I Beg Of You, Please Stop Saying ‘This Isn’t Art’

DANITA DELIMONT VIA GETTY IMAGES
Visitors looking at Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe, (Lunch on Grass) by Edouard Manet in Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France

One person gazes into a tranquil painting of water lilies by Claude Monet and can’t help but well up with tears. Another, unmoved by Impressionism, stares at a bawdy self-portrait by Cindy Sherman and feels transfixed. Someone else is still bored with both, preoccupied with a bit of three-dimensional chalk art made to look like gummy bears.

You see, we humans are capable of having very, very different tastes in art. 

If you took an intro philosophy course in college, you are probably familiar with Immanuel Kant’s friendly ol’ theory on aesthetics. In short, the 18th-century Prussian writer thought that beauty was not a property of artwork, but rather part of a viewer’s emotional response to a particular artwork. So, yeah, beauty is subjective.

But Kant also asserts that just as our idea of beauty — or, more specifically, our judgment of taste — is subjective, it’s also universal, in so far as anyone can appreciate beauty without needing to find a use for it. At the end of the day, we all have a capacity to be moved by art, of one kind or another. Something will pique our interest, satiate our artsy appetite. It’s just — the chances are that one man’s trashy art is another man’s masterpiece.

Take it from researchers Edward A. Vessel, G. Gabrielle Starr and Nava Rubin. In a recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the three explored this idea — that while individual people have strong reactions to very different sets of images and works, the ability and desire to be aesthetically moved by art, music, or literature appears to be universal across human beings.

Curious about this apparent paradox, Vessel et al. decided to take a look inside the brain.

To do so, the team had 16 subjects (11 male, 5 female) lie in an fMRI scanner and view a selection of 109 artworks from the Catalog of Art Museum Images Online database. Looking at each artwork, the subjects were asked to answer the question, “How strongly does this painting move you?” using a scale of one to four. The subjects were told to consider their answers in terms of a “gut-level responses” in order to indicate what works they found “powerful, pleasing, or profound.” After the scans, the same subjects were placed in front of a computer screen and told to complete a questionnaire that asked them address the “evaluative and emotional components of their aesthetic experience” for each of the 109 artworks.

Not so surprisingly, at the end of the study, Vessel and the research team found that participants’ formulated responses to the art that “moved” them varied greatly in intensity, characterized by everything from joy, awe and pleasure to sadness, disgust and confusion. “On average, each image highly recommended by one observer was given a low recommendation by another,” they wrote.

In other words, people had very different tastes.

But in the scans, the levels of brain activation in a person experiencing a “moving” piece of work (a four) were actually quite similar. “The neural systems supporting aesthetic reactions … are largely conserved from person to person,” the trio wrote, “with the most moving artworks leading to a selective activation of central nodes of the DMN (namely, the aMPFC, but also the PCC and HC) thought to support personally relevant mentation.”

Jessica Herrington digested this information in SciArt America: “The most moving artworks activated more brain regions known to play a role in computing personally relevant information, as well as evaluating aesthetic and emotional experiences. That is, people were more emotionally ‘moved’ by an artwork when they thought it was relevant to them.”

Here in lies the universalness — and the subjectivity! Our aesthetic experiences are universal, in that the brain areas activated by “moving art” are largely constant across individuals. But these areas are responsible for mediating our subjective and personal experiences. Kant was right, the two interpretations of beauty aren’t mutually exclusive!

But pushing aside Kant and the nitty-gritty details of one academic study — a study that certainly begs for more research to explain why exactly our brains can be moved by things grotesque and gorgeous — there’s one takeaway I’d hope you glean. And it appears bolded twice in this article already.

The likelihood of you and another person sharing the exact same opinions on a group of artworks is as probable as you both having the same stock of personally relevant information hidden inside your mind. More likely than not, you’re going to disagree, and that’s OK! Science, dear readers, says that’s OK. I say that’s OK.

