Tag: art

„You can criticise Taylor Swift, but not George Michael"

Once frowned upon, pop music has become a must for every music connoisseur. You get suspicious looks if you don’t have guilty pleasures, says music critic Carl Wilson in our interview and explains how we have come to love what we used to hate.

In your book ‘Let’s Talk About Love’ that came out in 2007, you analyse Céline Dions famous album of the same name and take it as a starting point to ponder the meaning of bad taste and what makes us feel ashamed of certain things we like. Do you have a lot of guilty pleasures?
I don’t have that experience with music very often anymore. Probably because I have thought so much about it over the past years. But I do get it with TV, when I see something really cheesy or fake that somehow still gets to me, like a teen soap opera. There is a vague feeling of embarrasment, when I like it. But it’s not necessarily shame because of me liking it but because of the question, if something is worthy of your time or not. Are cheesy romcoms really the best way to spend my free time?
You feel it’s a waste of time?
Not so much a waste of time but just not the best option. Instead of scrolling on Facebook I could read a book instead or spend time with my friends or family.
The philosopher Kenneth Goldsmith actually challenges the widespread assumption that “wasting time on the Internet” is a waste of time. He argues that it demands active engagement and thereby makes us more social and creative. Do you agree?
I agree, but it’s a question of proportions, I think. The complete refusal to use Facebook or watch TV because it can lead to procrastination is also not good. It’s a kind of puritanical reaction. We should be allowed to ‘waste’ some time.
Coming back to the feeling of shame. Usually you would feel ashamed of something you like but when George Michael died and I told people that I think he is overrated, I was criticized a lot and felt ashamed for actually not liking his music.
Shaming works in strange ways. At the height of George Michaels commercial success, you would have found plenty of people agreeing with you, that he is overrated. But when the artist is in the rearview mirror and no longer a ‘threat’ to the hierarchy of taste, when he or she is not part of the current popculture debate anymore, then people become far more soft on them. Taylor Swift? Sure, you can criticise her, but George Michael? We have developed our own rituals around celebrity deaths now and they do not include criticism. It’s purely based on paying tribute. That reinforces the unspeakability of any negative feelings about that artist. When Elvis died in the 1970s, it was much easier for people to privately criticise him, but now the mourning happens in public and sharing negative feelings about a deceased musician is like voicing criticism at a funeral. It’s just not allowed.
The feeling of shame vanishes over time and we now celebrate the popstars that were detested at the height of their success . Do you think that reinforces a higher acceptance of today’s bubblegum pop?
I am not sure. Take the EDM-pop duo The Chainsmokers for example, they have a lot of critics, because they are changing the trajectory of pop music. When “Let’s Talk About Love” hit the shelves ten years ago, Céline Dion was still a pop figure that people talked about and attacked. But she was granted immunity a few years back, because she is no longer an active part of the debate. Modern-day pop acts are not as fortunate. They don’t have the benefit of nostalgia.
Because nostalgia makes everything better – even a past we disliked.
Exactly, Céline Dion also represents Titanic and 90s fashion faux pas and especially for people between 30 and 40, she also represents their youth.
Why do you think guilty pleasures are such a big part of our current culture? Is it just nostalgia?
No, that would be too simplistic. Our taste is also our identity. We define ourselves by what we like. Taste can be at the core of a group identity as well. It is such a strong instrument of differenciation. Then there is also the perception, that art is supposed to be enlightening instead of just hedonistic. That makes it hard to openly like something that is not considered high-brow culture. The guilty pleasure is a way around that.
But you have to earn it. The guilty pleasure is only allowed because you have proven that you have good taste. As in listening to five Sonic Youth songs allows you to listen to one song by Britney Spears.
That’s a way musical taste has evolved in the past decade or two. Guilty pleasures were not a thing in the 70s or 80s. It would have been dubious. Because you had your musical genre, and you stuck to it. But if you only listen to what the cool kids listen to today, it makes you seem narrow-minded. Pop has become an obligation for music nerds. Your taste profile needs a broad variety of styles, not all of them should be considered good.
It’s fascinating how bad taste has become an extremely positive concept. There are bad taste parties celebrating the absolute worst of the worst. It has stripped bad taste of its own meaning.
It’s a countercultural battle that was fought and won. The tag bad taste is now owned by people that are very proud of their taste and consider it good. Bad taste has become a transgressive phenomenon. The director John Waters has used the term to delineate who’s square and who’s edgy, for example.
But what is then, objectively, bad and how can you differentiate between good bad and genuinely bad?
That’s a hard question but I think that we are in a much more sophisticated place today when it comes to taste because we are being exposed to so much more. There is no scarcity of culture anymore and so we have come to accept the validity of different worlds and trends. That also means, that we are no longer so serious about our own taste and think we have to defend it at every occasion. That was certainly different a few decades ago. I think that also resulted in us not being so bent on judging everything straight away. There is still genuinly bad taste but we show mercy a lot of the time. Also, shame doesn’t need to be a bad experience.
How so?
In the same way that sadness is also celebrated or at least positively connoted. It’s a human reaction that tells us something about ourself. It’s not really a utopia for me if everybody has a wide-open, let-it-all-hang-out-sense of culture. Shame has its place in culture. The problem starts, when we start to take advantage of things in a hostile way, when we start shaming and attacking others.
I recently read about the Disco Demolition Night. A radio station called upon its audience in 1979 to destroy disco by publicly burning disco records before a local baseball game. The promotion stunt ended in a riot and was expressive of racism and homophobia. That’s the shaming that goes too far.
At that time, disco was extremely commercially dominant. The strange thing is that it was music for the marginalised: gays and the black community. Then there was a white, homophobic backclash because of others gaining ground. The same happens today with the Trump presidency.
Is it fair to say that although pop music is more generally accepted today, it is still the primary target for critique?
It’s an easy prey. Pop music is like parents: you hate it when you are young and then you patch up things as you get older. It’s also by definition the most mainstream music and we live in the most egocentric of times. Individuality is sacred and pop is the opposite of that. Also, pop is predominantly understood as a female genre because of its focus on feelings and emotions. Most men do not want to be associated with that. Those prejudices persist.
I think it also comes down to authenticity. Emotions are also the centre of all other musical genres but the perception is different. Listening to Björk sing about heartbreak feels more genuine than hearing Céline Dion do the same thing.
It depends on how you see the world. Many people do not question the facade of the pop commercial world. It feels genuine. Connecting to a sad Björk song is probably something that most people do alone and in their own way. But pop music is more social and it is an experience you share with many people. It evokes the presence of a public, even when you are alone. Pop is not an introspective form of music. It is not a dark night of the soul.
Would you describe artist like Björk or Nick Cave as authentic?
They are definitely genuine but it depends what you mean by authenticity. I mean Nick Cave is a master of theatrical performance. You don’t go to a Nick Cave gig in order to find truth. His fans prefer his kind of artificiality over the one that pop acts put on. It depends on what you are willing to believe.
Then again, an artist like Father John Misty uses ‘fakeness’ in order to create an authentic stage persona. He is honest about being fake.
That is the oldest trick in art: putting on a mask to tell the truth. Father John Misty opens the engine room of showbusiness and shows us, in a very ironic manner, how artistic showmanship works. Spontaneity is a rare occurrence in performance and he is not trying to hide that.
And irony helps him get away with it
Irony is an aquired taste. Father John Misty appeals to people that like art from a safe distance. To other people, irony can seem hostile.
Could Céline Dion pull off irony?
Her fans like that she has a sense of humour about herself but she is serious about what she is doing and would never mock the performance and the audience for believing in it.
We talked a lot about bad taste. What, in conclusion, do you think is good taste then?
Good taste is probably more individual than bad taste. I don’t think there is objectively good taste but there is consensus taste: Things that you and the people around you can agree on. Sometimes that consensus is quite big, other times it is not. But it is never a given.
Carl Wilson is Slate’s music critic and the author of several books.

