Art is an Exception

Mari Slaattelid
jan. 2010|Article

… in cultural production, a recalcitrant little vacuum in the great culture that surrounds it. Culture is always meaningful, whether high, low, good or not so good. Culture generates cooperation, unity. Art, on the other hand, is in itself neither good nor bad, but passes us by, or sticks with us. Paintings are difficult to grasp, despite the fact that they hang quietly on a wall. If art lacks purpose and meaning, what is this thing in the middle of the wall that demands our attention?

Shouldn't we rather get art moving, by hanging it, say, at Oslo Central Station? What unavoidably happens when we do, is that the art becomes culture: Meaningful, generalised, part of a movement that is already good. The vacuum is filled.

Art does not generate itself, unlike culture, which blossoms, spreads, and changes the landscape. Art reveals itself only inadvertently, and it oscillates between certainty and uncertainty. Art is intolerant, radical, impatient, individual. It creates no community, and cannot be grown in flower pots on the patio; art is an outsider in the world.

And the world is unjust. Even when art is unsuccessful, it is still a cultural product. For bad art, of which there is plenty, stimulates activity. Art that stands alone induces an aura of silence. It slips through the fingers of the cultural administrator or the curator the moment she tries to touch it.

To focus on painting

… and to eschew other forms of art is not only a question of laziness. Perhaps it is here that we encounter the greatest resistance. Since the days of Cézanne, painting has been the art form that inspires the liveliest debates. It is within this narrow frame that discussion has continued uninterrupted, and is still ongoing. Every brushstroke on the board or canvas, each idea in two dimensions, prompts objections from the picture itself.

A colleague, the Dane Troels Wørsel, has a nice saying about painting: it's new every time, unlike, for instance, photography, which always consists of the same materials, grains held on paper, or pixels, the same medium and basic elements regardless of the artist; whereas painting has a range of properties, a chemical gradient from substrate to surface, which varies infinitely from one painting to the next. Wørsel points out the painting's ability to comment on itself, on its own medium, in a way that photography finds hard to match, since its chemistry is constant. A painting is a singular inscription, in addition to being a picture. For those who can see the difference, each new inscription is a new image.

In addition to providing the art object par excellence, painting is the preferred medium for youngsters who cover concrete walls in spray paint. Painting isn't just high art; it is accessible, cheap, individualistic. A great film requires the input of hundreds of people, an iconic painting, that of a single woman or man. A painting is a precious commodity and a mystery at one and the same time. It is for those with money, for the school-weary, for anyone of a sensitive nature who gets excited by minor distinctions and subtle messages.

The exhibited works

… are emblems or logos – two metres high. They are upright and frontal. The small picture on the easel blocks out the sun and becomes the sun itself, black and square. The representation is like a sign. It holds the sun captive, stops time, assuages the bright light for the seconds it lasts. The modest easel painting is a cliché, an absurd emblem, both hero and antihero.

Other paintings are landscapes, which have always attracted me. I am not at home in them, but neither are they foreign to me. I stick with them for reasons I cannot explain; for the sake of neutrality, or of elusive stories. The powerful impact of the slightest detail in the scene, the indelible horizon in the abstract image. And every landscape is golden.

I thank Voss Municipal Council for the invitation to exhibit on the occasion of the opening of Voss Culture House.