Writing is easy:

From Virginia Woolf’s beautiful garden studio in Sussex

I’m home after a week in London. I have already written a critique of Bill Viola in St Paul’s and of Marina Abramovic in Serpentine (non of the texts is hitherto published, so my judgement has to stay a secret). But the most difficult task for me, as a writer, is to make an essay on Virginia Woolf, related to the exhibition at NPG. The text is right now  spinning somewhere in the ether between my mind and hand. But how is one to write well about someone like Virginia Woolf, such a self-opinionated woman, such a great master of words?! Is there at all anything new to contribute – .

I’m sort of beginning to feel the trueness of Gene Fowler’s words:

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead

 

Journalists gather at the opening of the exhibition Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision, at the National Portrait Gallery, London

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“My work is beautiful”

Artists hate the word beauty, especially German artists. If you wanted to be really hated in Germany, then you would say, “My work is beautiful.” German artists believe in ugliness and nastiness. I think beauty can be something extremely important in our lives. And it’s not true that this is naive. This is what is the most needed: inner beauty and outer beauty, which is an incredible challenge for us.

 

- Wolfgang Laib

DAY BY DAY, GOOD DAY

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Apropos art & everyday life:

Since 1974, the German artist Peter Dreher has painted nearly 5,000 versions of the same picture: a realistic, life-size image of a plain, cylindrical water glass centrally placed on a blank surface against a white wall.

Peter Dreher “Nr. 44 (Day),” from 1982, in oil on burlap.

Credit 2014 Peter Dreher/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and Koenig & Clinton, New York

Here is an excerpt from a beautiful conversation between Peter Dreher and Lynne Tillman (1996)

Lynne Tillman: You said you wanted something that could be recognized as a piece of art not only in a gallery…I wonder what that means to you?

Peter Dreher: I think painting should be open or recognizable to everybody. Everybody. These little paintings of a glass, everybody can understand. You see a glass, you say, “It’s a glass, it’s a nice painting, it’s realistic.” You don’t feel that you didn’t understand it. But if you want to learn more about it, you can. If you begin to deal with this concept, I think a whole world opens to you. (…) The object, the glass, is a simple, simple thing. An abstract painting is something much more difficult to understand. You have to have a certain education to understand it.

LT: If it were just one glass, I’d agree with you. But when you produce and show hundreds of them, it does become abstract and conceptual. It raises many issues. You can think about the glass as a kind of container of ideas, you can think about the glass being half full or half empty, a kind of philosophical statement. The project’s also about art history—painters have been painting still lifes for a very long time.

PD: If you do it a hundred times, people will ask themselves, “If he does it a hundred times, it cannot be to portray the glass. It must be something else. And what is it?” It’s just what I see, and I don’t see a glass, I see a painting. I see the work of a painter.

 

 Peter Dreher “Nr. 0,” from 1972, in oil on burlap.

PD: My idea was only to paint something in the way painters did 35,000 years ago, say they painted elephants. Then, when the work was finished, it was forgotten. They had to do the painting again and again and again. So it was one, then five, then a thousand. But the idea was not a series. The idea was just a lifetime, doing something in your lifetime, doing it with concentration, and showing that it’s not necessary to change the reason, the motive.

Peter Dreher “Nr. 2469,” from 2009, in oil on canvas

PD: I saw a film of a Zen Buddhist master. The interviewer asked him, “What is your task?” He said, “To become a dog.” I think that’s a great idea. Because a dog has no intention of influencing anybody. I think you know what I mean.

LT: Yes, I do. There’s a joke going around: “In cyberspace, nobody knows if you’re a dog.”

PD: Today I told Lucio Pozzi a story of “the frog who fell into the milk.” The frog was afraid to drown. He was working with his feet, very fast, to keep his head above the milk. So he made butter and then he had an island he could sit on. That’s what we, I, do.

LT: I’m still fascinated by the idea that you paint the glass everyday.


Peter Dreher (b. 1932, Mannheim, Germany) studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts at Karlsruhe from 1950 to 1956, and was Professor of Painting at the State Academy, Karlsruhe, from 1968 to 1997. The artist lives and works in Wittnau, Germany.

 

from art – with love

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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 – .

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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).

 

 

 

 

if art is to matter …

Continuing yesterday’s post – here is Alain De Botton, arguing for an instrumental use of art: 

The idea that one might use art for a purpose, for “instrumental” reasons, tends to set off alarm bells. Art is not an instrument, comes the almost automatic reply. It shouldn’t be thought of as some kind of tool. It’s not a pill. It shouldn’t be asked to perform some specific function, especially something as egocentric as to cheer you up or to make you a more empathetic person. Art galleries aren’t chemists.

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Antti Laitinen © Self-portrait in the Swamp (2002)

I couldn’t disagree more, Alain de Botton continues:  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.

- Alain de Botton

I’m not sure of exactly what Laitinen’s picture bring to my soul. But spending time with art is amongst the most meaningful things I do in my life, even if it’s sometimes rather difficult to explain why.

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ANTTI LAITINEN © still from:  It’s My Island, (2007)

Art pleasure might be difficult to explain, but it’s still worth investigating: Maybe I love art because it’s a consolation to see people investing all their time and creativity in the strangest of projects? Maybe I love art because it reminds me that life isn’t a cost-benefit equation. Maybe I love art because it makes my everyday world more magical, unpredictable, and beautiful?

What about you? Can you tell me what kind of function – if any – art has in your life?

… art as therapy?!

What is art for?