"I feel like my head is just a camera on a tripod"

Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson embraces melancholy with a unique playfulness. His works are demonstrations of how thin the dividing line between happiness and sorrow can be. We talked to him about the male body in art, cemetery strolls and why life should be like Bohemian Rhapsody.
While I was doing research for this interview, I watched some clips of your performances on Youtube and noticed that although I am quite familiar with your work, I have never seen any of it in real life. Is that something you concern yourself with? The way people take in your art.
No, not really. I don’t have a webpage and I’m not on facebook, so I don’t upload anything. But I really like it when people do it for me, when they take videos of my performances and put it up there. They take my work from the art spaces and share it with the world. There’s something liberating in that.
Do you think that Youtube is the right place for your art? The experience of watching a clip of a performance online and watching the actual performance is obviously very different.
Watching my art on Youtube is like looking at a painting in a book. Of course it is not the same. You just get a glimpse of what the whole thing is about. My video pieces very much depend on the image and sound quality and you just don’t have that experience on Youtube. The installations are much more kick-ass.
Digital technologies not only enable people to record and share the art they are witnessing but also to watch it wherever they are. The incentive to travel to a specific piece of art has been reduced, I feel.
Which is a shame because I like this whole Holy-Grail-approach to art, that you have to make an actual effort to see it. But having everything at your disposal can be very convenient. Whenever an uncle or aunt visits and asks me about my latest installations, I can just show them some clips on Youtube. It also reminds me how sloppy I am, when it comes to the Internet. I just don’t really use it that much. I am like an old person. Although, they are pretty good with these things nowadays. So maybe I am like a lazy old person.
Do you feel that performance and multimedia arts are better suited to make that transition from real to digital than, say, sculpture or other, more traditional visual arts?
I am not sure. Visual arts are very much about experiencing and connecting with what you see. A piece only comes alive, when somebody sees it. Now, the viewer also spreads the art he or she sees by posting it online. In that way, the viewer becomes a doer. Performance arts are of course very well suited for this, because they are so dynamic. There is constant movement, which sort of mirrors the ways in which we consume art today. It’s not a static experience; it’s always in flux.
Which is very true for performance art. With a painting or a sculpture, the artist has the luxury of seeking shelter in the studio until he or she is happy with the piece and chooses to present it to the audience. A performance art piece is live and always bears the risk of imminent failure or imperfection. Do you feel that pressure?
Actually, I also like to approach my paintings like that. I tell myself that I don’t have a thousand chances to start from scratch. I really focus and try to do it in that specific moment. At the core, I think all art is about spontaneity. If you would try to reproduce a piece of art at a different moment, the result would probably differ a lot. It’s really the spark of genius that makes a great art piece; the rest is just time and labor. And that also produces some vulnerability. The safety of the studio does not guarantee success – quite the opposite.

RAGNAR KJARTANSSON God, 2007 single channel video Duration: 30 minutes Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
Commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna & The Living Art Museum, Reykjavik. Photo: Rafael Pinho


Marina Abramovic once told me during an interview, that she needs the risk of failure in order to be creative. Do you feel that too?
I don’t feel that risk of failure during performance pieces. It’s more a take-it-or-leave-it-situation. I come from a theatre background; so performing feels very natural to me. The only time I feel exposed and vulnerable is when I perform something other than performance art. I was in bands when I was younger and that always felt alien and strange.
How so?
Playing music always felt a bit weird, I just feel like an impostor. Music is something very serious in a way. When you don’t hit the notes right or you play too fast or slow, the whole thing crumbles. Performance art is more forgiving, I feel. It’s more the concept behind it that matters. You can do whatever you want, as long as you do it in a convincing way. It gets its legitimacy from your own belief in it. Visual art is always open for interpretation.
Music has more set rules?
Don’t get me wrong: I love music. I am obsessed with it. My role models are mostly musicians. I don’t want to generalize, because ultimately it’s a very personal opinion. Being a musician never came naturally to me, so I personally feel that being an artist gives me much more freedom than being a musician. That’s not to say that that is the case for everybody. I tried hard to be a musician but every time I stood on stage, I just saw the disbelief in the eyes of the audience. And I believed them.
It’s fascinating that you would then choose to continue with visual and performing arts instead of doing something that does not rely on an audience.
It’s not the audience that frightens me; it’s the feeling of not being able to perform with full confidence in what I am doing. The main lesson I took from it is that I should not excuse myself for what I do and just be kick-ass. I had a hard time doing that in music. My godmother, who is a musician, once told me that you should always remember that as an artist, nobody cares about you. Your insecurities are irrelevant to the audience. The audience only cares about the art piece or the song. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.
Don’t you think that the audience very often reads a lot into what you are doing. They question your motives and connect everything to your private life, I feel.
I would not do it, but I know it happens. It’s not necessarily something that happens during live performances, but certainly they question or analyze you as an artist overall. The funny thing is that this is so prone to misinterpretation. I would always be more concerned about the artists that seem completely happy, than the ones that seem to suffer. Growing up, Michael Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston were the good guys whereas somebody like Nick Cave was regarded a troubled mind and soul. Look at how their lives have developed and you can see why we should not judge a book by its cover. There is a façade of happiness in pop music that conceals the suffering. On the other hand, the dark characters are not necessarily dark, they might just be interested in the full spectrum of human existence – and there is a lot of suffering and agony in that.
That reminds me of your video piece God in which you sing “Sorrow conquers Happiness” to the melody of a very happy and jolly tune. It’s a striking example of how close sorrow and happiness often are.
Sorrow is inevitable and we should face it. We will become sick and eventually die. We just have to be ready for it. A memento mori can make you a happier because sorrow will not take you by surprise when it happens. Being aware of sorrow is the best tactic to deal with it. I live quite close to a cemetery and I love taking walks there. I don’t find it saddening or depressing but rather comforting.
Death is a universal experience and no matter how many people die in the most tragic ways, the world still keeps on turning. I guess there is comfort in realizing how little your own existence matters in the grand scheme of things.
Exactly! We should not take our own existence so seriously. The artist Marcel Duchamp got it right. His tombstone says: Besides, it’s always the others that die. That’s a good last statement.

