Category Archives: Art Theory / Reflection on Art

Sublime Now

Though it’s impossible to discuss sublime today without historical references, I would like to use these to contradict the traditional denotations.

The term has its background in the ancient rhetorics, then – mainly through eighteenth-century Western-European philosophy it establishes itself firmly as an aesthetic concept, functioning along and in an opposition to other terms within the area like: beautiful, tragic, humorous, profane, ugly etc.

Yet, it’s probably worth to emphasize that, strangely enough, in E. Burke’s and I. Kant’s understanding the Sublime never fits into criteria of metaphysical or ontological phenomenon (or entity) – it simply exists in a beholder’s mind as a powerful yet transient, fleeting psychological and spiritual reaction, an emotion, feeling of sublime. From a historical point of view is interesting to see how the dialectics of the sublime, used by two great ontologists fits into the nature of the phenomenological school of thought, which is both specifically twentieth-century and opposed to metaphysics discipline. It seems that the concept under discussion never fully integrates into a traditional philosophical inquiry – being more Dionysian than Apollonian in its nature – the sublime is born from paradoxes, it’s based on these and – if it functions in any universal form (out of a beholder’s mind) – it probably takes the form of  an ontological oxymoron, an enigma – as unnerving as it is alluring.

Looking forward to the modern and postmodern times one may be easily dazzled by its potential to embody and to convey the sublime to an intensity not possible ever before. After ‘growing out’ of the Great Romantics’ idealistic enthusiasm on the matter, in the ‘after-God” era when the sublime cannot be simply mistaken for a religious/mystical experience, facing the challenges of  the shattered, discontinuous, idiolects and antitheses – based world, reaching scientific and technological heights difficult to imagine even few decades before – the humankind not longer chases but seems to meet on a regular basis that great oxymoron – the sublime.

It takes many forms and definitions – from the A. Hitchcock’s and C. Jung’s shadows then – G. Lucas’s astriferous epics, from Big Brother’s house grotesque and through the war/terrorism-rooted atrocities to Barrack’s Obama intense political charisma – Burke’s mind-expanding ‘negative pain’ and Kant’s ‘indefinite’ yet desired dread is as indisputably a part of the contemporary condition as Aristotle’s catharsis had to be for ancient Greeks.

Andreas Gursky’s photos, which  embrace the traditional understanding of the sublime as the vast, terrifying, annihilating, formless, liminal etc. and the ultra-modern embodiment of it in digitally mastered photographs of a postmodern – globalized and impersonal universe.

His approach would be that of a shock-therapy and a direct, uncompromising attack – perhaps the best way of a defense against the audacity and the… ridicule of the contemporary sublime.

Both Gursky’s work gives a picture of a formidable, limitless, always deeply confusing, often ugly and grotesque, sometimes eerily attractive spectacle, some sort of Baudrillard’s hypo-reality , and the ancient Roman bloody games – the reality, we live in today.

In Chicago Board of Trade II (above) human beings are nothing more than annoyingly numerous, uniform, yet nicely coloured dots, the well-rehearsed pixels; while in 99 Cents (above, 2) the supermarket goods take their place – and guess what? – one can hardly notice any substantial difference…

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From a bulletin of the Visual Artists Ireland

Arts Council Study Reveals Poor Living and Working Conditions of Artists

The average professional artist living in the Republic of Ireland earns just €14,500 a year from his or her art, despite having a higher level of formal education than the wider labour force, new research shows.

The data, published today by the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, reveals how many artists are now working on the island, and the challenges they face as they pursue their chosen professions.
In the most comprehensive study for a generation, the two arts councils have shed critical new light on what it means to be an artist, writer, painter, musician or performer in modern day Ireland, north and south.
The Living and Working Conditions of Artists in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland shows that artists are an exceptionally highly educated group, with over two-thirds having attained a university degree. They are also hard working, putting in more than 55 hours per week and frequently holding down extra jobs to support their creative endeavours.
In stark contrast to their academic achievements and evident commitment, however, the overwhelming majority of artists still earn just two-thirds of the average income for all others workers. Lack of provision for pensions also spells financial hardship ahead for the current generation of artists.
The findings of the report will influence how the arts councils continue to provide support and the measures they take to improve conditions for artists on the island.

You can read the full report here


More or less ‘incognita’?

Well, l cannot avoid this question now -not after almost four years of studying art and over two years of writing the blog with the ‘unknown’ promise in its title… How ‘known’ my land has become – to me and to others who – just due to my appearance within the ‘art-world’ – have been gracing me with their attention and often a friendship in here and in the ‘real’ life?

As l stated introducing the blog, and with some inevitable degree of audacity in all those happy beginnings – this writing of mine has been devoted to an exploration of an ‘unknown’ – ‘Terra lncognita’ of the contemporary art and my own personal expression. So – more or less ‘incognita’? Or – shall l rather ask – have l failed better or worse?

