My exam went very well today. I got a question on Georgia O'Keefe and feminism would you believe it.
My professor told me the paper I had written on some art works in Insel Hombroich was very good.
"Everyone thought so" Don't know who she was referring to unless she was talking in the first person plural. Then she told me she'd graded me with a double plus.
Fine. That made my day. Over the moon.
But I'm not too sure what it really means. Doubleplus. Is it some kind of Newspeak?
I'm not entirely up to speed on this university grading thing.
But I gather it was pretty high because she told me they had only awarded four of those grades.
And that leads me to conclude two things:
1) The rest of my fellow students are utter morons
2) This university thing is a doddle

Just one more exam to get out of the way on Thursday. And then it's ..... another semester!


Museum of Ancient Art paintings damaged

15th, 16th and 17th Century paintings have been damaged due to a faulty climate control unit in the Storage Facility of the Museum of Ancient Art in Brussels. The artworks were exposed to half the humidity they should normally be stored in for a period of two months. An inventory is being made to determine which paintings have suffered most and need to be treated right away. There are 842 works stored there and a quick survey has shown that bulges have been found on at least 10% of the works. It is early days to make any guestimates as to the financial side of the damage. The Museum lays the blame on the company responsible for the climate control, Dalkia.
Sporting a revenue of 7.9 billion euros, part of that will probably have to go to correcting the mistake it has made in Brussels.
And the 102,700 facilities they manage mentioned on their site will probably be 102,699 soon from the looks of it.


A Critique of feminist contextual approach of Art History

A feminist approach of Art History is inherently wrong because it is steeped in activism and always presents a biased approach.
I argue that there is no such thing as a Feminist Art Historian. You can be a historian and a feminist, but crossing both would never lead to objective research. Is there such a thing as a Feminist biologist? A Feminist Archaeologist?

Feminists argue that woman as a subject in art have constantly been dealt a role in a passive or negative light, emphasized by the selection of certain literary and iconographic themes. They mostly see woman as passive vessels, as objects acted upon by men.
I argue that there is the same amount of evidence so support the contrary too.
These feminist art historians only highlight the negative aspect of the depiction of woman in art or the way they have been barred from it as creators or patrons. In itself it is not a very emancipatory view of their own sex.

They also point out that, for example, prior to the 1970’s woman artists were excluded from major art work surveys.
Again, there is enough evidence to contrairy and see that Classical and humanist authors did not forget female artists in Western Art.

