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? …