Jury Competition

We can enjoy a lot of competitions in the field of the arts. In each of these competitions there is a different kind of rationale about how to judge the performances of candidates. The composition and competence of the members of the jury are of particular importance. We all tend to agree on this. However, the basic aim or direction of the competition needs to be defined or even redefined from time to time. Some perceive a competition useless if for example nobody takes notice of the results or the event. A good fight or drama within the jury helps to attract attention to it even if candidates suffer at times. The Belgian Music competition „Concour de la Reine Elisabeth“ has an annual major competition of young musicians competing for the beginning of a career as soloist. All phases of the competition are up for streaming so we all can watch and form our own opinions on the many candidates. It is not just the solo performance which counts but also the team performance with orchestra and the openness to new compositions in the realm of classical music. There is no vote of the public (yet?) like in the widely followed „European song contest“ but public acclaim does not leave a jury unmoved I believe. Tough work for jurors to single out small differences of fairly high standards to even enter the competition. The success of a jury has probably another evaluation criteria which consists in the follow up of candidates 5 or 10 years after the event or the awards. The making or destroying of careers as solo performers might hinge on very small differences on a single day. One competition with several prizes awarded is an encouraging way to promote musicians or other artists.

Concours de la Reine Elisabeth 2024 RTBF

Dietrich Gabin

In French cinema Jean Gabin is a much adored person. Equally, Marlene Dietrich had, probably an even more far reaching international career. Both were accomplished and successful actors long before the 2nd world war broke out. In the U.S both fell in love and had a long lasting romance together. Their war time activities and “engagement” in fighting Nazi-Germany were extraordinary. It meant that both took active roles to use their charisma to mobilize people and soldiers to fight for freedom.
Shortly after the war then, both made a last attempt to work together in a movie production, but it could not unite the couple again. The “Deutsche Kinemathek” displays currently a page from the Diary of the “Diva” to underscore to what extent “Dietrich” was depressed about the break-up of their longer lasting love affair. Some say Gabin was the only person who quit her, all (most?) other relationships were terminated by the Diva. The junctions of biographies are hard to predict. The circumstances of the 2nd world war and internalized civic obligations to fight for freedom and democracy were wholeheartedly shared by both, but eventually they grew apart nevertheless. Tough experiences even for the much adored persons on the forefront of the stages worldwide. There seem to be many instances of repetition of the same story not only in movies, but also in real life.
Image: Deutsche Kinemathek Museum 2024-5

Image History

The archives of the history of movies and/or television show to us the multiple ways how images capture our attention and memories. Visual narratives are an own category of our personal and collective memory. The wide range of visual experiences are a powerful way to influence. Not only the movies and stories matter, but the whole range of images associated with the cinema world. Poster collections, newspapers and today the so-called social media multiply the original images. The Deutsche Kinemathek allows a special, critical understanding of image history as Germany has been using and abusing images and movies in a very manipulating manner historically. The message is: do not take images for face value. The ways and techniques to manipulate images have been widely used and are all around us today. Whereas the mass media in previous decades have dominated the collective memories we have entered into an era with many more subcultures that evolve within their own bubble of images. An original attempt to cut 65 movies of German film history into less than 4 minutes is presented in the exhibition (Milkowski and Simbeni). It focuses on gestures and “les regards”, “Blicke”, how the actresses and actors seem to look at us. Eyes capture attention, and this as soon as we open our eyes as children. Our brain works as image recorder and our memory algorithms tend to favor image recognition while processing images continuously. We do not know much about our own image sorting algorithm or algorithms yet. Research on aging of the brain gives some hints. With declining short term memory the images stored in long term memory take the upper hand. This makes an understanding of the history of images even more important.