RAGNAR KJARTANSSON: The End – Venezia, 2009. Six-month performance during which 144 paintings were made. The Iceland Pavilion, Palazzo Michiel dal Brusà, 53rd Venice Biennale, 2009. Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavík. Photo: Rafael Pinho


Would you feel offended if I would tell you that I find your work extremely entertaining?
No, why should I?
I feel entertaining is the last thing an artist wants to be.
I hope people find my work entertaining. Entertainment has become synonymous with fake or meaningless forms of expression, but I don’t think that’s fair. Very often, things are entertaining at first and only reveal themselves as something more substantial after some more reflection.
But isn’t there a common belief, that the theatrics of entertainment and authenticity are not compatible. Art is very dichotomous in that respect.
Yes, that belief is widespread. My grandfather was very close to the Swiss artist Dieter Roth who concerned himself a lot with notions of authenticity. To someone like me, who comes from a theatre-family that was very inspiring. I wanted to find a middle-ground between authenticity and theatrics.
To quote Dieter Roth: When faced with a choice, do both.
That’s my motto, yes. I do believe that entertainment is authentic. That’s why we connect with it. Why would you cry during a movie or song if it was not authentic? It’s only when entertainment is bad that we notice it is fake. Entertainment that stays true to itself is never fake.
You have said in previous interviews that we are living in the female century and argued that feminism had a strong impact on your work. Do you feel that there is a difference between male and female art? Especially when it comes to performance art in which the body plays an important role.
In my pieces I really like to play with ideas of the male body because it is so blank in a way. There is much more freedom. The female body is a projection surface for controversy. When art is about the female body, it is immediately heavy and politicized. When I do feature female bodies in my pieces, it is a very conscious choice and I am aware that I might cause controversy or step over the line. Feminist art took control over the female body in art history. So as a male artist, you have to be very careful, respectful and aware of that.

Ragnar Kjartansson Woman in E, 2016 performance Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York and i8 Gallery, Reykjavik Originally presented and organized by Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit, Michigan. Photo: Andrew Miller


The female body is linked to much more body shame because society still wants women to act and look a certain way. The urge to go against that must be a powerful impetus to create art that breaks those chains.
Yes, there is all this violent patriarchic oppression you have to fight. Having a male body is just so unproblematic in comparison. I often feel like my head is just a camera on a tripod. I am so unconscious of my body because there are not as many oppressing aesthetics around it. Men also have body issues but the difference is that society does not judge them as much.
Another thing that had a big impact on your art is repetition. I connect repetition with boredom and ineffectiveness, which are very negative notions. Is that the same for you?
We do have a negative understanding of repetition. We complain about life being repetitive and want it to be a totally new thing every new day. I recently read Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa and she writes about this woman she met, who told her that she would want to repeat her life in the exact same way, not changing a thing. Blixen writes about how dull and sad that is. She said a small melody can be repeated, but a symphony can not be repeated It ends and you don’t want to hear it again. That’s how Blixen wanted her life to be. That’s a bold statement. When I think about life in terms of music: wouldn’t it be fab to look back and see it as Bohemian Rhapsody?

Accuracy in Imperfection

Blurriness, grain, and double exposures used to be a no go in photo albums. Artist Maya Beano leverages them to reconstruct the hazy nature of memories.

What are you looking for when you’re taking a photo?
It’s all about capturing a feeling, a memory or a certain atmosphere, so it’s not necessarily about the reality in front of the lens. I actively create an atmosphere that I like – even if it’s not there.

Maya Beano is an film photographer based in the UK See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.

Maya Beano is an artist and photographer based in the UK. See more of her work on her website: www.mayabeano.com.


Many photographers consider themselves observers, but your approach seems to involve a lot more planning and construction…
I consider myself more of an artist than a photographer, and I do plan a lot of the pictures: A lot of the work involves double exposures, which tends to make things very dreamy – that’s the way people describe it.
24713626450_6e6a51a916_o
24696049312_5e45c68416_o

“I shot this series in Northern Sweden, about 200km north of the Arctic Circle. My friends and I all enjoy snowy landscapes, and so we went out there with our cameras and our hiking gear. A lot of the pictures in this series were shot from an airplane, of sunrises and sunsets in January. It was just wonderful, I had never seen such intensely colored light in the sky. Their winter sunrises and sunsets lasted for hours.”


