other pieces by different artists, but the quality of the image would warrant a different reaction than the real painting. Johnson felt that to get the full experience of the painting, one must see it as it is, without any other distractions.

In addition, Johnson had a very unique opinion on the meaning behind his own art. Unlike many artists, who will describe the meaning of each their pieces in elaborate detail, Johnson describes his art as ambiguous. When discussing the meaning behind his art, Johnson said “I don’t know that it had to have any meaning. It might be its function to not have meaning” (19). Here, Johnson is suggesting that while a great order and feeling is dedicated to his art, it is not designed to own the viewer a meaning. He goes on to say “people might be grasping for meaning but meaning is not grasping for people grasping for meaning” (19). This is Johnson’s subtle way of suggesting that art, while it may have meaning, it is not dependent on the viewer to feel any special meaning. The meaning is not dependent on the art itself, but the spectator.

Johnson was referred to by many as “the most famous artist no one’s ever heard of.” Johnson was different from other artists in that no sufficient group could unanimously determine what kind of specific artist Johnson was. Warhol, for example, is known for his commercial pop art. Van Gogh is established as a post-impressionist who typically did oil on canvas. Johnson’s art, however, was so diverse and eclectic that many drew different conclusions regarding his style. One person in the documentary referred to his art as surrealism; another, contemporary. Another called Johnson a “jokester” who always strived for shock value. Several examples of Johnson’s unconventional sense of humor are demonstrated in various examples in the film, such as the hot dog helicopter scene, the receiving of the art with 25% of the piece missing (an epigrammatic response to the purchaser paying Johnson 25% less than what he originally asked), and Johnson presenting his unexpected subject with twenty-six portraits of which he had the audacity to ask for compensation.

After Johnson died, he posthumously proved to be just as elusive in death as he was in life by leaving investigators on a tour of his home to find most of his collages and pieces organized and facing backward. As Johnson believed, art was not about the individual appearance of a piece itself, but it’s presentation. Johnson describes a mouse’s ear as the most interesting object he’s ever received. By itself, it is nothing, but because Johnson received it in the mail, he cherished it. “You look at the object, and, depending on your degree of interest, it very directly gets across to you, what is there, be it regular, verbal, written, visual, or object,” Johnson said. Johnson presented examples of this in his own life as a woman near the end of the film describes a puzzle piece Johnson left her. Johnson’s death, perhaps, was the final piece of his presentation.


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