Yes, but is it Art?

Let’s talk today about abstraction. I like a lot of abstract art…to look at. I’m not so keen yet on painting it simply because it’s far more difficult than a lot of people imagine, and I haven’t yet developed enough artistic skill to know whether or not my abstractions have any merit whatsoever.

People will say, “Well, do you like it?” The thinking is that, as artists, it’s only our personal feeling about a painting that matters. If we like it, all’s well and good. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but I’m not sure how far that truth can take us.

If I like something I’ve done, that’s a good thing. If I don’t like a painting I’ve made, that’s not so good, especially when I feel I’m trying to express something. I paint what I think I’m trying to say, but then I step back and shake my head.

Oh, but it’s abstract, I tell myself. It’s not supposed to be anything, and if it represents anything, it’s only in my mind and my imagination. I don’t have to like it, do I? Someone else might see something in it. With abstract art, who knows?

For many, many months after I started this art journey, the question uppermost in my mind was “Am I an artist?” Today, I do call myself an artist, and a new question has emerged. Because I am an artist, does that mean everything I draw or paint — or craft in another fashion — should be considered a piece of art?

No, of course not.

Herein lies my dilemma with abstract art. What makes it art?

It doesn’t become art because an artist created it, nor does it become art because an artist might like it. Does an abstraction become art only if someone else likes it? That leads to more problems, because abstract art is certainly not for everyone, so if I think something is art and you have a different opinion, who’s right? Is it art or not?

Let’s look for a moment at an acrylic abstract I recently painted. I don’t like this painting. In my eyes, I ruined it by going too dark with the color in the lower right corner. Now, intellectually, I have a lot going on in this piece. It began with more of a concept than a plan, and as I painted, I allowed that concept to develop on the paper. Note: Unlike my other acrylics, this was painted on watercolor paper, not canvas.

In the Beginning

 

As I explored the concept — or the theme of the painting, we might call it — I looked for different ways to express it. I experimented, and in my quest to be bolder with my brush, I deliberately took a lot of risks. Instead of whispering what I wanted to say, I was shouting it. But do my efforts alone turn this mess into a piece of art?

Not in my eyes. In the end, I was unhappy with what I’d done. Oh, well. Live and learn.

The painting, however, sparked many questions in my mind, not only questions about what makes a painting a piece of art, but questions about how we approach abstraction, both as viewers and as artists.

How much planning and preparation should go into an abstraction? Should we have a detailed “road map” of the creative landscape we hope to cover? Or should we begin with a simple idea and see where it takes us? Perhaps it’s better still to have no ideas in mind, to simply pick up a brush and do what we will.

Elements of composition are important in abstracts, of course. Or, are they? Must we have a specific focal point? Should an abstraction have balance and harmony? What about movement, contrast, gradationΒ and repetition? Does an abstract piece have to evoke a mood or is that left up to the viewer?

Here’s one additional question. Should an abstraction be given a name? If we title a painting, won’t that suggest what the viewer should see? Or more to the point, won’t it affect what the viewer does see? I won’t divulge the title of the painting I’ve shared here because I don’t want to influence what you might think you’re looking at.

Although I don’t consider this painting a piece of art, I do consider it a creative expression. Creativity can be messy, as this abstraction turned out to be. But messy or not, the painting brings together a number of the different thoughts, ideas, and feelings I experienced during the creative process. That doesn’t make it art…but then, what does?

 

 

 

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About Judith

Author, artist, and an independent consultant for Perfectly Posh. I enjoy sharing my thoughts and interests through blogging and invite you to visit my sites.

108 comments

  1. Abstract is difficult, great piece on the ambiguity inherent in abstraction which I share

    Liked by 1 person

  2. such great though-provoking questions Judith! I surely look forward to following the comments and replies on this one! I have many of these same questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you answer your own question in the last paragraph. Where you say you don’t consider your piece art but consider it a creative expression. To me, that IS a piece of art. A piece of art is a creative expression. Whether it be good or not is too subjective to matter. The expression of it *is* the art, to me anyway. I am open to and embrace art in all it’s forms. I’m not always a fan of everything in every single form, but there are things in all forms that can bowl me over.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Excellent way to define art. Art is a creative expression. Oh, I really like that definition. You’re right. Expression IS the art. So glad you shared your thoughts!

      Like

      • You’re welcome, Judith πŸ™‚ And, it’s just my interpretation of it, you know. What art means to me. And there can be so much snobbery attached to art as well, especially from supposed “critics”. And it’s all down to their personal taste and agenda. I would never belittle someone because they like different aspects of art to me. What they get from what they like is as valid and relevant as mine.

