Was ist Kunst?* or What is art is the question that was not invented together with with the art itself but it was invented in Ancient Greece and in this blog post I’m settling the score once it for all and give answer what art is. I warn you though, you might not like it :-)
As followers of my blog know, for my 40th birthday I’ve bought a Land Rover 109 old-timer car that is even older then me, it’s 43 years and for last fifteen years it was standing in a garage. You can imagine that once I’ve started driving it, an avalanche of malfunctions blasted on my shoulders. It’s almost two months since it’s standing on my courtyard and I can’t move it to a mechanic and since it’s freezing winter a mechanic don’t want to come and take a look. It got a nickname The Real Estate! The good thing is that I’ve spent last three years learning collodion photography from scratch, so I have a stamina an patience to sort things out, so I used the expression from Jeremy Clarkson: How hard can it be? and decided to fix the car on my own.
For inspiration I’ve read for the third time the book Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig and I confess, only this time I can say I’ve understood the message of the book. No wonder this book is in Guinness book of world records as the bestseller that was rejected by 121 publishers before 122nd actually published it and soon became a bestseller, with over five million copies sold.
OK, you may ask what does that has to do with the bombastic introduction in my post? Everything. This book made me realise what art is and changed my life profoundly. The line of thoughts that will follow is very influenced by the book and before you will condemn me, I publicly admit that I will misquote and misinterpret the book, so I strongly recommend that you read it by your own pace. (It’s even in Slovenian for my Slovenian following presidents!)
So, what Art is???
On the Internet there are many articles on what art is, but let me highlight a very simplistic, populistic easy reading article 27 Responses to the Question “What is Art?”.
But that very simplistic article will give you just as much valid answer as any art historian would. Let me say it more correctly. Any art historian will give you just as false answer as any article. (yes, including this one) :-)
The original sin of an attempt to define what art is, is that people are aiming in the wrong direction! We are looking at things in gallery and question if this should be there, if this is art. We expect that an object would have some sort of ingredient that would define it as art, some sort of objectiveness. In ancient times that ingredient was gold, whatever object contained gold and other expensive materials, it was glorified as art. Then it was the craft! Obviously some painters can draw with breathtaking accuracy and expressing themselves with huge skill. Then came avant-garde and scandalous Duchamp’s signed urinal entitled Fountain is still a case of questioning if that is art. And so on, and so on…
Any attempt to define what art is, is like standing in a river, facing downstream, observing what river flow is bringing and evaluating. You could devote your life doing that, but you could not foretell the future. Every mathematical equation works both way. 1+1=2 and so it is 2=1+1. Art is not mathematic and there isn’t a person in the world who could not tell you what you need to do to create art.
To be honest there are few super-stars curators that do speculate and take a role of weather forecasters and decide what contemporary art is. But those people are not to be mistaken for art-historians, although they might have an education in art-history, they are creators, they curate exhibitions, they decide who will win what award, they are more contemporary artists then art historians. But even so they can not come up with an answer what art is.
In today’s times we divide between art and craft, but that wasn’t so in the ancient times. Aristotle’s cosmological work On The Heavens is the most influential treatise of its kind in the history of humanity and as I’ve learned he started the concept of subjective and objective, the foundation of western civilisation.
Arete (/ˈærətiː/; Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means “excellence of any kind”. The term may also mean “moral virtue”. In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.
I think ancient Greeks got it right, we missed it completely. Art is a process of creation and although it does leave traces behind, those traces aren’t ART itself, they are footprints left behind by artists. Those foot prints can be objective as a painting in a gallery or subjective as a dance in a theatre. Those foot prints are worthless if they aren’t made by art in action, if they aren’t done as Arete! And if we see the footsteps, we might imagine the line of thought the line of creation the line of craft that the artist was taking while creating the art piece. Our creativity fuels with inspiration.
Let me be more precise, the Art is not the Mona Lisa in Louvre, or Duchamp’s Fountain or a leap of dance of a dancer. The Art is an event that happened and after the event a trace is left behind. Let me say it with other words. Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo Da Vinci is just as much art as are the ruins of Pompeii the city of Pompeii! The road sign Rome is not the city of Rome, nor is a souvenir or any building or a person living in the city!