24584118720_4837f2e65f_o
24446246459_2721d57f33_o
Why do you think that is?
If you think of the act of recalling a memory, the images I you have in my your head of the memory aren’t always very clear – at least in my case. It’s more of a mishmash of sights, feelings, sounds and smells. Things overlap quite a bit. That’s what I try to convey in my photos: I rely on long exposures, double exposures or color filters in front of the lens to change the mood.
You’re also deploying a lot of grain and fuzziness.
I don’t really store my film in the fridge like many people do, and it damages it. I reckon it’s cold enough in England to only damage it the right amount! Recently, I got my hand on a lot of expired film and those results are grainier than usual, which I quite like. As long as you can kind of tell what’s going on in the picture, it adds something. So I don’t consider what you’d call mistakes as real mistakes. I consider them a preference. I’m still in an experimental phase.
It’s a fascinating paradox to use something that many would consider broken or accidental to create art. Isn’t it weird that the fragile or damaged nature of film can lets you something that feels more real than reality?
That’s true: If I use a normal digital camera and shoot a very clear picture, it doesn’t give me the right feeling, or doesn’t recreate the atmosphere I want. The very clear images don’t resonate with me as much – whereas the hazy stuff does. It represents a more real image of what I see in my mind.
24776758609_cffe387962_o
24761246752_b45fd5caff_o
24758480013_e28647e477_o
24756254381_293d9e1b74_o
Has photography, through digitization, perhaps become too much about the ideal of a “perfectly clear” image?
Yes! I hear this both online and offline. Some say “Your images are so hazy, I can’t tell what’s going on.” Some of them just prefer the clearness of digital. That’s a side-effect of the trend to shoot a perfect picture of something, which is clear and bright, with perfect color reproduction. It doesn’t work for me, I find those pictures a little devoid of feeling. At the end of the day, it’s just a preference.
How do you create image series, if your memories are so muddled?
If I have a particularly powerful memory of something, or a strong emotional reaction to something, it will result in a series of photos. These are often inspired by personal experiences. I grew up in Jordan, in the Middle East, and every spring we would have these giant sandstorms that would fill the sky with these rosy clouds. A while ago, I went to Northern Ireland with my best friend and their sky, when the sun was setting, looked exactly like that. The result is the series “Rose Gold”.
You also took pictures in Iceland, which is a pretty surreal place as it is.
It was easier than usual to add a touch of surrealism to the photos I took in Iceland because the place is so surreal already. The problem was that it was so cold that I had to use warm pouches in my camera bags so that the cameras wouldn’t freeze and stop working. I had a similar experience in the north of Sweden last January.
29493808422_86beb7fdd9_o
25370284504_40f197d77c_o
25233388096_e6c00e191e_o
27226724545_c6549f14e6_o
Your pictures suggest that there’s another pane to reality that we may be missing. Are we looking at the world in a too factual way?
Sometimes, yes. I find people’s different perceptions of the world incredibly interesting. The simplest example: When I go on a trip and I talk about what I found most interesting, my account of it is usually very different from that of my friends, just as each one of theirs is different. Everyone has a very unique way of seeing the world and I am just trying to document my own personal journeys of the heart and the mind. It’s all a bit hazy in there.

Brain burning with color

Ukrainian painter Kazimir Malevich considered the art of painting shackled by natural forms and colors. In 1918, he wrote down why it needed to be set free – a manifest equally fascinating and crazy.

Kazimir Malevich was born in Ukraine in 1878. He is credited as the founder of the Suprematism, an avant-garde art movement that developed out of futurism. Malevich shocked the art world with his paintings, which often featured little more than simple geometric forms, taken to the extreme in an iconic painting called “Black Square”, which showed (you guessed it) just a simple black square on a white background. It is often referred to as the “zero point of painting”, the pinnacle of abstraction, even though Malevich would later paint a white square onto a white canvas. He was a man on a mission.
Malevich.black-square
Such avant-gardistic art has a tendency to seem over the top, but remember that Malevich’s work is a product of its time, of an age when modern art and abstract painting just emerged. The painter didn’t just start painting rectangles but arrived there through further and further reduction. An earlier piece of his was called “Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions” and it showed just simple red parallelogram. It’s safe to assume that the peasant woman was wearing red. Red_Square._Visual_Realism_of_a_Peasant_Woman_in_Two_Dimensions
Malevich would soon entirely depart from reality, and his later works no longer represented anything. Art historian John Milner once wrote that in Malevich’s paintings, “proportion and perspective were manipulated apparently without reference to imagery”. Malevich wanted nothing to do with our assumptions.
We know this not because Malevich took abstraction to such heights, but because he wrote about it. At the 10th State Exhibition in 1919, a joint event of Russian avant-garde artists, Malevich sold a small brochure that spelled out his philosophy. Back then, the “Petrograd Bulletin” mentioned it in its review of the fair, nonchalantly describing its scope: “On sale at the exhibition is a small brochure by K. Malevich – “From Cubism to Suprematism” – intelligently written, in which the author sets out to shed light on the essence of futurist theories and desires. While he writes on the destruction of all that exists, he remains logical in his own way and comprehensible.”
But Malevich’s writing, quoted below, is itself avant-gardistic: a text that starts out sensibly but slowly veers off into the abstract, the emotional. Just like he does in his paintings, the artist doesn’t communicate on a factual, but increasingly on an emotional pane, making his point with feverish urgency, and turning his pamphlet into a rallying cry to leave behind colors and forms, and to start anew.
What they mean with “the destruction of all that exists” you ask? Well, Malevich had nothing but scorn for the art of yore:

And however many moonlit landscapes the artist paints, however many grazing cows and pretty sunsets, they will remain the same dear little cows and sunsets. Only in a much worse form. And in fact, whether an artist is a genius or not is determined by the number of cows he paints.
The artist can be a creator only when the forms in his picture have nothing in common with nature.

Just as we fret over smartphones and VR today, wondering what they do to our appreciation of the reality around us, Malevich saw planes, trains, and automobiles blurring our ability to see. Art, he argued, had to keep pace. And painters had to stop it with the nudes already:

(…) your lack of understanding is quite natural. Can a man who always goes about in a cabriolet really understand the experiences and impressions of one who travels in an express or flies through the air? The academy is a moldy vault in which art is being flagellated. Gigantic wars, great inventions, conquest of the air, speed of travel, telephones, telegraphs, dreadnoughts are the realm of selectivity. But our young artists paint Neros and half-naked Roman warriors.

The new life of iron and the machine, the roar of motorcars, the brilliance of electric lights, the growling of propellers, have awakened the soul, which was suffocating in the catacombs of old reason and has emerged at the intersection of the paths of heaven and earth.

Color, he thinks, has been enslaved by common sense:

Malevich, looking pretty content – even though you have terrible taste.

Malevich, looking pretty content – even though you have terrible taste.

Being a painter, I ought to say why people’s faces are painted green and red in pictures. Painting is paint and color; it lies within our organism. Its outbursts and great and demanding.
My devours system is colored by them.
My brain burns with their color.
But color was oppressed by common sense, it was enslaved by it. And the spirit of color weakened and died out.
But when it conquered common sense, then its colors flowed onto the repellent form of real things.

