Ars Poetica XII: Art is a question

In my last post I offered a few points from Siri Hustvedt’s truly interesting essay on Louise Bourgeois. One of the things I have been thinking about since, is Hustvedt’s assertion that: A work of art is always part person, that is: a work of art is part-thing-part-person, it is this aliveness – according to Hustvedt – that allow us to get into emotional relationships with art.

But remember, Hustvedt is not here talking about the artist; it is not the artist as a biographical person we find in our meeting with a work of art, but rather the personality of the artwork. The artist and the artwork are obviously related, but as a viewer (or reader), it is the personality of the artwork we get in touch with.



Maybe Anne Carson can be of some help:


I want to start with your poem “Stanzas, Sexes, Seductions.” There’s a line in there that stopped me right in the middle: “My personal poetry is a failure.” It made me wonder two things: What do you call your personal poetry? And do you really feel it’s a failure or is that just the poem’s persona talking?

Anne Carson

Well, I think there are different gradations of personhood in different poems. Some of them seem far away from me and some up close, and the up-close ones generally don’t say what I want them to say. And that’s true of the persona in the poem, but it’s also true of me as me.

More confused?



Maybe not; because confusion, puzzlement or ambiguity might be what we are looking for. If a work of art tells you something very clear, finite and self-evident, it might not be art at all. It might instead be called a lecture, an instruction, or a statement … even science? What makes art art, I believe, is its openness, avoidance, ambiguity; it’s tendency to tell us something unexpected, even (if we are lucky) something totally un-called for. Art is not an answer, art is a question.

Hustvedt says: There is much that is felt and lived that is difficult to represent and falls outside our categories.


I believe it is here, outside our orderly categories, outside the ordinary language of everyday life, art takes place. This outside place can be called a zone of ambiguity. And it is just here—in this no man’s land—art can come to life.

Helena Almeida

I have chosen the Portuguese artist Helena Almeida as a visual companion to this post for a reason: Helena Almeida’s art is a riddle of contradictions  – and so an exemplary example of ambiguity.

About Helena Almeida I know next to nothing, just the following:

  • Almeida is not a photographer, yet the vast majority of her work is in black-and-white photography.
  • She does not make self-portraits, but nearly all of her artworks depict the artist over her 40-year career.
  • She uses a particular shade of blue, not unlike the famous Yves Klein Blue, yet refutes any similarities or references to the late French actionist

7 Comments Add yours

  1. KM Huber says:

    “Art is not an answer, art is a question.” Exactly, every day. Thanks, Sigrun.

  2. Harold Rhenisch says:

    Almeida’s work is exciting. Thanks for it.

    1. Sigrun says:

      She is new to me, I’m very glad I “found” her.

  3. Rio says:

    I had a conversation recently about kinhin which is walking meditation and how it is an elegant canvas for all our reactivity to play out as we are animals of motivation and as we walk our usual states “our personalities” tug us one way or another. When we begin to benefit from practice we see these tendencies clearly and when we really practice we are no longer a group of individuals stumbling around in a circle, but a circle of darkly clothed humans moving seamlessly as if radiating from each step taken by a Buddha. What does this have to do with this post. Not sure. But it is a sense of the universal in the specific, the intimate as opposed to the personal…

  4. I think this artist is an excellent companion for Carson. I wonder do they know one another? They both seem so comfortable with paradox (well, maybe “comfortable” is not the right word…)

    1. Sigrun says:

      As I understand Almeida is not well known around the world, but at the same time – Anne Carson knows European culture & tradition very well. So who knows?


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