        Liked by 1 person

      • In a few days — not sure when it’s scheduled — I have a post coming up that mentions the ridiculous extremes some artists have gone to in creating “art”, and while it is a process, maybe there are certain lines… I don’t know. “Art” is so subjective, and then, yes, there are those with their own agendas, as you’ve mentioned. Sometimes it does get crazy.

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  4. I think you are overthinking here. As my children’s kindergarten teacher always said, “Life and learning are a process, not a product”. You don’t need to put it in a box. (K)

    Liked by 3 people

  5. What Kerfe said. These things must find their way, she said to me recently, and she is 100% right. This is a beautiful piece. The green may be a bit overdone, I would crop it and roll. Love it, Judith! Your left brain has kidnapped you, set her free, left brain!! Go wild and go with your color sense and all of that other stuff you’re thinking about now will follow when the time is right. And through practice. Amen. Pass the sauce. Have a good day.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks so much for the comments, Laura. Abstract art is such a challenge. It’s difficult to “practice” a form of art that really has few boundaries. My overactive brain kicks in and starts questioning everything.

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      • We both have overactive brains and my profession is accounting. So left brain heavy, yes? I understand. Let go and enjoy the colors. Play. Music helps, but you know this. Just feel the colors with the music. I think you have great instincts. In my reader, the bottom part of the painting was cut off. I saw your title and immediately said “Yes!” Then read on. Happy almost weekend!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. I hope I’ll be able to rely more on the “instinctual” nature as I continue with art — both in abstract and representational pieces. Many times my “right brain” sees what needs to be done on a painting, but I don’t have the skills required to bring forth the vision. That’s when the “left brain” has to go to work and figure out how to “fix” things…or so it thinks. As my painting skills improve, hopefully my art won’t need quite so much “fixing” πŸ™‚

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      • Patience is key. We all need extra doses!

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      • Always good advice! Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. dawnmarie

    I see either {\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252
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    {\field{\*\fldinst{HYPERLINK “https://sites.google.com/site/scienceofcolour/translucent-pigments-and-opaque-pigments-in-art/transparenthues.jpg?attredirects=0”}}{\fldrslt
    I see wind or I see dancers and streamers…I need a hint. I am just learning.

    I have never tried an abstract piece purposely. We call them destruction pieces around here because it is the very last step before the painting gets scraped and I figure I might as well play around. I don’t even know where I would start. How do you start? Color? Shapes? Fruitful Dark was talking about shadow and light in abstracts and I had NEVER even thought of that, but I do think he has that element in his. One day I will try…not today. πŸ˜„. Amen and I will take some of that sauce.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a lot of the same questions I have, Dawn. Where to begin? For me, it’s usually color and then shape…and then what? I get thoughts and ideas and definite feelings, but how to express them? I don’t always know, so I just play around with the paints and try to see the canvas as a whole. That’s when I start thinking about design and composition elements…and if I’m not careful I end up thinking too much. Here’s a hint about what was on my mind. This started when I picked up a piece of watercolor paper that had a bit of watery violet paint spilled on it. Instead of throwing it away as “ruined” I decided to turn it into an abstract. When I glanced down at it again, the violet splotches looked like two eyes staring down. It made me think of the billboard in The Great Gatsby…so that was the starting point for this particular creation.

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    • Dawn, I’m no expert in abstract or any type of art, but you have an amazing color sense and I think you would ROCK in abstract. My .02, I start with a couple of colors and a feeling. It started when my cat was very ill. I wanted peace so badly, I wanted to be staring at a lake in the mountains with nothing else going on and no sadness. So I started with blue and green and that peaceful feeling and just went to it in my 8×5 mixed media journal. And people kept saying they felt like they were near the water, they felt the peace of the water, I feel like a couple people even mentioned a lake in the mountains! It was the coolest thing. I think if you have a good color sense and if your emotion that you’re feeling or your focus is strong enough, you can evoke whatever you want to if you let go and follow that feeling and your gut color instincts. Again, only my .02, but hopefully you can find something useful in it.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. dawnmarie

    I have no idea what all the weird stuff is in my comment. Why is the last site I visited linked? So weird!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. dawnmarie