And the use of color starts being an almost political struggle rather than just an artistic expression:

In achieving this new beauty, or simply energy, we have freed ourselves from the impression of the object’s wholeness. The millstone around the neck of painting is beginning to crack.

Unfortunately, people hadn’t yet learned to appreciate this vision. In Malevich’s eyes, they were stuck hopelessly in the past. And, dear, did he hate them:

This is why it is strange to look at a red or black painted surface. This is why people snigger and spit at the exhibitions of new trends.
Art and its new aim have always been a spittoon. But cats get used to one place, and it is difficult to house-train them to a new one. For such people, art is quite unnecessary, as long as their grandmothers and favorite little nooks of lilac groves are painted.

Let’s remember, for a second, that his contemporaries thought Malevich “logical in his own way”. With this manifesto, he took the sledgehammer to their taste, stood on the rubble with a pumping fist and yelled. This man was angry. And he poured all his anger into his art, his words, and his own sense of grandiosity.

You all wish to see pieces of living nature on the hooks of your walls. Just as Nero admired the torn bodies of people and animals from the zoological garden.
I say to all: Abandon love, abandon aestheticism, abandon the baggage of wisdom, for in the new culture, your wisdom is ridiculous and insignificant.
I have untied the knots of wisdom and liberated the consciousness of color!
Hurry up and shed the hardened skin of centuries, so that you can catch up with us more easily.
I have overcome the impossible and made gulfs with my breath. You are caught in the nets of the horizon, like fish!
We, suprematists, throw open the way to you.
Hurry!
For tomorrow you will not recognize us.

Landscape, in C sharp minor

This is how you turn music into color.

“Model required.” Casting call.
In they come, one by one, heels clicking thunder on the gallery’s hardwood floors. The oak is centuries too old for this. The eleven o’clock sun rains in through the glass panes, flooding the space with light, making love midway to the Beethoven streaming through the speakers in the corner. What color is a sonata anyway?
An empty frame, in silver and gold, waits obediently against the white wall.
The first model climbs in, a well behaved hue of blue. She disrobes timidly, looks down. A study in neoclassicism; line over color, a sublimation of the form. The model as an ideal; an aria in monochrome.
I pull out my brush.
“Is yellow warm or cold?”
The model does not talk back. She does not look up. I ask again anyway, and dip the brush in paint. Under my strokes, her pliant fingers, elbows, bare shoulders comply. She evaporates before my eyes, in a muted green haze. I paint a “Still life in aqua.”
But it is not a sonata, so I help her out of the frame. Wafts of green trail behind her as the heels click apologetically out of the room.
The second model hurricanes in, a red so concrete it turns the air opaque. Her angular heels poke holes in the canvas as she climbs into the frame. A study in abstraction; the model as a structure. Order and discipline, uncorrupted design, to which my paintbrush wrecks havoc. A revolution in the frame.
“Is yellow warm or cold?”
The model does not, cannot hear me. The warring colors are so loud, even Beethoven is muted. With shards of neon orange, my brush stokes the flames. I paint a “Portraiture of fragments.”
Still, not a sonata, so I shake my head. She marches out, defiant. The air behind her clears. I hear the floorboards creak again.
What color is a sonata? Is yellow warm or cold?
The third model walks in, and suddenly, the music explodes.
She is the three primaries. The blonde, brunette, and the redhead. The red, yellow, and blue. The model as a possibility, the multiplicity of the self. Vulnerable and provocative, sensuous and naïve. She climbs into the frame, and stares. At me.
I burst into pigments like ripe summer fruit; infinite colors and notes spill out. Soaking the canvas, overflowing the frame, dripping onto the parched oak. Staining the walls, the music, the light. The whole gallery becomes a self-portrait.
There are buckets of paint everywhere, on every surface, in every shade, and I use them all. The sonata is every color I want it to be. Warm and cold and vibrant and bright, it rolls off my tongue, my lips, my chin like syrupy elderflower.
The music rises frantically to a final trill. I paint a “Landscape, in C sharp minor.”

The Banality of Color

Why looking at the past in color is such an uncanny experience.

We tend to think of the past in black and white. Since color photography only became mainstream in the 1970s, anything from before is usually pictured in monochrome. Flip through an old photo album and you see smiling grey faces, people in grey clothes, driving grey cars. But prior to the advent of color film, inventors had long toyed with technologies to capture the world in all the colors they saw it in.
As far back as in 1903, the (very aptly-called) Lumière brothers in France patented a process for color pictures: It was called Autochrome and relied on glass plates containing particles of colored potato starch, which absorbed the spectrum of the light they were exposed to. It’s about as complicated as it sounds, and required such long exposures that subjects had to sit still for several minutes, literally waiting for light to filter through potatoes.
By today’s standard the technology and its results were primitive: Colors in Autochrome images are inaccurate and the motifs all fuzzy, giving the photos a dream-like quality. But it all nevertheless represented a stunning achievement: With Autochrome, colors were no longer stripped from a photo. And with that, every photographer using it captured a slightly more accurate picture of the past.

Silver Lake. An Autochrome from the George Eastman House Collection.

Silver Lake. An Autochrome from the George Eastman House Collection.

In fact, a surprising amount of the early 20th century was documented in color. Each continent had slightly different technology, so you can see colored pictures of the Russian empire’s final years, white orthodox churches standing before pale blue skies. You can see World War One, photos of the trenches full of soldiers, with their uniforms awash in color. And if you’re so inclined, you can even look into the piercing blue eyes of Adolf Hitler.

View of the monastery from Svetlitsa, a photo by Sergeĭ Prokudin-Gorskiĭ

View of the monastery from Svetlitsa, a photo by Sergeĭ Prokudin-Gorskiĭ

7300960484_b98312f664_zThat is because Autochrome paved the way for other methods of capturing color: In 1930, the German company Agfa released their first commercial color film, which eschewed the potatoes but relied on a similar principle: For a product called Agfacolor, the engineers used cartridges of film, which they coated with a fine layer of color particles. In 1935, hot on it heels, Kodak then developed the iconic Kodachrome film, which finally nailed color reproduction. In those years leading up to the Second World War, a wholly different arms race was taking place, as Americans and Europeans each developed color films.
Exposure was suddenly quick, and film was of course much more portable than glass plates. And while it would take years for the technology to go mainstream, the times began being documented in color.

