Prune and survive

If you don’t learn to say no, you’ll either be miserable or die

This week I had to get a grip on my work, which meant sorting out where to continue and what to leave behind. A slight change of direction. It implied quitting some commitments, annoying some contacts, maybe even hurting some feelings. I will no longer write for my local newspaper, I’m going national. 

For my writing it’s a great step in the right direction, first and foremost because I will get to have two editors reading with argus-eyes everything I try to publish. Secondly, it gives me an opportunity to write not mainly about local art exhibitions, but about the exhibitions I find most interesting from all over the country, even including a few trips abroad. 

But I know that my new route will hurt people, some will see me as ungrateful when saying no to continuing writing for the paper which in first instance made it possible for me to become a critic. But the thing is: I can’t do it all.

This morning I read a beautiful little piece by Courtney Martin which to a certain degree soothed my bad conscience. It’s a text about saying no. A text about sorting out. In short it postulates: “if you don’t learn to say no, you use your energy in ways that don’t make you happy – If you don’t learn to say no, you’ll either be miserable or die”. 

I seems perfectly true …


Rosa canina – no pruning needed

This is how it works

- or at least how I work

Some notes on writing a review


  • My preconceptions about an exhibition – what I expect to see, feel and think – rarely turn out to be in accordance with how I actually experience a certain show when in it.
  • When I exit an exhibition I have to be alone for a while, doing something else, preferably walking – without giving the exhibition just seen a single thought.
  • Then, after a few hours, bad thoughts start to sieve in, followed by a very bad mood. The world closes in on itself, I go down into my mind.
  • There is nothing I can do, nothing to say – I will never be able to write about what I have seen. Language has deserted me.
  • Then words starts coming, word by word, a line, maybe two – and finally a good sentence I can build my review upon. A foundation. Something that rings true about the seen, and what I have to say about it.
  • The rest is hard work = craft. Writing and re-writing, again, and again … and again. And a lot of reading out loud – listening to/for the rhythm and music in my own text.
  • When everything sings the text is finished.
  • I hand my piece over to the editor.
  • Then it immediately starts to fade, in a surprisingly short while it will disappear completely from my mind, be forgotten.

this is how I work

- how it works



3 questions

Henry James once proposed three questions you could productively put to an artist’s work:

  1. what is the artist trying to achieve?
  2. does he/she succeed?
  3. is it worth doing?

In the great little book Art & Fear Bayles and Orland examines James’ questions, and comments:

The first two questions ask you to respond to the work itself, without first pushing it through some aesthetic filter labelled Behaviorism, Feminism, Postmodernism or Whateverism. But it is the third question — was it worth doing? — that truly opens the universe. What is worth doing? Are some artistic problems inherently more interesting than others? More relevant?

More meaningful?

More difficult?

More provocative? …



I died for beauty

beaumontjones says: 

I love Billy Collins’ poem Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes’. The language is simple, light-hearted and beautiful. Collins’ poem itself is as layered as Dickinson’s garments. He leaves us with no easy interpretation of his own or of Dickinson poems. Rather, he opens up spaces for speculation about the woman herself and her poetry.

You can find the Billy Collins poem at the end of this post, but first Dickinson:

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth – the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.




Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at least –
I’m going, all along!

- Emily Dickinson


And here is Billy Collins:


First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer’s dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

- Billy Collins