Project 03 | Understanding Art. Interjection


Sometimes even the most dubious characters in a mystery novel have a lot to say. In Ben Aaronovitch’s Whispers Underground, an artist speaks his mind: “There’s no point asking what a piece of work means, you know? If we could express it in words, do you think we would have spent all that time bisecting a cow or pickling a shark? Do you think bisecting a cow is somebody’s idea of a fun fucking afternoon? And then to have stupid people come up to you and say, ‘It’s very interesting, but is it art?’ – yes, it’s fucking art. Do you think I’m planning to eat the fecking thing?” (p. 285)

I kind of like the reasoning here: Art can be defined by the use we make of it. And it is hard to talk about. So why not try to understand it non-verbally? That’s what my March/April project is about. You can participate! Details can be found here and on the ‘2015 Projects’ pages.

Project 03 | Understanding Art


Making pictures helps me understand history and memory as well as architecture or nature or the aesthetics of a movie. In contrast to scientific understanding, I would like to call the insight I find using photographs aesthetic understanding. The goal may well be beyond language.

Now this idea seems to be supported by a rather new book about visiting museums. Among other things, the author suggests we make photos of the works we see: “Taking pictures is also a way of connecting to and participating in the art, as it unleashes our excitement and involvement. Taking a clever picture can lead to more meaningful interaction with art. […] Challenge yourself, not by attempting to capture the artwork itself, but your experience of it.” (Johan Idema, How To Visit a Museum. Tips for a Truly Awarding Visit. Amsterdam: BIS, 2014)

For this month’s project, the challenge is to make clever photos of a work of art, capturing your experience of it. If the museums you visit are too restrictive about photographing the exhibits, try to find an artwork that is displayed in public – I am sure there will be plenty of them once you start looking.
Since the projects I have in mind for this year are not simple, I decided to switch to a bi-monthly rhythm, giving us all more time to come up with ideas (or time to post more pictures).

The pictures in this post were taken at an art school where I happened to visit a students’ exhibition a couple of weeks ago. The works were on display in the studios, giving the exhibition an atmosphere of authenticity and immediacy, making the visitors part of it all.

Unexpected Encounters

Pays d'Auge VI VascoeuilOnce I started tracking the unexpected for the Weekly Photo Challenge, I came across a couple of fairly different subjects. In this case, I’d already planned to combine the two (very different representations of femininity) but lacked a good title – the challenge took care of that. I found these statues at Les Jardins du Pays d’Auge (left) and Château de Vascoeuil (right).


“We want to see portraits of you doing something that inspires you to blog.” That’s what the Special Photo Challenge asked for. So here are some things that inspire me.

The left picture shows many objects – me photographing stuff, actually. It was inspired by Susan Sontag’s essays on photography: The mere act of making a photograph, Sontag says, re-evaluates the stuff we find because taking a picture equals claiming that the subject is deserves to be looked at – even ugly objects become ‘nice’ in photograph. Hence Sontag’s idea that photography aesteticizes the whole world.

Though I find a lot of inspiration in texts, pictures inspire me too: I ‘found’ the right one after visiting an Ellsworth Kelly exhibition entitled “Black and White”. This abstract picture with me in it may well be a reaction to (or inspired by) the pictures I saw. – While all this describes my motivation to photograph, this blog is really inspired by my love of photography, and the desire to share my pictures and see what you think.

Stand There!

Photographs serve the illusion of realism, of showing the Eiffel Tower or the bombing of a Vietnamese village as it really was. Perspective strongly supports this illusion. It denotes three-dimensional space on the basis of construction rules that have been derived from optics. A camera basically follows the same optical laws we find at work in the Renaissance theory and practice of perspective. It is a machine for making central perspectives, very much like the devices contrived by Dürer and others to facilitate the drawing of perspectives.

Perspective does not only denote space. It also positions the spectator: Central perspective works best if you stand right in front of the picture’s vantage point. You are thus made part of the geometrical arrangement; your (ideal) position, your eye is inscribed into the picture. For the image to captivate you and work its illusion, you have to cooperate, positioning yourself accordingly. Illusion comes at the price of a loss of freedom for the spectator.

Would absence of perspective, emphasizing the picture‘s flatness, then mean that spectators regain a certain amount of freedom, being allowed to stand wherever they like, without missing anything?

If this were the case, speaking of Informel paintings as ‘democratic’ may not only cover the picture elements (which are all equal) but also the ‘positioning’ of spectators. Confronted with a painting by, say, K. H. Sonderborg, spectators can position themselves freely, they can pick any spot in front of the picture they like. There is a certain openness to this, some kind of laissez-faire a Renaissance painting following the rules of central perspective might lack.



Hans Belting, Florenz und Bagdad. Eine westöstliche Geschichte des Blicks. München: Beck, 2008.

Willi Kemp, “Das deutsche Informel”, Le grand geste! Informel und Abstrakter Expressionismus 1946 – 1964. Hg. v. museum kunst palast. Köln: DuMont, 2010.

Putting Things Into Perspective

Until I wrote the lines about landscapes and maps, I never really realized the impact of perspective. A camera was a great machine for making perspectives; some perspectives were not what you wanted, especially when depicting architecture; you could deal with this issue by using the right lenses. That was all I knew and ever thought about.

I remember using perspective quite deliberately in several pictures though (consider the steps above).

Still, I was not fully aware of what perspective or the lack of it means if you consider actual space and the picture plane. Making photographs with little or no perspective (or ‘depth’) is yet another way to abstract from our everyday perception of things, and it might be yet another hint at the artificiality of pictures, their ‘pictureness’.