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.

tierneygearon2

 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?

Clarifying

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.

 

lost in a field of near copies

                  individual, and yet each lost in a field of near copies …

ai-weiwei-installs-6000-wooden-stools-in-berlin-for-evidence-designboom-01

Ai Weiwei, Stools (2014) © Ai Weiwei

individual, and yet each lost in a field of near copies — it could have been a definition of us, mankind, but is in fact a description used about Ai Weiwei’s new Berlin exhibition.

Tabourets, 2014 - 6000 simples tabourets en bois, dans la Lichtof du Martin-Gropius-Bau

Ai Weiwei, Stools (2014) © Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei has filled a large atrium in Martin-Gropius-Bau museum, Berlin, with more than 6,000 antique stools gathered from villages across China’s north — of the type that have been used in the Chinese countryside for hundreds of years, since the Ming Dynasty, the gallery states that “the result is an aesthetically pleasing, pixel-like work”. These stools, according to Ai Weiwei, are an expression of the centuries-old aesthetic of rural China. And it is really no problem to discover the aesthetic beauty in these objects. They look the same but different, just like us, each one with its own personality, the more worn and used, the more beautiful …

 


Ai Weiwei has not himself guided the executed of the exhibition, since the Chinese government has yet to return his passport, it is still impossible for him to leave China. Ai Weiwei is an artist, architect and politician. Hardly any of his works are without hidden allusions to internal Chinese affairs or to the large subject of “China and the West”.

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 – .

yoko_ono_painting_for_the_wind_en001

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).

 

 

 

 

listen & look

Perhaps, after all, the best way of talking about what you love is to speak of it lightly

- Albert Camus

Aase Texmon Rygh, Møbius (rund), 2013. Foto: Øystein Thorvaldsen.

Aase Texmon Rygh (b 1925), found her artistic vision at an early point, remaining faithful to it throughout her career. With exceptionally strong determination, she arrived at a simplified and abstract form of visual expression at a time when naturalistic sculpture still had a dominant place in Norway.

Much like British contemporaries Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, Aase Texmon Rygh explored the shape of the abstracted and simplified human figure in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the course of several years she developed an abstract language where motion and gesture played a central part. Later in her career she left the human figure behind altogether, and developed a purely abstract formal language as she became interested in concepts of stability, perpetuity and eternity.

 

Aase Texmon Rygh

The German mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius (1790-1868) gave his name to the Möbius Strip, which is best explained as giving half a twist to a flat strip of paper and fastening its ends together. This creates a surface with only one side facing both inward and outward. Aase Texmon Rygh considers this shape as universal as the circle and the square. She made a series of 5 sculptures based on the Möbius Strip: Møbius Round, Møbius Supine, Møbius Double, Møbius Standing and Møbius Triple.

craft is what releases art

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

CONTENT + CRAFT = ART

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.

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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 …

aesthetic perception as a mode of transcendence

You know; I’m interested in figuring out our common, everyday understanding of beauty. I’d like to know how we use and understand the concept beauty in contemporary art. But there is no way around the history of thoughts. We continue, whether we admit it or not, a long historical line of thinking, sometimes by contradicting it, other times by continuation.

Here are some words by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860):

through art and the aesthetic experience we can escape the suffering of our ordinary mental state

Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung

According to Schopenhauer the situation is like this: In our ordinary consciousness we see things in relation to ourselves; we have an egoistic view of the world. We do not see individual objects in the world in terms of their own intrinsic nature and qualities. Instead we see things in terms of utility, and specifically their utility to ourselves.

It is essential for us to see the world not objectively but subjectively, adding our own projections into experience in order to survive. It seems therefore fair to claim that our ordinary consciousness is acting in our best interest; it is allowing us to recognise threats and react to them. It also allows us to have desires that are needed in order to survive.

Art facilitates the transition “from the common knowledge of particular things to knowledge of the Idea.”

Great art should allow the non-genius, which is the vast majority of us, to temporarily transform from the ordinary mental state to that of the aesthetic mental state, which Schopenhauer calls the “aesthetic method of consideration”

Schopenhauer holds that aesthetics are a path to recognizing metaphysical truths and reveal the forms of will most objectively whilst avoiding the torment which the will inflicts.

One way to achieve a more tranquil state of consciousness is through aesthetic perception.

And this, I must admit, I find very – very interesting, and absolutely relevant. It’s as if we can se a parallel here between Schopenhauer and the “new” ideas of Alain de Botton, who writes about Art as Theraphy.