“Kunstweh” – Experiencing Art Deprivation

I’ll not trawl the Greek seas with my nets,
Nor Horace’s fine lines will I retrace,
Less do I aspire to Petrarch’s grace,
Or Ronsard’s voice, in singing my Regrets.

 Those who are Apollo’s true sacred poets
Will grant their verse a bold fiery face:
I, filled with an inspiration low and base,
Am not so learned in their deepest secrets.

I’ll content myself with writing anything
That passion itself summons me to sing,
Without seeking any other argument.”

The Regrets, 4, Joachim Du Bellay
Translated by A. S. Kline, 2009.


Paris, March 13th. That was the last time I went to a museum. All galleries and museums had to close in the evening. Already more than a month since closing.

I have the impression of being an addict. A friend joked about it: You look like you’re in rehab. I am going through a personal crisis – besides the Corona crisis. I miss art. I feel like I’m in another world.

How can I live without art? In the current phase, art is not considered “necessary” for social life. No criticism. The reasons for the closure of cultural sites are justified and well-founded. Saving lives.

Since several states have decided to close art sites, many initiatives have been taken to keep art and culture alive. The internet has never been more important for the art scene and art lovers. In social networks or in newspapers, I see every day new initiatives to virtually share art: projects by artists, galleries, museums, art collectives. There are live concerts or performances to see, virtual museum tours to experience, collections and works to discover; even the creation of artworks can be experienced live.

At the beginning of the confinement I spent a lot of time watching these offers. But after some time, I noticed that my lust for them disappeared. I always had this little feeling that it wasn’t necessary and enough. Everything looked so virtual, almost fictitious. I needed real art.

Why do I miss art so much? I miss the presence of works of art. The emotional experience on the telephone or computer screen cannot be compared to the meeting with the real artwork, even if the details of a painting – thanks to the quality of the image – sometimes become more visible. Maybe my computer screen is not big enough for me to really enjoy the paintings. I don’t think so. The direct contact with the work is simply another experience for me. Its physical presence appeals to my senses, arouses my emotions, and thus fundamentally distinguishes any exhibition from its virtual representation. In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin expressed these sensations perfectly. At that time, he wrote about cinema and photography, but Benjamin’s thinking also applies to the digital age. In his text he explains that the aura of the artwork would disappear with the technologies of reproduction. By aura he means the uniqueness of the works of art, their “authenticity” and especially their presence in the here and now. I miss exactly this aura of the works of art.

But it’s not just the artwork. It is also the atmosphere of the place where they are exhibited. I am very conservative in my relationship with art. I like the almost sacred silence of museums. Sometimes, in secret, I don’t tell anyone where I’m going and sneak into a gallery or a museum. There, I forget the time, sometimes even the place where I am. I stay. I admire the artworks. I enjoy the moment. I lose track of time. After several hours I still enjoy this still moment. The museum is my refuge. I always feel at home there.

Even, sometimes I dream that I am in a museum.

No noise. Just the whisper of the floor.
Strange people dance around me: a fauna, Aphrodite, Heracles.
My head is spinning. Am I inebriated?

Their dance is frozen. They are not moving. I dance around them.
No bacchanal.

Scattered sounds are reaching me. The smell of coffee.
A soft, slightly bitter sound on my tongue.
The dream is gone.

How nice it would be to run through the Louvre after the crisis like Sami Frey, Claude Brasseur and Anna Karina in Jean-Luc Godard’s film Bande à Part.

Constance Jame
Cover: Honoré Daumier, Well, if you look very closely, you might end up finding some quality! The color seems to be good., from 'Sketches from the Salon,' published in Le Charivari, June 16, 1865.
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