The social net in the internet is a permanent invitation to spontaneous reactions. And spontaneous means trust your gut instinct, don’t hesitate, no time for thought or reflection, shoot from the hip, a direct immediate reaction is best. Is this really authentic? And can’t it be that authenticity understood in this way is really being misunderstood? Or might even be problematic?
Whoever controls the keyboard of emotions can control the game. This is true of advertising and politics just as it is for our everyday interpersonal relations. Awakening desire and making promises is one side of the keyboard; fuelling envy, fear and anger is the other. Whether it’s selling diapers or making a political statement, emotions are the key means of seducing people and getting them on board. But especially when it comes to politics, one thing is very clear – and our German history is full of nightmarish examples that bear this out: if you place too much trust in your emotions you become open to seduction and quickly run the danger of being manipulated. If you take your emotions as the mainstay by which to judge all things, you can easily turn into a kind of puppet whose emotional strings are controlled by hands not your own.
For me it’s a misunderstanding to cloak pure emotion in an aura of authenticity. Because what we feel today can be quite different tomorrow. And if you look back at the history of your own emotional life, perhaps you’ll find that a lot of what you held to be the absolute emotional truth ten or twenty years ago, appears in a quite different light today. The contrary also applies: the cultivation of feeling so dominant in our present age, hides an awful lot of authenticity.
If feelings bubble and boil up in people, the language clearly says they are beside themselves – beside themselves with anger, beside themselves with joy, beside themselves with grief. In other words, they are out of control, no longer a coherent whole. They are not authentic.
To me being authentic means that I am capable of comparing my own thoughts and feelings with those of others who might agree or disagree with me and by doing so can develop a certain distance to them – before trumpeting them to the whole world. I call this self-leadership. And to me this is a central element in authenticity. A little flag flapping in a gale of emotions is not authentic.
And this also means that I must continually strive to put my own state of feelings to a rational examination. Emotions are important, of course they are, but they can also be deceptive. Blindly trusting them and following them might sometimes seem the obvious thing to do, but in no way is it a recommendable course of action.
“Shall I be authentic or shall I hide myself behind my emotions?” To me this is the key question which you, me and everyone else should ask themselves in order to put a soothing distance between ourselves and the emotional velocity that dominates our times. “There is strength in serenity” might be an old-fashioned saying, but it’s perhaps one that we can simply find cool.
As I myself use the various platforms of social media for my OUBEY MINDKISS project, I know the ways other users react, and the challenges associated with them, from my own experience. Here are a few of my personal thoughts on the subject.
Digital networking has made it incredibly easy for us to spread our own personal views. This is great because it gives a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard in public. And it also gives us all access to information and opinion which helps us to broaden our own understanding and gain new knowledge. Yet it can also have quite a different effect by reinforcing one particular human trait in us – our tendency to become assertively arrogant and self-opinionated.
How often do we only approve and pass on that which corresponds to what we already think – without ever stopping to check whether our opinion really is well-founded in each particular case. And conversely, how often do we simply ignore information and opinions that don’t fit into our own view of the world or even worse, troll and abuse views different from our own in firestorm attacks.
Probably people have always found it difficult not merely to tolerate different opinions but wherever possible to consider them as incentives to start fresh trains of thought. And we have always found it even more difficult to admit our own failures and errors in viewing or assessing a particular issue. Admitting to errors or mistakes is seen as a sign of weakness.
Both the speed and the structure of communication on the Social Web seem to actively encourage this human propensity to a righteous belief in the correctness of our opinions by affording us permanent endorsement of our own way of thinking – at the cost of a differentiated view of other ways of thinking that differ from our own.
True dialogue is thin on the ground. Because far too often we take too little trouble to question and probe the different opinions other people have. The ideological aspect of opinion-formation is playing an increasingly significant role in this because the less I’m prepared to critically examine the information that reaches me and debate it, the more I’m swimming on the cusp of a wave formed by the opinion-makers – and the more I am liable to be seduced by the seeming correctness of the opinion of the multitude.
In dialogue reality always has three sides: one that I see, one that you see and one that neither of us sees. In this sense reality can be compared to a dice cube all of whose sides I can never see from whatever standpoint I adopt. To see all its sides I must either turn it or ask other people who see the sides I can’t. This is poignant and highly telling, and it means that we should be able to admit that our own standpoint must not (necessarily) be the only correct one.
