grief and mourning

I’m living at the shore of the North Sea,



most of the year we strive to keep warm, today we had to go looking for shade – summer is visiting …

It has been, to put it mildly, one hell of a week. A dreadful decision to sell Stavanger’s most important public sculpture – Figure for Landscape by Barbara Hepworth – has kept my mind & pen busy. But profit seekers were not to be stopped, even if we were many who opposed -


- Stavanger has lost an invaluable treasure. Last Wednesday Dame Barbara Hepworth DBE’s ‘Figure for Landscape’ was sold for GBP 4,170,500 at auction at Christie’s in London.

Now, safely placed in this magical peaceful countryside, I hope to re-find my balance, to return to my life-giving reading and writing, and to continue blogging – .


If Great Art is Dead, Who Cares?

in the words of Ellen Dissanayake:

If we now abandon the ideology (or religion) of art that temporarily replaced the ideology of religion, is it enough for us to replace both of these – religion & art – with wit, in the form of clever humor, clever amusements, and with-it-ness?

Our abandonment of false truths may indicate our intellectual advancement, but the maladies in our social and personal lives suggest that we are not for the better of it.

I acknowledge the vitality and creativity in popular culture, but I wish these did not have to be at the expense of Great Art. … The ultimate concerns of the human condition are not addressed with even gritty, realistic cop and lawyer shows, popular songs, or homilies for children.

In the absence of traditional religion and its rites, Great Art provides awareness of the most thoughtful and serious response to such inescapable facts of life as love and loss, abandonment and despair, regret and hope, success and failure, and the ineluctable satisfaction and frustrations of living with others.

In the end each of us is ultimately alone in our own unique, desiring, precious, and perishable being. Through the ages Great Art, like religion before it, has been concerned with that fact, and the ramifications of that fact, which will never change.




   I love a broad margin of my life. … Sometimes I sat from sunrise til noon … in undisturbed solitude and stillness. …

I grew those seasons like corn in the night.

- Henry David Thoreau


   … what kind of cultural enlightenment will it take for us to say that we value this or that because it is beautiful, because it nourishes the imagination, because it is good for the soul?

- Barbara Hurd

someone advised me to read Barbara Hurd, I’m sincerely grateful – .


Art and Transformation

Today I’m reading Ellen Dissanayake. Yesterday I received two of her essays in my mailbox; Orphans and a Dog: Art and Transformation & If Great Art is Dead, Who Cares?

I knew her topics would interest me, but I had no idea her writing would be such a pleasure to read.

Here’s a snip from the first essay:

Art as transformation is not a new idea. (Everything important about art probably has been said before). But this is no reason not to say more about it, just as there is no reason not to draw a rock or tree because someone else – even you, yourself – has drawn it before. We continue to eat, we continue to make love, we continue to enjoy our children and walk in the woods, even though we have done these things countless times before. There are intrinsic rewards. They comprise what life is. They reveal us to who we are and why we are here at least as much and often much more than new experiences do.

There are intrinsic rewards in making art – there is, in my mind, also intrinsic rewards in experiencing art and literature. To use Dissanayake’s terms: It comprise (I am tempted to say embrace) what life is and reveal to us why we are here.

All living beings partake in the ongoing of transformation of the world, but in addition to being subject to the world’s cycling and impermanence, human transformation is also of a somewhat different kind. Humans transform naturally occurring things for cultural use. This phenomenon is described in a very thorough way by the French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, in his book The Raw and the Cooked. There is yet a further characteristic, described by the American anthropologist, Herbert Cole by the following line: the raw, the cooked, and the gourmet, meaning that humans are not satisfied by transformation alone, we wish to transform nature and things into something more – gourmet (shelter into architecture, clothes into fashion, depictions into art, words into litterateur … etc.)

These are amongst the things Dissanayake is writing about -




Ellen Dissanayake, an independent scholar, has written three books on art, most recently, Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began.



“Of course, thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams. A psychoanalyst should, therefore, turn his attention to this simple localization of our memories. I should like to give the name of topoanalysis to this auxiliary of psychoanalysis. Topoanalysis, then would be the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives.”

Gaston Bachelard: The Poetics of Space (La Poétique de l’Espace), 1958

The house, the most intimate of all spaces, “protects the daydreamer” and therefore understanding the house is for Bachelard a way to understand the soul.

Mariam Ghani: A Brief History of Collapses (excerpt)

on being human

In some ways I guess this blog is here to demonstrate this one specific matter of fact: It’s almost impossible to talk about art. It’s extremely difficult to find words for transgressing experiences. I try, we try – again and again, but words tend to fail us. They become too many, or too vague; deficient, imprecise or obscure. They complicate the picture instead of illuminating it.

Still we can do nothing but try, again and again, to find the right words, to fail – fail better. Here is Bill Viola:

It might sound zen’ish, but Viola is not talking about emptying our heads, rather he is talking about bringing the heart of emotions into the picture:

We’re much too much in our head; thinking and talking. We need to bring our head down and our heart up. We need to bring our emotions in. We need to centre ourselves: Bringing the head & heart together.