Portrait of Dottie Reid, taken in 1946 in New York with Kodachrome. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Portrait of Dottie Reid, taken in 1946 in New York with Kodachrome. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The past is strangely alive in these images. Maybe that is because black and white, by sheer ontology, gives images of the past a surreal quality: What monochrome misses in color, it makes up in contrast.
Or maybe it is much simpler: Real life simply isn’t in black and white. And seeing the past stripped off its colors makes it seem less lifelike, and by extension much further removed.
If you flip that equation around, you understand why color pictures of the past are so captivating. Not only do they show a lifelike reality, they also show that it isn’t so distant after all.
The National Archives of Norway — of all places — have images of Berlin from the 1930s, of the very same city where I am writing this. Back then, blue-eyed Hitler was in power, and the city was draped in Swastika flags – so many of them, it seems absurd.
But of course it isn’t. These images show the past as it actually took place. And that makes looking at them very sobering. Yes, these images show a frightening symbolism, the heyday of a terrible ideology that would plunge Europe into war. But more surprising is that they show a certain banality.
On these color pictures, the past is no longer a distant memory or a scary episode from the history books. Not even a historic outlier. The color in this pictures shows how real it all was, how much closer to our present time – and how stupefyingly normal.
Today, black and white photography has, in the words of Wikipedia, “been relegated to niche markets such as art photography”. We use black and white for a certain look, employ it for artistic purposes rather than accuracy. And because most photos of the past are in black and white, I think we see it as something it wasn’t: A time as unreal and dream-like as those early Autochromes.
Color not only adds missing information, it actually adds context. And it exposes any photo of the past for what it really represents: A document of time not all that different from our own. A world in which the events that took place, the entire unthinkable history of the 20th century, was as normal as the reality we capture with our phones today.

Margin Walker

Photographer Xavier Aragonès takes haunting pictures in the deserted outskirts of a Catalan city. We asked him to describe his process – and how escaping solitude enabled him to take better pictures.

ma_ruines_1920px

On the edges of the city I live in, there’s a place that has become my personal fantasy playground. It’s quite a large space and I have been exploring it relentlessly for the last two years, mostly on foot, usually in the early morning hours and always, always on my own.
I have to say that when I started this project, I did not expect what it ended up turning into. Since I first got into photography, the landscape (both natural and man-made) has been my primary area of interest, and they way I approach it basically consists of three actions: wandering, staring and shooting.

Xavier Aragonès (b. 1979) is a wanderer with a camera. You can see more of his work at his website xavieraragones.com and his blog fotosintempestives.com

Xavier Aragonès (b. 1979) is a wanderer with a camera. You can see more of his work at his website xavieraragones.com and his blog fotosintempestives.com


In my previous work, the outcome of this process has been a collection of pretty straightforward, sometimes gritty, depictions of everyday landscapes and mostly banal subjects, following the teachings of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. In the end, I was often left with a bittersweet feeling: although I enjoyed the experience of exploration, solitude and contemplation, I felt the results were more an exercise in style than a means of honest personal expression. In other words: I was being just a copycat and not much of a creator.
This time around, though, I was smart enough to show my work in progress to some people, mostly fellow photographers, who finally helped me push myself out of my creative boundaries and forced me to confront my true motivations: What was the main reason behind it all? What the hell was that thing that made get up before sunrise and roam all alone through the nooks and crannies of deserted, sometimes inhospitable places in the outskirts of the city?

llac_petit_vapor_2_300dpi
6-conill_mort_1_1920px
xemeneia_bosc_2_1920px
4-chilaba_1_1920px
talaia_1_72dpi

It took me quite long, but in the end I realized that what I was actually doing was appropriating that place (figuratively, of course) by just going and being there on my own over and over again. I was taking over that artificial lake, those pine woods, that abandoned barn, those remains of a quarry… to give all of them a whole new meaning in my imagination and turn them into several fictitious places according to my tastes and influences from film, literature and photography. This time, thankfully, I found the way to handle these sources of inspiration to create work that I really felt as my own.
The title of the project, “Pas del Nord-oest” (Northwest Passage in Catalan), is a reference to the legendary sea route connecting the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean, as well as the working title for the pilot episode of the TV series Twin Peaks. Interestingly enough, my main access to the area I explore in the project was through an old pedestrian tunnel under the railway in the Northwest edge of the city.

tunel_torrent_edificis_1920px

Copyright of all the pictures: Xavier Aragonès

"We are surrounded by the lonely all the time"

Her experience of being alone in New York City inspired writer and artist Olivia Laing to explore the notion of loneliness and its intersection with art. In her book “The Lonely City”, she unravels the past of several artists and the impact isolation had on their work.

Reading your book “The Lonely City”, I couldn’t help but think that loneliness is hard to pin down in a specific place…
Loneliness is not bound to a specific place, that’s true. And it isn’t at all the same thing as solitude. Solitude means you are physically alone while loneliness is a longing for more intimacy than you have. That’s why it can happen just as easily in a crowd, among friends, or even in a relationship.
You have described loneliness as something that emerges in all kinds of conditions: Being an outcast, being stigmatized – or even someone unable to overcome a language barrier. Is the city just a canvas for loneliness, then?
You can be lonely anywhere and under any kind of circumstance. But urban environments can intensify loneliness. When you are in a city, you are surrounded by other people. But you also have an experience of being physically separated from them while seeing them all around you. That is especially true in cities like New York, where the population is so dense and so many people live in apartments.

Olivia Laing is the author of "To the River", "Echo Spring" and, most recently, "The Lonely City". She lives in the U.K. (Photo by Mike Sim)

Olivia Laing is the author of “To the River”, “Echo Spring” and, most recently, “The Lonely City”. She lives in the U.K. (Photo by Mike Sim)


