The Flowers Of Time.

* * * The flowers of time. * * *

The painter of the Starry Night in 1889, Vincent Van Gogh, has not only blessed us with his exceptional paintings but also with his thoughts about his deep understanding of his art, of the poetry in light and colors that emerges from it. He has passed to us through his notes many aspects of his personality enough for us to understand him as a genuine artist.  As we all know he was suffering from Ménière’s disease. He overcame his discomfort, working beyond the threshold of pain while painting his self-portrait, the famous Bandaged Ear in 1889. Among the abundant stream of his reflections both in colors and in words, we would like to look into the one regarding normality, as he said:  “Normality is a paved road: it is comfortable for walking but nothing grows on it”

What is normal then? A dear friend of mine, also a painter, used to say that Normal is a setting on a washing machine”. What should we understand as being the norm, as being normality? Normal in the psychosomatic sciences, as in the psychoanalysis of Carl Gustave Jung, is a personality that does not cause suffering to others and which does not suffer itself. A merely impossible state for us to achieve in everyday life among other living beings. The norm understood in the sense of the ancient Greek, as nomos, is a law or a rule that can be internal and personal, which we impose freely upon ourselves or through external and collective impulses by society, tradition, etc. Normality, therefore, becomes the whole set of our attitudes and behaviors that remains normal within the limits of the norms.

Professor Dominique Assale, in his researches in phenomenology about the Logic Of Experience, in “The History Of The Great Currents Of The Western Philosophy”, returned to the Greek thinkers to account for the miracle of the Greek thought and its consequences in the history of critical thinking in general. Every good Greek citizen was a pious Greek. We know from the historical record that in ancient Greece all the cities with some differences like Athens and Sparta revolved around three major ideas. The first one was the dikè, namely the order in the cosmos that all good Greek had to complete on a personal level which we find the echo of in the theory of justice by Plato. The second one was the mimesis, which idea was of learning by imitating a model like Demosthenes for the rhetorical art, or Pericles for politics, or even also reproducing nature that is found in art when we look for instance at the sculpture of Myron’s discobolus (460-450 BC). The perfection of nature in terms of proportions was an ideal to be achieved, which the Renaissance took over from the Greek canon. Finally, the last idea was the Theoria, or contemplation, the speculative activity of the philosopher, the highest degree to be achieved, as Aristotle would say. 

Socrates’s condemnation to commit suicide is the result of the transgression of some principles deriving straight from these three pillars. The judges of the city blamed him for introducing new gods which would have disturbed the dikè and corrupting the youth by his teachings which would have altered the mimesis. His maieutic departed from the norms or the normality of the Athenian society in the fourth century before our era. by breaking radically with all materialistic thoughts before him, Socrates’s death in 399 BC is undoubtedly the founding act of Greek philosophy. Socrates, this eccentric old man, had shocked deeply the orthodoxy of Athenian thought. It is indeed, for the first time, that a man had died in defense of his ideas in the Hellenistic world. This is long before Christianity, defying by doing so all the social norms, came out of the “paved path” as Van Gogh said to truly become a “flower” of time. This heinous death will forever change the relationship to the tradition and to the truth which triggered other minds to find new paths and to pursue new ways to seek beauty and truth as we see with all the schools of thoughts in the continuation of Socrates like the Academy of Plato or those opposing him.  

We will never insist enough that Van Gogh’s flowers are metaphorical entities in the garden of time and not real ones like the flowers in the vase on the tea table in the living room. But that idea alone opens to us a beautiful approach to consider new relationships with art. Because an idea that goes only in one way does not go anywhere. The flowers are the most beautiful and eloquent essays about life. They are beautiful with a purpose. Everything about them fills a vital function. They are beautiful and fragile just like us. They last only for a while just like us. Nothing is superfluous in their appearance, as in their smell. They have the exact colors and the precise perfume to attract the one who is looking for their nectar or company. Too much light would kill them, too much water would destroy them. Flowers are friends of the arts, creativity, and romantic lovers. They carry within them the very essence of life. If we dare look at them carefully.