    Oh no, now I see some sort of large animal in the back checking out the scene…oh, I like the dark green. And yes, this is art. However, in my strongest passionate voice….dead cows with flys in a box is not art and I don’t care how much it costs!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aha! Did you read my comment yet about the eyes watching the scene? πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I have another post coming up later that mentions some “art” that — IMHO — is NOT “art”. Some artists can take things to ridiculous extremes, it seems.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dawnmarie

        It is their clever antisocial shock value statement. I was watching a documentary on modern art/contemporary art made by an artist whose name I can’t recall and he was talking about how we have dumbed down art by allowing gallery curators to decide what is and is not art. Those same people are the ones who make dead cows and flys something desirable. His opinion was that is was a purposeful molding of society to lessen standards and to push the acceptance of crap basically. He might have even used the word propaganda.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I would love to see that documentary! Can you give me the name of it? Maybe I can find it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dawnmarie

        I will try to find it, I have no idea what I was looking for that day!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. I’ll do a little Googling, too. It sounds very interesting.

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      • dawnmarie

        I am still looking for it!!!! I found 3 others, but one is from a propagandists himself so nix…though it was entertaining. Another is 6 hours long, so I’m wondering if I just saw a section of it and another is a university professor and is about 9 minutes. The title of the 5 part one is This is modern art. It looked interesting, I just kinda watched bits and pieces. I will keep looking.

        This article was really interesting though…been reading it while not finding the documentary.

        Abstract expressionism weapon of the Cold War

        https://msu.edu/course/ha/240/evacockroft.pdf

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds interesting! Will check that out right now. πŸ™‚

        Like

  9. I love your painting though I get stuck in the green part, feels murky but it has feeling in it! I think with abstraction it is easy to over-think it and try to make it fit in a peg. Abstraction is a mystery, even right down to giving it a name, I think that just comes to you…..from somewhere, you dig for it or it just drops in your lap. I think that abstraction is the sci-fi of painting, hard to explain, you sit back, enjoy it and see where it takes you in exploration and discovery. Remember approach abstraction with your right brain, leave the left brain behind….I am mirroring Laura’s comment.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Margaret. I think one stumbling block for me with abstraction is that I don’t personally feel it should be planned. For me, abstractions are things that are left to happen, a bit like those “happy accidents” we speak about in watercolor. At the same time, we can’t create something aesthetically pleasing without giving some thought to it…can we? So I’m stuck in this middle-ground between thought and feeling. It’s very hard to explain, but I want abstract art to be very spontaneous. The very act of saying “I’m going to paint an abstract” takes away the spontaneity. All of which is a way of explaining why I’m never satisfied when I try it. Even then, I’m not sure what I’m saying makes much sense. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Just picked up a book at the library that looks like it may be perfect for you, Judith. It covers the basics, then has lots of exercises with examples. Written by an art teacher. “Abstracts: Techniques and Textures” by Rolina van Vliet

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll have to search around at Amazon. I’m still trying to get a copy of “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.” It’s “supposed to be” on the shelf at our local library, but nobody can find it, so the library has it on request from another branch, but it hasn’t turned up yet. I’ve got Debora Stewart’s book about Abstract Expression. I think I’m starting to see, though, that abstraction just isn’t “my thing” as an artist. I love what other artists do, but I don’t get any great sense of accomplishment or satisfaction when I do abstractions. And recognizing that is an important step for me. I do want to “find myself” and figure out what fits me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes. You’re totally right. Even if you hadn’t said that, I’d suggest the Edwards book as a more important foundational work. And you really seem to like drawing! So that seems a good fit. You may find your way back to abstract when you are more comfortable with the paint, or maybe in a whole different medium. Or not, ever. But it’s good you tried it. I really like this piece but it needs to speak to you. What I say doesn’t matter.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I want to learn more about abstract art. That’s on my agenda for this 2nd year, but I think maybe I want to study it more as “art history” than as an active participant. It has a lot to teach because I think compositional elements are the key points in a successful abstraction. Learning to develop those elements without benefit of a “representational” subject means really getting a grasp on them.

