Sunday, February 26, 2012

art and life: societal criticism in art

i had a discussion with a dear friend, the other day. not known for my lack of radical views, i stated that i had trouble accepting that so many people in our western society seem to prefer 'positive' untruths to ... well, to the bleak truth that e.g. in a country like ethiopia people have to pick coffee beans at a wage of 40 eurocent a day...7 days a week, for 10 grueling hours a day...just so we can drink cheap coffee. please don't dismiss this statement too easily. think about it for some time.

she said: well, if you are so unhappy about exploitation of poor workers, why don't you do something about it? so i tried to explain to her that this is what i try to do -in my way, which is the only way that i see myself capable of keeping up over the years. which means talking about it, writing about it, painting and drawing about it...although most of my drawings and paintings approach the subject from the other way round: i try to portray how the world would look if we concentrate on a 'spiritual' interaction (compassionate, mild, respectful, you get my drift). and of course i have been buying fair trade as much as i can, for a very long time.

which brings me to another aspect of this thread which has been going on for quite some posts now: societal criticism in art. the theme of societal criticism has been around for centuries in art. a 19th century example:

jean-françois millet, gleaners
jean-françois millet the gleaners (les glaneuses, 1857, musée d'orsay, paris, click for enlargement)

we see three gleaners: poor women, who when the wheat had been harvested scoured the land for the remaining stalks and ears. The so prominent display of the poorest of the population was seen by many as an indictment of poverty and exploitation of the workers. from wikipedia:
Millet first unveiled The Gleaners at the Salon in 1857. It immediately drew negative criticism from the middle and upper classes, who viewed the topic with suspicion: one art critic, speaking for other Parisians, perceived in it an alarming intimation of "the scaffolds of 1793."[1] Having recently come out of the French Revolution of 1848, these prosperous classes saw the painting as glorifying the lower-class worker.[1] To them, it was a reminder that French society was built upon the labor of the working masses, and landowners linked this working class with the growing movement of Socialism and the dangerous voices of Karl Marx and Émile Zola.[2]

One critic commented that "his three gleaners have gigantic pretensions, they pose as the Three Fates of Poverty…their ugliness and their grossness unrelieved."[3] While the act of gleaning was not a new topic—representations of Ruth had already been composed—this new work was a statement on rural poverty and not Biblical piety:[3] there is no touch of the Biblical sense of community and compassion in contrast of the embodiments of grinding poverty in the foreground and the rich harvest in the sunlit distance beyond. The implicit irony was unsettling.
millet was a big source of inspiration for vincent van gogh:

vincent van gogh, the potato eaters
vincent van gogh, the potato eaters (1885, Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, click for enlargement)


let me add a drawing which i made yesterday, after having had this discussion. i don't think it's my best work...since my subconscious seems to work better on its own, without a directive from my mind. but i do have enough image-creating experience to get things done, visually speaking. however, i'm left with a low expectation that any of my art works will really have an impact on this persistent problem of greed, wealth, uneven distribution of resources,...human nature you could say. you may call me negative for stating this. but i think we need this negativism in order for anything to change. much of the so-valued 'positivism' in my eyes serves to maintain a status quo which is decidedly injust on a global scale.

we trample on them, to maintain our luxury
we trample on them, to maintain our luxury (own work, 2012, 21 x 30 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

of human relations & dance of life 4

so, like i might or not have said in previous posts, i'm actually working my figurative butt off to develop some way to portray human relations, human emotions, human connections.

Kunst gibt nicht das Sichtbare wieder, sondern macht sichtbar.

('art doesn't show what is visible, rather it makes visible' - paul klee, 1920)

at times i have found it frustrating to have to explain the above to the lay person...but in later years i find myself explaining less and less. it is hard enough to come up with the images, the techniques, the perseverance in details... this reluctance to explain is not arrogance, it is a form of acceptance that some things cannot be explained.

of human relations
of human relations (own work, 2009, 21 x 30 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

some more drawings on dance...where in the first you could notice that i'm working on some new painting techniques to paint people...

dance 3 figures
dance 3 figures (own work, 2011, 30 x 45 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dance 4 figures
dance 4 figures (own work, 2009, 10 x 15 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dance 2 figures
dance 2 figures (own work, 2011, 15 x 16 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dance 1 figure
dance 1 figure (own work, 2011, 20 x 30 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

dance of life 3

i came across a reproduction of one of my drawings at a friend's house last week...she made a photocopy of it during one of my previous visits because she liked it so much. i had already almost forgotten about this drawing, but it deserves a place in this thread on art, dance, life.

dance of life iii
dance of life iii (own work, 2011, 21 x 30 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

what is art for? homo aestheticus by ellen dissanayake

as an illustration to the previous post, let me quote from the wikipedia lemma on ellen dissanayake:

In Homo Aestheticus (University of Washington Press, 1995), Ellen Dissanayake argues that art was central to the emergence, adaptation and survival of the human species, that aesthetic ability is innate in every human being, and that art is a need as fundamental to our species as food, warmth or shelter.

