generally speaking?

Is it at all possible to speak in general terms about the meaning of art in one’s own life?  I cannot imagine life without art, but maybe its just a personal matter?  I’m turning thoughts about the role of art in society around in my head, without coming to any satisfying answer. The only thing I’m pretty sure of, is that art is not a pretty add on, art is for real, art is about life and death.


 Tierney Gearon: Daddy, where are you?

Tierney Gearon’s main focus as a photographer is her own  children, and her mentally ill mother. Above is the mother together with a young child. It’s a frightening scene, the grandmother totally incapable of understanding what kinds of feelings she arises in her grandson. But what worries me even more, is the mother – the photographer – and how she uses a situation like this to make art!?

But at the same time I have to admit; the picture is, artistically, a great image. A kind of image that rips your heart & soul to pieces.

This is Tierney Gearon – in her own words:

My mom is mentally ill, and a big part of it is how I celebrated my mom instead of being embarrassed or trying to hide from her. Instead, I celebrate the beauty in her …Not only does it rejuvenate my soul, but photography also helps me to process things, even though I might not be realizing it at the time. What did The Mother Project specifically help you work out? That I’m not mentally ill and that I can’t fix my mom. They were two really big battles I had to get through, and this work helped me with that.

I find Gearon’s own statement very interesting, because as one can see, she uses art, the art she herself produces, in a therapeutic or palliative way. An interesting question is if we, the public, can use her art the same way.


Tierney Gearon, American photographer (1963).

What is art for?


By now you all know about my grant (whether you are interested or not…). I was awarded this grant to make an outline for a book very much inspired by Alain de Botton & John Armstrong’s Art as Therapy. Actually my intention is to try to test some of their hypothesis in praxis – not as they do, on historical pictures, but on contemporary art.

This is what got me started last autumn:

… the art establishment proceeds under the assumption that art can have no purpose in any instrumental or utilitarian sense. It exists “for art’s sake,” and to ask anything more of it is to muddy pure and sacred waters. This refusal to name a purpose seems profoundly mistaken. If art is to deserve its privileges (and it does), we have to learn how to state more clearly what it is for and why it matters in a busy world. I would argue that art matters for therapeutic reasons. It is a medium uniquely well suited to helping us with some of the troubles of inner life: our desire for material things, our fear of the unknown, our longing for love, our need for hope.

Alain de Botton

According to Art as Therapy:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Art is 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.

Art as Therapy presents 7 areas, seven functions of art:

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

Alain de Botton & John Armstrong are criticized for being naive, for using art in an instrumental way, for positivistic thinking. Alain de Botton agrees on the instrumental objection, that is he advocates for an instrumental stance, he says:

It is a totally instrumentalist point of view. It’s very unfashionable but I’m totally into instrumentalism, 100%. And some people go, “Well, you’re using it this way but what if someone else wants to use it this way and another way?” And I think that’s great — there’s not just one instrumentalism. There are many paths, but the point is you want to go somewhere with it, and you should be able to say where.

There are lots of attacks on the art world, from all sorts of directions. People say the art world is pretentious, people say it’s a close-knit coterie driving up prices; you could criticize it from many different angles. Ultimately, the art world doesn’t make it easy for people to use art in the way it should be used, which is to negotiate the great challenges of life. I think that art has a great therapeutic dimension, and the art world doesn’t help you find your way to that.

Caravaggio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601-02), Oil on canvas

I’m not sure about the great therapeutic dimension, it looks very much like some kind of positive thinking, and I’m much too melancholic & misanthropic for believing in such ideas. But at the same time I’m sure that art is alfa-omega in my own life, and I know I’m not alone in valuing art as an extremely important aspect of life. So I go to Alain de Botton & John Armstrong as a skeptic, a doubting Thomas - refusing to believe anything without trying out the ideas, testing the 7 functions, for myself.


from art – with love


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 – .


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).





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.

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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 …

what do we talk about -

- when we talk about beauty?

Here is a question for you: Is it at all possible to talk about beauty as a defined or delimited concept? Let me show you some examples of art usually described as beautiful. Do these works have a common quality of any sorts – a quality which could be named beauty?

The Virgin and Child with Angels, Jean Fouquet . Oil on panel, 94.5 x 85.5cm, c. 1452, Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten.

In The Waning of the Middle Ages the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga described this painting as a most appalling example of a dangerous blend of amorous and religious feelings. “There is a flavour of blasphemous boldness about the whole,” he wrote.

Blossoming Almond Tree,Vincent van Gogh, Saint-Rémy: February, 1890

Blossoming Almond Tree is one of Vincent van Gogh’s best known paintings and is noteworthy in that both Van Gogh and his closest family held the work in high regard. This painting is one of a small handful that Van Gogh produced with a particular person in mind–in this case, his brother and sister-in-law’s newborn baby. Van Gogh was deeply moved when Theo and Johanna chose to name the child Vincent and he always harboured a great deal of affection for the child. Van Gogh painted Blossoming Almond Tree to honour his namesake and it remains a tour-de-force, both the product of Vincent’s fondness for his nephew as well as the Japanese art which he so greatly admired.

Today’s life and War, Gohar Dashti, 2008, Iran

Gohar Dashti is a contemporary favorite of mine, this is what she says about her series Today’s Life and War:

The series Today’s Life and War emerged from my experiences during the eight year Iran-Iraq War. This conflict has had a strong symbolic influence on the emotional life of my generation. Although we may be safe within the walls of our homes, the war continues to reach us through newspapers, television and the Internet.

This body of work represents war and its legacy, the ways in which it permeates all aspects of contemporary society. I capture moments that reference the ongoing duality of life and war without precluding hope. In a fictionalized battlefield, I show a couple in a series of everyday activities: eating breakfast, watching television, and celebrating their wedding. Though they do not visibly express emotion, the man and woman embody the power of perseverance, determination, and survival.

Sensuality, nature and the human condition; it is possible to find beauty everywhere. But are we talking about the same kind of beauty in different circumstances, or are we using a word which is out of synch, trying to group things much too different to be compared?
in short:
what do we talk about – when we talk about beauty?

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?




the reason of beauty is emotional

Here is David Brooks; adding valuable arguments to our ongoing study of art & beauty:

We really have to trust our emotions, which are much smarter than our reason in some ways – because our emotions tell us what to value.

- we don’t have the choice to control our emotions, but we do have the power to educate our emotions. And we do that through literature and through art and music to give ourselves a repertoire of emotional experiences.


on beauty

A main theme for my non-fictional writing this year will be art and beauty, or beauty in art. It might sound like an obvious choice for an art critic, but the thing is:

It is not!

It is almost as if the concept beauty has become a taboo. Or as Marilynne Robinson says in the opening of her excellent essay ON BEAUTY (Tin House):

It has seemed to me for some time that beauty, as a conscious element of experience, has gone into abeyance among us.

Robinson carries on to say that the problem is not shortage of beauty, but rather it has to do with finding an appropriate way to talk about it.

For me, this is a core definition of beauty: that it is both rigorous and dynamic and that it somehow bears a deep relationship to truth.

- Marilynne Robinson

Marilynne Robinson

So; how can we think and write about beauty without sounding naïve and simple-minded (as if we are forgetting all the troubles of the world, forgetting that we live in a racist, violent and discriminating society which seems to try to extinct itself through pollution and exploitation)?

Maybe we could turn things around, and say that focusing on beauty is not an act of repression, but rather a necessary thought provoking and critical position which makes us aware of what is worth fighting for?

We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.

- Annie Dillard