Preface Art is astonishment

When I say that art is astonishment, people react with surprise. We tend to think of art as something aesthetically beautiful, the fruit of delicate labour, but I would say that this is truer of craftwork. On the other hand, art, or the artistic gesture, consists in astounding the public. Obviously, “astounding” does not mean surprising by sudden and brash gestures.
We are said to be living in the information age. A huge amount of information is frenetically exchanged, and people delude themselves into thinking that obtaining just one more piece of information will give them greater success at work. Having said that, when we concentrate on the information we have before our eyes, it is clear that it is not possible to see what lies beyond. Just like in photography, if we focus on an object in the foreground, the background will be out of focus.
In the same way that today’s environmental problems are the price we pay for past short-sightedness which failed to look to the future, even now we risk losing sight of the terrible crisis just round the corner. A work of art, however, is a castle in the air. Those who do a normal profession have to be careful where they put their feet to avoid tripping up. They have no choice but to proceed with caution and concentration.
But in the world of art, with its castles in the air, we have to set the focus to infinity and dream of the most distant future possible. The artist’s job is to express what he has taken in, without caring about human reality and the way mankind lives. At present, I ask people to do drawings on my shaved head or to project films on me, but the idea is not merely to do something strange. A work of art is free expression in itself. And so, while I gaze at the sky and my imagination begins to work, ideas come to me spontaneously and naturally.
In the same way, painting a picture is a castle in the air too, and there is absolutely no need for any link with reality. The act of painting is to suggest free expression. This is the true work of an artist.

Shozo Shimamoto