Being able to admit your own limitations and weaknesses to yourself – and others – is, I believe, a sign of strength. Nobody is infallible. Only if you can admit your own errors and mistakes can you be really strong and at the same time fully human. Personally, in this sense I believe that we could use the marvellous opportunities offered by social media in a completely different and much better way. Because social media offer us the possibility of constructive dialogue. Whether this possibility will be seized and used depends solely on the mindset of each and every one of its millions of users.
It was a revolutionary enterprise that embraced the principle of “form follows function” as a clarion call of liberation from the ideals of beauty of a bourgeois society rooted in the 19th century, one that sought to create better living conditions for all people.
Within a decade, a new, modern, clear style was born. Yet at the same time the Bauhaus declared its own design principles to be the absolute gold standard and the nonplusultra for everything touching on design, art, handicrafts and architecture, and many of its followers still hold this view today.
My own view is a little more nuanced. Yes, the Bauhaus was a huge step forward at the time because it pioneered new ways of thinking about and designing space. And yes, the Bauhaus was important, perhaps even essential, in helping us to gain a new understanding about major aspects and matters of life.
Yet when I look at what has happened to urban planning and housing development over the past 60 years in the name of “form follows function” and in adherence to the principles of the Bauhaus, what I see is the huge discrepancy between this erstwhile absolute aspiration and what actually has become of it in the hard light of day.
What followed was normalization and standardization driven by the imperatives of economy – quadratic, practical, good. Soulless homogeneous residential landscapes hostile to the very notion of communal living. Gigantic silos on the outskirts of cities where people live in stacked up shoe boxes.
Admittedly – compared to the dark, damp, first or second back courtyard apartments where people used to live without central heating and with no sanitary facilities, this was indeed progress. Yet even so, it was still lightyears away from the aesthetic aspiration to a beauty of form that follows function.
The beauty of the Bauhaus aesthetic in architecture which I certainly find in the original buildings that can still be seen, is nowadays limited to a handful of mostly luxurious exceptional instances. The original promise that Bauhaus held up high has failed to materialize in its mass applications. What we need today are fresh and totally different concepts of the kind now being realized – without any aspiration to universal value – in local and regional projects.
Furthermore, it’s not only how the application of Bauhaus principles changed the face of our towns and cities after the Second World War that gives grounds for critical appraisal.
There’s another quite different aspect which puts me some distance from the absolutist aspiration of the Bauhaus and its founders. Despite the fact that there were always a great many female members – in some periods even more women than men active in the movement – up to present these women remain largely unknown.
In other words, up to its dissolution by the Nazis, the Bauhaus remained a prime example of a thoroughly male-dominated organisation.
It’s mainly its 100th anniversary celebrations that we have to thank for shedding the very first light on the role played by women in the Bauhaus. For instance, arte TV recently aired a fascinating programme on “Women in the Bauhaus”. This exhaustively researched documentary shows that even the most gifted and ambitious women were deliberately excluded from management positions and kept well away from such areas of high-interest activity as attracted widespread public attention. Their usual fate was to be sent straight away to the handicrafts sections and in particular to the weaving workshop. This makes it all the more ironic to learn that these Bauhaus women in their preordained niche not only produced acclaimed design with their carpets, furniture and kids’ toys, but were also pretty successful economically too!
When it comes to the acceptance of qualified women Bauhauslers as partners of equal value, endowed with equal rights and on an equal footing, the male founders and protagonists of Bauhaus displayed a mindset that had more in common with conservative 19th century attitudes to women than with any revolutionary forward-looking leap into the future.
Today in Germany rented accommodation and living space has mainly become a question of size, price and rate of return. It’s an issue that has long been neglected, if not entirely ignored, by government. The result is, not unsurprisingly, an acute and massive lack of affordable housing. In the midst of public protest, wild demands calling for the expropriation of property companies are now emerging, yet there has never been a public debate on issues of design such as the Bauhaus movement was once vocal in articulating. I think this is a very serious shortcoming. And this is why – in spite of all the contradictions inherent in the idea of the Bauhaus – I would still dearly like to see such a radically thinking and progressive social force in action as the Bauhaus and its impulses proved to be for society one hundred years ago.
Perhaps you’re now thinking that sometimes it really does help if you’re able to speak about your thoughts and feelings with someone else and that it does do you good to have someone who listens to you. And I would completely agree with you. Only I wouldn’t call that moaning.
Real moaning is when the thoughts in your head spin in a continuous loop. Real moaning turns in a circle and never finds a true ending because its goal is never to find an end. It’s an expression of the peculiar pleasure of being discontented or – conversely – of never wanting to be content. It’s never enough and never good enough.