Attune Spheres

In Berlin it is easy to walk through the history of art to up-to-date contemporary art installations. Just walk from the Alte to the Neue and then to the Contemporary Nationalgalerie. With the installation and performance in the monumental Hamburger Bahnhof the artist Alexandra Pirici succeeds in an extraordinary way the combined impression of several art formats. I felt particularly attracted by the sound and resonance that the dancers achieved in the huge historical hall of the former train station. Embedded in a choreography that spans the whole hallway and the top of a sand dune, the ideas of „Attune“ bring in demonstrations of scientific experiments as well. We are reflecting on how structures, biological, physical or geologic processes coexist. It is another example of the intersection of biological, psychological and social phenomena. The links between science and art are more direct than what most people tend to believe. This encompassing experience catches all our senses and our mind. It is very likely that this intense experience in the museum space, which attunes our sensory perception of the artwork, sticks with us for longer than many other pieces of art. The 21st century will reveal an even more powerful language of art as it incorporates even more formats to grab our attention and imagination. The research of how patterns are formed is an important question for social scientists as well. All approaches to the subject are welcome and each one reveals our knowledge gaps despite remarkable progress. (Image: Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin 2024-5-11, Alexandra Pirici)

Puccini Media

In honor of Giacomo Puccini the Media enterprise Bertelsmann features one of its treasures. In cooperation with the “Archivio Storico Ricordi” of Milano, Italy, 100 years of Puccini’s oeuvre is celebrated with this exhibition. Fans of Puccini’s operas will have to visit the archives but the interest of this small exhibition lies in the impressive success story of Puccini and his publisher (part of Bertelsmann). Continuous innovation and adaptation to new media, like disks, accompanied an extraordinary marketing campaign throughout the 100 years. Even today there are cycling tours around Puccini’s hometown for the modern eco friendly tourists. We learn a lot about how the media industry functioned in the 20th century. It was absolutely vital to fighting for the rights of authors, composers and rights to receive royalties for performances as well as for the publishing on media. The exhibition in “Unter den Linden 1” is just next door to the Staatsoper which also gave honor to Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” in 2024. His uncompleted Opera Turandot closes the exhibition with his rough sketches of the final scene. Merchandising is not an invention of the 21st century, but almost a century old tradition. This exhibition is a great testimony for this. It remains an important effort to allow authors and composers to gain a comfortable living during their lifetime. The gains for humanity as a whole are enormous.

Bertelsmann, Berlin 2024 Puccini.

Infinite Landscapes

The “Alte Nationalgalerie” celebrates the 250th birthday of Caspar David Friedrich in Berlin. With a considerable effort to unite in one exhibition many paintings and drawings that stem from other collections of public and private origins. This particularly remarkable as a section of the exhibition is devoted to paintings that were intended originally to be seen next to each other (compare catalogue p. 233). Comparing 2 images from the same painter evolve into a narrative. This raises curiosity as in some instances the 2 paintings do not treat the same subject. Your very own interpretations and associations will make for an individual journey through the sheer endless spaces. The exhibition allows to grasp some of the many questions posed by the period of enlightenment not only in Germany. After “God is dead” what will happen? How is mankind defined? What is its relationship to nature? Are we just left alone or what comes after individualism? Even for painters, much like scientists, it is just as important to pose the right questions. Leaving the exhibition with more questions than answers will put you in the “Berlin state of mind” of 200 years ago. Greiswald, Dresden, Rügen and Copenhagen as well as nearby mountains were influential locations and landscapes for Caspar David Friedrich. Berlin 1906 „Jahrhundert Ausstellung“ made him famous again, despite decades of being forgotten. Yet another question to ponder and wonder about. An additional merit of the exhibition is the section on painting techniques and the use of his sketches and drawings for the preparation of the oil paintings. The final riddle to be solved is the price differential between the German and English version of the catalog in the bookshop next to the usual merchandising props.