What art “makes special”
This aesthetic ability, she says, enabled us to ‘bracket off’ the things and activities that were important to our survival, separate them from the mundane, and make them special. We took the objects and practices involved in marriage, birth, death, food production, war and peacemaking and enhanced them to make them more attractive and pleasurable, more intriguing and more memorable. We invented dance, poetry, charms, spells, masks, dress and a multitude of other artifacts to make these associated activities, whether hauling nets or pounding grain, more sensual and enjoyable, to promote cooperation, harmony and unity among group members, and to also enable us to cope with life’s less expected or explicable events.

Methods of “making special” derived from our evolutionary inheritance
Using her own lived, anthropological experience and a wide knowledge of contemporary literature on the subject, she provides many examples of how this “making special” is done. She argues that in making things special we drew on those aspects of the world that evolution had led us to find attractive and to prize: visual signs of health, youth and vitality such as smoothness, glossiness, warm colors, cleanness and lack of blemishes; vigor, precision, agility, endurance and grace of movement; in sounds - sonority, vividness, rhythmicity, resonance, power; in the spoken word repetition of syllables, verses and key words, the use of antiphony, alliteration, assonance and rhyme. She adds to these pattern, contrast, balance, roundness, length, geometric shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, diagonals, horizontals and verticals) - and more complex forms arising from variation on a theme, or to put it the other way round, the absorbing of asymmetry and difference within a wider, encompassing pattern - the taming of the unruly wild. As such, she argues that art springs from the same sources and interacts with the same physiology as everyday life, but because it is so crafted, more intensely.

Art as a normal and necessary part of human life
In Homo Aestheticus, Dissanayake argues that Art is not an ornamental and dispensable luxury, but intrinsic to our species. And once we recognize this truth, she says “each one of us should feel permission and justification for taking the trouble to live our life with care and thought for its quality rather than being helplessly caught up in the reductive and alienating pragmatic imperatives of consumer and efficiency-oriented and “entertain-me” society.”
“Art is a normal and necessary behavior of human beings and like other common and universal occupations such as talking, working, exercising, playing, socializing, learning, loving, and caring, should be recognized, encouraged and developed in everyone. Via art, experience is heightened, elevated, made more memorable and significant”

Included in the book are more than 16 pages of references covering the emergent fields of Bioaesthetics, Neuroaesthetics and Psychobiology.

what is art for? is the title of another book by ellen dissanayake (this links to her website):

what is art for?, ellen dissanayake

and you will note the nice 'coincidence' that the author uses the same painting by gauguin as the one that started me on this whole thread...;-)

landscape art 3: what is art for (again)?

as i understand visual art, it is as important to us as music, and dance.

i wrote some posts earlier about dance, dance of life, tree of life...partly because of gauguin's monumental painting, partly because i was inspired by pina bausch. but mostly because i am arriving at the conclusion that many, if not most noteworthy artists in any arts discipline have been tasked with doing what we should all be doing.

so i think we should all be living more music, living more dance, living more poetry and stories and plays and movies, and living more visual art as well...if you get my drift.

sadly however, many of us live in a society where these things are only limitedly tolerated, for whatever reasons. as human beings, we are not even close to realizing our human potential on a global scale, and we are often already bogged down by our immediate social peers.

whereas, to me it seems that life is an inscrutable mystery, in which we play a minor and incomprehensible part with lots of suffering and misery thrown in. in such a setting, any form of art ideally helps us to live our lives more joyfully, more peacefully, more in tune with life and less to the tune of greed, social oppression, military oppression, religious oppression, any oppression.

for many of us, music is an outlet for our emotions vis-a-vis what we encounter in daily life. in my own dutch society, music seems much more accepted in that way than visual art (although, one should count movies in here). yet visual art has so much to offer in the same sense as well. but to appreciate these possibilities would seem to require more exposure to and emphasis on the importance of visual imagery/art in our education system than is the current practice.

$$$$$$$ (money, that's what everybody seems concerned about)

anyway, landscape art is in many ways a counterweight to 'quick bucks'. it takes a long time for a natural landscape to form. when walking in such a landscape, i believe we connect to slow forces of nature, and even the benign-to-humans atmosphere of many trees and plants. (i know there are also less benign landscapes...but these also have a certain time-slowing impact on us).

how to represent in a painting or drawing or drainting or ..., the influence on our feeling and thinking that landscapes have? even more radical, landscapes often set me thinking about the nature of Nature, the nature of of spatiality, the forces of life & death, the nature of beauty,...

