Art · Our Subconscious

What Do I Look For In Art?

De Pont in Tilburg, Review: 25th Anniversary.

a view of de ponts interior showing some of their artworks from the last 25 years
De Pont in Tilburg is an old factory. It’s huge, but for all that, welcoming. Mainly because it was so busy!

I din’t know it when I trotted off to Tilburg today, it was on a whim and mainly because they’d pulled up the tracks to Rotterdam which was my intended destination today. I rarely do any fact checking before leaving, but that’s part of the fun of having so many galleries to visit in the Netherlands. It was a small and little known painting by Hieronymous Bosch that I wanted to see in Rotterdam, or at least photograph. I saw it last weekend, but what with my capacity for forethought, I’d left my camera at home. Its only importance – the Bosch, that is – is that it contradicts something Rudolf Steiner said about Goethe’s Mephistopholes. Never mind that, it’s not for public consumption. My other thoughts about Bosch will be, but that’s for another of my fabled upcoming series. Anyway, I visited Tilburg, got lost, found myself again and having turned in the other direction to which I was merrily cycling, found the gallery.

It turned out to be a celebration of the 25th anniversary of gallery, De Pont, and they had a display of many of the things they’d either collected or shown during that time. Now as you know, I don’t like modern art and I have given clear reasons as to why this is. However, this was a surprisingly enjoyable exhibition as long as I forgot what these artists were trying to tell me.

A photographer enjoying the space and art at de pont.
Keen photographers abounded. And no, I didn’t take a selfie!

I went in to see if there was anything that I could find that was real art. I mean, it’s easy enough to say something’s art only to find oneself tongue tied when asked to back up your assertion. It’s where professional art critics get to tell me that I’m a cat lover and thus my IQ is insufficient. That I can back up my assertions means nothing because they can’t understand what I’m trying to tell them. It’s not uncommon for someone to tell me I’m stupid because they can’t comprehend what I’m trying to explain.

It’s when the likes of Damien Hurst get pop start status that they can tell everyone what is art and what isn’t, and they’ll be believed because the audience doesn’t have to do the hard work of trying to work it all out for themselves.

The exhibition at Tilburg was as much a matter of artists presuming that the stuff they made was art. There was no communication save in that most modern of ways: someone says something and the audience is in such awe of the artist that they hang on his every word. As to any conversation, there was none even in the broadest understanding of the term. It has to be stated that art is conversation, albeit in a rather refined manner, I described this in several posts involving the extraordinarily gifted Thomas Gainsborough (1) and the energetic Frans Hals (2). These two were outstanding artists and needed no authority to say so: they just got on and painted. The rest, as they say, is art. Well, at least you know what I’m looking for.

As you can imagine, I didn’t find any. I did enjoy the search, and that surprised me as my usual experience of modern art is one of heaving a long sigh. Modern art is like the teacher who never knew the truth of what he taught because his own teacher never knew it either. When something’s forgotten, it’s hard enough to retrieve; what’s harder still is to find something that you never knew you’d forgotten. It’s not an easy task and it’s not meant to be.

How many times have I said this? Usually I’ve said something on account of my studies into the subconscious which is, in our culture’s perverted modern state, the same thing as something you’ve forgotten that you forgot. How can anyone honestly hope to even begin to discover something they never knew existed? Well, that was the challenge of my life, and I wasn’t given so much as a breath of a hint as to how to find it. It was a little like task given to Socrates: to discover the need for Christ in human society at a time when nobody needed to. And he achieved it, albeit in terms of the way human language had developed at the time, this was before Christ, after all… no wonder he is respected.

Now if there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that any problem can be solved by humans conversing. So there I was standing in a hall filled with people saying things to those who didn’t know what they were listening to – put better, looking at. They were keen enough, many held expensive cameras or their iphones – or like me, took seventy five piccies of the objects on display.

Richard long's planet circle is a gathering of limestone chunks that are arranged in a circle.
Richard Long’s “Planet Circle” which is made of bits of limestone. I liked its feel.

There was one that I particularly liked, even if it spoke of humanity’s problems rather than offering any solution. It was Richard Long’sPlanet Circle” which is effectively a circle of limestone pieces of varying sizes. The Dutchman standing next to me was concerned that if this was art, each piece should be in the exact spot it was when it was first made. I suggested that even if they weren’t the effect was the same and the concept the artist wanted to express would be equally valid. He gave me the kind of look academics give me when their need for repeatability and accuracy are not met. I suppose it depends on whether you are after the painting or the person who painted it.

