All entries for April 2007

April 27, 2007

Vincent van Gogh, 1853–1890. Een leven in brieven

de Zaaier (1888), naar Japans model Deze week beëindigde ik na lange tijd mijn worsteling door een selectie brieven van Vincent van Gogh, vanaf 1876 tot aan vlak voor zijn dood in 1890. Een worsteling, in de eerste plaats omdat het een lijvig werk is. Vincent was gewend zijn gedachten ruim uiteen te zetten in de brieven die hij aan mensen schreef, bovenal aan zijn broer Theo. Op bepaalde momenten schreef hij dagelijks, soms zelfs tweemaal daags brieven aan Theo. Zodoende komt de lezer over de 583 pagina’s die het boek beslaat veel te weten van zijn ideeën over de kunst en over het werk van schilders waarmee hij bevriend was – schilders als Mauve, Gaugain, Bernard en Pissarro. Het boek beschrijft in die zin tot op bijzondere hoogte jaren gedachtegang verwoord in brieven. De enorme omvang van zijn correspondentie vormt voor kunsthistorici een bijzondere bron. Redacteur van het boek Jan Hulsker spreekt van “een commentaar zo uniek dat er in de kunstgeschiedenis geen vergelijkbaar pendant van valt aan te wijzen.”

Zelfportret 1888De tweede worsteling ondervond ik in de ‘ontmoeting met de kunstenaar’ die het boek biedt. Terwijl men leest, glijden de jaren van Van Gogh’s leven voort, vol moeilijkheden, veranderingen en problemen. Problemen van financiële aard, want door het hele boek (en door zijn hele leven) heen kan Vincent slechts één keer een schilderij verkopen. Vincent blijft vanaf het moment dat hij besluit schilder te worden tot aan het einde toe financieel compleet afhankelijk van zijn jongere broer Theo, die kunsthandelaar is in Parijs. Maar ook sociale problemen, want Van Gogh heeft een moeilijk karakter en is vaak eenzaam. Uit de brieven spreekt een zwaarmoedig en filosofisch persoon; men zou zelfs kunnen spreken van een ‘religieus’ karakter, ook al zweert Vincent het Christelijke geloof in zijn institutionele vorm al in 1880 af. Vele jaren hard werk en conflicten binnen de familie en met andere schilders maken Vincent tot een moedeloos man die zich ouder zegt te voelen dan hij is. “Men zou niet altijd kunnen zeggen wat het is dat je insluit, je ommuurt, je schijnt te begraven, maar je voelt toch ik weet niet welke tralies, welke hekken, welke muren”, schrijft Vincent al in 1880 aan zijn broer. In dezelfde maand tien jaar later, na jaren harde arbeid, het afsnijden van zijn oorlel, aanvallen van waanzin en depressies, pleegt Van Gogh zelfmoord met een pistoolschot. De hele ontwikkeling tussen deze twee momenten zijn te lezen in dit boek.

De Oogst, 1888Waarom pleegde Van Gogh uiteindelijk zelfmoord? “Van alles is aangevoerd,” schrijft de Koninklijke Bibliotheek, “te beginnen met jarenlange ondervoeding, een diepe, aangeboren melancholie, overmatig alcolholgebruik, vooral van het kwalijke absinth, epilepsie, syphilis, paranoïde schizofrenie, of een combinatie van deze mogelijkheden.” De werkelijke reden blijft voor ons een raadsel. Dit boek geeft echter een inzicht in de man en kunstenaar Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent van Gogh: 1853-1890. Een leven in brieven. Uitgeverij Meulenhoff, Amsterdam 1980. 583 pagina’s.

April 26, 2007

How Globalised Are You?

...these must be from outer space...How globalised are you? Some time ago I thought of a practical indicator to check that.

I had been wanting to carry out the test before but kept on forgetting. It’s easier to check when you just got up, right before you’re getting dressed.

The question is: how many clothing items from foreign countries are you wearing today (my guess is many), and from which foreign countries, and where did you buy them?

