Arctic Dreams

You know – my fascination for the Arctic is bottomless, so it might not come as a surprise that I’m deeply in love with Barry Lopez‘s wonderful book Arctic Dreams. I read it like a sacred text, word by word, paragraph by paragraph. Someone said: Lopez writes about the visible world with the mind of a scientist and the heart of a poet – it is so very true.

In the following lines Lopez is writing about snow gees by the Klamath Basin, how he fell asleep to the sound of their night flying:

I felt a calmness birds can bring to people; and, quieted, I sensed here the outlines of the oldest mysteries: the nature and the extent of space, the fall of light from the heavens, the pooling of time in the present, as if it were water

craft is what releases art

Today I’m quoting Richard Gilbert, who has written an excellent text called:


you should read it all  - all of you!

Here are a few samples to give you an idea what it’s all about:

  • Craft is what releases art
  • Art announces itself in form
  • While talent is common [sic!], the higher levels of craft are not, so craft is our appropriate focus

I was struck by a new insight: putting talent in center makes life into a pure chance scenario, an everything is written in the stars kind of reality, focusing on craft is empowering!

beauty is not about facts

There’s nobody living who couldn’t stand all afternoon in front of a waterfall…, wrote Agnes Martin. Anyone who can sit on a stone in a field awhile can see my painting. Nature is like parting a curtain, you go into it…as you would cross an empty beach to look at the ocean. It’s not about facts, it’s about feelings….A definition of art is that it makes concrete our most subtle emotions.

<p><a href=”″&gt;

Anne Lamott

Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?

 I don’t think I have ever read anyone writing about self-loathing, disappointment and despair in such a respectful and attentive way as Anne Lamott. It is very easy to identify with Lamott’s narrator, even if her problem may be slightly different from yours, it doesn’t really matter.  When the specificities of a certain life is put in parentheses, our common daily struggle for living decent lives in a much too complicated world, is much the same. Identification is important, but what makes Lamott’s writing into art, is her unexpected twists – when she, for example, suddenly makes something tragically into a comedy, or; when she, in the middle of a very strange story, suddenly let the reader meet herself – mirrored –  in the most unexpected situations.

 do know the sorrow of being ordinary, and that much of our life is spent doing the crazy mental arithmetic of how, at any given moment, we might improve, or at least disguise or present our defects and screw-ups in either more charming or more intimidating ways.

The two books I have been reading, and the lecture I have listened to, are all very much about Anne Lamott, she doesn’t try to hide the fact, BUT what surprises me, is how much they all also are about me – .


My Anne Lamott’s:

  • Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith (2007)
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995)
  • Word By Word (1996) audio


extraordinary books on writing – part two

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

First I listened to Word by Word, then to the audiobook version of Bird by Bird, and today I’m reading Bird by Bird on my iPad. Why? Because I got kind of hooked. Because Anne Lamott writes and talks exceedingly well about writing. Because Lamott knows what she’s talking about – and seems genuinely interested in sharing her insights.

In short: Anne Lamott makes you want to write!

In order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent. If not, why are you writing? Why are you here? … Think of reverence as awe, as presence in and openness to the world. Think of those times when you’ve read prose or poetry that is presented in such a way that you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse into someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together or at least to have some meaning for a moment. This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of — please forgive me — wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break in on our small, bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious.

Bird by Bird - Quick SUMMARY of major points:

  • Write regularly whether you feel like writing or not, and whether you think what you’re writing is any good or not.
  • Give yourself short assignments. Keep it manageable so you don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Write sh**ty first drafts. (I’m not being prissy about the word choice, just don’t want to get hung up in spam filters.) Don’t expect a piece of writing to flow perfectly out of your fingers on the first go. Of all the points she makes, many people seem to find this one the most helpful.
  • Let the Polaroid develop; in other words, observe, watch, listen, stay in the moment, until you understand what you want to write about.
  • Know your characters.
  • Let the plot grow out of the characters.
  • “If you find that you start a number of stories or pieces that you don’t ever bother finishing…it may be that there is nothing at their center about which you care passionately. You need to put yourself at their center, you and what you believe to be true or right.”
  • Figure out ways to jam the transmissions from Radio KFKD, the interior station feeding doubts and criticism into your brain. Especially about jealousy of other writers.
  • Have pen and paper ready at all times. (She always carries an index card.)
  • Call around. Ask for help.
  • Start a writing group.
  • Write in your own voice.
  • Being published brings a quiet joy, but it doesn’t transform your life, and eventually you have to write again.
  • “Devotion and commitment will be their own reward.”


on my desk

My desk tends to be a rather crowded place. But every now and then I try to tidy up, mainly to clear my thoughts.