i feel quite some understanding for the aboriginal way of looking at the land: also through dreams and ancestral stories from time immemorial. no wonder that i am intrigued by some forms of aboriginal landscape art. why is it that so-called primitive societies seem to have such a much more evolved concept of what life is really about? also see dreamtime on wikipedia.

unknown land, frank waaldijk, 2010
unknown land (own work, 54 x 60 cm, 2010, click on the image for an enlargement)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

landscape art 2: recent paintings of canary islands

the exotic landscape of the canary islands has been quite inspiring to me, even though i do not paint a proliferous number of canvases.

i earlier posted a painting based on la gomera, and i now simply show two recently finished paintings. the first of these is based on a 2003 visit to gran canaria and has been waiting for some finishing touch for years...glad to see i finally found it. however, the colours are difficult to capture with my canon eos 300d...i will upgrade to a better camera this year.

gran canaria i, frank waaldijk, 2009
gran canaria i (own work, 70 x 110 cm, 2003-2012, click on the image for an enlargement)

la gomera iii, frank waaldijk, 2011
la gomera iii (own work, 80 x 120 cm, 2011, click on the image for an enlargement)

Monday, February 13, 2012

landscape art, van gogh, gorges du tarn

let me say just a few words on landscape art. it has always fascinated me, perhaps firstly because both landscape and art have always fascinated me. but secondly, my views on landscape art were almost demolished when i first saw a van gogh painting (i believe i was around 11 yrs old).

before that, i was already surrounded in our home by paintings of kenyan landscape as a backdrop for kenyan wildlife, by peter pakara (pseudonym of an artist who i barely managed to find on internet as peter siegfried hahn). i admired these paintings greatly.

peter pakara, peter siegfried hahn
peter pakara (peter siegfried hahn) (unknown title and date, i believe this to be fair use of the image; the paintings in my parents' possession are all from the seventies)

as a child i already had visited the rijksmuseum a number of times through my primary school in amsterdam. but i don' recall seeing a van gogh there. in short, my idea of what painting was changed completely (i now believe) when i first saw works by van gogh.

unfortunately i don't remember which of his works i actually saw first, but i do recall the sensation of being in complete awe of something another human has made. not like the awe i had before for realistic works of art, but on a wholly new level, the awe that somebody had actually managed to paint something of what i always felt when being in nature.

vincent van gogh, wheat field with cypresses
vincent van gogh wheat field with cypresses (1889, click on the image for an enlargement)

ok, now for my own puny contribution to this post's imagery. three years ago i visited the gorgeous gorges du tarn:

st georges de levejac, gorges du tarn
st georges de levejac, gorges du tarn

and some time later i made this drainting:

gorges du tarn, frank waaldijk, 2009
gorges du tarn (own work, 21 x 30 cm, 2009, click on the image for an enlargement)

(to be continued)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

art of dance 2: some dance drawings

dance three figures
dance - three figures (cash ledger) (own work, 1987, 20 x 24 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

the above drawing is one of a series of +- 1500 dance sketches that i made from 1987-1992, in a dancing called 'extase' in nijmegen (colourful to say the least, with excellent music and sound quality).

below some more recent dance be added to later, since i have to (re)digitalize a large number of drawings, which is a time-consuming effort.

dance three figures
kneeling man in motion (own work, 2011, 20 x 22 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dance, woman
dance, woman (own work, 2011, 21 x 30 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dance, woman
dance, 3 figures 0045 (own work, 2011, 21 x 24 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dance, couple
dance, couple (own work, 2003, 32 x 48 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dancing couple
dancing couple (own work, 2011, 28 x 20 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

art of dance, pina bausch, dance of life

youtube compilation of wim wenders' movie pina: dance dance otherwise we are lost. the music is by jun miyake, the song is called 'lilies of the valley' and features prominently in the movie.

this movie about dancer /choreographer pina bausch is absolutely stunning. it reflects the previous post on gauguin, since clearly pina tried to approach gauguin's questions through dance.

dance is a very special visual art form, to me. i do not always appreciate it, but i do agree with pina: dance dance otherwise we are lost. many of my drawings are about dance in some way. the two drawings below are a philosophical approach to dance and life.

dance of life i
dance of life i (own work, 2011, 32 x 48 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

dance of life i
dance of life ii (own work, 2011, 32 x 48 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

art on life (gauguin; tree of life)

i intend this blog to contain more than pictures of my work...but i have been lagging behind so much in putting works on the web, that i'm tempted to create a large number of posts just to show drawings, paintings, sculptures which ideally should be findable on the web.

however, a better (although more laborious) way is to present some of my inspirations as well.

one work by paul gauguin has always been of special interest to me:

paul gauguin, where do we come from? what are we? where are we going?

paul gauguin, where do we come from * what are we * where are we going

the work is so philosophical, through its title, which puts the painting in a perspective different from most paintings of humans in a spatial setting. these three questions, albeit originally put to gauguin by a clerical teacher, are still quite unanswerable today, as far as i can tell, and probably never will be.