That revelation opened my eyes and from now on I see the world differently. Last two days I was fixing my Land Rover. I approached the work with the arete attitude as I’m making the most important exhibition in my life. I suspected that the cause of my problems is the fuel pump. Two weeks ago I didn’t know what a mechanical a fuel pump is, but I’ve focused on the problem, dismantled it, changed all the valves, diaphragm, seals and put it back. Now works perfectly and it will continue so for the next ten years. Unfortunately, I realised that the cause of my car’s malfunction is not the fuel pump, but it’s distributor. I ordered new parts. Nevertheless the fuel pump, poor girl, needed the restoration.
Let me finish with paraphrasing Pirsig with the case of my Land Rover.
Objects are just atoms and molecules. They do not have a moral or a feeling for what is right and what is wrong. They are what they are because somebody rearrange materials in the way they are. The malfunction does not exist in a car, it exist solely in the viewer’s mind. The car is a direct reflection of it’s viewer’s interpretation.
The car that is standing still for two months in my courtyard represent disharmony in me and I’ve decided to regain the peace by fixing the car. I am using wrenches, bolts, spanners but my most important tool is ARETE, the will to do whatever is needed to do, so the car will fit my interpretation of how it should be. I use arete to regain the internal peace and that will happen only when my concept of a car will be aligned with my senses.
This process is the feeling that every artist know. It’s a feeling when you are alive, when your hands are golden, hands are moving and miracle is emerging right in front of your eyes! An artist is not separated from the the object until the object is aligned with artist’s interpretation how it should be and it brings peace to the artist. When the artist finishes working on it, from this moment on, art (arete) seize to be and the artist and the art object become two separate entities.
Do you see, people are looking at an object and questioning if this is art, but they are aiming it at the wrong direction. Art is an event, not an object!!!
Huh, I’m really happy today. I’ve shipped my book to The European Publishers Award for Photography . This is one of the most important photography awards in Europe and I’ve sent my dummy books before, but this time I’m really happy, because I know I’m sending something I truly believe in and furthermore I know I can not make it better. I, personally, did my best in making this book. I was contemplating a lot and I’ve made several versions, changing design, changing format, printing materials, rhythm of the images in the book, number of pages, select out certain images that I really love and so on. Now I feel very content with it. I can not make it better. I am not saying it can’t be done better, but I can not do it better. You may compare this version of the book with the version I’ve brought to Arles Festival and you will notice the difference.
This project The Great Depression was also shortlisted for European Month of Photography Arendt Award! It’s huge honour to be short-listed among few hundred photographers that exhibited in different capitals of Europe. The short list of only five photographers was chosen by the jury of curators and it’s not the kind of competition that you can apply to. I will be exhibiting in the exhibition space of Arendt & Medernach’s headquarters in Luxembourg from 22 April 2015 onwards.
Let me take the opportunity to announce few more news. A week ago this blog reached 500 followers on wordpress.com platform and this week is already 535 and if I count several thousands followers on Twitter and Facebook, it’s huge crowd, so I don’t want to waste your time, so I will write more information in one post.
If you are from USA, you can see my work on two locations.
As I was posting already, a triptych The Different Same is exhibited in the Mariani Gallery from January 20 – March 4, 2015. The address is University of Northern Colorado, Mariani Gallery, 501 20th St, Greeley CO 80639, USA
From 21st of February until 4th of April, you can see the albumen prints bellow in Los Angeles, that’s St. Tammany Art Association, Antiquarian Image Exhibition, 320 North Columbia St., Covington, LA 70433.
My neighbour Rajko Henigman is 87 years old and he was a photographer and cinema operator. His father Karel Henigman was a shoemaker and an amateur photographer who created amazing collection of photographs during the first world war. In the our little town of Dolenjske Toplice is a spa but during the first world war it was a rehabilitation centre for soldiers and Karel Henigman documented daily life of soldiers, during their exercise, rehabilitation, hospitals, preparing food and so on. Very impressive silver-gelatine glass plate negatives formats from 9x12cm to 18x24cm. Rajko is the keeper of his father heritage and he asked me not to photograph his fathers negatives.
Rajko was curios how am I enlarging my glass plate negatives, so I invited him to my darkroom and enlarged a portrait of him that I’ve done some time ago. He said my technique of dodging and burning is the same as he was doing it when he was young. He show me some tips and we enjoyed our time together.Some time ago I’ve visited Božena Pelikan, 93 year old youngest daughter of Josip Pelikan. I wrote a post about the Josip Pelikan few years ago, but this time she showed me the other facilities that Josip Pelikan was using after second world war until his death in 1977. What a privilege to enter the rooms of a great photographer, seeing how he worked, how much have he created. I could feel his presence in the coat that was still hanging on the door where he left it in 1977.