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      • Absolutely. I like your curriculum approach lol. Seems to work for you. For me, I just go where the wind blows. You have to do what works and feels right in your gut.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m very much a step-by-step person. In fact, I’m planning to write a post about that later today. The title I had in mind for the post is “Whatever Works”…so what you’re saying really hits home with me. If I don’t have a direction at least roughly laid out, I tend to get sidetracked too easily and start wandering off. For me, art is too meaningful to risk going too far astray. I think I established a solid foundation over the first year, and now I want to continue building upon it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It only has to work for you, nobody else. I’m cheering you on but that’d squash my mojo quick, so not joining in. It’s good you’re finding what works for you. I just follow my passion all the time, every moment. Yes it’s art-ADD as all heck, but it works for me. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone else lol.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Like you said, it only has to work for you, and whatever works is the best approach. Not that I stay on a strict “schedule” or anything, and I do make changes in what I’m studying from time to time as I discover new interests or grow tired of old ones. It’s not the routine I need so much as the structure, and even though they might sound the same, they’re not. It’s a bit like setting generous boundaries for myself. As long as I stay within the boundaries, I can freely explore wherever I want. It’s good to have passion, too, and it can take you to incredible places you might not otherwise discover, so I envy that about your approach.

        Liked by 1 person

      • We all just need to find our own way. Sometimes I wish one person could figure everything out and tell the rest of us exactly what to do lol. I also wish I were more organized. But chaos works for me, I guess. Or kinda works.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Chaos can be good!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Or so I try telling myself lol. Thanks, Judith.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Just picked up a library book that looks like it may be perfect for you Judith. “Abstracts: Techniques and Textures” by Rolina van Vliet. It starts with the basics then moves on to exercises with lots of examples and techniques. Written by an art teacher. Also found on Amazon (well I guess they have nearly everything anyhow). She’s written lots of books and all look good based on the previews.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oops that top one sb deleted. Didn’t realize I hit reply 😱

    Liked by 2 people

  13. My answer your title/question is definitely yes. As you have said over and over again abstract art is difficult and is always subjective. To me, anything handmade is considered art. Things that are created is difficult to define or categorize because it evokes various emotions in all of us. Again, what you painted is art. I see a tug of war of colors (light and dark), of emotions maybe, of what really is in there that needed to come out. No definite definition only feelings of turmoil for now.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: Johnny One Note | Artistcoveries

  15. Yes it is definitely art πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I find this deeply beautiful . To me , it’s significant , resonant and att.

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  17. ‘The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning’ – Walter Benjamin – The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

    Although it’s clear form the many comments above that abstraction means/presents different things to different people my personal ‘leanings’ stem from the above statement (since i first came across the text during my degree it has become something of a personal mantra).

    Every aspect of every artwork, in my mind, from the moment of conception until it ceases to exist (both physically and in the mind of a person or person’s) becomes part of that work. I believe that the question is not ‘is this Art’ (the answer is yes) but is this good art? (and for my part i believe the answer to this is also yes). Every thought, word, feeling, opinion and act has contributed to the ‘image’ and will continue to do so until it no longer exists.

    ‘Abstraction’ is just the label we use to help us categorise a particular type of visual stimulus. ‘Art’ is the label we use to categorise something otherwise ineffable.

    Thanks for posting this πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  18. What a great post Judith, thank you for sharing your own questions. My Husband has been evolving to accept his own artist name, if that makes sense. He is from a conservative area in Italy so considering himself an artist goes against the grain of his upbringing. He still perceivers and I love him for it. Perhaps what makes it more difficult is he is developing from gut and instinct not training. His art is something we are calling painterly photographer. Almost abstract photography. Something many people grapple with. They are confused, step forward and back. Is this a photo? A painting? Does it matter? It’s evoking movement in our minds. Hearing another artists perspective is helpful, I will be sharing your post with him today… Just as soon as I can get him out from behind his lens. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your comments. I’m glad the post had meaning for you…and hopefully for your husband, as well. I’ve been taking a short break from my art studies so I’m just getting back to my easel now. I’m looking forward to sharing more thoughts about art and what it means in our lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. abstract is so odd, and hard to find meaning in.when pieces become “fine art” it is even more confusing. i remember viewing a piece once which consisted of four color mixing wheels, and yet somehow it was supposed to represent lady parts

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  20. Great question! And great thought process! A true artist in heart and mind… Cheesy I know, but so true.