Photos Exhibit

Our usual expectation of an exhibition of photography is to look at photos at a wall. Sometimes there is more it. The Exhibition Space at the “Haus am Kleistpark” features Michael Schäfer who attempts to go a bit beyond these traditional forms. In the works of photo cubes on water surfaces “2021_57”, or a dice floating on the waves of oceans, the video representation of his photographs takes the assembled images beyond their flat 2D surface. However, the 2D representation is at the origin, then transformed into a 3D dice, which then is animated as a 4D format. Moving beyond the flat screen image takes photography into the 21st century.
His work “Les acteurs 1-26” from 2007 is shown at the entry hall of the exhibition. It shows pupils of a class at an elite school who deem themselves in leadership roles in the near future. Is it acting? Is it projection into a future role they are likely to take on. They represent stereotypes, of course, but some are pretty convincing in these roles already. Some others still seem to reflect on what they are doing there. Even acting these roles, they are aware of the meaning of social rank and class in society. Without having read the sociologist Bourdieu, all are aware of the fine, little elements of distinction as they have evolved over time. We could teach an interesting sociology class in this exhibition.

Family Kafka

100 years after Franz Kafka’s death nearly all facets of his life and writings have been analyzed. The archives of the editor Wagenbach and the publishing house have now opened an exhibition at the “Stabi Ost” in Berlin adding a family picture book description of Kafka’s life (Curator Hans-Gerd Koch). This is of interest because Kafka himself had written an extensive letter to his father (Brief an den Vater) in which he tries to understand his intricate relationship with his father and other family members.
Nowadays, some people would try to analyze Kafka’s life through the parapsychological technique of family constellations. The far-reaching and pan-European family networks of the Kafka (father) and Löwy (mother) families were more than just an excellent source of inspiration. 2 younger brothers died in their first year. 3 younger sisters followed more traditional evolutionary patterns within families. The television series on Kafka’s life add to the understanding of his sources of inspiration and “parallel worlds” he created and lived in. The exceptional “fictionalization” of his own life and existence in the spirit of André Breton’s surrealism remains a milestone in the history of literature.
Kafka himself thought he was not really “instagrammable”at the time, but his image has reached and still reaches millions of people (Link to Picture archive). He himself would probably have defended the thesis that the most powerful images are within us. … and they are hard to escape from.
(Image from Exposition in Staatsbibliothek Berlin 2024-4, QR-code links to reading in originals!)

Opera Politics

We know that sports and international politics have ample links. The holds true for Opera performances either due to the way they are presented or due to the content of the libretto. The opera Jeanne d’Arc (Giovanna  de Arco, Jungfrau von Orléans) by Guiseppe Verdi was composed in 1844 and had its Premiere at La Scala in Milano 1845. The libretto is based on the drama written by the playwriter Friedrich Schiller. Later in the 19th century musical pieces followed that dealt with the court judging Jeanne d’Arc. The opera by Verdi creates a strong female voice and character which outperforms men around her. Obviously, she was and remains for many a quasi-mythological heroine. In short, this constitutes great plots for drama and operas. This is centuries old despite the rare occasions of more recent performances of Jeanne d’Arc in form of Verdi’s opera or other forms.
The Opera as arena of politics is currently tested in the Opera at Tallinn Estonia. Due to the aggression and occupation of Ukranian territory by Russia the plot of Jeanne d’Arc regained another European location of potential application. Ukraine pushed back the Russian invasion and struggles to win back its territory from the invaders. The performance of the Opera recreates an impressive Jeanne d’Arc in the person of Elena Brazhnyk who was trained at the National Tchaikovsky Music Academy of Ukraine. The evening inspired hope in many respects. Talents from Ukraine or trained in Ukraine reach out into to the world. Similarly, we have much reason to be inspired by courageous acts. Operas do politics. “Bravi”, as they say in Italian.
(Image: Opera Tallinn-Estonia2024-4-18)

Puppets Museum

The puppet theatre is still a tiny part of the theatre world. The century old tradition has roots in all cultures across the globe. The Puppet Theatre Museum in Tallinn has a fine selection of puppets to perform theatre pieces from India, China, Indonesia and Europe. Storytelling is part of humanity and learning through narratives distinguishes us from other species. Religious traditions have appropriated these techniques just as modern performing arts. From the carnival tradition of using masks not only children adore playing with characters. The famous founder of the Estonian Puppet Theatre has his small monument outside the historic building in the old town, but a big puppet theatre with 400 seats. The adventures of Jules Verne have been played there just as most well known operas or children’s tales. Puppets comment on puppets (Mickey Mouse) just as they take on political debates. The forthcoming piece on the Ministry of Solutions sounds promising indeed. We envy the puppets that have a Ministry of Solutions rather than lots of ministries and ministers but no solutions.

