Happiness is being on the beam with life – to feel the pull of life

I write and underline in every interesting book I read. Making notes in beautiful art-books is obviously rather foolish, but if I’m to engage with what I read, I need to have a pen in hand, to scribble. This is also why I much prefer paper to digital books. IMG_2230

The text above is an excerpt of what I read this morning, a short cut from a lecture given by Agnes Martin in 1979. How is one to understand what she is saying here?

I read a sentence, stop to think, underline, read again, turn the words around in my mind. What is she trying to tell us? What does it all mean? Can I relate? Do I agree?

etc., etc.


Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.

– Agnes Martin


Agnes Martin


I am about to start working on an essay on the painter Agnes Martin.

Agnes Martin is currently (3 June 11 October 2015) on show at Tate Modern, London. Following the presentation at Tate Modern, the retrospective will travel to Kunstsammlung NRW, Düsseldorf; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not just in the eye. It is in the mind. It is our positive response to life.
Agnes Martin

Due to … life … I will not get to see the London exhibition until September, but I have seen some of Martin’s work before. The first time at Documenta 12 in Kassel, 2007.

I’m deeply moved by her work. I think of her paintings and drawings not primarily as pictures, but more like meditations. Like timeless events of serene tranquility.

I recently learned that Martin was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in early adulthood. Those of you who have been reading this blog for years, might remember that I – a decade ago – worked on a research project studying language in psychosis. Trying to find out more about how being psychotic affected one’s language skills. I have since abandoned both research and the field of psychiatry.



Agnes Martin, Friendship (1963) incised gold leaf and gesso on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York


Discovering Martin’s situation triggered my old interest. Martin’s symptoms included auditory hallucinations, spells of depression and catatonic trances. Some say her voices directed almost every aspect of her life, sometimes punitive and sometimes protective. But there are different ways of understanding how the disease affected her work.

This is from Princenthal’s biography Agnes Martin. Her Life & Work (2015):

Although the voices didn’t tell her what to paint – they seemed to steer clear of her work – the images that came to her through inspirations were fixed and articulate enough to suggest a relationship between visions and voices: she heard and saw things that others didn’t

Martin’s mental health will not be the main focus of my text. But I must say this: I find it really very impressive how she managed to work, making the most beautiful art, having to struggle with such a severe disability. It makes my respect for her – if possible – even greater.


And so, dear reader, be warned: there will definitively be more on Martin in the weeks to come …

Agnes Martin (b. 1912, Maklin, Saskatchewan, Canada; d. 2004 Taos, New Mexico) studied at Western Washington College of Education, Bellingham, WA, prior to receiving her B.S. (1942) from Teachers College, Columbia University. A few years following graduation, Martin matriculated at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, where she also taught art courses before returning to Columbia University to earn her M.A. (1952)

art and “experience”

new ideas for my personal aesthetics – as always; snitched …

“Insofar as I was interested in the arts I was interested in the disconnect between my experience of actual artworks and the claims made on their behalf,”

Ben Lerner: Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

Descent from Cross -Detail

Descent from the Cross – Detail Mary Magdalene

In Leaving the Atocha Station, the protagonist, Adam Gordon, is a young American poet living in Spain on fellowship money. Adam grapples with doubts about the usefulness of poetry—and art in general—within the format of the novel. A major theme in the novel is the gap between Poetry with a capital “P”—the virtual possibilities of the art, the immense claims traditionally made for those possibilities—and actual poems, which to a certain extent must always betray the abstract potential of the medium the second they become merely real.

“I tried hard to imagine my poems’ relations to Franco’s mass graves, how my poems could be said meaningfully to bear on the systematic and deliberate destruction of a people or a planet,” Adam muses while on a cigarette break from a pretentious poetry reading. “I tried hard to imagine my poems or any poems as machines that could make things happen … but I could not imagine this, could not even imagine imagining it.

“And yet, when I imagined the total victory of those other things over poetry, when I imagined, with a sinking feeling, a world without even the terrible excuses for poems that kept faith with the virtual possibilities of the medium, without the sort of absurd ritual I’d participated in that evening, then I intuited an inestimable loss, a loss not of artworks but of art, and therefore infinite, the total triumph of the actual, and I realised that, in such a world, I would swallow a bottle of white pills.”

Ben Lerner: Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

window moment


a window moment

Jane Hirshfield: Many good poems have a kind of window-moment in them–a point at which they change their direction of gaze or thought in a way that suddenly opens a broadened landscape of meaning and feeling. Encountering such a moment, the reader breathes in some new infusion, as steeply perceptible as any physical window’s increase of light, scent, sound, or air. The gesture is one of lifting, unlatching, releasing; mind and attention swing open to newly peeled vistas.