Things are beginning to get autumnal in Denmark and it feels like after a summer of a few mini-breaks, things are now in gear to see out the rest of the year.
Denmark more or less feels free of Covid (the only restrictions now are to show a coronapas before entering a club) and events/ festivals are beginning to crop up across Copenhagen. I have a few new Cofruition clients in the pipeline + we’re getting ready for making Season Two of What The Denmark which is exciting.
I hope September has started well for you so far – on with the newsletter…
Things I’ve been thinking about last month
How to look at art
I recently went to a library in Copenhagen and spent a while picking up books that caught my eye ahead of a holiday. One of them was The Value of Art by an esteemed art dealer.
The book was enjoyable, and gave an overview of the three main values of art
- Financial: how art is bought/ sold
- Social: enjoying art puts you in the society of like-minded people
- Essential: the intrinsic enjoyment you get from the piece
A section that jumped out was his advice for how to enjoy works of art.
The short version is to walk through a gallery until something catches your eye. Once you’re intrigued by something pull up a chair and look at it for an hour.
The first 10 minutes will feel boring as hell, but after a while you’ll begin to notice the nuance and appreciate aspects that weren’t at first obvious. The artist will have spent dozens of hours in creating the piece, and so an hour of you appreciating it will properly do it justice.
Self-reflection through abstract art
A follow on from this was his distinction with abstract art, and how to appreciate that too.
When looking at, say, a classic portrait or landscape, a lot of the “appreciation” comes from the brush strokes, composition and historical context.
With abstract art though, the author says that the most of the benefit comes from observing how you the viewer react to the artwork.
Each person can look at a piece of abstract art and derive something different. Perhaps the hidden layer of colours serves as a reminder that things aren’t always like the first seem, or the mix of colours reminds you of a sunset on a memorable holiday.
The fact that a piece of art can evoke these emotions is, in itself, a valuable experience (when else do you get the chance to reflect this?).
In this way, I can see how abstract art (despite being “weirder”) can actually be more accessible than “traditional” art. Enjoyment of the latter is often more enriched by knowledge of the historical context of the artist/ society at the time (which only committed art enthusiasts possess) than the former.
45 minutes looking at a big square
I was in London a week after reading the art book and thought why not put it to the test.
I cycled over to the Tate Britain and booked in to go to look at the Rothko gallery. Rothko was a painter from the mid 20th Century who painted massive blocks of colour onto canvasses. Some of them have sold for tens of millions of pounds.
I’d read a few things before going:
- Rothko used to break down in tears when painting
- He said the paintings are best enjoyed from 18 inches
- Some people have an almost religious experience when looking at his work (see Rothko Chapel)
After finding one that caught my eye I then spent the best part of an hour just looking at it.
Not to sound too cult-y, but it really was an experience.
Upon inspection, you notice that there are in fact several layers of colour beyond just “maroon” and “black”. Some are rogue splashes, others intentional underlayers.
The blocks aren’t uniform – they’re fuzzy. Tracking the brush work allows you to envisage the artist putting this piece together.
After a while, I found myself:
- a) taken in by the enormity of the work (it helped standing up close)
- b) creating a narrative of my own life from the concepts I observed (e.g. hidden layers to things)
- c) completely undistracted by the outside world (instead just e.g. looking deeply at the red spot in the top right of the right-hand rectangle)
There reached a point where I felt I plateaued, and so I called it a day and went to look at some other pieces. By that stage I was pretty “art-ed out” and so just spent a bit of time looking at a few, but still more than my usual cursory glance.
Try it out too?
Let me know if you have done (or will do) something similar!
I went to the Tate on my own and had a free afternoon which was easier than being with others, especially if you’re on a schedule. Either way, I’m going to try and stick with the take your time approach at least to some extent when visiting galleries/ museums in the future.
A selection of podcasts etc. I’ve enjoyed recently. You can see the full list here
- Meditations on Mark Rothko | The Lonely Palette: stories from people who are really moved by looking at big blocks of colour. Interesting to hear their rationale.
- Laundry Done Right | Revisionist History: a classic Malcolm Gladwell rabbit hole about recent innovations in how to wash clothes
- Should countries be banned from exporting waste | The Answers Project: solid exploration with a diverse mix of guest opinions + two hosts that challenge each other
- Hans Christian Andersen | Great Lives: nice overview of perhaps the most famous Danish person in the world. “He was a bit of an odd orchid”
- September | Earth, Wind and Fire: came on via shuffle whilst waiting for the bus. Funky (and timely) song
- The Great Divide | Joseph Stiglitz: a book by a Nobel Prize winning economist about the cause and effect of inequality in America. His main point is that, despite what others assert about inequality being inevitable in a capitalist system (and therefore we should dismantle capitalism), inequality is the result of bad policies, and has many more downsides than it first seems
- Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home | Nora Krug: a graphic novel (as in it is made up of illustrations) about a German emigrant living in America discovering her family’s association with Nazism
- The Value of Art | Michael Findlay: the art book I mentioned
- $19 Billion Later, The Pentagon’s Best Bomb Detector is a Dog | Wired: good crystallisation of how, even though they can’t be programmed with 0s and 1s, dogs have much more ability than at first it seems. Listen to the episode we did on how dogs sniff cancer for a backstory on this
- Lincoln (2012): the Stephen Spielberg biopic. Very interesting to see how and why Lincoln passed through the bill to abolish slavery (against all odds)
- Adorable parrot | Reddit: “There is a challenge where you put your hand near your dog like you’re going to pet them but don’t actually pet them. Someone tried it on their bird and it was adorable”