Schachliteratur

Es gibt sie noch, die Personen, die Schachbücher lesen und kaufen. In vielen Sprachen existiert die Niche der heimlichen Strategen. „Teaching old dogs new tricks“ oder ist es eher „teaching young dogs old tricks“. Das ist eine empirische Frage. Nicht nur Zeitungen für sogenannte BildungsbürgerInnen haben noch kleine Spalten zumeist mit Schachproblemen. Manchmal findet sich Schachspielen sogar als Schulfach. Lesestoff zum Schachspiel findet sich reichlich. Schach in der Literatur ist jedoch verschieden von der Schachliteratur, die sich mit Strategien und Tempi befasst.

Das Lesen von Schachliteratur mit Meisterpartien hervorragender Spielenden ist vergleichbar dem Lesen einer Partitur einer Symphonie oder Oper. Das Kino spielt sich dabei überwiegend im Kopf ab. Gelegentliche unvermittelte Gesten oder Ah-laute sollten den Spielenden ihrer Verzückung wegen entschuldigt werden. Vielleicht sollten die Schulen diese Kulturtechniken mehr vermitteln. Macron‘s Vorschlag Theaterspielen mehr in den Schulen zu vermitteln erscheint in diesem Vergleich als ein Entgegenkommen an die „Generation der sich ständig selbst inszenierenden“. Mehr Spielen ist aber schon mal ein wegweisender Vorschlag.

Schachbücher 2024

Theory Literature

There still is a lively debate at the margins of literature and the commerce around it about theories of literature. Even if the best of years of theories about literature have passed, in 2024 we see several revivals of theoretical perspectives on literature. Travelling in Europe we celebrate, for example, the 100 years of Belgian and international surrealism in Brussels. The French artist and theorist André Breton was preparing in his thoughts the art and literature of surrealist inspiration. Of course, we think of Magritte as one of the eminent figures of the painted surrealism. Franz Kafka, who died relatively young in 1924, was the author in the spirit of the surrealist movement. The powerful impact of literary theory and theory of art to form communities of practice have had lasting effects, which fascinates large audiences in 2024. Exhibitions across Europe reflect the importance of these art movements to understand European culture, inspirations and aspirations.
Not least through this revival of the surrealist artists in the broadest sense we are returning to a more theory-driven view of literature a bit like 100 years ago. I find it remarkable to read in “Le Monde Livre” of 2024-4-12 the article on “Défense de la théorie” by Tiphaine Smoyault (p.8 see quote below) with a comment on the book by Florent Coste on the usefulness of a theory of literature to understand the world around us. Reworking of language is the contemporary concern of literature: pluri-linguistic experiences, re-discovering oral performances, irony in language and digging into archives are the major strands of contemporary literature. Theory of literature reflects on the past and allows to synthesize the present. For some it also enables to project into the near future of what is going to be published. In any case the theory of literature provides orientation in a huge ocean of published oeuvres. Writing or painting with ideas ahead of your time has been a painful experience for most of these artists. Some artists or authors are lucky to become famous during their lifetime, but lots have struggled for years or never learned that their contributions advanced humanity for more than a hundred years.