Feminists do need to see that equality of females to men does not imply women are or have been inferior to men. They are simply different. It is not because the emancipated take on female artists or the social position of women in general has altered that all what was in the past was ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘belittling’.
One could draw a parallel to Renaissance minds finding the Middle Ages ‘backward’ because they are not equally cultured or have not been ‘illuminated’ as they as Renaissance people had become. If one does not take into account the social and cultural context of societies we no longer are part of, because of the history gap, than one is looking at cases from an extremely one sided perspective. This same argument is furthermore stressed by these feminists, they think gender influences the expression and interpretation of history. I beg to differ that it has really anything to do with the ‘male’ of ‘female’ gaze. I would judge it is just a kind of poor historical scholarship prevailing. To write about something that is not really there or has not been scientifically proven to be true.
Things will actually really be misread if only looked upon from one angle without looking at other relative facts involved.
One cannot just look at the social status of a woman without looking at the entire society she moves in.
Generalization is very dangerous. Painting with too broad a brush without supporting them with hard facts (positive as well as negative) is yet again a very post modern take on deconstructing discourse. It focussed on all the ‘flaws’ in study but does not present an alternative or solution.
The only solution is: more differentiated objective contextual approaches instead of this neo-Warburgianism. If Art History has anything to contribute to Human Sciences it needs to steer clear of a) art critique, b) suppositions c) moral judgement.
Just like in exact sciences the art historian needs to let go of the ‘maybe’s’, ‘ifs’ and ‘subjectiveness’ that is so prevalent in teachings on everything associated with interpretations and ‘vibes’ coming off the art works.
Mixing up two different discourse e.g. ethical judgements to point out objective facts is something one would not stand for in say biology, religion and even in philosophy. If we think back to Kant, who outlined this problem as far ago as the 17th century, we have progressed little in our philosophical debates on art.
What I am trying to say is that the feminists, although looking to increase our knowledge of women (albeit mostly in the negative sense how they have been repressed etc) do not cease at pointing out the ‘abuse’ or negativity. They never consider the fact they are ‘biassed’ because they are women looking at women from another era and another society. Not one person can relate to being a woman in another era; no matter how well up they are on say late 16th century Florence. The only thing they can relate to is what it is to be a woman biologically. None of us, being male or female, can fathom how it is to be someone else. We can never escape the reference area we are in at the time. We cannot look forward. We can only look backward from what we are right now.
So just the facts ma’m, just the facts.
There is the tendency to strive for demystification associated with works of art. But if the well runs dry (say there are no clues in hard facts such as documents) and conclusions can only be made based on supposition, we just have to admit that. We cannot concoct ways round the scientific process (as far as we can use it in Art History). A scientist has to be intellectually honest. One cannot launch a theory and than claim it is correct because it has to be so. He needs to come up with hard evidence as to convince fellow scientists he is right. There needs to be a replicable experiment to support the theory and prove it right. If one lacks one or the other or dismisses other factors out of hand because he knows it will not support his theory he is being intellectually dishonest.
Skipping from one subject to another and associating things by putting them next to one another is a good way of finding hidden connections or pointing to a theme, but there are rules and borders to this matter of approach too.

Something that does not fit into a train of thought also needs to be considered. Georgia O Keefe is entitled to change her opinion on some things. She is entitled to disagree. Collectiveness and, again, generalisation do not meet everyone’s requirements. If someone’s thoughts or actions are being taken out of context to support a train of thought it does not do the person or the writer any justice.

Out of the box thinking is something every field of research needs, but some forms of reasoning have been tainted with goals that are far off from initial objectives.
Feminism seeks equal rights for woman to men. But do they not try to enhance the importance of woman through the ages. Why do they not see the fact that it has only emerged in Western Society within the very movement they have created? As they criticise the way everyone has been looking with ‘the male gaze’, they now do the opposite and insist we look again with a female point of view. We can look at the facts again, sure. But need it be coloured and subjective?
Do we not need to stress the objectiveness of a researcher, being a man or a woman, looking at history? Should we not do the opposite and look like a woman at how men would look and men should look with a male gaze? It would be more objective, but we will never be able to define what it is to have a male or female gaze. One of the pivotal arguments feminists use is that gender influences the interpretation of history. Not in our contemporary era in any case.
Just like new research alters other research papers on the same subject made ten, twenty or fifty years ago. We always rethink our findings if put in a new light. But because scientific Art History research has still not been defined in every area of the field it wishes to explore we will constantly been adjusting our gaze until we have reached a satisfactory method of perceiving.
We need a longer tradition of defining and redefining the scientific method for good research in Art History so any kind of gender influence is ruled out.

I see feminism as social activism, without attaching a pejorative feeling to the word ‘activism’. I see it as a temporary wave of a movement that has strived for the female emancipation in every bit of our Western society. And as Art History also has its place in a society, it has not been immune to feminism.
I am not negating all the good that has come from female emancipation, but is has been a temporary thing. Just like; say Italian Futurists had a manifesto.
They have changed certain things, but we have moved on, reaping the benefits or lessons from points or flaws exposed, and built upon the legacy that has been left.
I object to the houghtyness feminism assumes as doing the ‘women have gotten nothing from men, only when we have stood up for ourselves we’ve gotten what we deserved all these years’ attitude. Even so in Art History.
But we are past that now. A society shapes and twists during the course of its existence. Feminist art historians are only there because society has an interest in history about woman. It is a thing of here and now.
Why did Van Gogh hardly sell any paintings when he was alive but are millions being paid today?

