Marlene Dumas

Why do I write (about Art)

I write about art because I am a believer.
I believe
in the power
of words
especially the

I have seen the glory and the power of the word.
I have experienced the power of repetition,
the intoxication of rhythmic rhetorical arousal.

I write because I love words.
Or rather, what is more erotic than a body with sex appeal?
A sentence with sex appeal.

I write because I enjoy writing.
I write about art because it supplies a (safe) context. It is a privilege to be able to read and to be read. What a pleasure to have conversations with human beings (dead and alive) without having to see them.

I write because I instinctively respond to the already written.
I am affected by the LAW. The LAW is already written. Being from South-Africa, you know that a comma or a bracket, more or less, can cost a person’s life. A good lawyer (an interpreter of the law) is essential for survival. You don’t have to respect it, but you have to know its loopholes in order to escape it: or remake it.

I want to grow up, stand up, even though I prefer to lie down
(I write lying down).

I write about my own work because I want to speak for myself.
I might not be the only authority, nor the best authority, but I want to participate in the writing of my own history. Why should artists be validated by outside authorities. I don’t like being paternalised and colonialised by every Tom, Dick or Harry that comes along (male or female).

The overexposure of ‘Meaning’ and its mistreatment
It is not a fear of being ‘misunderstood’ that drives me to write (not anymore).
‘Meaning’ and ‘Mis-understanding’ are not that useful as terms to describe visual issues.
De- and re- contextualisations are part and parcel of creative experiences.

Even Duchamp mentioned the relationship between the ‘unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally expressed’. Seeing that the so-called passive spectator has disappeared, we are stuck with (over)active collaborators, finishing off the artworks. Accepting freedom of speech, that is inevitable. But it is a question of distinguishing between who says what (and to the benefit of whom?). Critics should not adhere to the intentional fallacy in reverse – playing Freud to reveal my true intentions to me. Artwork is not synonymous to intention. It is peculiar that although almost every- body says that artworks don’t give answers, they seem to be sure that a good work asks questions. It sounds like the other side of the same coin to me. What artworks do, the roles they can or do still play in our society, is unclear to me. Writing about art refines my own confusions and contradictions about these matters.

I write because I am amused by the politics of interpretation.
‘In the beginning was the word
and the word became flesh
and it never healed’ – Breyten Breytenbach.
In the beginning comes the description containing the prescription
and the unacknowledged prejudice.
– I said that. (?!)

Persistent misconceptions and the intimidating and oppressive (mis)use of theory. As an art student I was offended by the expression ‘as stupid as a painter’. Painters seemed incapable of any serious critique of their own assumptions (they still do). Yet theorising that has been seen as the criterion for intelligence has been challenged by many. Marguerite Duras: ‘It has been under attack for centuries. It ought to be crushed by now and it should lose itself in a re-awakening of the senses, blind itself and be still’. There are more ways to write than the human mind can conceive of. I’d like to paint love songs and write like a rap song…

I write about art because I want to dissociate myself from the tone of most art- writings. I am not impressed by ART neither disappointed, because I never believed in ART as the Big White Hope anyway; or saw artists as larger than life.

a) I don’t like pompous, purple prose; rather give me a cruel, cold text, with a touch of evil and a hand full of salt to rub in the wounds.

b) No dull, pedantic, well-mannered academicism. Art does not originate in a clean, linear way. Why try to describe it in such a way. David Hammons once said that he did not care much for the art audience. They were over-educated and never had any fun.

c) No short-sighted oppositional writing accompanying cheap politically correct principles. I like short texts, but condensation is not the same as oversimplification. E.g. since poor old Modernism (equated with formalism) has become the Nazi’s of recent art history, everyone has to throw a stone in that direction; from their glasshouses.

The notion of ‘the Relevant’.
At certain times only certain aspects are stressed and others repressed. Certain artists works are ignored on the basis that they are dealing with issues that are irrelevant to our times, as if what is described as being of the past has and could ever be resolved. (As if there were no life after death.) This is most often done by the same authorities that pretend to dismiss linear thinking. For me the past is always present, even though I don’t know anything about most of it. E.g. Jesus is still the most erotic male image in painting today.

I write about art not to promote, defend or explain the work, but rather as an apology. Since I participate in ‘the Art world’ I have felt ashamed. (Shame is the Cinderella of the unpleasant emotions, having received much less attention than anxiety, guilt and depression! And I’m definitely not a melancholic!) Recognition by those you feel ambivalent towards is unhealthy and feeds feelings of insignificance. I write because I am screening my own inconsistencies.

To write or not to write.
I like to read about art. It also stimulates me to go and do something totally different in the middle of a sentence, or afterwards, like picking up a paintbrush for example. It is only that due to the overload of art historians, artists and other art-related people, we are flooded by an overload of insipid writings, to such an extent that when you get to the right thing, you are too tired to read it.

Why do I write (about Art). Originally published in Kunst & Museumjournaal (English Edition), vol. 3, no. 4 (1992), p.44-46 [originally written for the symposium Writing about Art, held in the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (30-11-1991 – 01-12-1991).]; 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.