Ne pas rire

The exhibition of surrealism in Belgium at Bozar has the inviting title “Histoire de ne pas rire”. Even the booklet of the exhibition guide does not translate this into English assuming everybody has at least that much of interest in French and the willingness to learn about these 5 words that are a reference to the understanding of the surrealist art movement. You are explicitly invited to allow yourself to laugh when looking at the images. Reflection comes second. Caught by surprise and making new connections of seemingly unrelated images and words, that’s the essence of it. The comparison of the 2 versions of the exhibition guide teaches language and translations beyond the simple words. Sometimes it is best to not translate the text as in the title of the exhibition guide.

Heroines

In youth we are open for a wide range of influences. Heroines in children’s literature, picture book or cartoons look back on a long history as successful influencers. Creation, transmission and criticism of stereotypes are all part of the scientific reflection on heroines and heros. Nowadays, influencers have taken over picture books through the use of more compelling videos.
In the 1950s,1960s and 1970s picture books or cartoons dominated the influences before mass media like television became more absorbing, addictive and powerful influencers. Children’s books are passed on from one generation to next generation. The French-speaking world (and beyond BBC reference) has witnessed the success of the illustrated booklets of the young “Caroline” (Hachette) and “Martine” (Casterman) exploring the world. Parents passed on their collection to children and had their own parents read the stories to their grand children.
Well, that’s how intergenerational transmission of cultural heritage has worked for a long time. It describes the basic social mechanism. Nevertheless, new forms of influencing emerged with new technologies. Successful illustrated narratives like “Caroline” and “Martine“ were adapted as television series as well. In France you could chose your side of either explorations with Caroline and her group of animals or the adventures of Martine.
Ideally it would be an occasion for the families and friends to discuss pros and cons of each character and, thereby, become aware of what is a stereotype, at least at a later stage of the life course. Gender stereotypes have evolved and to observe 2 boys colouring Martine images in public (Brussels book fair 2024, image below) was a positive surprise. It almost felt like a real world experience of the AI-enabled Barbie explorations.

Surrealist 100

Belgium celebrates 100 years of surrealism with a special exhibition in Brussels at Bozar in 2024. The arts movement has much more to offer than just paintings from Magritte. Many other painters and intellectuals that were instrumental to create and perpetuate the movement are represented there. The French philosopher Breton as spiritus rector of the movement contributed innovative ideas and challenged the artists to do further and further on their journey to explore freedom of expression and freedom of association. The exhibition is centered around the surrealist idea to explore the association of words and images. This time the words are on the walls of the rooms and the images put up in the rooms as kind of obstacles on your journey. Keep challenging, keep questioning the sense of things and our imagination. The journey goes on and there are many artists who are still influenced by surrealism, for example Folon. The texts and images take you along on the journey into the surrealists’ world. If you want to challenge your own way to see things and the associative world, this is the place or catalog to refer to.

Bozar, 2024 100 years of surrealism

Cinema D

In terms of statistics cinemas are almost back to the pre Covid levels of spectators. The sector is worth in Germany close to 1 billion € in 2023. The price level has risen as well but many cinemas have upgraded their cinema experience as well in terms of comfort, audio and visual quality. Traditional houses provide chairs that compare well with home comfort and for a little more you can put up your feet as well after a long workday. Drinks and food may be served directly at your seats so the time to relax is guaranteed. However, this depends a lot on what type of movie you have chosen. The movie industry has adapted to modern technology and comfort. The turnover of a movie theatre is supported a lot by the consumption of beverages on site and they make huge efforts to prolong the visit beyond the screening of the movie. The competition for the time and money of the consumer is intense. The quality of the whole experience will determine the survival of the cinema. It is worth much more than a second best solution for rainy days or the cold season.