There is one thing to note about our planet, and it is that the usual representation of it is ‘four square’. The heavens are round, but that’s what modern art is all about: the artist thinks it’s a good name and it sticks. Even if it makes him look ignorant. But then, he’ll have the clout to tell me he’s right and I’m wrong. In the way my imaginary professor can tell his students that the egg will be boiled if it’s put in cold water for ten minutes (3). In a way, it’s nicer when an artist is more honest and simply calls their painting ‘untitled’. Albeit that Mondrian’s “Composition in blue, yellow and other assorted colours” does get a little repetitive. But then, I suppose a solo exhibition comprising of works entitled ‘untitled’ might have the same effect on the conscious mind. What it doesn’t do is make their figurative representation any less personal. They can push it away by calling it nothing at all (that is to say, untitled) that doesn’t absolve them of having painted it in the first place. They chose to paint it, they chose not to name it. I have to remind you of this: they did it. Not me. That they can’t explain themselves cannot be put at my door!

Which is the real point of this post: why do some people paint squares and some people lay rocks in a circle? I happened to like the earthy ruggedness of the feel of the piece, but that doesn’t stop it being nonsense. Actually, decoding a piece like this is surprisingly easy, but it’s not something I do without the person I’m conversing with being in possession of at least a glimmer of how the subconscious works. Given how few of them there are – and those I know have access to my private blog and I only have two regular visitors. With so few people having a handle on what’s going on in our modern world, is it any surprise when an academic can come up with rubbish like this:

In Planet Circle he brings subtle order to the natural, organic forms of stone; a certain regularity can be discovered in the composition of the circle. […] Planet Circle celebrates the strength and beauty of the natural form.
De Pont, Tilburg.

I mean, okay guys, that’s fine if that’s what you like to believe. I’d like you to point to the piece and show me precisely what you mean… because what is said here has practically nothing to do with the piece save the mention that it is round. If on the other hand one is able to comprehend intellectual thinking as a dismemberment – a shattering if you like – of the world around us, you might be able to get a firmer grip on what the artist is truly trying to say here. What’s more, circles have a lot to do with thinking, albeit not in its intellectual form. A few of you might have noticed that it is a barrier to the emptiness in the middle, again that is deeply suggestive of things that in truth, are part of our everyday lives. That we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten about these things cannot be laid at my door.

So How Can You Know?

How indeed? How can you know if an artist can converse? I mean, this does imply that you yourself can converse, and that in itself is not that common in our day and age. Most people find me intimidating simply because I am happy to speak with practically anybody – and they will retreat from this. The rare exceptions are those who are able to meet me and thus find the warmth of a person who can happily discuss the wonders of our engineering world to the intricacies of the beehive to, well, art, literature and the rest. It’s more that I don’t have to know anything about what I am conversing about, because it is here that I allow my conversant to take the helm. I can ask the dumb questions and learn an enormous amount; the person who needs to stamp their authority on the world will find themselves in a difficult position.

Being a frumpy cat lady with a low IQ has serious advantages.

Ai Weiwei's conceptual art leaves people speechless. This is his work grapes.
Ai Weiwei, ‘Grapes’ Not that wooden chairs… but that’s modern art for you. Just don’t ask.

And if you hadn’t noticed, the answer is in the preceding paragraph. It’s more that if an artist holds the keys to humanity, they will communicate the fact. Actually, they’ll communicate. They will allow the viewer to engage with their painting in a way that is rare in our modern world. It does exist, the impressionists gave it a good go and Tom Thomson succeeded where many failed (4). Whatever the true artist does, it will be done in a way that strives to communicate what the artist has seen with their own two eyes, reflected on with their soul and expressed with their talent.

When someone cobbles some stools together and calls it Grape, you know they’ve got talent, but the rest is absent.

The exhibition “Review” is at the De Pont gallery in Tilburg until the 18th of Feb next year. And yes, I’ll be going again!

(1) You can find my post about Gainsborough here: Conversations In Paint.
(2) Frans Hals painted his picture of Marijte Voogtin 1639.
(3) From a privately published post, “The Light Course: Exploring Darkness.”
(4) Tom Thomson meets the muse. I wrote this back in 2012 when I had the delight of seeing his paintings at first hand. If ever Socrates was reincarnated as a painter…


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