Brushes with Culture

This is a space where I can reflect on the many fascinating things that I experience. Some of the things I brush with are Culture with a capital C. Others are just intriguing moments. Sometimes I am brushing with these moments in a hurry. This is a chance to relive those moments in tranquility. These are the stories I tell myself in those quieter moments.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Very Silly Things with translating German

Der Kaspar, der war kerngesund.
Ein dicker Bub und kugelrund.

So starts the story of Suppen Kaspar who stopped eating his soup and withered away and died. And we are in a German speaking country so odd snippets are jumping into my head.

What words! 'Kugelrund' (round as a ball), obviously meant for someone who got fat on icecream. And 'kerngesund', which I translated as 'healthy as a kernel'. And which descended absurdly fast to 'healthy as a colonel'. Which was fun. But actually it means 'healthy to the core'.

Food caused further room of facetiousness when we ate a soup ('cos we did eat our soup and rather more) and it happened to be described as 'weiss Truffel and Kartoffelschaum', which can be translated as 'white truffel and potato scum'. Another word for potato in German is 'Erdapfel', which means 'earth apple' and so we get 'scum of the earth apple'. I'm pleased with that.

And yet more when we visited the Museum für Musikautomaten, which very easily shortens to "Musik Tomaten" if you don't listen carefully. Music tomatoes... And one of the finest museums I've ever visited.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Artists manques?

We've just been told that scientists can't be artists. An art director of an important foundation told us. Scientists can do creative activities like painting and playing an instrument, but it would be comparable to her gardening activities, she said - merely a passtime or hobby.

I attempted to mediate in this impending crisis (30 multi-talented scientists felt they were being pigeon-holed and denied their interpretative and visual sensibility). After listening for a few minutes to the justification for the assertion: you have to be a full-time artist to be an artist; that it was a condition of being an artist that you belong to the art world; that it's how artists think, not what they do to the extent that they can get specialist technicians to handle the legwork; that one contrary example doesn't make your case; etc, I suggested that what she was really saying was that science and art have different validation processes and both required such dedication that it was difficult to be part of both systems. She agreed with me.

She also allowed that both groups rely on hunches and that at a certain level there is a philosophical appreciation of the work being carried out and that scientists might well have a sensibility, but that it was rarely fully developed. Phew...

However there were other fragile moments. She implied that Picasso's value as an artist pertained to the fact that he was innovative at a time when a lot of material was being produced that was entirely derivative. But much of the rest of the material at the time was considered to be art by the culture of the time - no one said that Braque was just a hobbyist. To single Picasso out as artist was to apply both hindsight and a newer definition of art. Because it is only this generation that has accepted conceptual art pursued by people who cannot produce their own material - in the past, even if the students coloured it in, the grand design was executed by someone who had grown up in the same atelier, learning the same skills. Apparently Damien Hirst did not saw up his own shark.

Nowadays, media arts and so on rely on interdisciplinary activity - collaboration between a technical expert and someone else (the artist, presumably). This art director has been putting artists and scientists together. But, she stressed, the scientist was there to be a source of information and inspiration, not a co-artist.

The award-winning photographer in our midst was just one of the people that wondered how far his technical competence at recording the beauty of the microcosm (for instance) was something other than art.

Her last words were to recommend to us that "we visit more art galleries and that that might change our way of viewing the things around us". She repeated it emphatically. Over lunch we tallied up our activities in that direction and agreed that we probably kept the nation's exhibitions in visitors. Hmmm. Wrong audience.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Phil did get a first. There is some justice.