Here’s my score for the day:
1. longsleeve short: bought in the Netherlands, made in China.

2. t-shirt: bought in the UK, made in Mauritius.

3. trousers, bought in the UK, made in Bangladesh.

4. socks: bought in the Netherlands, production country unknown.

5. underwear: like (4).

6. shoes: bought in Spain, made in Spain.

Hence a mixed picture. In my buying paterns I’m rather Anglo-Dutch today. And those branded clothes mostly come, as expected, from cheaply producing countries.

Now it’s your turn – that is, if you’re not too ashamed to talk about your underwear in public!

April 24, 2007

The Effects of Market Working on Choice of Themes in Art

The last weeks have sparked a few thoughts on art and its producers, artists. This is not in the least because of the fact that I am this year taking a course in History of Contemporary Art. Apart from that, I am also living with a free-lance painter since December, the uncomparable D´Onofrio from Argentina.

In any case, to keep this idea short, as a follow-up to my last “word on art”, the small beginning of a developing idea.

The tendency exists in today´s society, to jovially allow any type of livestyle and artistic development in its development. This is a logical effect of liberal democratic thinking: “whatever doesn´t hurt others should be allowed”. Now, applied to art, we might come to a statement something like what my classmate (as mentioned in the earlier piece) describes as: “everyone is an artist”.

I am absolutely agreed with the fact that every person develops artistic ideas and tendencies to the extent that they feel personally necessary. However, my painting housemate complains that all art he sees from his peers at exhibitions works on a similar basis. It is light, cartoonish, colourful, easy to understand and mostly playing with the senses or (a black type of) humor. D´Onofrio however paints in a different style, energetic but dark, colourful but choking, with an idea but somewhat abstracted. He encounters difficulties getting his work exposed and finds no connection in many young artists´ work.

Now, to me it seems, that by claiming every one of us ought to do whatever she feels she should do, is stating the premises in the wrong direction. Rather, the question is: why does an artist make what she makes? And which forces stir the choice of themes that artists make? Concretely, we have the case of Barcelona´s city art style, a style that we find back on flyers and in advertisements.

It must be what sells well, but that cannot be a good basis for the creation of good art.

April 23, 2007

Dia internacional del libro – Festa de Sant Jordi

...pretty intellectual girls...Maybe Spain has no more festive days than any other country, but they surely make the most of each one of them.

The day´s coming was being announced weeks in advance in all metro stations and it was hard for me not to notice: a photo of a pretty, blond girl tranquilly reading a book followed me wherever I went. (Why is it anyway that the campaign´s designers chose to advertise a blond, and not, like the vast majority of Spain´s population, a dark-haired girl? I think I know the answer.) Today, all around Barcelona´s city centre as well as all over the university´s campus, book stalls sell second-hand books for 50 cents or a euro.

Wholly unplanned the International Day of the Book coincides with Sant Jordi, the Catalan equivalent of Valentine´s Day. The 14th of February is not known here. Today however, happy couples parade around with lipstick-red roses or (slightly more nationalistic) yellow roses with red edges, adorned with a little Catalan banner on the wrapper.

I realised the pretty blond model on the poster, probably without realising it herself, advertises both of today´s reasons for festivity. At least I would give her a rose if I bumped into her.

April 19, 2007

Barcelona–Getafe, Proud to Have Been There!

Writing about web page

Messi 18 abril 2007Yesterday I went to the first football game in a stadium in my life. And lived through 7 goals, of which 5 wicked ones (Barca 5 – 2 Getafe).

A quick note. If you read this quickly enough, the above link might still lead you to a short click of one history´s wickedest goals ever, that was made by Messi around the 15th minute. In retrospect, it looked frighteningly much like Maradona´s magic goal against England in the 1985.

My housemates had given me the best birthday gift imaginable. I had been wanting to go to see a game in Camp Nou before. Even though I was never a real football lover, this year it seems I´m slowly turning into one. Barca is more than just a football club, and that didn´t go unnoticed with me either.