L’Albatros

Charles Baudelaire has immortalized the albatross in his poem entitled “L’Albatros”. For me it appears like a poem about the beauty of the sea and sea life. The marvelous creatures that populate the sea and its surroundings sometimes seem strange to us. The albatross with its large wings unable to move properly on earth is one of these special animals. They are threatened by human beings in their very survival up to extinction even. A dedicated website to “Les fleurs du mal” with multiple English translations of the same poem may give us the impression that all those who translated the poem wanted to feel this little moment of sublimation like a poet just forgetting for a little while the weight of our earthly existence. The gospel tells us a similar story of life up in the air. It must be so much better to be free and not to be bound to restrictions of gravity. As gods would prefer to stay away from earth just somewhere up in space. The albatross and the sea keep teaching us lessons beyond their physical appearance. (Image bird “dodo” now extinct, model in Berlin Natural History Museum 2024)

Das Meer

Wir haben vielfältige Beziehungen zum Meer. Diese reichen von romantisch geprägten Gefühlen zum Meer, den Wellen und den Fischen bis zur wissenschaftlichen Befassung mit den Meeren, Mangroven und dem Klimawandel. 71% der Erdoberfläche besteht aus Meeren. Das sollte den Festlandbewohnenden eigentlich klar machen, wie wichtig Meere für unseren Planeten sind. „Ocean Literacy“ nennt die UNESCO das. Neben Lesen, Schreiben und Rechnen sollte die Literalität auf unsere Ozeane ausgedehnt werden bevor es zu spät ist. Verschmutzung der Meere passiert hauptsächlich im Verborgenen. Lediglich Beobachtung aus dem Weltraum kann die weitläufigen Routen der Verschmutzenden zumindest teilweise nachverfolgen. Vielleicht hilft die Rückkehr zu der romantischen Sicht auf die Meere eines „William Turner“ zu einer höheren Wertschätzung der Meere, dem Licht und den Wellen.
Die kleine Sammlung von Gedichten „Das Meer“, erschienen im Reclam Verlag, ist eine gute Reisebegleitung für Begeisterte des Meeres. Darin findet sich eine Vielzahl von renommierten Schreibenden, die ihre Faszination des Meeres zum Ausdruck bringen. Mein momentaner Favorit ist Wolfgang Borchert darin (S.41-42) „Muscheln, Muscheln“.
Muscheln, Muscheln, blank und bunt,
findet man als Kind.

Muscheln, Muscheln, bunt und blank,
fand man einst als Kind!

Sleeping BPS-SPB

Sleeping is a good example of the co-determination of the biological, psychological and societal spheres of life. The environment with the daily cycles of light and dark as well as the social norms of work and rest determine the circadian cycles of hormones. Shift work or otherwise disrupted sleep patterns depend on social norms like regulation of noise or light in cities. Healthy sleep patterns, therefore, depend to a large amount on regulation and implementation of those social norms. Birthday parties are tolerated, but much less the irregular partying in shared housing with lots of neighbours. Reducing social contacts during Covid-19 led to the changes in sleep patterns as well.
The psychological determinants of sleep go well beyond the world of dreams as theorized by Freud. Nowadays, we investigate all sorts of behavioural patterns that have an impact on sleeping like “bedtime technology use” of smartphones or the ability to switch off thinking of problems. Sleeping is a particular functional state of our mind. A lot of sorting of daily impressions into memory occurs during the different phases while sleeping. Persistent disrupted or impeded sleep is recognized as torture in severe cases. Stress at work or working overtime is also a major cause of sleep disorders.
The biological indicators used to investigate sleep have revealed a lot of links of sleep and the hormones of melatonin as well as cortisol. Testing has become more accessible and provides good indicators of how the biological clocks tick within our bodies.
However, we are only at the beginning of the analysis of more complex interactions of the multiple forms of interaction of the bio->psycho->social (BPS) as well as the social->psycho->bio (SPB) co-determination of sleeping. Scientific research is faced with a steep challenge as the direction of causality is not uniform except in very controlled experimental settings. Maybe the arts have coined and popularized a useful term in this respect. “I am in a New York state of mind”.
(Image: extrait of Magritte. La clairvoyance, 1936 and The cultural context of aging, Jay Sokolovsky)