To be an artist is definitely to be a very special kind of “flower” in the garden of time. My professor of Hegel used to say ” You shall not be above your time, at best you shall be your time”. Being our time with a message to deliver is the highest goal in creating something. Bob Marley did likewise with his music. He tried  to bring an  awareness about the situation of the black people in Jamaica and his Rastafaria community to the world.  Leonardo Da Vinci in his time tried to create a fruitful dialogue between the science, the art and the  religion “he used science to paint the human body perfectly in its motion, as well as to expose its mind and the passions of its soul”. Mozart is well known for his immense respect toward Bach, he said  that “ Bach was the father of all musician”. Indeed there would have been no Mozart at all or Beethoven without the solid foundation that Bach established through his vast work and his great influence on future generations of composers till today. Vincent Van Gogh too is such an artist, having painted everything from within with light and poetry. We  need as artists to find ways to bring the flower in us to bloom and to deliver the very message that we carry for the world to know, for the universe to glue everything together by raising people from knowing to understanding.

Certainly, in a poetic way, no flower is thought without the tireless work that it creates around it. The needy little bees for example which extract the nutrient necessary for the honey that they manufacture, the pollination that they boost which is actually strengthening the chain of life itself. Love and honey have an intertwined destiny in our lives. Indeed, love is surely the honey of art and artists are its tireless little bees. But in art, love is passion, love is a gift, love is consecration… Without the fire of its passion, the fresco of Michelangelo, on the roof of the Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508 to 1512) would never have been painted. Without Mozart’s gift, opera would have been only noises according to Peter Shaffer. In an interview about his movie Amadeus (1984) he says in 1986 about The Marriage Of Figaro: « Only opera can do this, in a play if more than one person speaks at the same time, it is noise. No one can understand a word, but with opera, with music, you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time and it is not noise. It is perfect harmony». Without its consecration, there would never have been the sculpture by Rodin of the thinker (1880 to 1904), or the beautiful radiant sculpture in marble of the Veiled Virgin by Giovanni Strazza (19th century).

Art is therefore not a product that we find in nature, such as a mineral of copper or a  Baobab tree in Africa, or even the twelve apostles of the great ocean road in Australia. We create art, just like the bees manufacture their honey. We carve art from our own vulnerability because “Being a human being, is to be a fragile being. Fragile as a truth, vulnerable as a thought, as a vision, which has to deepen in life. Being just a thought, an idea, a vision of a vulnerable love, which is strengthened, which is empowered in time”  We also carve art with our love, with our passion, with our gift, with our consecration, with all our being mind, body, and soul.  We work hard to manifest it in the world. We as artists are body, mind, and soul of our art. We are everything that we express. It is a pure and a deep connection in the way that no one can isolate a flower from its colors or its scent.

To say the least, there would be no art without our concrete existence for it to bud and to bloom. It is in real-life that the corrosive effects of time weigh in on the artists, pushing them and inspiring them to the vision for which they will devote their whole lives. But what matters the most in the process of creativity as with the flower is the moment of change when the bud becomes the flower. The moment of transformation, which is also the moving away from the “paved paths”.  The artist then makes the jump from an objective and collective experience into his personal and subjective inspiration which crosses the limits of his life while continuing to speak to humanity. Examples can be found for instance in Le Roman De Renard (12th century), 2001: The Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick (1968), or even The tales of one and a thousand nights (978), and so many more… 

The idea of art moves us deeply, even when it comes to us, sometimes embodied into excess and eccentricity of some artists like Keith Moss or Fela Kuti, etc. Eccentricity is “part of the beautiful expression of art. Because we are not equal regarding talent, so we do not all react in the same way. Some eccentricities are for all to see and very loud, others are just subtle in the refined way of being oneself”. However, paying attention only to the eccentricity is missing the message that it conveys. Eccentricity is also a scent of art. An artist is a messenger and like any good messenger, it is the message that matters and not the messenger himself.