Perhaps feminists have never stopped and wondered if women weren’t just content living out their lives as they were all those years ago. Art was for the privileged and has always been a thing for elites circles. Why do they use the supposition that crafts have been deemed inferior because they have been associated with women? How do we know this is so for certain? Why talk with a gut feeling when there is no evidence to support the claim?

They claim they are hidden because they were deemed inferior. Society did not work like that based on suppositions.
They are searching for ‘female art’ but strive for equality. How can there then be such a thing as female art?
Is there a move to revert to ‘gender’ instead of ‘feminism’? Is it a watered down version?
Activism has no place in art history or science.



The Mouser 3000™ : new & improved

The Mouser 3000™: new & improved!

-Fits in tight spaces.
-Cleans radiator with tail.
-Reaches where you can't.
-Self cleansing.
-No batteries needed.
-100% biological.


I'm melting, melting!

I'm melting, melting!
Ohhhhh, what a world, what a world.
Who would have thought that some little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness.

Wicked Witch of the West

My foxy Snow Doll is melting away. As of now she has quite the hourglass figure.
And half of her face is missing and has turned into a puddle.



This past week I put up some balls of fat mixed with seeds for the birds in the garden.
Because of the heavy frost and heaps of snow the little critters go quite hungry because regular food sources are non-existent or scarce.
Mouser is quite pleased to see so much activity not too far from the house.


Art History and un-science

Why is there such a confusion in my mind as to what the course I should be studying actually wants to be?
It's not Art Philosophy in its strictest sense, but it has that ambition. It is not Art Appreciation but masquerades as it. It's supposed to be an introduction to Image Analysis but its being confused with the other three kinds of Aesthetics.
Is it Post Modernist teaching rehashed, reheated and served all over again? Should I be worried why I find reading fourty year old articles inaccurate and outdated?
Colour photography will change the way we look at things.
Thank you 1970's Captain Obvious.
Why do I find it so hard to have to read articles that condemn academics trying to do historical accurate research without having to add their own opinion on everything. Why is not being interested in gender studies a big deal? Why does every article in my reader have to start with Plato's bleedin' cave or chair analogy? Why is Plato all of a sudden an authority on art? Just because he said some random things about it?
It probably all just boils down to name-dropping and citing irrelevant bits of other academics talking about Plato or Socrates. We are talking about people who thought Greek Tragedies was bad karma. But of course Plato apologists just add a an introduction note to his works saying his theory of art was probably never meant to be taken seriously.
How very un-sciency this all has turned out to be.
This is just a few reasons why Art History will haunt the realm of the humanities, or the wannabe sciences as I sometimes call them. Dare I say psuedo-science? It is clouded with half baked theories, polluted with uninteresting lines of thought and irrelevant facts and riddled with too much speculation.
How I loathe the ifs and maybes. I want facts dammit!


Sleep, my friend

Dr Livingstone's father died yesterday night.

I would like to share a piece he wrote about our little country:

Voor mijn Vlaamse vrienden

Nu ’t land schudt op zijn oud gerust
wat lang voordien moet zijn geweten
is 1831 dan toch vergeten?
en de Franse hulp in zand geblust?

Hollands koning had verloren
het Londens protocol was snel aanvaard
het Saksisch Gotha broed ook snel vergaard
en zie een koninkrijk was snel geboren

Tot 1914 werd Belgie groot
vooruitgang op vast elk gebied
maar lekgeschoten als vergiet
was het land in 1918 dood

Macht en geld nog in de Walen
een oorlogsdreiging waart weer rond
en weerstand rijpt op Vlaamse grond
als begin van Europa’s grote falen

En nu vraagt iedereen zich af
wat staat in België te gebeuren
politici moeten niet zeuren
wie dom is krijgt gewoonweg straf

Belgie splitsen is een domme zaak
als de hoop van slechte patriotten
laat Vlaam en Waal gewoon ravotten
totdat zij zich kwijten van hun taak

Maar daarvoor benodigd men wel moed
en dat schijnt nu teveel gevraagd
want als je strakke kravatten draagt
is communicatie een lastig goed

November 2007

Goodbye my dear friend


Ad hom dishonour wins

My Art Philosophy exam on Wednesday went quite swimmingly. I'm still on course for a first.