So, the next time you stumble across a piece of art, be it a nude photograph or a splashy bit of graffiti or a confounding work of contemporary sculpture, please refrain from exclaiming, “This isn’t art!” Not only are you reducing the very subjective act of judging a piece of art to a yes-or-no question, you’re ignoring the incredibly complicated system of neurons and cache of personal experiences that inevitably influence your answer.

Try, before uttering the cursed phrase, to ask yourself: “Does this art move me?” And maybe that question alone will inspire you to think more deeply about your subjective and personal relationship to art.

Remember, while one piece of art is not moving you at all, it might be moving someone else, on a neurological level no less. And that’s pretty wild.

Text by Katherine Brooks.

Source: The Huffington Post

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Brussels – The new Berlin?

(…) all the elements needed to make a vibrant art scene come together in Brussels. “You have good institutions, like Wiels, you have a dynamic commercial scene, a dynamic non-profit scene, and you have artists coming in and out a lot, as well as other visitors. You need all of these elements to create a dynamic art scene, and at the moment you have that here,” says Gray.

 Wiels, a contemporary art center, is in a former Brussels brewery. Credit Colin Delfosse for The New York Times
Wiels, a contemporary art center, is in a former Brussels brewery. Credit Colin Delfosse for The New York Times

Collector Frederic de Goldschmidt is confident the Brussels art scene will retain its vibrancy.

Some have voiced concerns that this moment might not last forever, that rents might go up, making Brussels less attractive for artists. But collector Frederic de Goldschmidt believes that “rents here will always be lower than Paris or London.” He adds that Brussels’ geographic location between other major European art cities such as Paris, London, Amsterdam and Cologne is also ideal and will remain that way.

The fact that the New York-based art fair Independent is to launch its first European edition in Brussels next year is another indicator of the fact that the Brussels art scene is not on the verge of losing its dynamism and appeal.

All of these factors, he says, are more important than whether or not Brussels can rightfully be labeled as “the new Berlin.”

Sources: The New York Times and DW

Summer Getaways: 10 Best Outdoor Sculpture Destinations in Europe

Art and nature: the outdoor sculpture park offers the best of both worlds. Especially during the summer holidays, when we’re eager to trade in weary museum-legs for the invigorating effects of the nature hike, without sacrificing the need to view and appreciate great artworks. Here we’ve collected a selection of some of the best sculpture parks in Western Europe, combining idyllic settings with contemporary artworks by renowned artists. Located outside of major urban centers and off the beaten track, these art destinations are worth the trip.

Charles Jencks, Life Mounds, (2005). Courtesy of Jupiter Artland. Photo: Allan.
Charles Jencks, Life Mounds, (2005). Courtesy of Jupiter Artland. Photo: Allan.

Jupiter Artland in Scotland, 25 minutes outside Edinburgh (map)

Comprising site-specific commissions, temporary exhibitions, and 100 acres of sprawling woodlands and meadows, Jupiter Artland was created by collectors Robert and Nicky Wilson on the site of Bonnington House, a 17th century Jacobean hunting lodge, in 2009. Undoubtedly one of the highlights and the most iconic image of Jupiter Artland is the surreal terraced landscape, Life Mounds (2005), by Charles Jencks. Jupiter Artland’s summer program opens August 1 with a collection of large-scale installations and new work by Tara Donovan, a new sculpture park commission by sculptor Sara Barker, and an immersive installation by Samara Scott. The sculpture park is open to the public this year from May 16 to September 27, 2015, with ticket sales supporting their education foundation that offers free visits for schools, universities and community groups in Scotland.

Installation view, 'Jenny Holzer. Softer Targets', Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015. © Jenny Holzer, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard.
Installation view, ‘Jenny Holzer. Softer Targets’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset, 2015. © Jenny Holzer, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Ken Adlard.

