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In which my husband is revealed to be an unknown genius

January 24, 2012

Last weekend, my husband and I went to Folkwang. The name sounds stupid no matter what language you speak, but what it denotes is simply an art museum. They had lots of good stuff from the 18th and 19th century. Landscape paintings more detailed than photographs. Impressionist and cubist paintings suggesting lots more than they showed, making you think. And then there was a hall full of modern, 1950-2000 stuff, which clearly impressed the museum staff way more than it impressed me. All the older paintings were only presented with title, year and name of artist. Which was a shame. Some info on the historical situation, as well as on the places or myths depicted, would have been quite appreciated by us non-knowledgable people. The modern stuff, on the other hand, got page-long pretentious essays on why exactly this painting or sculpture was so great. And the problem was that we both totally failed to see the genius in most of it. A bunch of colorful geometrical shapes. So? Yes, it’s pretty, but it’s hardly impressive. I could not have copied the older pictures, they required too much technical skill. I could, with good results, copy pretty much any picture in the modern art hall. That leaves only coming up with the pattern to the artist, and honestly, it’s not that difficult to come up with two or three colours that look good together.

I also found that most of the modern art left far too much to imagination. Three squares inside each other, called “Square”? Some dark grey rectangles on a light grey background, called “Untitled”? What can I make out of that? There’s nowehere to start. One modern picture avoided this trap, which instantly earned it my approval. I’ve forgotten the artist’s name, but the picture was a high rectangle, maybe 70 cm wide and 3 m high. Most of it was painted black, with a few cm of white at the bottom. And the title was “Prometheus gefesselt”, Prometheus bound. Suddenly the black and white gets a meaning. Suddenly the picture isn’t boring any more. Of course, the little essay didn’t mention who Prometheus was

On coming home, we were stuffed up until the ears with art. My husband actually overflowed and produced this:

Art produced by my husband on a whiteboard

I’m afraid nobody will put it in a museum, though. Apart from “Untitled No 27” in the upper right, it’s far too obvious what he depicts. Also, he’s not a recognized artist. See, that’s the only difference I can see between art and not-art these days: art is produced by artists. I can see the historical development from Caspar David Friedrich over people like Edvard Munch and Claude Monet and then Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque to finally end up with a giant square where the upper half is dark brown and the lower half is black. And the postmodern motto that everything is art. I can see how we got here. But I don’t like where we are. If everything is art then nothing is art.

I wish the word “art” would go back to its historical roots, namely “skill”. It can be seen in the word “artisan” or in old expressions like “The Art of War” (Sun Tzu was not speaking about the prettiness or provocativeness of war, but the skill to conduct one!). In both Swedish and German, the word “art” is derived from the verb that means “to have the ability”. Swedish “konst” and “kunna”, German “Kunst” and “können”. It should take skill to produce art. Art should not be something that everybody is capable of. Art should be something to be proud of or impressed by.

A funny coincidence in the evolution of concepts: Way back when those concepts were synonyms, the Swedish word “konst” meant both “art” and “skill”. The adjective “konstig” meant “skillfully made”. The adjective then evolved to mean “unusual”, and then evolved even more to the current meaning: “weird”. ‘And now, the evolution of art has caught up with it!

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