Although it had not been a very good start to the day for me.
Dr Livingstone was in hospital for surgery. So I was kind of absentminded. Then I had to collect him late afternoon and made it just on time for my exam in the evening.

We got a text we had to pick apart and find statements about art and critique them if they were relevant to questions Art Philosophy has ever concerned itself with.
All of my fellow students started to scribble and jot down right away. I wasn't really concentrating and felt the exam was going to go down the pan. But then most of them, after about ten minutes into prep time, started sighing and moaning.
And then that's when I got cracking...
The text was written by Patricia de Martelaere on Cloaca by Wim Delvoye (the guy who tattoos pigs).
Quite a lot of the text did not actually deal with art. Albeit, not enough I thought I could discuss profoundly at the oral examination. I found some bits that had a Hegel, a Heidegger and Lacan type wording, but nothing much that was really challenging. So I tackled the other bits.
I went in for the kill. I went for the intellectually dishonest ad hominem attack.
I attacked some logical fallacies Professor of philosophy de Martelaere made. And I critiqued the faulty empiricism of the Turing Test discussed in the article and the lack of understanding de Martelaere displayed of its testing goals and lack of nuances.
My own Professor was very impressed. I hope she'll accommodate me the grade that accompanies the impression.

As you might have guessed from this rant I was quite chuffed with myself.
If you'll now excuse me, I'll have to move away from my computer and leave the room because I have to make room for my gigantic ego.


Being frank is the best way forward

I attended a lecture a while back by Trees de Mits and was asked what works of hers have interested me most from an analytical viewpoint.

It must be the 'Sensory' stuff. The first aspect of her work is the subject matter and what it relates to, not what the art physically is. They are means of transferring ideas. The majority of her work consists of clay or porselain organs and body parts. Mostly painted with white latex, the unglazed ones underline the clinical aspect of things relating to organs as what they are perceived to be today in our world and society.
We think of them being removed in a clean environment when they are deformed or defective. Our society discards them because they are of no use to us.
De Mits creates these deformed, mutated, elongated organs and body parts and puts them in display cabinets as medical curiosities, in a manner reminiscent of the way they used to be stored or exhibited to educate medical students or travel around on fairs as anomalies.
Sometimes they are neatly arranged on the floor according to shape or object, tied together with surgical string, suspended on the wall, put up as a picture or as meat hanging in a cooler. Or even presented on a plate or under a glass dome.

She's been using colour since her stay in the Shikaraki Studio's in Japan. Through new works De Mits has been studying the impact of traditional Japanese glazes on her contemporary Western Art.
It has even given her work an added dimension of repulsiveness, moving a step away from the clinical cleanness and entering into the realm of the quasi reality. I say quasi because it has the colour of bodily fluids, but it does not appear to posses that trait in texture. The shiny glaze only captures the small moment of fresh, liquid blood. Not dried up as one should expect it to be on an organ taken out of the body and placed where air can touch it and the blood starts to coagulate.

It must be the repulsion I fist experienced when looking at the works. An uneasiness that turns into wonder and in a later stage fascination. I have a shared fascination for old laboratory stuff, old display cases like the ones you could still chance upon in a chemist or at the Brussels War Museum.
I'm not smitten with the works from an appreciative standpoint. But I have always had trouble with most contemporary art. The majority of things are just not aesthetically pleasing to me. So I have this border I always have to cross to look at things. And the best way to do this is to bar myself from thinking about whether I like it or not until I have really taken the time to look at it.
I have forced myself lately to choose modern art as subjects to discuss in papers. I am trying to detach my feelings completely from, if it is required, the works I need to analyze so I can really do it without any preconceived notions of esthetic values I would attach. I am wondering where this pre-occupation with Concept has come from. Is it a new form of Academism? Or is it just something to give Art History students, Art Critics and Artist something to talk about?

