playing with style

Genre is a slippery thing – is there a set borderline between fiction and nonfiction? While nonfiction is often defined by fidelity to fact and logical cohesion, the genre has a companion history of texts that use the fragmentary, suggestive, and inconclusive. There are essays that destabilize unwavering narration, logical progression, and rhetorical coherence. Creative nonfiction is an elastic genre.

Like in really good photography, you start to wonder: is it true or is it fiction – ?

Todd Hido: Untitled #2621, 2000


Todd Hido (born 1968, Kent, Ohio) is an American contemporary artist and photographer. Currently based in San Francisco. Deeply interested in the topic of housing in the United States, Todd Hido’s large, colored photographs of American suburbia emphasize feelings of isolation and anonymity. Hido’s images have a very narrative, almost cinematic quality to them

she stuttered

confused thoughts on art as therapy

As already mentioned:
I’m not sure about the great therapeutic dimension in/of art, it looks very much like some strained kind of positive thinking …

What I forgot to tell you, is that I’m also rather skeptical regarding psychotherapy’s therapeutic ability …

I have been working for several yeas as a researcher within the field of psychiatry, I am in a long-lasting therapy situation, and I am – and have been – married for 25 years to a professor of psychiatry. Telling you this …

- it suddenly looks to me as if I am swimming around in a therapeutic

soup …


I have no doubt there are great insights to be made through therapy, and I’m sure there are very much good will invested in the field – but nevertheless, I am unsure about the talking cure’s capacity to cure. Just as I am skeptical to any therapeutic dimensions in (put on) art. I’m not doubting art’s importance, but unfortunately I have seen no sign of artists or art lovers being more healthy than most people … on the contrary -

Still not confused? Read this:

Artists are like philosophers. What little health they possess is often too fragile, not because of their illnesses or neuroses but because they have seen something in life that is too much for anyone, too much for themselves, and that has put on them the quiet mark of death. But this something is also the source or breath that supports them through the illnesses of the lived (what Nietzsche called health). ‘Perhaps one day we will know that there wasn’t any art but only medicine’.

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari: What is Philosophy

What is art for?


By now you all know about my grant (whether you are interested or not…). I was awarded this grant to make an outline for a book very much inspired by Alain de Botton & John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. Actually my intention is to try to test some of their hypothesis in praxis – not as they do, on historical pictures, but on contemporary art.

This is what got me started last autumn:

… the art establishment proceeds under the assumption that art can have no purpose in any instrumental or utilitarian sense. It exists “for art’s sake,” and to ask anything more of it is to muddy pure and sacred waters. This refusal to name a purpose seems profoundly mistaken. If art is to deserve its privileges (and it does), we have to learn how to state more clearly what it is for and why it matters in a busy world. I would argue that art matters for therapeutic reasons. It is a medium uniquely well suited to helping us with some of the troubles of inner life: our desire for material things, our fear of the unknown, our longing for love, our need for hope.

Alain de Botton

According to Art as Therapy:

  • Art (a category that includes works of design, architecture and craft) is a therapeutic medium that can help guide, exhort and console its viewer, enabling them to become better versions of themselves.
  • If culture is to matter to us deeply, then it has to engage with our emotions and bring something to what one might call our souls. Art galleries should be apothecaries for our deeper selves.
  • Art is a tool, which has the power to extend our capacities beyond those the nature has originally endowed us with. While traditional tools often are extensions of the body, art is an extension of the mind. Art, says the authors, help us with psychological frailties.

Art as Therapy presents 7 areas, seven functions of art:

  1. Remembering
  2. Hope
  3. Sorrow
  4. Rebalancing
  5. Self-understanding
  6. Growth
  7. Appreciation

Alain de Botton & John Armstrong are criticized for being naive, for using art in an instrumental way, for positivistic thinking. Alain de Botton agrees on the instrumental objection, that is he advocates for an instrumental stance, he says:

It is a totally instrumentalist point of view. It’s very unfashionable but I’m totally into instrumentalism, 100%. And some people go, “Well, you’re using it this way but what if someone else wants to use it this way and another way?” And I think that’s great — there’s not just one instrumentalism. There are many paths, but the point is you want to go somewhere with it, and you should be able to say where.

There are lots of attacks on the art world, from all sorts of directions. People say the art world is pretentious, people say it’s a close-knit coterie driving up prices; you could criticize it from many different angles. Ultimately, the art world doesn’t make it easy for people to use art in the way it should be used, which is to negotiate the great challenges of life. I think that art has a great therapeutic dimension, and the art world doesn’t help you find your way to that.

