Marlene Dumas


Terminologies have become warped. The word intuition and other mystifying terms are bandied about by artists indiscriminately. But I believe in the magic of words and, therefore, think people should use them with care. We’ve lost credibility because we no longer do what we claim to be doing. We’re ‘pepping up’ our profession with terminology culled from other, more dangerous, fields. It’s not just a matter of the sort of terms applied to us, but, more particularly, of the terms used by artists themselves.

We’re often extremely sloppy in our use of analogies. People writing about Rob Scholte’s work in the Netherlands usually focus on the fact that he appropriates the images of others. But reproduced images are public property. They belong to everyone. To me, there’s nothing essentially inappropriate, warped, about that. But what I do find questionable is the appropriation of terms from outside art, which are primarily intended to elevate the status of art: war and religious terminologies for example. We want to make use of the exotic in religion (of real religion) without being willing to pay the price.

Whether we wish to recognize it or not, making art removes us from life as a dynamic process. That’s why I find statements like ‘life is art’ completely meaningless – too over-simplified, a blanket term. Equating the terms ‘art’ and ‘creativity’ is a clumsy parallel. I’d like to quote Frans Kellendonk. In 1986 he gave a lecture entitled Idolen [Idols], as part of the series De brandende kwestie [Burning issues]. He argued against realism and in addressing the premise that art is supposed to represent a need for solace, he said:

‘Art which seeks to equate itself with life, or to harness the form of images which function outside the safe framework of art, loses out, in most cases, to ‘real’ propaganda which generates its own tension.’

Kellendonk makes a distinction between aesthetic emotion and ordinary, every-day emotions. He said he could cope with seeing blood in every-day life but not on film or television.

‘It’s fairly obvious and yet it’s still generally believed that unreal situations created by art conjure up real emotions in the art-lover, and that artistically minded people are also automatically civilized people. But art-emotions are ontologically different from every-day emotions and therefore there can be any discussion about the moral effect of art, psychology must first establish the precise status of art-emotions.’

Terminologies. Originally published as De uitputting van de muze, W139, Amsterdam, 1990, p.16-25 [consisting of fragments from De muze is uitgeput, a lecture by Marlene Dumas given on 16 October 1990 in W139, Amsterdam]; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, first edition Galerie Paul Andriesse and De Balie Publishers Amsterdam, 1998; and second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014 [under 1991 instead of 1990].