Sometimes I ask Dr Livingstone what he thinks of certain works I show him. He usually comes up with 'That's not art' or 'It looks like it was made by a four year old' or even the embarrasing take on art at auction: "Why is that being sold here? I thought it was an auction. That's not art". But then again, I am sure a lot of people would agree with him.


Oi, you looking at my bird?

Several of these creatures have been roaming around the gardens as of late. The hunters are driving the pheasants out of the woods and they take refuge here. Mouser is not amused and quite scared of the big birds stalking its grounds and strolling around aimlessly.
Btw, this pic was taken before the snow. There's about 15 centimeters of the white stuff here, I tried to get my car out of the drive way again, but to no avail.
I ran Dr Livingstone in his own car to the hospital early this morning, he's having surgery.
Hope all goes well. I can collect him in the late afternoon and then it's off to my Philosophy exam in the evening!


Provocative snow

While I was burrowing out of the driveway to set my Mini free, I turned the excess snow into a Snow Doll.
Not an ordinary snowman, not a snowwoman but a Snow Doll.

It doesn't have any arms because they keep falling off. I suppose that's what happened to the Venus de Milo.

To be honest, from the angle I took the picture it looks as if the Snow Doll is taking on quite a provocative stance with pouting lips. Hence the name Doll. Granted she's a bit heavy in the hip area to be a Pussycat Doll, but it's bloody freezing out, so this is as good as it gets.
I hope Dr Livingstone doesn't give it a kiss when he comes home tomorrow. Or some lonely farmer steals it under cover of darkness.


Moon Boots

I have to come clean: I have Moonboots.
For my young readers wondering what they are: A Moonboot is a piece of footwear highly popular in the 70's.
Think Dr Martens or Converse All Stars but without the cool. Moon boots went out of fashion three decades ago, but I've seen them re-emerge every winter since. They've actually never been in fashion come to think of it.
It's just something that happened in the 70's. Like disco. Or The Partridge Family. Or your mother in a catsuit.
Tacky. That's the word I was looking for.

But if the fashion police would call round, they'd take me down to the nick and beat some sense in to me.
I've owned a pair of these for fifteen years (the same ones btw) and today was the second day I've worn them. Ever.
They are the most hideous looking winter foot gear imaginable.
When you're a kid, they're great:
-No shoe laces to be tied. Let's face the music here; why are there laces on the thing anyway? It's not like the moonboot is going to come off when you're walking around. You just slip your foot in it and that's it. The wooly bits inside keep everything in the right place.
-You can't tell left from right. The bloody things look identical! Every time you want to put them on you try and find some resemblance of a foot feature or something. Does that slope slightly to the right? Has that worn through on this or the other side? I've always wondered why they don't sell them individual but always as a pair. Why not mix and match? It's the only pair of foot wear I know of that makes it possible. Perhaps espadrilles too.

So if you see anyone walking around with white Moonboots looking slightly embarrassed: It's me.

Guilty as charged Your Honour. I am ready for my hours of service in the community and will clear away the snow on the footpath and even in front of the bus stop. Not that there are any busses here today. The rest of the country: fine.
But here: no. Only tractors about on the streets.
It looks kinda grim to get to class today and tomorrow. And my exam on Wednesday as I come to think of it.
Perhaps I should borrow some snow rackets somewhere. Or hire a bull dozer to drive in front of me.