call it the mystery of life, i don't know, but it is an inspiration to me nonetheless:

tree of life, drawing by Frank Waaldijk
tree of life (own work, 2012, 32 x 48 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

young woman in pink dress (new work, new directions)

young woman in pink dress ~ frank waaldijk
young woman in pink dress (own work, 2012, 50 x 76 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

this painting is new in more than the sense of being just finished. i'm working in new directions, actually i'm looking for a new way of painting people.

this because i realize that i want to depict human relations, human feelings, etc. from a very personal point of view. so it's time to develop that point of view, and for this i need to experiment with various forms of realism as well. but never for the sake of realism, but simply because i now feel the need for Form in a way that i have not felt before. so i'm actually willing to also go into clumsiness, childlike style, whatever, if it gets across what i want to get across. (also see the previous post!)

strangely enough, i discovered that my sense of 3D form has only improved during the past years, even though i haven't been practising on it in any way. however, i'm also using some new techniques, in fact i want to incorporate my drawing styles and skills into my paintings...since in drawing i am the most free. the result in this painting can be seen mostly in the facial features, where i drew as well as painted.

also in this case the background/foreground colour contrasts were resolved with the glazing techniques discussed in the previous posts. 3D is only barely suggested, but that is how i think it should be here. naturally, i also drew on many inspirations from portrait art history.

Monday, February 6, 2012

the artist is always naked (finishing really old work 2)

the artist is always naked ~ frank waaldijk
the artist is always naked (own work, 1982-2012, 45 x 90 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

this painting is one of a number of really old works (in this case also 30 years old) that i have decided to finish, using the techniques which i have acquired in the meantime.

actually for this painting techniques came second. it was the image itself which was hard to realize. finally i decided to depict a theme which has been on my mind for many years. and which is also a theme which i discuss with my students.

namely this: any artist, in any field (music, painting, writing,...), always has to put so much of her/himself in his/her art, that it is similar to standing naked before an audience. any small hesitation/mistake/clumsiness/... in music/singing/drama/art/... is picked up immediately by the acute human ears and eyes of the audience. so let alone that one can keep one's personality covered, one's inner drive, one's demons and desires and also one's inner beauty of course.

the audience most frequently doesn't realize how hard this can be for artists, who are generally not the least sensitive of people. still, i tell my students that it goes with the job, and that they should find ways to cope, preferably NOT by trying to keep themselves covered...since that is a strategy which will hamper them to develop their own truly unique talent.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

african drummer (finishing really old work 1)

From a marketing point, my Career Manager has advised me to start writing using Proper Punctuation, you know, capitals...;-)

however, my brand manager has firmly opposed this, saying that a sudden shift in punctuational behaviour might project an unstable brand image, something a commercially-aware artist should always avoid like the plague. (should artists avoid the plague? one notorious dutch artist whom i do not admire recently repeated his belief that artists should try everything in life...)

they are now fighting it out in the bahamas, where i've sent them mainly to be able to work in peace and quiet ;-)

african drummer ~ frank waaldijk
african drummer (own work, 1982-2012, 30 x 20 x 20 cm, click on the image for an enlargement)

this sculpture is one of a number of really old works (in this case 30 years old) that i have decided to finish, using the painting techniques which i have acquired in the meantime.

these techniques are certainly not spectacular in any sense, or innovative in a grand fashion. but they are fulfilling to me personally. and i have got to the point where i am confident that i can put in the appropriate finishing touches or radical changes to old work. touches or changes which were elusive to me before.

for this sculpture, the finishing touches were a 'simple' 6 layers of translucent acrylic paint on top of a transparent layer of acrylic medium (for restoration and protection purpose of the cracked clay underneath). building up colours in a glaze is of course an age-old technique, but it has taken me years to develop it for myself. and it's not so easy to actually perform, as one needs to work smoothly, without hesitation, consistently across a 3D surface with nooks and crannies and other difficulties.

Friday, February 3, 2012

open access, elsevier boycott

On his blog Tim Gowers recently petitioned for a general boycott by scientists of Elsevier´s scientific journals.

His reasons I find excellent, as do many others, which has resulted in over 3,000 scientists now signing the petition on

Let´s hope this initiative really takes off. I wrote on this subject on my visual arts blog earlier, and I find it truly heartening to see people taking a stand. Open access and open source can be (in my not so humble opinion) a way to reduce the poverty and the technology gap between rich and poor in this world.

Since society most often has already paid well for the research, it is extremely unfair that important knowledge should not be available to the public unless they can pay exorbitant prices.

We might think that mathematics is an important example (ok, I think so too, a little biasedly...) but consider important medical research, which can directly save lives...!

So open access is the first step, really. And money should not be a dominating force in the dissemination of human knowledge.

the open access logo