Caravaggio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601-02), Oil on canvas

I’m not sure about the great therapeutic dimension, it looks very much like some kind of positive thinking, and I’m much too melancholic & misanthropic for believing in such ideas. But at the same time I’m sure that art is alfa-omega in my own life, and I know I’m not alone in valuing art as an extremely important aspect of life. So I go to Alain de Botton & John Armstrong as a skeptic, a doubting Thomas - refusing to believe anything without trying out the ideas, testing the 7 functions, for myself.


lost in a field of near copies

                  individual, and yet each lost in a field of near copies …


Ai Weiwei, Stools (2014) © Ai Weiwei

individual, and yet each lost in a field of near copies — it could have been a definition of us, mankind, but is in fact a description used about Ai Weiwei’s new Berlin exhibition.

Tabourets, 2014 - 6000 simples tabourets en bois, dans la Lichtof du Martin-Gropius-Bau

Ai Weiwei, Stools (2014) © Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei has filled a large atrium in Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, Berlin, with more than 6,000 antique stools gathered from villages across China’s north — of the type that have been used in the Chinese countryside for hundreds of years, since the Ming Dynasty, the gallery states that “the result is an aesthetically pleasing, pixel-like work”. These stools, according to Ai Weiwei, are an expression of the centuries-old aesthetic of rural China. And it is really no problem to discover the aesthetic beauty in these objects. They look the same but different, just like us, each one with its own personality, the more worn and used, the more beautiful …


Ai Weiwei has not himself guided the executed of the exhibition, since the Chinese government has yet to return his passport, it is still impossible for him to leave China. Ai Weiwei is an artist, architect and politician. Hardly any of his works are without hidden allusions to internal Chinese affairs or to the large subject of “China and the West”.

from art – with love


Yoko Ono

I have a complicated relationship with conceptual & post-conceptual art. Just trying to define the field – CONCEPTUAL ART – is to most of us … well; nearly impossible.

  • Conceptual art is based on the notion that the essence of art is an idea, or concept, and may exist distinct from and in the absence of an object as its representation.
  • It has also been called Idea art, Post-Object art, and Dematerialized art because it often assumes the form of a proposition (i.e., a document of the artist’s thinking) or a photographic document of an event.
  • Conceptual art practices emerged at a time when the authority of the art institution and the preciousness of the unique aesthetic object were being widely challenged by artists and critics.
  • Conceptual artists interrogated the possibilities of art-as-idea or art-as-knowledge, and to those ends explored linguistic, mathematical, and process-oriented dimensions of thought and aesthetics, as well as invisible systems, structures, and processes. 
  • In some cases such texts served as the art works themselves.

My readers, when I write as a newspaper critic, tend to think that conceptual art is some kind of new-fangled invention. But the thing is, as a historical epoch, conceptualism is already a passed over stadium, outdated (even if a lot (most?) artists still make conceptual art). These facts don’t make things any easier. I think this discrepancy between the art worlds, aesthetic theory and the general public is one of the reasons why it can be so extremely difficult to write well as an art critic. Because what one actually has to do, is to try to negotiate with three kinds of, one could almost say, incompatible systems. The system of common sense and everyday life (the public), the system of highlight specified subject knowledge and praxis (the artists), and a diffuse academic world distinguished by dissention (the institution).

This no-mans-land, the zone between the specialised and the common, will be my area of study in the time to come.

Am I looking forward to it? I don’t know?! But I’m already spending my days as a critic in this uncertain territory so I might as well try to get some mapping done while I’m here – .


Yoko Ono

Why I illustrated my post with Yoko Ono’s? Because I can think of no other conceptual artist as lovable as she!


Conceptual Art at the end of the 20th Century spread to become a general tendency, a resonance within art practice that became nearly ubiquitous. Thus the widespread use of the term “post-conceptual” as a prefix to painting and photography in recent times, Benjamin Buchloh in Art After Conceptual Art points out that post-conceptual art is already emerging in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the photo-based appropriation art of Martha Rosler, Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Sherrie Levine and Dara Birnbaum.

British philosopher and theorist of conceptual art Peter Osborne makes the point that that “post-conceptual art is not the name for a particular type of art so much as the historical-ontological condition for the production of contemporary art in general” … Osborne first noted that contemporary art is ‘post-conceptual in a public lecture delivered at the Fondazione Antonio Ratti, Villa Sucota in Como on July 9, 2010. It is a claim made at the level of the ontology of the work of art (rather than say at the descriptive level of style or movement).






Today I’m the happy receiver of a grant from the Arts Council Norway, not a large sum – but enough for some extended traveling. The Arctic is still out of reach, but a trip to London, Berlin, New York or Tokyo …?


Tiina Itkonen: House, Kullorsuaq

I will spend the money on buying myself some time, and my time I will spend on creating the outline for a book. Then, hopefully, I can get some more funding for seeing the work through to publication …


Tiina Itkonen (born in 1968) graduated from the Helsinki University of Art and Design in 2002 and currently lives and works in Helsinki. She has made several visits to Greenland and found a sustained motif there. In 2011 Itkonen took part in the Venice Biennial’s Real Venice exhibition.