Moreover, each talent is unique, in the same way, that there are no two identical flowers in nature, even when they are growing in the same garden, on the same soil. The secret of each garden is the topsoil. We have to prepare the soil adequately depending on our needs. The flowers of time grow on the soil of vulnerability, openness, and generosity. True talent is seeded on the ground of generosity. So that the creativity that will grow on that specific seed will be as diverse and rich as the soil allows it. Two artists will never treat the same subject as equal because of their own personal experience and also their own internal battles to come out of the “paved paths” to establish themselves as masters of their arts. Every artistic creation is unique because it comes from a unique soil, a unique heart, and unique hands. All creations complete beautifully the destiny of art to uplift us and to fill our lives with high sentiments and purpose. Some artistic expressions are true of a total serenity like the Canon In D (1694) by Pachelbel, and others are all made out of lights and shadows like Rembrandt’s painting….

There are as many art forms as there are talents to express it. But the seed of time needs its own soils to grow, to turn into a bud, and finally into a flower. As Van Gogh said: “the paved road” is too comfortable for anything to grow on it. We must find the courage, the faith to try new ways and to walk on our own where nobody has ever gone before us. We have to truly want to blossom with our own colors, spreading around us our own perfume. It does not mean that being an artist is living away from the normality but it is thinking it in a new light in order to find within it or outside of it the nutrients we need to be creative, to be seeded, to bud, and to bloom.

Paul Malimba. 

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Anthony van Dyck in Munich

Anthony van Dyck

Last weekend I spent a couple of hours in the newly renovated Alte Pinakothek in Munich. This time not to see their permanent rooms but a special exhibition of Anthony Van Dyck’s work. As I sat in the cafeteria afterward, I pondered over the fact that although this was not the big retrospective show with highlights from London or elsewhere, it was an excellent exhibition. And it seems fitting that after seeing and writing on this blog about the big Bernard van Orley and the Mantegna-Bellini retrospectives I should now write about an exhibition of a great portrait artist (see my Alex Katz write up for more portraits discussion) which is not a retrospective.

Who is Anthony van Dyck?

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) was a Flemish painter from Antwerp renowned for the painting of portraits. The seventh child to a wealthy silk merchant, his painting abilities were obvious at an early age. One of his first important influences was gained by working in Peter Paul Rubens’s workshop, close to the master so to speak. His trips to Italy in the 1620s were, however, the turning point in finding his style following his study of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) and Tintoretto. After becoming a court painter in Flanders to the archduchess Isabella, Habsburg Governor of Flanders he returned to England in 1632 following a request from Charles I to be the main court painter there. Most paintings from this extremely rich period are still part of the huge Royal Family Collection in London.

Van Dyck at the Bavarian State Painting Collection

The paintings we see here belong mainly to the Bavarian State Painting Collection. The collection was built by two Wittelsbach family members in the 17th century and has been in Bavaria ever since. In 1628 Wolfgang Wilhelm, Count Palatine of Neuburg (1578-1653) commissioned Anthony van Dyck a portrait of himself, thus starting the first connection with the artist. His Grandson, Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine of Neuburg (1658-1716) later began a collection of 30 works by the painter. His cousin Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria (1662-1726), in many ways his rival, collected 51 works by the artist. Twenty-three of these originally acquired works by the Wittelsbach dynasty, are considered full original autographs by Anthony van Dyck.

The use of the workshop

It has been discovered over time, and especially with new scientific studies on the paintings, that what is assumed to be by Anthony van Dyck is not always fully by him. In those days, a workshop was absolutely vital for any serious artist. After all, van Dyck had also started out as one of Rubens’ workshop artists, before gaining his own reputation. So, how did it work? Well, those willing to give the highest sum got the whole van Dyck package, those paying less got the hands or more features painted by one or more of the artists from his studio. The basis for pose, heads, horses, hands were all catalogued on study sheets and paintings done by the master.