Studies have shown that on average people in affluent societies are much more dissatisfied with their lives than are people in poorer countries. Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to romanticize the state of poverty. What I’m talking about here is that “Jammern auf hohem Niveau“, that “high-level moaning” or whinging about problems only of concern to the affluent first world, as the German politician Lothar Späth once famously put it.
If I badmouth everything and become obsessed with all those things others have but I haven’t, then at some point my life really will take a turn for the worse – not materially but in terms of my view of myself and my outlook on the world. Because all such an attitude to life does is to spread negative energy; it will neither change the situation nor lead to any positive developments or solutions. Moaning is not therapeutic. The only thing to do is to try and change things, even if the first steps in this direction are ever so small.
But what if you can’t change the situation? What happens when a natural catastrophe destroys the very foundations of existence or the sudden unexpected death of a loved one tears your whole world apart? Naturally I can understand that people in such situations might moan now and then as they recognise that they can do nothing to change such blows of fate. I know the pain, the grief, the sadness but also the anger that arises from feeling completely powerless only too well from my own experience.
But even so, there is one question that I have never asked, a question that could easily have led into the realm of moaning and complaint, and that is the question of “why”. Why did OUBEY have to die so young? This question leads nowhere because it has no answer, at least not in this world. We are able to influence and shape our lives in such an infinite variety of ways and yet there are still things over which we simply have no control. It does help if we find it in ourselves to accept this. We haven’t understood the uncertainties of life if we blithely assume that we will be spared “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, because they are all destined for other people, not ourselves. This is not something to be taken for granted.
And this is why we should be grateful for all the good experiences and great times we’ve had and can still look forward to. Grateful people do not moan.
People who moan are caught in a perception trap whereby you overlook the good things to see only the bad. When you concentrate exclusively on the bad things and only talk about them, there’s a kind of amplifying washback effect that makes the bad appear even worse. In short, moaning grows strong by feeding on itself. Moaning is a letter of complaint addressed to nobody in particular. It’s a way of relinquishing responsibility. Because if you moan loudly, you’ll get attention but won’t have to change anything. And probably some people don’t want to change anything anyway.
I‘ll stick with those people who first recognise reality for what it is without moaning and complaining about it. Now this certainly doesn’t mean that they’re accommodating and comfortable with everything – quite the contrary: that’s how it is doesn’t mean that’s how it always must stay. For me it’s just a springboard, a vantage point from which I can look out and consider what I can do with this here and now, and how it can be developed and changed. This gives birth to new possibilities which put excitement in life and make it interesting.
For as long as we live, we are always capable of changing things – even of changing our own behaviour. There are the most incredible stories of people who have found their way out of seemingly hopeless situations which can serve as shining examples of what we can accomplish when we don’t moan even though life has tested us to our utmost limits.
That’s how I try to live. And that’s what I wish all of you – including the woman at the next table.
Popularity and your name written large in glittering lights is a dream many artists dream about, as long as they’re unknown and relatively unsuccessful. Yet if one of them should become a superstar, or even achieve iconic status, then they often find that such popularity becomes a burden, as it makes it practically impossible for them to lead a “normal” private life, constantly besieged as they are by hysterical fans and hounded by raving paparazzi. Well, this is just the price of fame, you might think, the price to be paid for living a life of luxury with no other worries.
But this isn’t my view. Many artists are driven by what the media and their fans expect of them. How do you deal with such expectations and still remain human? How can you steer and control them or, even more difficult, how can you ignore them and continue calm, collected and free to pursue your own way? Such visions of life are beyond the grasp of many artists and they fail in their attempts to achieve them – think of stars like Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson, groomed from earliest childhood to be a performing figure on a stage. They were both mega-famous, objects of boundless adulation now enshrined in the collective memory of people across the whole world. Yet were they truly happy during their lives?
Happiness might be possible in the limelight of the stage or under the spotlights of the movie set. After, all these are the privileged places of art where the division of roles is clear. Yet what happens when artists leave these bunkers and are left to their own devices? Or when they can (no longer) meet the expectations of the masses?
Many are broken by this as success is no meal ticket for finding human happiness. When success means achieving a certain level of fame, the price to pay is very high indeed.
For artists, art, the stage and the studio are first and foremost home ground, places where they profoundly belong. But also places they can escape to. Places where they can express just what they are. Places where they can be sure that in the process of its creation art is invulnerable. Artists only become vulnerable when they turn to the public and expose their works.
Good art reveals our most hidden feeling and thus is always deeply personal. This is why artistic creation causes anxiety and costs much energy. But when the general public comes into play, it tries to turn the persons behind the work into something they might well not be.