Hauser & Wirth Somerset, located in Bruton, about an hour from Bristol (map)

This Somerset art destination, a countryside outpost of Hauser and Wirth, neither falls under the familiar rubric of a traditional sculpture park nor a traditional commercial gallery. The one-year-old institution offers a core exhibition program, space for artist residencies, a restaurant serving seasonal and ethically farmed local food, and a luxuriant perennial meadow created by Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. From July 12 – November 1, 2015, all five of its gallery spaces are devoted to a major solo exhibition of works by Jenny Holzer, from her early “Truisms” of the 1980s, to new paintings and LED installations. Outdoors, the courtyard displays four of Holzer’s granite benches, and during the course of the exhibition further outdoor works will be installed throughout the grounds. Hauser & Wirth Somerset is open year-round and is easily accessible by train.

Mark Handforth, Two Old Bananas, 2013. © Cass Sculpture Foundation, Mark Handforth, 2015. Photo: Barney Hindle.
Mark Handforth, Two Old Bananas, 2013. © Cass Sculpture Foundation, Mark Handforth, 2015. Photo: Barney Hindle.

Cass Sculpture Foundation in West Sussex, 15 minutes from Chichester (map)

The Cass Sculpture Foundation, founded in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass, has pioneered a unique non-profit model. All of the sculptures on display are, in fact, for sale; proceeds are split equally between the artist and the foundation, which then facilitates new commissions. New commissions for 2015 include Mark Handforth’s three-meter tall, cast aluminum sculpture Two Old Bananas; a sculpture playing with transparency and light by Piotr Lakomy; a hydraulic machine that collects and arranges fallen trees by James Capper; and a sculpture in steel, resin, brass, and wood by Sara Barker. The Foundation is open from April to November every year.

Jean Dubuffet, Jardin d'émail, 1974. Courtesy of Kröller-Müller Museum.
Jean Dubuffet, Jardin d’émail, 1974. Courtesy of Kröller-Müller Museum.

Kröller-Müller Museum Sculpture Garden, at De Hoge Veluwe National Park, 35 minutes from Arnhem (map)

While the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum is worth the trip in itself, its outdoor sculptures and the surrounding landscape are especially beautiful in the summer. Billed as one of Europe’s largest sculpture gardens, the museum’s 25-hectare outdoor sculpture park has a long and rich history, and features modern and contemporary masterpieces by Henry Moore, Jean Arp, Richard Serra, Marta Pan, Christo, and Jean Dubuffet. Set in the midst of the Netherlands’ Hoge Veluwe National Park, visitors can also borrow free white bicycles and set out to explore the landscape beyond the museum grounds. The museum and sculpture park are open all year.

Julien Perrier, Ludwig, 2014. Courtesy Domaine de Kerguéhennec. Photo: Domaine de Kerguéhennec.
Julien Perrier, Ludwig, 2014. Courtesy Domaine de Kerguéhennec. Photo: Domaine de Kerguéhennec.

Domaine de Kerguéhennec, in Brittany, about 30 minutes from Vannes (map)

Located on the grounds of a 18th century château in Brittany, the Domaine de Kerguéhennec is an art and culture center operated by the local government, with exhibition programming and a sculpture park celebrating works by French and international contemporary artists. Exploring the expansive gardens of the château, one will discover works by Marina Abramovic, François Morellet, Giuseppe Penone, and many others. This year’s summer program features a solo exhibition by American sculptor Paul Wallach, and an exhibition exploring the relationship between painting, drawing and architecture, with nine commissioned artists creating wall paintings in the interior of the chateau. Entry is free and programming runs year-round.

Sean Scully, Boxes Full of Air, 2015. Courtesy Château La Coste.
Sean Scully, Boxes Full of Air, 2015. Courtesy Château La Coste.

Château La Coste, in Provence, about 25 minutes from Aix-en-Provence (map)

Among the olive groves and vineyards of Provence, Château La Coste’s Art Centre, conceived and designed by Japanese artist Tadao Ando, brings contemporary art and architecture to the wine country of southern France. This year welcomes a new exhibition space, converted from an old winery house, with a solo exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Sean Scully serving as its inaugural exhibition (July 5 – October 31, 2015). Walking around the grounds of Château La Coste, visitors will find works of art and architecture by Louise Bourgeois, Liam Gillick, Frank Gehry, Andy Goldsworthy, Tracey Emin, and others, and can complement their tour with a wine tasting for an additional fee. The winery is open year-round, and offers special nighttime tours on select dates in July and August.