Korallenriff

Kinder verstehen direkt, dass es sich lohnt, Korallenriffe zu erhalten. Plastikmüll in den Meeren gefährdet die Korallenriffe und die bunte Vielfalt an Fischen, die darin leben. Ein kleines Theaterstück dazu von Kathrin Brunner begeistert Kinder, weil es sie erleben lässt, wie einfach Lösungen aussehen können. Den großen Leuten zeigen, wie traurig die Welt aussieht ohne die farbenfrohe Pracht der bunten Fische, wird sie schon zu Veränderungen bringen. Das Theaterstück und Buch dazu wurde am 16.3.2024 im FEZ in Berlin aufgeführt. Das Figurenspiel mit überleitendem Refrain, das vom Publikum gleichsam der Promenade in den „Bildern einer Ausstellung“ (Mussorgsky) mitgesungen haben, bildete jeweils eine gelungene emotionale Überleitung und Aufmerksamkeitspause. Wir wünschen uns noch viele kleine und große Besuchende für diese Aufführungen. Die Kinder werden es uns schon lehren, den blauen Planeten noch zu retten.

Family Music Days

Kids are queens, kings and princesses as well as princes at the family music days in Berlin at the FEZ. Kids can enjoy the full spectrum of musical experiences from just listening to playing themselves, if they feel like it or dare to risk a sound. Just making noise is okay, too. Building your very own version of a musical instrument is a great learning experience for the young. To make music it doesn’t always have to be an expensive instrument. Your own imagination assisted by persons with patience and passion creates marvelous sound experiences. Initiating kids to the endless worlds of sound is having lasting effects on them. Great to see a concert hall full of young enthusiasts. Learning is so much fun, if taught in accessible and inclusive ways. Professional instructors joined by many volunteers make the world go round for kids. Wish you we here. Let’s spread the message.

Berlin FEZ 2024-3-16

Magritte Symbol

“People always search for symbols in my works. There are none.” For those familiar with the work of Magritte, they know that he means precisely the opposite of what he is stating there. He applies well-known symbols like the white pigeon representing peace in his paintings to represent and make us think about peace. The image becomes surreal in the sense that we go beyond the real world of violence and war to lift our attention to the other surreal version of the world as it currently appears to us.
In times of war, it is more difficult to image a peaceful world and yet, this is the time we need to believe in the possibility of peace beyond the reality of aggression. In 1966 Magritte has painted “L’oiseau de ciel”, the year the peace movements became more than a surreal dream across the world. It remains a challenge to think beyond the cold war at the time and the hot war initiated by Russia in Ukraine. Surrealism helps us to think beyond the real state of affairs.
In Magritte’s own biography the “dove of peace” occurs towards the end of his own life. Whereas at the onset of his career as painter he dealt with depression and suicide in his family, towards the end of his career he moves beyond the autobiographical topics. Globally valid symbols gain the upper hand. The life course seems to have come full circle.

 

Symbol

What is it that makes an object a symbol? Probably, it is the widely shared perception of the meaning of a symbol that turns an object into a symbol. The etymology of the word symbol refers back to the Greek word σύμβολον. The earliest philosophical refer back to the Greek philosopher Aristoteles who deals with symbols when he writes about interpretations. Written words have become powerful symbols in the ancient world. We still have them all around us today. The interpretations of the words as symbols, however, may change considerably over time. Some symbols keep their designation and significance over centuries. Maps are well known to contain lots of symbols for roads, railways, tunnels or height. We learn about these symbols and interpret them in a specific societal context. Science is making ample use of symbols, e.g. chemistry. Different cultures define and apply their own symbols. Colonialism has been a form to impose symbols upon other societies. Throughout history symbols of power have changed as well. Each of those topics is an interesting field of application in itself. Young generations create their own symbols to establish a specific cultural identity or subculture. Urban spaces have been invaded by graffiti that tend to spread symbols as messages or symbols for their own sake.
Sociology has taken up the challenge to identify “status symbols” of groups of society. Possession of gold and silver have long ago been symbols of being rich. Maybe, even today such easily visible symbols play a role in how a person’s role is perceived in societies. Not only for priests etc. dresses have been applied as a symbol. Modern fashion is full of symbols as well. Interpretation of the meaning or even no meaning is an act of becoming conscious of the world around you. From the seriousness of symbols, we have come to the playing around with symbols as expressions of ourselves.
No matter whether we use the word, like water, we all know the chemical symbol H20. An image or art work using the symbol in whatever form will be decoded by us accordingly. However, the meaning we attach to water depends on the environment as well as specific context we (or the artists) are using it in. Cross-cultural competences consist in the awareness that symbols grow out of contexts and need to be interpreted accordingly. It needs a lot of openness, willingness to learn about differences and careful consideration in our everyday world to handle symbols. Doing culture is doing symbols.(Image of art work by Anderegg, Andi taken in 2016)

