camera obscura

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The dark room. I’ve been inside one, once,.. It was an art-project of Dutch artists Huub Wijnen and Odrada Burghoorn. The camera obscura was shaped as an -upside down- blue, little house, and you were able to go inside. So we did.

Unfortunately it was about 30°C (86°F) in the sun, so the dark room was steaming hot inside, and a lot of people inside got short of breath. Due to the temperature, we mainly were busy not to faint, therefore we totally forgot to notice the artistic and historical meaning of this experience. Lots of artists (mainly in the 16th – 17th century) used a (smaller) camera obscura to take a better look at their subject. The camera obscura is a dark room with a tiny little hole in one of the walls. The light, going through this hole, projects an image of the outside world on the opposite wall. It looks like a miracle, and therefore, mainly in the 16th century, the camera obscura sometimes was part of the collection of curiosities, which you could see at the fun fair. The camera obscura still is very unique, for it has an endless depth of field, something you only experience with the best camera’s.

Anyway, we did not faint, and a part of my consciousness did enjoy being inside a real camera obscura. It’s such a cool idea to create something like that! You really should check their website, the photo’s of the blue -upside-down- house which is the camera obscura can be seen here: http://hetblauwehuisje.nl/foto1.html

Camera obscura’s aren’t in use anymore. At least; I don’t know any artist (except the ones who created the blue house) who uses a camera obscura. I think it would be really cool to have one, but I also think a digital camera, nowadays, can work as well. For me at least. I use my camera to rethink my works.

The first time I took a picture of my unfinished work, it was for keepsake. But later, I noticed it helped me to view my work from another perspective. By taking pictures, I see things I overlook while working on it. I even see things I overlook, when I just take a step back to look at it. It is really helpful to sit back, staring at a picture of your work. When I do, I stare at it for at least 10 mins. I know it’s digital, not the real thing like a camera obscura, but for me the effect is the same. And yes, due to this habit, I have a big collection of pictures of work in progress. And I’m more than willing to share: (still not finished!!)

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Meet the master of light

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ImageDelft. Famous for its Delft’s blue porcelain and Vermeer. So when I visited Delft last weekend, I naturally went to the Vermeer Center. And yes, the name of the museum already suggests it’s not the house of Vermeer, unfortunately. The center is located about 100 metres from the place Vermeer’s house was located. Past tense; the house is razed, therefore tourists have to visit a center instead of a Vermeer’s house. But, to compensate the loss, they chose a very good location for the center, which is located in the building of the St. Luke’s guild. (see picture above) This used to be the guild for Delft’s artists and artisans. In his time, Vermeer was head of this guild.

Before I entered the Vermeer Center, I knew a bit about Vermeer. For instance, I knew that the 37 paintings of Vermeer are divided between Europe and America. 7 of them are in the Netherlands, but none of them is in Delft. So what we were about to see were reproductions of Vermeer’s paintings. I was curious if observing prints would satisfy me. I was curious how the prints were presented and what other information and objects were shown, for all I know about Vermeer is that there is little to know.

ImageVermeer is a mystery man, people nowadays know little about his life. We know where he lived, we know about his paintings, we know he got 15 children, of which 4 died, but we don’t know about his mentor, for example. This question got it’s own special place in the museum. In the picture above you can see the possible mentors of Vermeer. But he also could have had no mentor at all, perhaps he was a self-taught-man.

ImageThe Vermeer Center displays all of the 37 paintings in print, in actual size. It was nice to see them all brought together in one room, but I also have a book in which all of the paintings are collected, and I actually did not prefer these prints over the book. So what did the museum offer, next to the prints? Well; no more then the information I was able to read in the book I just mentioned, but a book takes a lot more time to go through than a museum, so I guess the museum basically was a time-saver, compared to the book. It gave information on 17th century Delft, on Vermeer’s paintings, on Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, (Vermeer’s curator,) on Vermeer’s techniques and hidden messages.

The center said Vermeer used symbolism in his paintings. On most of the paintings of Vermeer are women. When they are working, the message is clear; working is a virtue. But when they aren’t, most of the time Vermeer painted symbols next to the not-working women to signify vice. Most of the time this vice was a forbidden love, referred to by music instruments, wine or letters.

They also said that Vermeer had studied the effects of lights extremely well, and therefore he is to be called the master of light. One example, and in my opinion the best example, are the highlights. If you look close to the paintings of Vermeer, he used an innumerable amount of white dots to highlight (and revive) objects in his paintings. The best example is Vermeers view of Delft; the buildings and the boat is loaded with white dots, and it works; it completes the painting.

ImageThe fact that Vermeer produced so little paintings, makes us think he spent a long time thinking on the techniques, perspective, and symbolism in his paintings. But still, we do know so little about the guy. I wonder; perhaps he just copied his environment with a rare precision, and just painted what he saw, without thinking too much about it. Maybe he just liked what he saw and didn’t do anything to manipulate the light,..

But maybe he did, and if he did, he just could be the master of light indeed.

learning in the museum

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I’m a student. I’ve been a student the past 7 years, and I wish I could remain a student for the next 7 years, but unfortunately I have to finish off and start earning money. Therefore I hope my final diploma will give me the possibility to earn a job as a teacher. I’m learning to become a teacher in religion, but during this education I got the opportunity to learn some tricks and skills on arts and cultural education as well.

Today my arts and cultural education class went on a field trip. Yay!! Finally; I got the chance to learn how arts and cultural education is put in practice!

We payed a visit to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam, and we got an assignment as soon as we got there. This assignment concerned the visible thinking strategies from Perkins and dialogical learning from Wegerif. This meant that we had to choose two objects in the museum, and follow the instructions in the assignment.