The next couple of weeks I will be writing a short essay on art and feminism. It’s a commissioned work, with limits in words and a set time. An enjoyable and feasible project.

And as usual there will also be several critiques to write.

 But hopefully -

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 – 1867): The Bather, known as the Valpinçon Bather, (1807-08)

This Seated Woman, as the painting was originally titled, is one of the three works Ingres was required to send to Paris as a student at the French Academy in Rome (the other two being a Half-length portrait of a woman bathing, 1807 and an Oedipus and the Sphinx, 1808). It was an odd choice of subject for a student at the Academy. The few critics who commented on the work were unimpressed. It was not until the Universal Exhibition in 1855 that the work received favorable notice from critics, including the Goncourt brothers, who wrote, “Rembrandt himself would have envied the amber color of this pale torso.”

- I will also manage to spend some time with my main ongoing project: art and beauty


During my winter holiday I have done a bit of research, reading in these books:

  1. Beauty & Art by Elizabeth Prettejohn

What do we mean when we call a work of art `beautiful`? How have artists responded to changing notions of the beautiful? Which works of art have been called beautiful, and why? – Why should we care about beauty in the twenty-first century?

  1. Beauty by Roger Scruton

What makes an object – either in art, in nature, or the human form – beautiful?

  1. The Art Instinct by Denis Dutton

Darwinistic aesthetics: why a chimpanzee with a paintbrush is having fun but not making art etc.

  1. Hinges by Grace Dane Mazur

What is it to be at the edge of the world of the imagination? How do writers, readers, and thinkers deal with this threshold? How do painters represent it?

I’m reading them, these books and several more, all at the same time, filling my mind with new thoughts and ideas, comparing, challenging and adjusting. Making chaos, or maybe – if one puts generosity to the process – a dynamic system. My plan is to gradually, over time, find new paths – in my own language.

Time will tell …

just have to show you this:

have you noticed how, after I begun my study of beauty, old people have started invading my pages …?!

Hå. 25.10.13. Edvard. Foto: Elin Høyland

Elin Høyland: Time to wait

This marvelous picture, by the Norwegian photographer Elin Høyland, belongs to a series called Time to wait. Time to wait  documents the life of the farmer Edvard Bjelland. Through Høyland’s wonderful images we get a glimpse into a life which seems strangely unfamiliar, even if it is led here … and now!

Elin Høyland is well known for a series called Brothers, her new images are in line with earlier works, but is new in the way she this time uses color.

Elin Høyland: The Brothers

To me this is pure beauty!


Elin Høyland
Photographer, based in Oslo, Norway.
In 2011, the book, The Brothers, was published by in the UK.

eyes wide open

You know by now that I’m not planning a thorough theoretical study of beauty, my intention is rather to take a stroll into the maze – hoping for a glimpse of beauty, expecting nothing. I’m a vagabond, preferring to get lost. 

But, obviously, my way might not be the only way … (!), there is a long tradition of studies on beauty to consider:

The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy, and is—with the nature of art—one of the two fundamental issues in philosophical aesthetics. Beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, with goodness, truth, and justice. It is a primary theme among ancient Greek, Hellenistic, and medieval philosophers, and was central to 18th and 19th-century thought, as represented in treatments by such thinkers as Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, Burke, Kant; Hegel, Schopenhauer, Hanslick, and Santayana. By the beginning of the twentieth century, beauty was in decline as a subject of philosophical inquiry, and also as a primary goal of the arts. However, the last decade has seen a revival of interest in the subject.

- C. Sartwell

Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, Burke, Kant; Hegel, Schopenhauer, Hanslick, and Santayana; obviously all very clever guys (NB: wasn’t there ever a female philosopher studying beauty?!). Wise men well worth considering; but I’m afraid  mimicking someone else’s reflections is not what I’m after. Listening to Kant (some will say) is very interesting, but I’m not sure if studying philosophy is the perfect way to beauty. I’ve come to believe one really has to see for oneself -

Luis Buñel, Salvador Dalí: Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog), 1929

- eyes wide open …

when ordinary life captured

- becomes extraordinary 



michael wolf

How is it, that the most ordinary scenes, sometimes – when captured by the most watchful eye – can become art? And who would dispute the beauty in this very ordinary everyday scene? 

No doubt the ordinary will have a central place in my study of beauty. Recently I have started to wonder, if the genre of documentary (in film, photo, essay …), is more interested in studying beauty, than the more traditional art forms like painting, performance and sculpture? That is, do we have to go to the borderline between art and not art to find beauty?