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

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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.

 

SAM_4850

 

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

A poem is like an eye chart

The job of the poet is to seduce the reader – 

- According to Billy Collins it is “about achieving a balance between “clarity and mystery. It’s important to know which card to turn over and which to lay face-down. But the beginning of a poem should always be very clear, to get a reader on board, and only then can you be confident that when you move into less obvious areas of metaphor or fantasy that they will go with you. It is like an eye chart, with its big E at the top, and the letters getting less legible as it moves along. A poem should be like that.”

Collin’s view on poetry is interesting also from the point of view of the critic, and for ‘the art industry’.

“I have spoken a lot about willful obscurity in poetry – where the poet is hiding behind language, using it as camouflage – and I don’t have much tolerance for that kind of poetry,” 

We find exactly the same problem in the art world; critics and curators obscuring the art for the viewer. I have just recently started to wonder if this is a negative inheritance from Arthur Danto … but have to make more research to know for sure.

 
Collins says: A poem is a projection of the most private aspects of the self, which has the capacity to move even – or especially – a stranger.
 
 

Opinions underpin attitudes

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turned based on indifference to what other than ourselves. This indifference can be, in its extreme, a form of murder and seems to me a rather common phenomenon. We claim autonomy for ourselves and forget that in so doing we can fall into the tyranny of defining other people as we would like them to be. By focusing on what we choose to acknowledge in them, we impose an insidious control on them.

I notice that I have to pay careful attention in order to listen to others with an openness that allow them to be as they are, or as they think themselves to be. The shutters of my mind habitually flip open and click shut, and these little snaps form into patterns I arrange for myself. The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

 Daybook, Anne Truitt

(Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, July-August 1974)