It’s an honour for me to pay tribute to elderly photographers. They are inspiration. I hope in the future I could make a series of art images with these objects. I hope I can make a sort of a conversation with photographs between three photographers, the present one, the deceased one and the one that is not born yet, but will look at the images sometime in the future.
Do you understand? A photographer who is not born yet will look at my images that are not created yet, but when he/she will look at it will have a feeling that they are here from forever. When we look at the old images we have a feeling they are here because someone has left them, but no, they are here because someone created them and the other preserved them. Photographs in front of you are not dusty objects, they are someones intention.
In September 2014 I had an exhibition in Cankarjev dom in Ljubljana. I’ve enjoyed that period of life a lot, taking wet plate negatives, photographing river, defeating summer heat by a swim in a river together with my kids. What a privilege to be alive! I’ve recorded a lot a videos to pass on the knowledge I’ve generously received from Mark Osterman and the Collodion community. I’ve enjoyed the work so much I never found time to edit the video material and unfortunately the material just piled up. In the last few months I haven’t record any videos, because I knew I must edit the old material first and yesterday I’ve started at 9pm, finished at 3am and 12 hours later it’s live on youtube. I hope you will find some useful information and some inspiration in it.
The exhibition represents a path that I walked through in the last two years, while learning the process. But the exhibition started with the tintype of frozen river Krka, that I’ve made two months after I’ve started to do wet plate collodion at the temperature of -17C. HERE is the post from February 2012.
The exhibition is devoted to a painter Božidar Jakac and the concept is inspired by words of a poet Tone Pavček, engraved in his gravestone:
You’ve remained part of the landscape, its pain and its beauties.
And this concept is mirrored in the images, I wanted that in every of image there would be a presence of beauty and pain. I’ve designed the exhibition to be dynamic. I’ve exhibited original tintypes, ambrotype glass plates, toned albumen prints, salt prints, carbon prints, toned cyanotypes and also some toned silver-gelatine enlargements and ink-jets from wet plate collodion negatives.
The most important result from the two years walk, it can not be shown directly, but it’s the most important result. I’ve learned the process, I have no open questions and I can make a good image in (almost) any conditions. I’ve learned many different processes and those tools will play a crucial role in my future art career.
Last but not least, if you want to learn some of that hands-on photography processes, I warmly recommend workshops in George Eastman House with Mark Osterman. It’s one thing to learn the process, but it’s something different to get an access to one of the most interesting and rich collection of photography and feel that you are a part of it.
I can not offer that, but I do offer individual workshops, so if you’re interested in buying a print from me or a workshop, please send me an email to email@example.com
The Different Same triptych that will be exhibited at Wet Plate Collodion Juried Show in Mariani Gallery, Northern Colorado, USA
This work is a triptych. It’s a study of a medium of photography, so I’ve photographed the same tree in two different occasions. The scenery is like that only when the river Krka floods and red alarm for floodings is declared and that was on two occasions in the 2014 year. This three images were from three different glass plates. An ambrotype and two different negatives. Just look closely and you will notice how different this images are really. I’ve made a video on the first occasion and you can find it on the bottom of the post. I also came up with few new solutions how to frame glass plates, especially very heavy plates like 3+3 mm glass plates size 30x40cm (12×16″). The details are described in captions.
Anyway, what I love with the photography of 19th Century is that a photographer had about fifty processes and it’s variations how to make a photography and each of the processes had it’s aesthetic characteristic. Today digital photography is so standardized that a photographer have only one way how to exhibit a photograph, that’s an inkjet print.
And my triptych, entitled The Different Same is all about that. Like the famous photograph: Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967, by photographer Diane Arbus it appears at the first glance the same image, only when you look closer, you see that the three images are very much different and they are different because I – the author – decided to make it so. To interpret the reality as I please. Photography was never an objective medium. If I quote Susan Sontag (from heart), a photograph can only provide an evidence that something did happen, that something was happening in front of the lens. What has happened is an interpretation left to the photographer and the viewwer. Of if I may quote already mentioned Diane Arbus, “A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”
Let me invite you to the event. The exhibition will be on display in the Mariani Gallery from January 20 – March 4, 2015. A Closing Reception and Award Ceremony will be held on Wednesday, March 4 from 4 – 6 pm. Juror Quinn Jacobson will give a lecture and gallery talk during the day. The address is University of Northern Colorado, Mariani Gallery, 501 20th St, Greeley CO 80639, USA.