So the game. I was struck by the fact you could still see everything so well despite the stadium´s overwhelming size (100,000 seats) and pleased to see such a quite unusual development of the game. 5-2, and that for a quarter final of the Copa del Rey seems quite infrequent to me. The atmosphere was good, we had brought the lyrics to the Barca-anthem with us so that we were ready to sing along when the players entered (...som la gent blaugrana!!!...). The Getafe fans were right behind us, which was a good laugh, even more so as the end of the game approached. As it should have been, the game left no doubt as to the stronger part of the two.

No Ronaldinho on the grass this evening, but who cares? The new Barca star is called Messi after all, and he kicked in two beautiful goals. As he left the field for the break, throughout Camp Nou it resounded: “Meeee-ssi! Meeeee-ssi!” We all love that player.

So, to go short: An amazing club, that´s always worth going to see. A game, that might be remembered for a while. A player that I might proudly tell future generations about: “I saw him playing once, in Barcelona in 2007!”.

April 18, 2007

Heineken moet 219 miljoen euro boete betalen

Writing about web page

Heineken in een ander licht...Ik vroeg me al langere tijd af waarom bier zo duur was in Nederland!

Een rekensommetje. Een Engelse pint is ongeveer 600 ml en kost ca. 2,50 pond, omgerekend, zeg, 3,75 euro. Een Nederlands biertje is 200 ml en daarvoor betaal je 2 euro. Om dezelfde prijs/kwantiteitsverhouding te krijgen doen we maal drie en we zien: 6 euro per 600 ml in Nederland, en 3,75 per 600 ml in Engeland. En dat terwijl Engeland doorgaans duurder is met soms zelfs een factor 1,5.

Maar nu weten we waarom. Heineken heeft verboden prijsafspraken gemaakt met o.a. Bavaria en Grolsch. De bestuurders van de bedrijven gebruikten bij het onderhandelen daarvoor codenamen, aldus de Europese mededingingsautoriteit. Heineken, de hoofdverantwoordelijke, moet daarom een boete van 219 miljoen euro gaan betalen.

De Nederlandse Eurocommissaris Neelie Kroes is goed op dreef. De Volkskrant schreef over haar:

Kroes zei onlangs dat ze hoopt dit jaar in totaal negen of tien kartels op te rollen en te beboeten. Met het bierkartel erbij zit Kroes voor dit jaar nu op een score van drie.

Goed gedaan Kroes! Geen medelijden met de grootbiermagnaten!

April 16, 2007

One of these things…

Why oh why…

- do housemates – wherever & whenever – feel justified in shamelessly stealing stuff from your shelve in the communal fridge? Using just the last bit of milk when you’re in a hurry and hardly awake in the morning?

- does that not happen when a guest brings something in and some stuff gets left over? Bits of uneaten and unclaimed food all over the kitchen, that will eventually have to be thrown away?

It’s just one of these things that are not worth my time, but keep me wondering all too often! Recognisable?

April 13, 2007

"Foreign" Languages

Grrr...tourists!The landlady of hotel “Hakuna Matata” near Cartagena (Costa del Sol) approached us. “Hola”, we said. “Buenas noches. Donde podemos poner nuestras cosas?” She stumbled a few words in Spanish. “We wanted to know where to put our stuff”, added one of us accommodatingly. “Ah, you speak English!” The lady’s face showed clear signs of relief. “And you made me try to speak Spanish!”

This post is not a pisstake, but more a general question out of genuine curiosity. Ah well, maybe slightly a pisstake too, then.

But why is it that the English-speaking world (explicitly including other English-speaking countries) are known for knowing no other language? In a more European context, the British – like the lady in my anecdote above – sort of stand out because of the fact that they hardly ever know, or intend to speak, other languages.

In no way I want to boast my own language skills, I mostly know a few useless phrases in a few languages, too little to be of any use. But I try, and I don’t assume anyone speaks my language, nor English.