This is wonderfully displayed in this exhibition. Study heads paintings, for instance, occupy a whole wall. Most of these have been separated to create 2 or more paintings, making it more profitable to sell, some are still whole. How these study heads have been painted is being explained and shown here not only with informative texts on the wall but also very excellently with the help of an electronic info-table.

Subtle, yet very informative boards

 

What I particularly liked is that there are only a few such tables in the exhibition. They bring a wonderful insight by showing details of the paintings and accompanying them with explanations about the making of the works in the rooms. Yet, they do not overtake the exhibition. They are subtly set, are not interactive, so as not to disturb the more important viewing of the actual paintings. They remain just factual help. This information is in part the result of recent scientific work on the paintings from the house collection, triggering the impetus for presenting this exhibition.

Rubens versus van Dyck

Drunken Silenus, c. 1617/18 additions c. 1625, Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was in many ways the artistic “father” of Anthonis van Dyck. Yet, his psychological approach to portraiture sets him apart from Rubens. It is obvious here that Rubens is all about big monumental figures, about representative paintings, whereas Van Dyck is about the emotions, the human being, the psychology of the person painted. In “Drunken Silenus” which both artists painted in 1617/18, in Rubens’ case with an additional bottom section in 1625 to make full figures, we can see this very clearly. Van Dyck paints an old man, not able to walk alone anymore because of his drunken state, Rubens, on the other hand, paints a strong Silenus, more of an allegorical painting.

Drunken Silenus, c. 1617/18, Anthony van Dyck

Titian

Nicely shown here is also the connection with Titian. During his trips to Italy, van Dyck studied Titian amongst other Italian artists closely. Titian, for instance, portrayed cherubs and his baby Jesus larger than life, very big in shape. Van Dyck decided to experiment with that too in his Madonna and Child paintings.

The full-length portrait format used by Titian is another factor influencing both Rubens and van Dyck. An example of the 3 artists side by side shows this very clearly.

Emperor Charles V, 1548, Titian

Titian’s portrait of Charles V from 1548 sets the standard, with its full format and its background, for the next generations to come. Next to it, following Titian’s example, is the huge representative painting of Rubens dating of 1620 of Aletheia Talbot, Countess of Arundel.

Aletheia Talbot, Countess of Arundel, 1620, Peter Paul Rubens

 

And completing this series is the more personal full portrait by van Dyck of Sebilla Vanden Berghe from 1630. Here he shows his greatness in capturing the aura and personality of his sitter.

Susanna Fourment and her daughter Clara del Monte, 1621, Anthony van Dyck

These 3 paintings belong to the Bavarian State Painting Collection, as are most paintings presented in the exhibition.

So, is this just as good as a retrospective?

What makes this exhibition so special for me, is the fact that it gives us a wonderful insight into how van Dyck worked. It presents how important the workshop was to the artists of this period, how van Dyck produced such gorgeous masterworks, how artists connected and influenced each other and how van Dyck’s portraiture sets him apart from other artists. One doesn’t always need the highlights from other collections to make an exhibition special. I didn’t miss the paintings from London or from Vienna here. Fittingly the exhibition ends by talking about the start of van Dyck’s London paintings, not by showing a portrait from that collection but with a house painting by a later English great portraitist to represent this: Thomas Gainsborough.

This exhibition is a wonderful opportunity for the Bavarian State Gallery to show off its great collection of van Dyck paintings. It allows works to be placed side by side, some not always on view showing very clear parallels between the artists.  Together with the few “guest” works, it gives a wonderful insight into van Dyck’s work and legacy. In my eyes, a wonderful show, well worth the visit!