Chosing an object was quite difficult. The object concerning the assignment on visible thinking strategies had to be something appealing to me. The object concerning dialogical learning had to be connected to religion, since I’m learning to become a teacher in religion.

I chose the following objects:

ImageImageYou probably recognize at least one; right? Kandinsky. The first one is a picture taken by Dan Zollmann. The Jewish Historical Museum had an exposition of both paintings of Kandinsky and photo’s of Dan Zollmann.

What was the assignment?

I chose Kandinsky to fulfill the assignment on visible thinking strategies. The first instruction was to describe the painting. But before I started describing the painting, I read the information accompanying the painting. It said that the circle represents a synthesis of the greatest oppositions: concentrism and excentrism. ImageSo I imagined Kandinsky was trying to represent totality. A circle is total. It’s enduring; no beginning, no end. Next to the circle, Kandinsky used every imaginable color and presented every imaginable shape. I figured he wanted us to see it ALL; just evertyghing. And I am used to interpret ‘everything’ as God. God is everything, right? At least I think God can be seen as a synthesis of the greatest oppositions. So maybe Kandinsky wanted to represent God. Just maybe. And since the assignment didn’t order us to be correct, and just told us to give our own impression, I stick to this conclusion.

The next question concerning the visible thinking strategies was: If this object was in the middle of a story, what would be the preceding picture, and what would be the subsequent picture? I again consulted the accompanying information: it told me the name of the painting was: Yellow Center. So I figured the preceding picture would be the same painting with a white center, for if the painting would refer to God, God needs the be pure, at least at the start. The subsequent picture would be called ‘black center’, because black represents all the colors. It could only be black because it is the sum of everything, it would be the final resolution. It’s like the black square of Malevich, which also represent the whole of all.  (at least, that’s what I thought)

ImageThe last question on visible thinking strategies was to connect this painting with any other object in the museum. So I started my search for any other object which also could represent God. And I found Baruch de Spinoza. No, he’s no god. But he too was in search for God and created a philosophy on pantheïsm: everything IS God. I thought this was the ultimate link with my interpretation of ‘yellow center’.

Next was the assignment on dialogical learning. You noticed I chose a photo of Jewish boys at a candy machine. I had to formulate a hypothesis based on this photo, this hypothesis was meant to evoke questions; a dialogue. My hypothesis was: These are religious boys, who have their first encounter with modern temptation. And yes; this hypothesis evokes questions, for; are they really religious? Is it really the first encounter? Are they tempted by the candy, or the machine? Etcetra.

ImageI learned a new approach towards art. I learned that a real art connoisseur does not read the information accompanied by the object. He thinks freely; I just partly did that. But it sure was fun and I definitely will use this approach the next time I take my son to a museum. I presume he will start loving visiting museums.

Kitsch

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ImageFor a fact, I don’t know if this word ‘kitsch’ is used often in English, when people talk about art. In the Netherlands we are quite accostomed to use the word to contrast with the word ‘art’. We even have a televisionprogramme about art, called ‘tussen kunst en kitsch’, which means: ‘between art and kitsch’. The programme is the Dutch equivalent of BBC’s ‘Antiques roadshow’.

The Dutch title of the programme is quite curious, for it unambigious refers to the value of the objects. In Dutch; ‘kitsch’ usually means ‘worthless’, and the word ‘art’ in this title clearly refers to expensiveness. The title therefore is well given, for it indicates that the value of the objects in the show, also can be in between ‘worthless’ and ‘valuable’. The word ‘kitsch’ nevertheless remains an interesting word, especially after I read Milan Kundera today.

Before today, I always thougth ‘kitsch’ refers to value. Kitsch is something which pretents to be art, but isn’t, and therefore worthless. Even the Dutch dictionaries say that ‘kitsch’ means it is junk, or rubbish. This alone makes the word ‘kitsch’ very difficult to use, for who’s to say something is worthless?

I added a picture of six hidious teapots to this post, for this picture was at the Dutch wikipedia site on ‘kitsch’. Therefore, not only me, but also the author of this wikipedia article thinks these teapots are a good example of ‘kitsch’. And I think that’s what determines the value of objects: concensus, and nothing but concensus. It’s a tricky thing, for if the teapots were put into a museum by an artist, who just wanted you to see behind the ugliness and think about massproduction, it would be art, and the concensus would say something completely different about the value.

But the whole reason I wanted to write about kitsch today, is Milan Kundera. In his book ‘The unbearable lightness of being’ are several phrases on the definition of kitsch. These all were very different from the definition I was used to. As I read the first definition, I wanted to memorise it, for it is philosophical, it is metaphysical, and I had the feeling it was a better definition than the one concerning value.

Kitsch, from his point of view, excludes everything that makes the human existence essentially unacceptable.

 

Kitsch is the room screen that makes us unable to see death.

This is a whole new definition of kitsch. It’s not about value, it is about the phony attitude towards life. It is about denying ugliness and pretending there to be only joy, beauty and estetics. But do teapots do that? Do they deny death and does it exclude the unacceptable parts of human existence? Does it, by it’s ugliness, deny ugliness?

Wow, that’s a big question,.. let me sleep over that one,..

(c) Anya Janssen

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(c) Anya Janssen

When I was visiting the MMKA (Museum for Modern Art Arnhem), I decided I wanted a postcard of the painting ‘rites of passage 2’ of Anya Janssen. But it wasn’t available there.

Now I found this website: http://www.artunlimited.com which sells postcards of allmost every painting in dutch museums, so I finally was able to buy the postcard. 😀 And by buying it, I kinda had the feeling I bought my right to copy the painting.

Hope Anya Janssen doesn’t mind.