Some of my long-followers may already have an answer and l won’t blame them for that – where has the drive of the ‘old good times’ gone? And – the author’s ability of abandoning the site seems to be the only thing that got ‘better’ with time…

Right – cannot or won’t defend myself here. Not because of my apparently innate self-indulgence which had made this adventure possible at all, but cos – believe it or not – l’ve been trying to display some sort of integrity all the way through. Hence , never this very virtual profile has appeared better (hopefully not ‘worse’) than my actual experience had been-  day to day – enfolding the world as seen by the ‘painter’s’ eyes… Mirroring all the tides of emotions and the intellectual gain, as well as meaningfully keeping silent throughout the toughest bits…

But – to return to the dilemma – is it all more or less known/unknown right now? How do l feel about embarking the ‘professional’ board? These and many other questions need to be  addressed within the next few months in a way that nothing/nobody could have ever been able to teach me to deal with…

Am l afraid? Perhaps more than my sensibility and sentience can admit for the sake of my own well-being. Yet – in all that fear l’m still lucky to have all those beautiful individuals who will stay be me… and l’m still able to write it down in here… how truly and undeservedly lucky one can get…


Building Ingmar Bergman’s cathedral…

  • People ask what are my intentions with my films — my aims. It is a difficult and dangerous question, and I usually give an evasive answer: I try to tell the truth about the human condition, the truth as I see it. This answer seems to satisfy everyone, but it is not quite correct. I prefer to describe what I would like my aim to be. There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed — master builders, artists, labourers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.
    Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed
    an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’ and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case. The ability to create was a gift. In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.
    The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death. The individualists stare into each others’ eyes and yet deny the existence of each other.
    We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the gangster’s whim and the purest ideal. Thus if I am asked what I would like the general purpose of my films to be, I would reply that I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon’s head, an angel, a devil — or perhaps a saint — out of stone. It does not matter which; it is the sense of satisfaction that counts.
    Regardless of whether I believe or not, whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of the cathedral.

    • Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman (1960)

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His movies inflict this kind of an acute emotional and spiritual pain that no other sort of celluloid reality is able to do…

It asks for a consideration – is it one’s personal predisposition that makes an individual so vulnerable to the artist’s emotional roulette; or is it ‘just’ the common human feature – that one strives for empathy and compassion identifying with the characters, and always at the expanse of his/her inner equilibrium?

But Bergman is not dancing any genius yet cruel vengeance dance – or so we are bound to believe in … He is building a ‘cathedral’ out of our ‘common’ human clay – the space of some transcendent sense of things… All by carving a piece of art/a movie – a ‘dragon’s head, an angel, a devil’ from the frozen avalanche of our emotions…

Little invention here, little help there; a sacrifice and the apparent brotherhood of tens working arm in arm with the same irrational aims in minds…

Here is the re-building of wonder and awe, here is the struggle to create, the pain to re-connect human beings with themselves and with each other…

But – prosaically speaking – here is also the sweat, the mud, the aborted ‘ego’s and the nearly lethal fatigue….

Here is the artist’s way…

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Inspired by I. Bergman’s ‘Autumn Sonata’


A seminar with Francis Bacon …

Well – he has never taught art to others officially, and has never been taught art by others in such a manner

And while not being entirely sure, if just because or despite of that  – Francis Bacon excels as an art (painting) tutor. I found him so lucidly articulated, so continuously and deeply inspiring in his views on the artistic practice that I just couldn’t help not to present his ‘tutorials’ in a customized, yet systematic way.

Bacon took with him his mystery of how to talk about highly complex and irrational matters in an analytical and engaging manner.  And this very ability of his redeems his work, which could otherwise be easily classified as a tormented expression of an idiot-savant. Being himself deeply anti-theoretical he offers an impressive theory of his own oeuvre. With a certain force of authority, though never deliberately,  he shows that an artist’s journey is (should be) a continuous interplay between both challenges: ‘making images’ and making sense of them…

All points below are taken from interviews Bacon gave to D. Sylvester and while taking part in a documentary devoted to his work. They are extracts of the artist’s more elaborated statements. To access the original talks get a book and watch the movie (links below).

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You have to decide, that you are not going to be afraid of making a fool of yourself.

One needs to find his subject – otherwise one will be tempted to escape into a decoration. Most of the problems of the painting now result from the fact that painters don’t know what to paint – they are short of images.

The better the techniques of recording the reality become – the more inventive the painter needs to be in his ways to lock reality into something completely arbitrary. Going back to figuration in a more accepted sense is weak and meaningless.

The image – its power and integrity matters more than the beauty of paint.

Narration speaks louder than paint – avoid telling stories, unless you want to.

Aim at a highly disciplined work, even though the methods of pursuing it need to be ever- experimental and deeply instinctive. To make an image one has to control it.

Use secondary imaginary as a compost which will breed you images.

Painting (if successful) is a process of unlocking sensations and feelings on as many levels and as acutely as possible.

Painting is a ongoing interplay of luck/hazard, instinct and one’s critical sense.

Your technique needs to be as subjective and unique as your sensibility is.

‘Fresh’ image is the one which has a ‘foam of the unconscious’ still locked around it…

Make your forms memorable – otherwise they will exist only as ‘blobs’ on a wall…

A chance is more important than a conscious intellect because I made images that intellect would never make.