Some artists are broken by this, others develop resilience. Or they are securely embedded in a protective family environment – like a storm-proof boat steering them across the choppy waters of public attention and publicity.
My absolute number one favourite artist – and also as an unyielding strong-willed personality – was always and still is Bob Dylan. I’ve been going to his concerts for years. In 1966 when he first accompanied his latest composition “Like a Rolling Stone” with electric guitar and organ on stage, he was roundly booed and vilified as a “traitor” by his fans who only saw in him the folk singer and political rebel. For him, this new sound was a discovery and a broadening of the possibilities of his art yet these were perspectives for which his self-righteous (blinkered??) fans had nothing but contempt. What they wanted was for him to conform to the image they had made of him, and they made it very clear that Bob Dylan as an artist and Bob Dylan as a man wasn’t of the slightest interest to them.
Only Dylan himself can know what he felt at that time. Yet it’s now common knowledge that he remained impervious to such blatant disapproval and has continued in his own dogged way to do only what he thinks is good and right – even “against all odd”. In his concerts, he’ll change his songs just as he feels right, like singing “Blowin´ in the Wind” in waltz rhythm if the mood takes him. The first time I saw him perform, I couldn’t instantly recognise a single one of the songs he was singing. I’ve never experienced anything similar before or since with any other artist. Yet astonishingly, this lack of instant recognition didn’t lead to any disappointment on the part of the audience. On the contrary, he soon had the whole arena firmly in his grasp, following the sound and the rhythms with everyone – myself included – having a marvellous unforgettable evening.
What Bob Dylan wants to make known of himself is expressed in his lyrics and his music. Interviews with him are pretty thin on the ground. To me, this all seems extraordinarily consistent on his part, strong and honest and – with its inevitable downsides – also highly successful. Let’s just call it serendipity. The man and the artist are at unity, a fact that the fans have long accepted. He’s made his own way, proven his own point and they respect him for it and respect his personality too.
Their attitude mirrors my own feeling about people in general – and about my relationship with OUBEY.
Famous or not – I always see the person in the artist.
This is why I never found it difficult to accept OUBEY just as he was. He too was a brilliant artist with a strong and resolute character, a man who always strode out on his own way. He needed a great deal of free space for his thoughts and his work just as he needed the loving support of another being – both of which I gave to him gladly.
I love the artist and honour him, yet at the same time I always see a man who deserved empathy and respect, a man whose freedom would have been limited by pushy overbearing attempts to gain his intimacy. A man who didn’t take kindly to strangers trying to gatecrash his life. This makes it all the more wonderful that OUBEY actually invited me into his life and let me share in his work.
Photo credit: wikimedia/creative commons
Another brilliant coup by the artist Banksy in which he succeeds yet again in laying bare the absurd mechanisms of the commercial art market for all to see. To fully appreciate this you have to know that Banksy is a street artist who attaches great importance to the impact that his graffiti and art performances have yet who refuses to take part in the speculative games of the art market. His independence is much more important to him than fame and riches.
So it’s even more astonishing that his Girl with Balloon has now been put up for sale at Sotheby´s auction house and at the very moment that the picture was bought by the highest bidder it self-destructed and so became worthless. But this is exactly where Banksy shows himself to be such a brilliant debunker – because in such a system is a shredded picture necessarily a worthless picture? This case shows that the very contrary is true – it increases, even substantially increases, in value. And so the shredded picture becomes a kind of magnifying glass through which we can view the absurdities of the commercial art market close-up and as they happen.
As an artist as soon as you engage in this speculative art market system, you can hardly avoid becoming entangled in its coils, and run the danger of gradually exchanging your inner freedom for money. This is the reason why I don’t sell OUBEYs pictures. They were created in the greatest possible spiritual freedom. And I wish to conserve this freedom for them and also for myself in what I do. They don’t need to have any material value put on them in order to assert their value as works of art. Naturally, the position taken by Banksy and the intelligent consequences of his actions are a deep source of pleasure for me. He too has set his sights not on sales but on impact and public perception.
When he does sell, the transaction becomes enveloped in a kind of aurora of enlightenment. Take, for instance the time when an anonymous seller at a stand in New York’s Central Park sold passers-by original Banksy works for 60 dollars. Whoever bought a picture by an unknown artist from this stall did so not because they were buying a “Banksy with expectations of a rapid increase in its value” but because they were buying a picture they liked. Banksy taped this action and published the video – much to the chagrin of all art dealers who had missed this unique opportunity to make a killing. Unquestionably, they would have dearly loved to resell these works at a vast profit.