It’s a difficult question, a question we tend to ignore in the sphere of contemporary art and theory. We, the establishment, find it rather naïve to ask such a blunt question. We are sometimes very unsure of ourselves as artist (why am I doing this? Am I good enough?? etc.), but to question art in itself, thats really over-the-top.

Being an art critic I am definitively a part of the art establishment, the elite. It’s not a choice – it’s a fact. I have, just as my colleagues, been studying the dry theory of aesthetics for years and years. Reading Alain de Botton & John Armstrong’s common sense view on art, as presented in their new book Art as Therapy, is therefore an extremely liberating, thought provoking and refreshing change from more traditional thesis & dissertations on the subject. Here are two thinkers arguing for the meaning of art, as something that can be found outside of art. Two men daring to say that art has a purpose, and a meaning, when we all know art is primarily made for art’s sake

 … or isn’t it?

Here is how they start their new book – Art as Therapy:

This book proposes that 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.

How about that: better versions of ourselves?!!! Marvellous idea, isn’t it? But isn’t it a bit too naïve? The authors don’t seem to think so. But they are well aware that some of us, especially the elite, will. And I’m sure they enjoy the opposition! Because when titling a book; Art as Therapy, you are sure to get a lot of predisposed readers; the expertise, the establishment, all those of us believing we work with art for art’s sake … no meaning involved whatsoever …

The most perennially popular category of art is the cheerful, pleasant and pretty kind: meadows in spring, the shade of trees on a hot summer day, pastoral landscapes, smiling children. This can be deeply troubling to people of taste and intelligence.

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Vincent Van Gogh: Almond Blossoms, 1890

History tells us Van Gogh painted the  Almond Blossoms paintings to celebrate the birth of his nephew and namesake, son of his brother Theo. Todays art establishment worries about prettiness, pretty pictures feed sentimentality. And we do not want to be sentimental, do we?!

A legitimate question is therefore: Is  Almond Blossoms a sentimental picture? Does it make us unaware of all the problems in the world? The complexities of life? The suffering? In short: Does the Almond Blossoms make us stupid? Or can it be that a painting like this rather enhances our ability to understand the complexity of the world, be aware of beauty, and of art’s possibility to capture an ever changing world in a single image – ? Art’s ability to enhance our senses?

Art as tool

The authors see art as 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.

The book presents 7 areas, seven functions of art. (There are, of course, others, but these seem to be among the most common and convincing. AaT p5)

The seven functions of art are:

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

To tell you more, I first have some pleasant reading to do -

… we a world of accountants

I’ve told you before, but it’s well worth repeating: Lisa Carver’s Reconsidering Yoko Ono, it’s a marvelous book. Carver’s book isn’t a traditional work of art history, or an artist monograph; it seems rather to touch upon the soul of Ono’s life-long project. Carver’s style is essayistic and free, her work a body of inspired writing. Here is what I read today, which of course could – and should – be taken as a piece of good advice to all of us;

To be accepted, to be thought nice, is Woman’s power. That is something Yoko doesn’t need.

Ono has made a career and a life out of doing exactly what she was not supposed to do, and not being what she was supposed to be. And when she does tell us what to do, it’s the undoable. Because if you cannot do that, what else might you not do? The possibilities of the impossible is endless! Let banking and engineering deal with the doable, the possible. They build our houses and put food on our tables. But if we have no impossible as well, it is all rectangles and calories and dreamless sleep …

 Lisa Carver: Reconsidering Yoko Ono (18-19)

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a deeper level of experience -

I do not know how this happened; but suddenly, in the midst of reading about Yoko Ono, I remembered something I have read years ago in the The Birth of Tragedy. It has to do with art and life.

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Edvard Munch, Friedrich Nietzsche (1906)

For Nietzsche, art is not just a form of human activity but is rather the highest expression of the human spirit.

… it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.

Nietzsche criticizes his own age (though his words apply equally to the present day) for being overly rationalistic, for assuming that it is best to treat existence and the world primarily as objects of knowledge. For Nietzsche, this stance makes life meaningless because knowledge and rationality in themselves do nothing to justify existence and the world. Life finds meaning, according to Nietzsche, only through art. Art, music, and tragedy in particular bring us to a deeper level of experience than philosophy and rationality. Existence and the world become meaningful not as objects of knowledge but as artistic experiences.  According to Nietzsche, art does not find a role in the larger context of life, but rather life takes on meaning and significance only as it is expressed in art.

But even if art as a way of living is a concern for Ono, I still feel I have taken on a strange challenge reading Ono in light of Nietzsche. They surely present themselves as a mismatched pair!

- Maybe an interesting idea, maybe not …

We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward.

I’m reading Lisa Carver’s Reaching Out with No Hands. Reconsidering Yoko Ono. It’s a very amusing and well written book. Carver has a strong personal tone – her text is filled with respect for Ono’s work. Here is why, according to Carver, Ono is such an important artist:

Yoko Ono is not pretty, she is not easy, her paintings aren’t recognizable, her voice is not melodious, her films are without plot, and her Happenings make no sense. One of her paintings you are told to sleep on. One of her paintings you are told to burn. One of her paintings isn’t a painting at all – it’s you climbing into an outdoor bathtub and looking at the sky. Most of her stuff is not even there. Thats why I love her. This is why we need her. We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward. We need more impossible in our culture.

Go out and and capture moonlight on water in a bucket, she commands. 

 

We have too much stuff already. It clutters our view, inward and outward. Isn’t this just a very good and precise observation?

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