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11.29.2009

Damien Hirst vs. the Wallace Collection - Turner vs. the Great Masters

Just back from London. Saw two fantastic exhibitions: one was Damien Hirst at the Wallace Collection, the other was Turner at Tate Britain. Both reminded me that an artist's ego is as BIG as a house - nay, a palace, a mountain...

Damien Hirst is like you haven't seen him in recent years: back to oil painting. The stuff is neon blue on a black background, and the subject is familiar, skulls, geometric lines and the like. What courage! He's pitching himself against the whole of the Wallace Collection. As soon as you leave the two rooms dedicated to him, you are into the famous Great Gallery, overwhelmed by the Great Masters from the past. Did he think he was better than them? I kept wondering, and watching whether the crowds of tourists passing through would stop to look at his work. In principle, these are people keen to see the Wallace Collection treasures. Are they able to understand what Damien Hirst is up to? Those I saw gallopped through his rooms without looking...Did Damien Hirst really think he could step out of his contemporary artworld with impunity and show everyone how good he was? That he could convince someone who likes Caravaggio or Rubens?

Turner was equally surprising - and in the same way. In this very clever exhibition, you saw him like you've never seen him before. Gone is the Great Artist whose Art has broken all the rules, the Precursor of not only Impressionism but also Abstract Art, the Genius that heralds Modern 20th Century Art. Here he's shown fighting all the great artists from the past - Claude le Lorrain, Poussin, Rembrandt, Ruysdael, Watteau, Canaletto, Rubens - plus a handful of contemporary artists that he felt threatened by, like Bonington or Constable. So he pitches his work at them. He's out to not just emulate but PROVE he's better than them. And nothing stops him: he'll paint graceful young girls like Watteau or the Venice Grand Canal like Canaletto, or the raging sea like Ruysdael, or a lonely windmill like Rembrandt. He's out to show the whole world that he's better than everybody, whether past or present. God, what an ego trip!

But it doesn't work - not every time. His young girls have none of the Watteau grace, the seawater is nothing like Ruysdael's, his windmills do not fight the elements like Rembrandt's. But he's as good as Claude le Lorrain in his handling of exquisite golden sunlight - he's even better. And he's breaking new ground when he paints Venice. He achieves greatness when he stops worrying about being better than the others: when he is tearing at reality, deconstructing it, focussing on light, and doing it for the pleasure of doing it. His love of light comes through here and there, and those are his greatest moments, his real contribution to art history. In the whole exhibition, there are only two or three such paintings, but they are the proof of Turner's greatness.

The conclusion of all this? Ok, an artist's ego is a huge, monstrous thing. It often derails him, makes him do things he probably would not be proud of (if he were given the time to ponder over it). But is it bad per se? This fantastic ego prods him; it pushes him forward, it makes him try things he probably would never try if he were left on his own. So a big ego is an integral part of a great artist - and not so great artists too...Only time will tell how far Damien Hirst can go...

11.20.2009

Wow, that's a lot of wondering!

In just a few days of blogging, I've done a lot of wondering about the blogger world out there...And I duly note that no one reacts, no one replies, no one notices...I feel like I'm walking naked in the street, and all the people pass me by without noticing anything amiss...

I guess that's what real privacy is about in this mass communication world: we are all so intent on communicating, i.e. throw out some piece of ourselves like meat to the wolves, that we aren't listening to anybody. Luckily there are no wolves out there to eat our meat! But, boy, does it feel lonely...

Internet with its 500 million plus users is a very silent world!

I'm told by Google, the helpful giant, that I should follow successful bloggers. Join the crowd, or rather a small crowd within the big crowd. In some ways, I find this a frightening thought. I feel I'm reduced to becoming somebody's fan if I want to survive...

How do you feel about it? Has this feeling of loneliness on Internet ever hit you?

11.19.2009

I do wonder about you bloggers!

How's it like to be a blogger? I've just started two weeks ago and nothing happened. I guess I should add: fortunately. Because if I had had a reaction, then God help me! Those of you who've got a blog up and running are sure busy! I know because everytime I post a comment on someone else's blog, I can't believe the number of responses I get!

Surely, you bloggers out there have other things to do? How do you manage it? I'm really impressed!

11.05.2009

In case you wonder about the name of this blog...

Claude is my first name, and yes, I'm not a man! I'm not an alien either (although I often feel like one). I'm a woman and I've been one for a fairly long time - gone through all the phases, up and down (yes, including menaupause) and now I'm at peace with myself (perhaps - but not everyday). Really I'm not sure I've reached the top of the mountain and the rest is going to be downhill; wish it were so, but I haven't got a crystal ball so I don't know whether the next step is up or down. Just as well. That's what makes life interesting, right?

Nougat, the last name I use here, is not my real name of course. But it sums up what I want to do with my blog. You know what nougat is, don't you? It's a wonderful traditional sweet made of almonds and honey, usually white and sticky, but it can be covered with chocolate, dark or light, and filled with crunchy nuts. Yum! In Italy (where I live) you get lots of it for Christmas, and it comes in all kinds and shapes: small, big, long, short, soft and gooey, hard and crunchy.

One day, when I was fifteen, my father idly wondered how one makes such extraordinarily different types of nougat, particularly the crunchy vs. the gooey sort . I told him right away that it all depended on how it was cooked. He looked interested so I went on, explaining that for the crunchy variety you had to beat the egg whites hard and dry in the oven, while the gooey sort only used the yolk and you had to carefully cook it in a double-boiler. "How do you know that?" he asked. I told him I didn't, I just guessed that's the way it had to be (I never lied to my father - that's the generation I belong to, the one that was still submissive through adolescence). He laughed and immediately made a verb of it: "Claude, you are nougatizing!"

So that's what this blog will be all about: NOUGATizing...I'll just tell you what I think about all sorts of things that draw my attention everyday, and I hope that you'll post back your comments about how you feel about it - just like my father did!

For the moment, I'm intrigued by the notion of genetic memory. You know what I'm talking about: the idea that fragments of memory are handed down to us through our DNA. That things we know are innate. I googled the notion yesterday and was amazed to read the results (no, I didn't read all 12 million of them!!). The subject seemed to inspire all sorts of complex theories. There were obscure references to difficult notions such as Carl Jung's archetypes and Sheldrake's "morphic fields", but Wikipedia (ah, what would we do without it?) was reassuring on one point: it reported that scientists now generally considered genetic traits as "dispositional", that is they encode the way one reacts to stimuli, and they do NOT transfer the actual memory or experience. Phew, that's reassuring, isn't it? But tests have been carried out on animals and the results can be worrying, to say the least. There was this one where a first generation group of mice was taught how to get through a specific maze, and it took them weeks or months to learn. A year later, the offspring were made to go through the same maze, and it took them half the time. The next generation was even faster and several generations down the road, they managed it in 30 seconds, without ever having seen the maze before.

Wow! Are we all conditioned this way by our family's past?? Is whatever we're good at something we've inherited from them, just like our blue or brown eyes and our blond or dark hair? We're not responsible for our talents (or our shortcomings)? I am not me, you are not you, we're both the results of genetic chance. The notion is terrifying...or is it? What if it only meant that we're part of one great family - the human family - past and present? But isn't that a little abstract?
What do you think?


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