While flipping through photos with my parents from my recent travels I found myself frustrated with the divergence between the images and the experience of the moments they depicted. The photos themselves were still about as beautiful as an iPhoto could be – the peachy morning light glinting off the glassy canals in Amsterdam, the up-lit grandeur of the Grand-Place against the opaque night sky in Brussels, a neon sunrise over Icelandic glaciers. But they left much unsaid. A photo could not depict the organic charm and understated historic gravity of Amsterdam, the awe of accidentally stumbling upon the most stately square in all of Europe, the surrealness of a sunrise lasting two hours in a palette of colors I once thought inaccessible to nature.
Kierkegaard, in his first work Either/Or, articulates this distinction between the aesthetics of an experience and the aesthetics of the depiction of an experience:
“It is quite true that there is a misunderstanding among many people that confuses what is esthetically beautiful with what can be presented with esthetic beauty. This is very easily explained by the fact that most people seek esthetic satisfaction, which the soul needs, in reading, in viewing works of art, etc.; whereas there are relatively few who themselves see the esthetic as it in in existence, who themselves see existence in an esthetic light an do not enjoy only the poetic reproduction.”
What is beautiful in our experience of our world often differs from what is beautiful in our ways of representing the world – poetry, photography, music, visual art, even storytelling. Kierkegaard attributes this difference to the trouble of temporality in depiction:
“…an esthetic representation always requires a concentration in the Moment, and the richer this concentration is, the great the esthetic effect. In this way, and only in this way, the happy, the indescribable, the infinitely rich moment—in short, the Moment—gains its validity.”
Experiences that can more easily be condensed in time are more easily represented through art and story. (Kierkegaard uses the example of erotic love and marriage to illustrate this contrast. Erotic love is unveiled in discrete pockets of passion; thus, it is easily distilled as a poem or a scene in a film. The course of marriage unfurls over the majority of a lifetime – expressed in an extended series of daily happenings that would likely bore the reader or viewer.)
Is seems to me that ease of depiction affects not only what we choose as a subject of art. Even further, this ease of depiction affects what we choose to set out to experience in real life as well. We often engage in (consciously or not) crafting a narrative of self, both retrospectively and prospectively. We act in a film of which we are simultaneously the screenwriter. We do what we think we should, according to the story of who we think we are, and who we want othersto think we are.
When we are driven by this ethics of depiction, we value experiences that are “Instagrammable,” stories that can easily be retold to impress or entertain. As technological progress makes the tools for artistic representation and self-crafting more and more accessible (think ubiquitous phone cameras and endless profiles), we must be careful that we do not miss those indescribable, quiet but sublime, slivers of the human experience in the process. Kierkegaard again possesses words beyond my grasp:
“…you believe only a restless spirit is truly alive, and all who are experienced believe that only a quiet spirits is truly alive. For you, a turbulent sea is a symbol of life; for me it is the quiet, deep water. I have often say beside a little running stream. It is always the same, the same gentle melody, on the bottom the same green vegetation that undulated with quiet ripples, the same tiny creatures that move down there, a little fish that slips in under the cover of the flowers, spreads its find against the current, hides under a stone… It is not showy, and yet at times it has a sheen that nevertheless does not interrupt its usual course, just as when the moon shines on that water and displays the instrument on which it plays its melody.”
In addition to bagfuls of stroopwafels and salty licorice (yes, I am perhaps the only non-Scandinavian person on the planet who took to it on first bite), I brought home a new fandom for New York artist Daniel Arsham, whose work is on currently exhibiting in a retrospective at the Moco Museum in Amsterdam. The collection included a series of surrealist manipulations of the physical environment, as well as eroded artifacts of outdated technology and trends, as if they were uncovered in a future archeological dig.
The Claymation of animator, painter, and illustrator Kate Isobel Scott, based in The Hague, Netherlands, oozes nostalgia and charm. Scott balances a childlike, DIY aesthetic with impressive detail and clear forethought – each item that appears in her animations adopt personality and agency.
Ukrainian pastry chef Dinara Kasko takes the exacting science of baking to a new level using 3-D printed molds to turn meringue and sponge cake into architectural masterpieces. Anyone who is a fan of cathartic cake decorating videos may not survive a scroll through her Insta feed.
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