If you going to capture something REALLY REAL – it will be painful…

The most important thing for a painter is – to paint – nothing more…


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D. Sylvester, ‘Interviews with Francis Bacon: The Brutality of fact’, Thames and Hudson

Francis Bacon Documentary’

Here: preview of a new exhibition of Bacon in Dublin: ‘Terrible Beauty’


‘Making Worlds’ by losing your way…

That is a surprisingly romantic title for an enormous international art show – ‘Making Worlds – Fare Mondi’… Right from the day it was announced I knew I got to see it.

In a strange way that name referred to my own idea of art as a device for creating universes, for inventing new realities and new ways of perception of what is ‘known’ and ‘familiar’… To see how very different artists from tens of countries address this very issue right now; and to experience it in one place within only few days of an intense take – that sounded like a dream-come-true opportunity.0

Then I made my way to Venice… A group of us – final year fine art students – we spent half of a night and most of a day getting ourselves from a tiny, misty Irish airport right to an artistic epicenter of the 53rd Biennale. And then – the true challenge had begun… Being a first time visitor to Venice – one has to invent ways – quick and efficient:  of avoiding crowds, of finding ways in an omnipresent maze of lanes and canals, of keeping cool when faced with a wondrous strangeness and beauty of the place and, finally – to get the most (and the best) of the shows presented – tens of them blown around the city like some erratic parts of a huge machinery; often in places that even locals found difficult to find…

I can be pretty sure not to be the first and the last of the 53rd Biennale visitor, who was immensely tempted to dismiss the entire pandemonium and to spend some quality time in one of the Irish or English pubs; just drinking some wine and staring at Venetian light reflected from the Grand Canal… So tempting…

Anyway, I went through it all in a less indulgent way, which means: I stuffed myself, my cameras and my notebook with the visions of ‘Making Worlds’… Facing it all, and reflecting on it afterward looking for a compendium, links and any order – that is a sort of making yet another world – so diverse, rich and demanding the whole experience is. Yet, it does not necessary mean, that the Biennale was/is a miraculous, creative Wonderland…quite to the contrary – but by its intrinsic qualities like the size, inter-nationality and the inherited prestige – it’s born to leave a clear mark on one’s artistic psyche; not matter how critical and contemptuous one becomes when addressing it.

Making Worlds… artistic (and curatorial!) calling, duty, obsession, wonder and a doom. Nothing more self-indulgent, nothing more pretentious. Nothing more marvelous, nothing more risky. In fact, I don’t personally believe that the most of Birnbaum’s show has stood up to its own challenge… And instead of some down-spine shivers and wide-opened eyes browsing a miracle of some new-born, never seen before worlds – one had to chew up, once again, the same familiar concepts and interventions  cooked and served in a way, which anyone even mildly accustomed to the history of the contemporary art has to know by heart by now…

In other words, there was a chance-taking, adventure -seeking, alternative-supporting attitude bitterly missing in all the curatorial effort of this Biennale. Each show of this type is a sort of an authorship (sometimes – dictatorship); but if a good author hides his strings he is pulling to make his personal vision to be appreciated, Birnbaum made it all too predictable and dull as a whole. One has to allow to risk it all, to be completely lost in order to make entire world out of this self-implied or provoked chaos. There is no other way of creating new world than the one which faces chaos and a gulf; otherwise we got ‘re-making’ old worlds or ‘recycling’ the existing, but worn out ones…

I lost my way dozens of times in Venice. Venice is the space to be lost and to be found, and this very process goes in circles and in-finitum… One has to throw away all maps, one has to trust his instincts and follow no path other than the one which cuts across the old ones instead of re-drawing them…

Making worlds is the most human of all human dwellings… And it is possible, yet not easy – to make a new world out of this too-familiar, too-excessive, too-indulgent entropy of art today.  By losing one’s way in it – one will find the way out of it…


Human World – Sensation (1)

SENSATION
A term commonly used to refer to the subjective experience resulting from stimulation of a sense organ, for instance, a sensation of warm, sour, or green. As a general scientific category, the study of sensation is the study of the operation of the senses. Sense receptors are the means by which information presented as one form of energy, for example, light, is converted to information in the form used by the nervous system, that is, impulses traveling along nerve fibers.

Each sense has mechanisms and characteristics peculiar to itself, but all display the phenomena of absolute threshold, differential threshold, and adaptation. Not until sufficient stimulation impinges on a receptor can the presence of a stimulus be detected. The quantity of stimulation required is known as the absolute threshold. Not until a sufficient change occurs in some aspect of a stimulus can the change be detected. The magnitude of the change required is called the differential threshold. Under steady stimulation there is a decrease in sensitivity of the corresponding sense, as indicated by a shift in the absolute threshold and in the magnitude of sensation. After the stimulation ceases, sensitivity increases. An obvious example of visual adaptation occurs when one goes from bright to dim surroundings or vice versa.

With fairly good accuracy humans can localize visual objects, sounds, and cutaneous contacts and can discriminate the spatial orientation of the body and its members. With rather poor accuracy humans can localize many of the stimuli originating within the body.

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World of human sensation popularized.

Discovery documentaries: 1st  part of 48 series. Double click to access all the material.


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