Gavin Turk. Courtesy of Commanderie de Peyrassol.
Gavin Turk. Courtesy of Commanderie de Peyrassol.

Peyrassol, in Provence, 45 minutes from Toulon or 1 hour from Saint-Tropez (map)

Also situated in the heart of Provence, the winery and sculpture park Peyrassol, established by gallerist Valérie Bach and collector Philippe Austruy, unites art and fine wine. In fact, the brand is becoming increasingly connected to contemporary art–the winery sponsors the terrace restaurant at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and has commissioned a Bertrand Lavier-designed label for its limited edition 2014 rosé. Among the ample vineyards and picturesque courtyards of Peyrassol, one will find sculptures by modern and contemporary artists like Gavin Turk, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Dubuffet, and Lee Ufan. A tasting of two wines and a tour of the winery comes complimentary, and the park is open all year.

Mark Handforth, Deep Violet, 2014. © Mark Handforth. Courtesy Domaine du Muy. Photo: J.C. Lett.
Mark Handforth, Deep Violet, 2014. © Mark Handforth. Courtesy Domaine du Muy. Photo: J.C. Lett.

Domaine du Muy, in Provence, 45 minutes from Cannes (map)

Rounding out this trio of contemporary sculpture parks in the south of France is the brand new Domaine du Muy, created by Galerie Mitterand founder Jean-Gabriel Mitterrand. Unlike the more cultivated surroundings of the winery-sculpture parks in the area, the sculptures at Domaine du Muy, curated by Simon Lamunière, interact with the scrubby yet scenic environment of Mediterranean wilderness, in a “game of contrasts.” Open by appointment only, from May to October, a visit to Domaine du Muy will reveal sculptures by such artists as Sol Lewitt, Yayoi Kusama, Carsten Höller, Sylvie Fleury, Andrea Zittel, Mounir Fatmi, and Xavier Veilhan.

Erwin Wurm, Fat House, 2003. Courtesy Sculpture Park Waldfrieden. Photo: S. Kayaalp.
Erwin Wurm, Fat House, 2003. Courtesy Sculpture Park Waldfrieden. Photo: S. Kayaalp.

Sculpture Park Waldfrieden, just outside Wuppertal, 40 minutes from Düsseldorf (map)

In 2006, artist Tony Cragg purchased and restored the Villa Waldfrieden, a historic and unique example of modern architecture, designed by Franz Krause. The sculpture garden ascending the steep slopes above the villa contain some of the finest works of Cragg, along with works by Thomas Schütte, Markus Lüpertz, Jaume Plensa, Eva Hild and others, some of which, particularly Erwin Wurm’s Fat House (2003), seem to be in conversation with the modern curves of the Villa’s architecture. Sculpture Park Waldfrieden offers a year-round exhibition schedule, with an exhibition of British sculptor Lynn Chadwick currently on view, from July 18 – October 18, 2015.

Nancy Rubins, Airplane Parts & Hills, 2003. © Courtesy of Universalmuseum Joanneum.
Nancy Rubins, Airplane Parts & Hills, 2003. © Courtesy of Universalmuseum Joanneum.

Austrian Sculpture Park, in the Mur Valley, about 20 minutes from Graz (map)

The Austrian Sculpture Park is one of the smallest and most urban locations on this list, but its size and proximity to the Graz Airport belies the subtle beauty of its rolling parkland. Operated by the Universalmuseum Joanneum, the sculpture park’s collection illustrates particular conceptual strands in the history of modern and contemporary sculpture, from a reclining nude by Herbert Boeckl (1940-44), to a gravity-defying collection of wrecked machine parts by Nancy Rubins (2003). A new commission by Bernhard LeitnerAspen Dome (2015) comprises a collection of newly planted aspen trees, a work at the confluence of sound and land art–has just been installed, a result of the sculpture park’s yearly artist residency. The sculpture park is open from April to October.

by Natalie Hegert

Source: MutualArt – The Huffington Post