Biographies

The biographies of painters, composers or artists in general can be reconstructed by use of their major works. The biography of René Magritte by Eric Rinckhout (2017) has chosen this way of a retrospective in images and explanatory texts. The biography is built around 50 major images starting with the first one by Magritte at the age of 28. “Les réveries du promeneur” (see below) deal with the confrontation of Magritte with death, suicide and the difficulty to find rational answers to all those questions of why this happens and what becomes of people who experience such a tragedy.
His own childhood was affected by such an event concerning his own mother who suffered from depression. Coping with the evolution of psychic illness over years and the absence of a supportive father have posed a steep challenge for the young person. Creation of art became a coping strategy as well as a relief for those who manage to eventually cross the bridge into their own life leaving behind the bad experiences. J.J. Rousseau was an influence on Magritte as well.
Finding your own destiny and your own style is a process. This process evolves over years. The chronological sequence of 50 images allows to follow the path taken. Thereby, it becomes possible to open up the personal learning and working trajectory of the artist. In retrospective perspective it seems often logical that one style or period of painting follows on from another one. However, in the forward living of the creative life many choices are heavily contingent on other circumstances. Influences of friends, exhibitions, reading, cinema, private or financial situations may determine the creative choices simultaneously or one at a time.
The chronological path of images writes a biography of a special kind. It allows to think in sequences just like in a sequence analysis as sociological methodology. Description, reconstruction, analysis, causality remain a challenge in our attempts to learn and understand more about biographies or the construction and reconstruction of life courses.

Nocturnes

Contrary to some people’s belief “Nocturnes” is not only the denomination of the late opening of splendid shopping centres selling French fashion, but the name of music pieces. The origin of the Nocturnes as innovative form of composing is attributed to Irish born and bred John Field. The Polish born Frédérik Chopin developed the art form to perfection and he is the person who is also remembered for master pieces of this type of short romantic music pieces.
Mozart has left a famous piece entitled “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and previous lesser known attempts of this kind were named Notturni, popular “Serenade” or “Pastoral”. All these Nocturnes shared the basic emotion, which we might call nowadays some kind of love-songs (Piggott, 1973, p.115). “Bel canto”, the tradition of emotional recitation of songs or arias, Paganini’s virtuous violine play were predecessors of the Nocturnes.
John Field published the first 3 pieces named “Nocturne” in 1814 and continued to produce new Nocturnes and revising former ones. These somehow more easy-going melodies or phrases often written in E or A flat major are technically less demanding for piano players than the later ones composed by Chopin, but their “charme” lies especially in their simplicity. Reducing complexity of sound rather than the virtuous effect seeking of a tune could attract large audiences. After the rebellion in France in 1830 and the foundation of independence of Belgium in the same year, so-called high culture had to address a lot widely differing emotions.
Maybe, in 2024 we are less surprised to rediscover the value of straightforward emotional tunes when even so-called high fashion shows in Paris return to more simplicity.(Image: KI Dall-E, Composer plays on grand piano Nocturnes by Chopin with romantic flair, photorealistic style on 2024-3-5).