Let's go out for a Stroh

Dr Livingstone and I went for a stroll in our frozen little country that has now turned into an enchanting winter landscape. We were well dressed for the occasion (three layers of clothing, a pair of binoculars and a flask of Jägertee to keep warm during the walk).
On cold days like these we always have our warm alcohol with us. It makes us cheery, slightly light headed, gives us a false feeling of warmth and keeps us going until we reward ourselves with the next revitaillissement alcoholique en route. If I think of walks we did in the past our conversation never goes like "Remember we that time we saw .... and .... on a walk? Where was that again?"
Nope. It usually starts like this: "Remember when we took that flask of Jägertee with us and I spilt it. You know next to that river. When was that again?"

Anyway, we decided to curtail our escapade in the direction of Het Vinne. We are frequent visitors there; all year round the scenery looks different, but always equally stunning. It's Flanders largest natural lake and quite near to the medieval city of Zoutleeuw.
Mid 19th century the lake was pumped dry and Canadian poplars were planted there for the sake of making matchwood for the Union Allumetières. When no longer economically viable the scheme was abandoned. The Province of Brabant bought the land and has now again flooded the area and it is now a nature reserve. The webshots on Panoramio still map the area before it was flooded again.There are long and winding wooden footpaths in between the reeds, water and rotting poplars. During spring the noise nesting birds make is fascinating. Although I wouldn’t recommend going there just after watching Hitchcock’s film (of same name) or you’ll be ducking and diving all the way.
As the waterbirds nest in the reeds and you can get quite close to them and really see the animals in their natural habitat.
Some bird spotting cabins are scattered across the area. The lookout tower is the best spot however. You are surrounded by water and wildlife and the view is absolutely stunning, no matter in what direction you are gazing.
Last time we were there I even spotted a rare Alcedo atthis (Kingfisher). And we met a man who was strolling around with an owl on his arm. A half-year-old Bubo bubo (Eagle Owl) to be more precise. It had impressive big orange eyes and equally daunting looking claws. Dr Livingstone is a sucker for owls so that made his day.

The star gazing club Altair has a get together at the lake every third Saturday of the month, so on a clear night you can join them for some stargazing fun. I think there are still some plans on the table to have a sort of permanent observatory there. I've heard rumours of a 91cm optical telescope, a library and regular lectures. There is also talk of building a radio telescope.
In the visitor centre there is a permanent exhibition with interesting facts on all the different wildlife to be spotted around the area (kids from all ages will love it; including the big ones called Mrs B).
A free info booklet is available on the history of the lake, how the area was turned into a nature reserve again and all wild life to be spotted during the forest trail walks. En route there are several info signs on the eco system and animals to be found in the area you are traversing. There is even some science catching to be done, if you're a follower of the GPS craze.
Maps, binoculars, most stuff is available on loan for walks.

The Jägertee made me feel a little lighter on my feet but I don't think gravity agreed with me on that one.
But I was able to walk on the ice, albeit a bit apprehensive of not falling through it. It wasn't frozen solid in all places and some bits had cracked open. But we had a splendid walk, and I highly recommend going there.



I'm still at it.



Said to be inspired by the sight of his car head lamps reflected in the eyes of a cat on a dark, foggy night, PERCY SHAW (1890-1976) invented the Catseye reflective road marker. Manufactured by the company founded by Shaw in his hometown of Halifax, Yorkshire, millions of Catseyes have been installed in roads all over the world.

The romantic version of the story of how the Yorkshire road mender Percy Shaw invented the Catseye is that one foggy night in 1933 he was driving back to his home in the Boothtown area of Halifax from nearby Bradford when he hit a perilous stretch of road with a sheer drop down a hillside to the right of the road.
Drivers like Shaw usually depended on the reflection of their car headlights in tram tracks to guide them along the road, but the tracks had been removed for repair. It was so dark and foggy that Shaw could not see where the road ended and the hillside began, until suddenly he spotted in the darkness the reflections of his car headlamps in the eyes of a cat sitting by the road. It is then that he is said to have hit upon the idea for replicating the reflection of a cat’s eyes to guide drivers along dark and dangerous roads.

From The Design Museum