It would even seem that Banksy had given away his Girl with Ballon with the proviso that the receiver would never put it up for sale. A test balloon to show how strong the counterforces need to be to withstand the blandishments of the art market. Counterforces such as “respect for the wishes of the artist”; “appreciation of the mark of trust shown in bestowing this gift”; or simply “love of art”.
Apparently such forces were not as strong as the magnetic attraction of the art market on which the picture became yet another item for auction.
Despite the very different character of his work – in their free spirit, their need for autonomy and the marked distance they keep from the art market, OUBEY and Banksy are very similar. Both of them have resisted the powerful attraction of the art world. OUBEY mainly did this to paint the pictures that sprang up in his head without being in the slightest influenced by expectations from the outside. Banksy does it so that his works might debunk, demystify, and criticise but also bring his art to that place where he thinks it truly belongs: among people who cannot afford expensive art.
Whoever believes that the higher value of Girl with Balloon after the picture self-destructed means that Banksy’s action has missed the mark or even achieved the contrary effect, is quite wrong.
Because it’s precisely this increase in value that shows just how strong the power of speculation is, and that the spotlight here is not fixed on art. Rather it’s the market that annexes art just as it pleases. Even when that art is destroyed.
Banksy´s coup was perfect. In its unique way it is a clear demonstration of how the market functions, how it twists and turns, adapts to circumstances and eventually triumphs. Whether you find this good or bad is another question. But it’s clear that this is how it is. The goal which was to reveal this has been achieved. The whole world is talking about this stunt and it won’t be forgotten so quickly.
This principle is in accord with the building regulations in Alpach and is precisely what distinguishes this place from all the other villages in Austria. And it’s paradoxical because it’s the rigorous uniformity in the facades that gives the place its special character. Alpach is different because everything there is the same. It’s the uniqueness of the place that has made it famous and that draws in huge crowds of visitors.
But what about individuality in all thus unreal outward beauty? The individuality of the people who live in these houses can only be expressed behind the scenes. A strange world which somehow reminded me of the artificiality of the attractions in Disneyland.
Then I walked through the little cemetery of the village and I could hardly believe my eyes. It was like a thicket of elaborate wrought iron crosses each one the exact replica of the last. All the same height and the same width – only the names and photos of the deceased were different. Outward uniformity even in death.
But then I came across a grave that wasn’t quite the same. It was the grave of the Austrian Nobel Prize winner Erwin Schrödinger, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century whose work has always inspired both OUBEY and me and filled us with enthusiasm. And I found it rather moving in such a place to see that a respectful homage had been paid to such an extraordinary genius as Erwin Schrödinger by allowing his grave to deviate from the otherwise strict uniformity. Even in Alpbach an exception had been made for a man of such outstanding calibre. In that moment beauty for me was an opening onto the possibility of individuality.
Outward homogeneity can be seen as beautiful but can also take on an unappealing or even ugly form. Compared with the grim depressing facades of many modern apartment blocks and purpose built constructions in our cities, the outward conformity of the houses in Alpbach seem like a soothing benediction for the eye. Conversely, something is not automatically beautiful just because it’s individual or deviates from the norm.
So what is beauty? This is a question that much cleverer people than I have asked across the ages. Aspects of what constitutes beauty have been defined by aesthetics, by the natural sciences and geometry and also by manifold findings of psychology. What someone subjectively finds beautiful adheres to some extent to these definitions yet always remains a subjective perception. What you might find beautiful someone else might well find anything but beautiful. And this is how it should be because it’s an expression of human individuality.
In the Alpbach cemetery the principle of absolute conformity was bent to honour the extraordinary individuality of one single man and make an exception for him. And in this very moment it flashed on me once more that respect for the individual is the precondition for the creation of a beauty based on diversity. And such respect – it should go without saying – belongs to each and every person and not just a world famous Nobel Prize winner.
If architects, urban planners, landscape artists and designers of all strips would whole heartedly embrace this basic principle instead of following the dogma of bare functionality and minimal costs for maximum efficiency, the living circumstances of many people today would certainly be at least a lot less unattractive than they now are.
The brilliant design artist Stefan Sagmeister, who also created the award-winning MINDKISS book on OUBEYs art, will soon be opening a major exhibition in Vienna on the theme of Beauty. I certainly intend to see this. And perhaps I will gain some fresh perspectives there which I shall be glad to share with you on the social web or in this blog.