And then he goes on to say:

Artists are the gift givers. A wonderful idea, isn’t it?!, Our time is limited, we have to take care of that, we have to leave something behind. What we leave behind could be anything –

In the spirit of Viola, I guess one could say that art is a gift for people to come.


Five Angels for the Millennium 2001 by Bill Viola born 1951Bill Viola: Five Angels for the Millennium (2001) © Bill Viola


Bill Viola (1951), American video and sound installation artist. 

wild & safe

It’s weekend, maybe you can find some time to listen to this fantastic conversation between Ann Hamilton and Krista Tippett? Hamilton is a well known visual artist, but there is definitively also a poet inside of her.


Born in Lima, Ohio, in 1956, Ann Hamilton received a BFA in textile design from the University of Kansas in 1979 and an MFA in sculpture from the Yale School of Art in 1985. From 1985 to 1991, she taught on the faculty of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Hamilton has served on the faculty of The Ohio State University since 2001, where she is a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Art.


«I mostly think of my work as a painting»

Not being convinced that art is therapy, I will again turn my mind to the study of ekphrasis.

Ekphrasis – representing a work of art in a literary language – makes explicit the connection between visual art and literature. So lets start with a little excerpt from an interview Kevin McNeilly made with the Canadian author Anne Carson

KM: Do you conceive your work in any visual sense?

AC: Oh always; I mostly think of my work as a painting.

KM: Ut pictura poesis?

AC: No, not capturing what’s out the window. But making it like what Mallarmé talks about, using words so that you create a surface that leaves an impression in the mind no matter what the words mean. It’s not about the meaning of each individual word adding up to a proposition; it’s about the way they interact with each other as daubs of meaning, you know as impressionist colours interact, daubs of paint, and you stand back and see a story emerge from the way that the things are placed next to each other. You can also do that with language.



Art is not difficult because it wishes to be difficult, rather because it wishes to be art.

—Donald Barthelme

Ekphrasis (also spelled “ecphrasis”) is a direct transcription from the Greek ek, “out of,” and phrasis, “speech” or “expression.” It’s often been translated simply as “description,” and seems originally to have been used as a rhetorical term designating a passage in prose or poetry that describes something. More narrowly, it could designate a passage providing a short speech attributed to a mute work of visual art. In recent decades, the use of the term has been limited, first, to visual description and then even more specifically to the description of a real or imagined work of visual art.

art is not therapy

Last week I went to Amsterdam to see and review Alain de Botton and John Armstrong’s exhibition “Art is Therapy” at the Rijksmuseum. The immediate result of my trip was a review written and published in the Norwegian newspaper Morgenbladet. (A weekly, national newspaper focused on culture, politics & arts).

For 7 years I have been working as an art critic, and just as long I have been interested in how to best convey visual art through words. How are we to write on art in a way which invites the readers into the seen/scene. As an art critic I am more interested in initiating thoughts and ideas in my reader, than in delivering a judgement. My views will, if I’m successful, be a part of my text, but my goal is never to convince my reader to agree with me, rather I’m interested in getting the reader to reflect upon certain themes, feelings, questions etc., which the artwork in question brings to life.

information overload (from the exhibition)

I got interested in de Botton/Armstrong’s work on art first through their book Art as Therapy. Just as me, they are interested in empowering the public, the viewers. But in opposition to me they seem to be surer in how to go about the challenge, and we clearly differ in what we view as art’s purpose.

A central statement in the “Art is Therapy” exhibition is: do not ask what you can do for art; ask what art can do for you! …

I regard de Botton/Armstrong’s attempt to convince us that art is therapy as a failure. A double failure, in fact:

1)    Botton/Armstrong’s selection of works and presentation in the Rijksmuseum is only understandable if you read what the curators have written about the works they have chosen, or if you listen to them on audio-guide. In both cases the curators are much too talkative, leaving little or no room for the viewers own thoughts, filling the therapeutic room with babble.

(I found I had to choose between trying to understand what Alain de Botton thought about the selected artworks, and viewing the works in question. It was impossible to combine the two).

2)    The point of a psychological therapy (which I assume is the kind of therapy the two curators have in mind) is not to ask what anyone else (the therapist or art – ) can do for you, the therapy is about how you – yourself – can evolve and improve your own life. The central question should therefore not have been to ask what art can do for you, but what you can do for yourself through art.

I do not think it is a good idea to ask what art can du for you, rather one should try to see how one, through art, can broaden ones own understanding of the world in a wide sense, that is life – as a personal, collective, historic and contemporary experience.

I do not see de Botton/Armstrong’s lack of success as a reason to stop searching for better ways to write about art. But for my own part, its time for a detour – I’m going back to my previous studies of  Ekphrasis


ekphrasis (greek) literally, description, from ekphrazein to recount, describe, from ex- out + phrazein to point out, explain


«Art is Therapy»

- here is the result from the Norwegian jury; my review of Alain de Botton & John Armstrong’s exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – now on print in Morgenbladet (Norwegian weekly newspaper)

(a resume in English will follow tomorrow)


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