A friend of mine who is a very successful business man told me the rule of a Cheetah. Cheetah is the fastest running animal and it can reach the speed up to 121 km/h. For achieving that kind of speed it uses wast amount of energy. If the chase was not successful, if the pray runs away, the cheetah needs to rest for the rest of the day. In the next week Cheetah has two more attempts to chase down a pray. If the predator misses a pray for the third time, cheetah dies from exhaustion.
The same rule can be applied in business. You may have a wonderful product, the best one in the world, but if you don’t sell it, you will never be able to launch another one and your business will get exhausted.
This is the problem of my life. I’m passionately interested in so many things at the same time, I have a hard time to focus and limit my interests. I have a good excuse, I live in small country of Slovenia, residents of two million so to make a living in such a small market is difficult. The good side is that I’ve learned so many things and I can use them all in my expression. Like at the moment I’m writing this post fiddling with HTML
code, in the afternoon I was making albumen prints and before noon I was fixing a carburettor of my car, an old-timer. Before the end of the day I might start editing a video. And oh, this is important, for lunch I’ve made a fantastic risotto with curry, vegetables and soya chunks.
I love making stuff and I have no fear in tackling things, even if I’m not successful, which happens. Like yesterday I’ve cleaned the carburettor, the engine was running smoothly I went for a quick ride, but the rust from the fuel tank got into my engine and the car lost all the power. I had to call my neighbour to winch me home again. Look at the bottom of the post.
But my new year’s resolution is to declutter my life style, to focus. I will focus my career into three branches.
- My priority number one remains my artistic career, although I can’t live from it just yet, I expect that in 2015, this will change. It will change, I can feel it on my bladder!
- In next few months I will crack down the woodburytype process, I’m very close, I can see the light!
- Workshops, making portraits, building a social network.
Let me finish with the a success story of the year 2014. Brewery Pivovarna Laško is celebrating a 190’th anniversary and for that occasion they are bringing to the market a special beer made from a hundred years old receipt. My task was to portray the three experts from the brewery company as specialists. The campaign was conceived by Atelje Balant and now Slovenia is still flooded with collodion images!
At this occasion I would like to thank Anže Grabeljšek and Christian Klant on assisting me during this intensive shoot.
I’ve read somewhere that there is not a human being in the world who could make an ordinary pencil from scratch! Have you listen to the TED talk Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster — from scratch? Thomas the man tried to make a toaster by himself and it was the impossible project. My point exactly!
It’s a good reason why our society got so specialised. Imagine that it takes you three days to make an axe and two days to make a spear. Your neigbor is slower than you and it takes him five days to make an axe and two days to make a spear! It makes sense for both of you to trade tools. Your neigbor trades two spears for one axe and so it takes him six days to make three spears, from which two spears he trades for one axe with you. If he doesn’t trade he will have a spear and an axe in eight days, but if he makes a trade, it takes him six days to have an axe and a spear. Whereas for you, if you do not trade, it takes you five days to make an axe and a spear, but if you do make a trade it takes you six days to have an axe and two spears! Additional benefit comes with specialisation that the quality and the speed of the production increases.
The problem occurs when our jobs became so specialised that we see only very small fragment of reality and although we would love to do some work on our own, like working in garden, fixing a car, building a house, teaching children, etc…, we simply can not do it! Our society it got so specialised and efficient that we do not have time to do these things on our own! We need to outsource our lives, to find time to do the things we do for somebody else! I’m sure you know what I’m talking about and no, I am not intending to write an anthropological essay about it, other people are specialised to do that.
What I’m trying to say is that today I’ve changed the cooling fluid in my Old-Timer. A friend of mine Miha Kaiser knows a lot about Land Rovers and cars on general and he’s teaching me how the car works and what I need to do to get my car back in the shape. It’s really exciting, I start enjoying the things that are done properly. Small things. Like a good running engine. Sometime ago I’ve read a book Zen and The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, I’m slowly, but surely finding beauty or “Quality” (if I’m referring to the book) in small everyday occasions. So exciting!
The bottom line is that tomorrow it’s forecasted heavy snowing and on Monday a sunny day. My Land Rover will take me into my studio, that’s forest and rivers, to do some serious wet plate work. If you are interested in supporting my behaviour disorder and buying an art-work from me, please send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will let you know all the details. Basically I’m intending to do ambrotypes and albumen prints format 10×12″, that’s 25x30cm and if you preorder an art work of mine, I’ll make an additional ambrotype for you for half the price, that’s for $399 USD for an ambrotype or $250USD for an albumen print. If you later change your mind, it’s no problem at all.