 

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On Poetry and Vulnerability

Writing poetry, it is drawing with words. Words woven, moreover words interwoven in our feelings, within our beings, on our close intimacy and far relations to self, others and the universe. All drafts, all sketches, all attempts are worth the try. Because they testify the ferment of our inner life. 
It comes down not only to draw a mountain as an object but also what it arouses deep in us. Similarly to draw with words a river, or a lake. It is not only drawing but also diving into its waters with our beings and feelings. It is also inviting others to swim with us, to dive within us, to discover what we meant to share, what we felt when we drew.
Sharing the way of words, being intimate with words in the way words touch us, in the way words turn us upside down
by little sketches, by little drafts, by little attempts.
This is poetry.
But Poetry has an even closer relationship to the beauty and all its expressions. However not all the expressions of  beauty are written and therefore not all the poems in the universe are contained in written poems but in many other shapes, many other clothing which are waiting to be said, to be expressed etc.  John Fowles, in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, stated “We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words”
Poetry thus becomes a profound exposure of self to truths, feelings, life, values, time and love… This openness through self exposure is possible by touching and becoming familiar with our own vulnerability.
We are living in a technical era, very fond of efficiency. The jargon of scientific views from which we are building our world is a language of the mind that is at work into things and strengthened in the aridity of scientific concepts. In a world that is always productive and effective, vulnerability seems to become and pass as a weakness.
Nonetheless, there is such beauty into vulnerability that only love can embrace. We build upon our vulnerability. It does not make us lesser in merit than any other virtues. To say it with Kant “Beauty is what pleases without concept”. It is the same beauty that is the primary object of poetry itself and all its expressions written or not and also of love. Poetry, love and beauty are thus looking at vulnerability to start to open up.
 
Love within itself is not rigour in principle, nor lack of compassion. It is infinitely an opening, a movement. Its opening shows it vulnerable. Its movement  makes it understandable, mostly human. But the infinite plasticity of love is in its vulnerable face. Love is built on a ground of vulnerability. It is the vulnerability within love that allows us, to bud, to grow, even to love.
 
Only powerful people by decree are haunted by the idea that one day they are discovered vulnerable. So vulnerability is not a weakness within love. But just what Consolidates it. It is the other way around of love, the look-alike of strength and  power. Strength or love that will not consolidate themselves in acts virtues, as well as power which drifts from that kind of love are without vision. That strength based on that love, that power founded on that strength are unfounded. They may be necessary . . . But they are a love without intrinsic opening, without movement. They both succumb victims of themselves.
To be aware of our own vulnerability, may help us to turn it  into an asset. It is to allow an opening within us, a movement that carry us. Because love which opens itself, always opens itself in the world, where it exposed itself. Therefore  it cannot remain unchanged. It now knows that beyond it the world exists.
It is just a consciousness in the world among many others at work. To know our own vulnerability,  it is to strengthen ourselves in the events of life. It is also to be combative in the face of adversity.
Because hardship, adversity are part of life. It is also an act of deep compassion to the suffering of others. It’s coming to understand that the truth is in time. Being a human being, it is to be, a fragile being. Fragile as a truth, vulnerable as a thought, as  a vision, Which have to deepen in life.  Being just a thought, an idea, a vision, of  a vulnerable love, which are strengthened, which are empowered in time.
Poetry in its effort to seek to look at the expression of the beauty is not fully the expression of the mind but mostly of the heart to put into words the vulnerable heart of the poet. The soul of the poet is similar to the surface of a lake, its quietness reflects the life in the depth. If anything is changed, it is the whole calm that is altered. The colours of the lakes are due to the sky, to the presence of the algae or to the reflection of the sunlight.
It is in all these meanings in relation to the beauty, within the articulation of its expression which feeds upon the vulnerability of the poet that poetry comes to existence. All good poetry is a plural poetry in its composition as in its reading. We all have an acquaintance of this beauty without concept. It would be a mistake to try to make it equal to all, especially that its appreciation and evaluation are given  to us by our time and our culture.

Poetry and the vulnerability of the poet work together to allow us to have an emotional understanding of what is going on. It is touching from inside.

Thus Orpheus had been able to sedate the Cerberus by the power of its musical instrument. But before touching others, the poet is touched first by the muses. To say it with Bob Marley in his song,TrenchTown Rock, “ One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain”
Written by Paul Ma
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