Here’s a British peculiarity: “We’re just not very good with languages.” ??? I’m so sorry to hear that… is it a genetical condition?

April 12, 2007

Is Art a Universal Right?

This morning over a coffee and a sandwich I had a discussion with Portuguese and Catalan classmates from a History of Modern Art module.

The Portuguese girl said: “I believe everybody is an artist. Everybody makes something, creates something. People place people in boxes – you are a sociologist, you are a politicologist, you are an artist. I resent that division.”
The Catalan girl said: “But listen, many of my friends who are artists struggle to make a living. It is extremely difficult but necessary for them to making a living with a job by the side. But to be an artist after coming home is very exhausting and constraining for their productivity and creativity.”
I said: “However flawful the selection of ‘official’, or ‘succesful’ artists is, being done by gallery keepers and museum directors, it needs to happen. A selection of quality will always have to be made, as there is simply too much art to get to know.”

In principle, I am postive towards the universalist view of art: everyone must (or at least: can) make it, and it is for everyone to enjoy. In Huizinga´s view, “playfulness” is an indispensible part of a healthy human´s life. Nietzsche stresses the existence of a profound and dark irrational side in humans, outweighing society´s rational organisation. However, the statement has a strongly idealistic and unpractical tinge to it, even leaving the question of talent out of discussion. The quality of all art, after all, remains open for discussion and that´s a positive matter.

Life is given, not asked for, and it reveals all sorts of convenient constraints; artists are no exception to this rule – in fact it sometimes seems they are more severely subjected to it. Everyone must eat and sleep, and to work for that. The artist, moreover, needs to work, improve, produce, for a long time before reaching a peak of creativity and work of lasting durability. In theory, everybody is an artist. But does this mean a sweatshop worker, or ever closer to home, an office clerk, will immediately be able to translate her inner thoughts in beautifully phrased poetry? Where will she find the energy to handle the brushes, the time to observe the world with an artist´s eye and to develop new ideas in all calmness?

Artists are, thus, forced to participate in the money economy (to use Simmel´s term) to survive. It is not convenient, nor much desired by many artists, but useful, even necessary for them if they want to continue their artistic pursuits. The money economy knows its own mores and handles according to its own procedures which allow it to perpetuate itself, and benefit those who know how to maintain themselves within it. Therefore paintings and poetry volumes, as well as novels and sculptures are given a price, a price that we pay, or don´t pay, to enjoy art. The money economy has never been very sensible to such things as artistic innovation during an artist´s lifetime, or genius vision in a work of art. The artist´s profession is known as a harsh life.

All of this to lead to my conclusion. Should we pity those who complain about the absence of Universal Art? I don´t think so. Everybody for themselves may decide to what degree they develop the unquestionable artist in themselves, no choice is per sé better or worse as this is a matter of private discretion. Nevertheless, whomever pushes their art forward, cannot do anything else, as their need to create is too strong to repress it. Under such circumstances, all problems become only obstacles on ever less disputable road.

All we can do is hope that we won´t hear this calling within ourselves, and come to the aid of creative geniuses to the best of our abilities.

April 11, 2007

Driver's Seat

...on the way to Sabadell...Have you always dreamt of being in a train´s cockpit (or whatever the place is called where the driver sits)? My rucksack was lucky enough to experience it this morning.

And all of that for the stupid reason that I forgot to take it when I got off the train. Having just left the platform, I realised something was missing. I rushed back to find that the train had obviously already left. Luckily I could call an on-platform direct information line that traced the train on it´s way to the city of Sabadell, located my bag, and sent it back on another train, all within 15 mins.

So I ran through the tunnel to the other side, waited for the train to arrive. The driver handed me my bag from his cockpit, and I warmly thanked him. “It was so exciting Maarten!” my bag cried, “I got to sit in the cockpit and look out of the front window!”

And so ended this story in a happy tone, and began today.

April 2007

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