They are close but out of grasp.
At the same time, you are subject to a lot of peoples’ gazes, you are visible to them. I think that really intensifies the experience of loneliness: feeling hyper-exposed, and feeling shame around the social taboo that is loneliness. Urban environments intensify loneliness in quite a particular and interesting way.
Is that what you mean when you write: “The possibilities of connection are defeated by the dehumanizing apparatus of urban life”?
Yes, but I’m also referring to the internet and social media. Just because there’s a density of people, doesn’t mean it necessarily facilitates connections between them.
Because everyone on the internet posts the best things that happen to them, making everyone else feel like they are missing out?
I feel like there is a sort of pressure to perform these perfect lives, to show very tightly curated images – “my wonderful brunch with my friends” or “the great thing I went to last night”. Social media becomes a highly pressured, highly competitive space. And if you are feeling like you are failing socially, that can be very intimidating and make you feel worse.
In your book, you describe how Andy Warhol, who was socially awkward around people, discovered that he could use machines as an intermediary. Especially his tape recorder, with which he filled the space between him and others. Do you recognize that logic in our online behavior?
Absolutely. Warhol was such a precursor of the internet age: in many ways the avatar of the 21st century. I began reading about him, and how he was using tape recorders and Polaroid cameras to both draw people to him and to keep them away. And then I looked up from my research, looked around me, and everybody was holding on to their charismatic little machines. Today, people sit on the subway, swiping through Tinder without talking, or looking at the people around them.
I wonder, then, if the behavior we all elicit is something that came about in the 21st century or whether those machines are just pandering to the neuroses we all have anyway.
I don’t know! But I wonder whether the reason that this aspect of Warhol’s behavior hasn’t been written about so much is because it has only really become clear to us in the 21st century what he was doing – because now we are doing it too, and so it is recognizable to us.
He had a particular kind of loneliness: He was famous and at the same time, people didn’t quite get him…
He made a wonderfully rich life around himself – working and social life – but he always seemed removed from it. And he talked about himself as one removed from it. Even though he clearly had friends, clearly had people he was close to. But there was an emotional space around him that felt familiar. I think a lot of people experience that kind of alienation without really knowing quite how to fulfill it.

“Isolation is often political rather than habitual.”

In your book, you quote the psychologist Robert Weiss: “Loneliness cannot be overcome by willpower alone”. Maybe all these people are trying to do something about their loneliness, working against it as much as they can, but the real tragedy is that they cannot get out of it, no matter how hard they try.
It is also a question of what that gap around you provokes: how it stimulates creativity and the production of art. That the sort of sense of longing to communicate, and knowing that nobody understands you or speaks your language drives the production of art.
Because it is a way to pop the bubble?
Yes. It’s a way to make something like a communication device, especially if you worry that your own words, or your own body won’t be found attractive. You make new objects and put them into the world, objects that are attractive or desirable or that resolve things you are struggling with in your own emotional life.
You often talk about loneliness being a vicious circle, something that is hard to get out of. And while these artists didn’t break free from it, they still did manage to create something.
Absolutely. In the beginning of the book, I have another quote from Robert Weiss “Loneliness is a disease wholly without redeeming features.” I didn’t believe that a state that pretty much all humans can and most humans have experienced at some point in their lives can be without redeeming features. To me, one of the things that was redeeming is the way in which loneliness intersects with and drives creativity.
It lead you on the journey of researching artists and eventually writing this book. You fell into the rabbit hole…
As soon as I started to begin the research, I became so captivated by and interested in the topic. It unlocked the potential of loneliness. It was also very healing, starting to understand the different ways in which people become isolated and the way it is so often political rather than habitual. It was very connecting.
In the book, you talk a lot about the artist David Wojnarowicz. He and the gay community he was a part of used their sexuality as an outlet for loneliness, a shortcut to intimacy.
We’re often fed a story about monogamous romance, about how love is the cure for loneliness – which I think is bullshit. So I was interested in people who were having fairly anonymous, fairly adventurous sex in public places and how much that touched them, how much meeting a stranger could be a cure for loneliness. I wanted to open up as many possibilities as I could about different ways that loneliness can be meaningful, or can be handled.
You write “the dream of sex is to be liberated from the prison of the body by the body itself”. I recognize that by the behavior we see today, where a myriad of hook-up apps has enabled city dwellers to have fairly anonymous sex.
But it is different because today it is mediated by a machine. I don’t think I am that nostalgic in the book, but perhaps I do have some nostalgia for the idea of cruising, of being able to go to one of these places where people met to have sex… There, you are deep in the fabric of the city itself, rather than the city of the internet – which is not as satisfying a place.
Back then, men could go cruising in abandoned docks in New York City…
It was a remarkable space. But when AIDS appeared those places just closed down. The people who were writing in the 1970s about the possibilities of connections through anonymous sex were really silenced in the 1980s – for understandable reasons – but as David Wojnarowicz rightfully said: “It isn’t having sex with a lot of people that causes AIDS, it’s not having safe sex.”
In an article in the New Yorker, you have talked about a very different aspect of sexuality, namely that a woman can never be alone like a man, since she will always be objectified.
It’s really hard to be as anonymous in a city as Wojnarowicz was: prowling around and being the person who is doing the looking. As a woman, you are always aware of yourself being looked at, whether that’s as an appealing sexual object, or as a failed sexual object. That pressure is always there – and I found that very frustrating and difficult at the time.
Thinking it through to the end, men and women must have a very different experience of loneliness.
I think they do, and it was hard for me to wrestle with. I have complicated feelings about my own gender anyway, but the experience that woman characters have in the book, like Jo Hopper (the wife of artist Edward Hopper) or Valerie Solanas (the activist and writer, who is remembered as being the woman who attempted to assassinate Andy Warhol), the loneliness they are experiencing is that they are artists who never find audiences, never find anyone interested in their work. For me, as a woman artist, that is a very live terror.
Edward Hopper used his wife as the model for every female character in his paintings, but then changed them into something she wasn’t – long-legged blondes. She was enough to be his model but only if he transformed her in the painting.
…and at the same time stopping her from painting. She is trapped in the paint of his canvasses, and the more I think about it, the more disturbing it becomes.
Interestingly, in this musing on loneliness, you cite many characters who have gone through horrifying personal experiences. Is that something you picked out, or does abuse necessarily entail loneliness?
I think that people who come from a background of trauma often have that as a source of loneliness in their lives. That’s true of me and that’s probably why I am drawn to this kind of subject. And why Wojnarowicz is so central in the book. My childhood didn’t have the violence that he experienced, but there was a lot of emotional chaos that I recognized. It’s funny, you’re drawn to subjects without necessarily knowing all the details of their biographies. And as it emerges, you see why you’re so drawn to them.

“Loneliness teaches us solidarity.”

