With the examples of Gerhard Richter’s “October 18, 1977” series in mind, think about what is real (what actually happened), what is representation (or mimesis, imitation, seeing and having and image in your mind, making that image somehow permanent for others), and what is the relationship between reality and representation, a relationship that Kurt in the film calls, in its ideal form (like his paintings) “consistent” (German “stimmig” which can also mean harmonious in a musical or tonal sense). Richter has similar statements about the relationship between reality, photography, and representation in paintings.
The film Never Look Away provides recounts how a fictional artist’s experiences influence his work. The viewer follows the relationship between Kurt’s childhood in Nazi Germany and the evolution of his artwork. As Kurt tries to break from his training in Socialist Realism and discover his artistic voice, he combines his traumatic childhood memories with the experience of post-WWII Germany. Kurt combines photographs from his childhood with clippings from newspapers to create photorealistic paintings. Kurt’s artwork resembles that of Gerhard Richter. Both the fictional artist Kurt and the real artist Richter appropriate existing photographs to create paintings that almost perfectly resemble its source imagery. However, both artists question the potential of their work to fully represent a specific moment. The gap between reality and representation exists in the differences between an original experience, the moment a photograph captures, and a painted adaptation of the photograph. Art captures a moment, but it fails to truly depict the emotional and narrative contexts. Richter argues that reality is more dreadful than the moment a painting captures. The more an artist appropriates or recreates a moment, the more they remove the experience from its original context. The appropriation of photography in both Kurt and Richter’s paintings reflect the claim that as a work of art extends further away from its original context, the easier the viewer accepts the artwork. No matter the distance between the original moment and the representation of that moment, the resulting artwork is an abstract interpretation unique to the artist’s experience and the viewer’s interpretation.