The more I think about it, the more I see that the experience of being lonely is a very general experience, even if we think the people in the building across from us are living perfect lives. But there are so many people who carry a great burden of loneliness because of their background or identity, because they are being stigmatized or excluded in some way.
In the book I focus on the stigma of AIDS as a source of loneliness, but of course stigma is something that happens to so many people. The homeless, for example, sitting on the sidewalk, watching people walk by evading their eyes, hour after hour, day after day. What must that experience be like? An enormous, paralyzing loneliness. That no one will acknowledge your humanity is incredibly isolating. So I think we are surrounded by the lonely all the time, and we are not aware of them. We put them to the peripheries of our vision and it is so important that we don’t.
Because we are exacerbating the loneliness they are feeling?
Loneliness isn’t something an individual person can resolve. It is something we are all responsible for and we all need to think about the ways we are causing the loneliness of others, as well as working on our own loneliness.
That being particularly the fact that we tend to cast the misfits out or stigmatize them?
We just casually stigmatize and dehumanize people, even by small things like a lack of willingness to make eye contact with people who we think are different, or less than us. It creates loneliness in our cities and it creates loneliness in our cultures.
What you are saying is that this being a subconscious activity, we need to consciously counteract it?
If loneliness teaches us anything, it teaches us that kindness and solidarity with others matters far more than trying to pursue individual happiness, which is transient anyway. We make a better world if we use our own loneliness to think about the many, many other lonely people around us.
You do mention that loneliness has an unexpected upside: A clarity of vision that comes with a heightened sense of self-awareness.
There is a kind of openness that comes when you strip away the shame, which is the most painful and damaging aspect of loneliness. Once that’s gone, you see that loneliness is a kind of longing , an intense but not necessarily a bad feeling. For me, once I became more comfortable with it, once I stopped being so ashamed, I found that loneliness made me very receptive. I became very open to art, very open to seeing the city life around me. That kind of acuity of vision was powerful.

Linesmen

How an ancient council turned lines into borders.

Art is like a border of flowers along the course of civilization.
-Lincoln Steffens

In the beginning, there was a dot. The dot went for a walk, and formed a line. The line evolved, multiplied, diversified. Soon the earth was covered with all types of lines.
Not long after, there came man. Man went for a walk, and formed another man. They too evolved, multiplied, diversified, and soon the earth was filled with all types of men.
Now somewhere along one of these walks, man and line met. This was disconcerting to man, as he had never seen a line. Unsure of what to do with it, or even what it was, he captured and pocketed it, and summoned all the other men of the earth to a grand meeting. Between them all, he hoped, they would define this strange phenomenon and lay the issue to rest.
The historian was the oldest amongst the men, so naturally he went first. He called the line a time line, and tossed it like a fishing net across the others’ memories. He recorded names, ordered events, set precedents, drew parallels. He tied the line into a loop, so it would repeat itself, and tainted it in different shades from different angles and sides.
The merchant glimpsed an opportunity, so he went next. He called the line a trade line, and promptly stretched it over land and sea. He then set off along it, transporting silk and spices, gold and silver, ivory and salt. He carried chessboards in one direction, religious texts the other. Apples West, chocolates East. Exchanged knowledge for sugar, wine for rice, art for oil and coal.
The scientists were less hasty. They needed structure; a definition based on data, methodology. The mathematician placed the line on a graph, a plane, a chart. He then presented it to the others, who recorded precisely what they saw. The astronomer observed a spectral line. The geologist, a fault line. The chemist, a bond line. The physicist, a field line. None could prove the others false; they would need more experiments, more tests, more time.
The artists were experimental too, but of a more spontaneous kind. They got creative with the line, to everyone’s delight. They made it thick, they made it thin. Long, short, straight, and curved. The Romantic’s line was delicate and fine. The Realist’s, accurate and neat. The Impressionist blurred it in a colorful haze, from which the Cubist made it reappear in a jagged, frenzied daze.
The writer unfolded a story line, to the tune of the pianist’s melody line. The comedian delivered a punch line, which the athletes then took for a finish line. Some ran, some swam across it. Jumped over, crawled under it. Swung high above the ground from it, walked deft and precariously along it.
This meeting had turned into great, loud, fun. All the men were clapping and cheering. All the men but one.
The politician awoke grumpy from his nap and frowned as he looked around. The meeting had clearly gotten out of hand. It was time to take it into his own.
He cleared his throat and silence fell as he took the floor. He looked down at the offending line that had cost him his sleep, then around to address his fellow men.
“This line is a dividing one that has spurred enough controversy and debate. As guarantor of mankind’s safety, and to preserve the peace, I hereby declare it a border line and banish it to the edge of the map.”
His advisors nodded in approval. The council agreed. And man immediately set to work, enforcing the party line. The cartographers drew, the engineers designed, the workers built. The following morning, when man awoke, the headlines read:

Dividing Line Now Border Line.

No one really knows just how the devolution of mankind began, but it happened somewhere, sometime along those lines. Man’s own strategy turned on him; falsely accused and put to wrong use, all the lines united and became border lines. Those within them feared those without them, and suddenly everyone was obsessed with crossing them.
Once demarcation turned to separation, nothing, it seemed, could stop the lines gone rogue. History could recall no precedent. Trade could find no route. Science ran out of experiments, and art ran dry. For once, even the politician could find nothing to say. The border lines had turned to enemy lines, front lines, dead lines.
Then something remarkable happened. It took the whole world by surprise. One sunny day, one little child and his brand new box of crayons happened to pass a border line. He stopped to examine it, looked around cheekily, pulled all his crayons out of the box… and colored all over it.

The Devil

It’s a scary concept, really: A fallen angel, who reigns over the underworld and tortures lost souls until eternity. According to scripture, the devil is a corrupting force that never cedes to tempt humanity, a merchant of souls and the polar opposite of the good and forgiving God who supposedly watches over us. Any of these attributes should make you tremble, dear reader, but chances are that you simply registered these attributes and shrugged. You have heard them countless times before, and the term “devil” has become void of meaning. After all, we live in rational times and tend not to worry about eternal damnation as much as our medieval ancestors did.
The devil, it turns out, no longer scares us. He has become a caricature of evil, a figure of speech that scares but the ultra-faithful. Yet as a character, Lucifer has proved remarkably sticky: The devil remains one of the most portrayed characters in literature and film, and its characteristics keep inspiring musicians across the globe. Not necessarily for the original religious reasons, but as a force of malignity or seduction that each and every one of us feels within themselves from time to time.
So the scary concept has become a seductive one: Maybe the evil we do isn’t our fault but that of a corrupting force? Maybe we carry the devil inside of us only for him to occasionally rear his horned head and lead us astray? The idea that the we are as much the devil as he is us is anything, if not a great excuse – and ironically just as tempting as the man himself.
This month on The Idea List we’re taking on the dark lord himself, the way he keeps sparking popular imagination and meddles with our supposedly rational times.