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  21. the question “what is art” is one of those questions like the meaning of life that people have discussed for ever and will have for ever, which end up as circular arguments. I think that whether something is art or not is really not relevant. A small child creates an painting in an “art” class and what is a painting it if its not art? Its a creative process. Does not make it good, bad or even interesting its just there and we can look at it question it let it inspire us, or just forget it, it does not matter. You are an artist!! Oh and by the way I like your picture, like the way the colours take my eye around the picture as they blend into one another and nice colour contrasts. P.S. Im not an artist!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, George, for your insightful comments…and for liking my picture πŸ™‚ It truly is “in the eye of the beholder”, and as you say, the question will be asked forever. It’s good that we each have different tastes in art. It makes it exciting. And maybe you are an artist. Give it a try! I never thought I could ever learn to draw or paint, but I found out it is possible. πŸ™‚ Thanks for visiting the blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Art is definitely an expression of your feelings. What you have expressed in the abstract work is an impulsive feeling…which is momentary and transient. And that’s what abstraction is all about I guess πŸ™‚
    Beautiful writing…I love the way you have expressed yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. “it’s far more difficult than a lot of people imagine” – so true! Unfortunately people barely think so. I’m so pleased to see this sentence in the first pharagraph. Awesome πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Great post and very interesting to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Abstract is my thing! Do some myself. Lovely work!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. What an interesting intellectual discussion you had with yourself! Your painting makes me think of a waterfall, for some reason. It doesn’t look like a waterfall, but lets me think of one. Is that good for abstract art? Anyway, I always wondered if painters cannot just paint over a part of a painting that does not work for them? I am a clay artist, and once a piece is fired – it must be trashed, if it does not work 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m learning to paint and re-paint over a lot of mistakes. The one medium where I can’t correct errors is with ink, and consequently I rarely do any drawings in ink. Oil paint, I’ve discovered, is much more forgiving than I’d ever imagined. It’s possible to correct many things. Clay would be a fascinating medium to work in, but I’m sure it must be frustrating, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. Judith all your questions and comments are definitely insightful and require thought and contemplation in formulating answers and comments. And perhaps in the end that’s what we all hope our art does. We hope that our work engages the viewer and can illicit some kind of emotion. As for what is art… I believe, it is at the discretion of the artist. If you name your work, even if that name is … untitled… you have created a piece of art. When I do a color study… trying different tones and hues to find a best look, I do not name my practice works. They get filed away. And when I sit in front of my canvas paint and then sign a work.. it is art. Whether or not anyone thinks it is gallery worthy or not. And like you, I too, have finished works that I’m not very happy with the end product. But I say… paint … paint… and paint more. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed reading your comments. Yes, I will paint, paint, and paint even more. I’m not vey good at it yet, but in time I hope to create true art in oil — my latest artistic passion. πŸ™‚

      Like

  28. Your thoughts on what makes a work a piece of art are very thought provoking. I take your point about naming an abstract as it will instruct the viewer on what they should see or understand. This is a dilemma for the artist, should the viewer be influenced by the title? or should they be left to make up their own mind? There is no easy answer, maybe the responsibility lies with the artist as the originator/creator of the work……all I can say is I am no longer certain……..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Abstract art is such a puzzlement to me. I like much of it, yet I can’t always say why — or why not. There are so many questions in my mind between what the artist creates and what the viewer sees. Abstract art can truly be fascinating.

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      • I agree completely with your sentiments, however when we look at an abstract painting we are not observing the world around us but in actuality in most cases the world within….within the mind or soul of the artist. What we see is the results of the artist “letting go” freeing him or herself of any rules or restrictions which can culminate in pure art.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, that’s true. I think abstract art is very much “pure art” as you’ve described it. For me, a lot of the questions come from the viewer’s perspective. Is art “successful” only if it ways what the artist wants to express? If others don’t see it the same way, does that affect whether it’s true “art” or not? We could ponder abstractions forever and never arrive at any definitive answers, and therein lies its fascination, I think. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

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  29. My pleasure, I enjoyed your thought provoking piece on Abstract art.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Doc Kandinsky

    Hi Judith
    I nominated you for the sunshine blogger award on wordpress. I usually don’t participate on this kind of spread letter thing but this time I thought that maybe it could be something nice to spread sunshine over blogs.
    If you’re ok then here’s the “how to” :
    The Rules:
    – Thank the person(s) who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog.
    – Answer the 11 questions sent by the person who nominated you.
    – Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
    – List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo on your post and/or on your blog.

    The 11 questions :
    – do you think there’s a difference between art and decoration ? why ?
    – who’s your favorite painter (or writer) ?
    – when you look at art what are you looking for ?
    – do emotions have colors ?
    – do you think that concept art is a joke ?
    – does blogging help you to be creative ?
    – Da Vinci or Van Kooning ?
    – do you believe that artwork (paintings, photos, sculpture, literature, …) is more likely to speak to our mind or to our soul ?
    – what is more important to you : technique or spontaneity ?
    – is street-art vandalism ?
    – how about young children as teachers in art schools ?
    – why do people whisper when they talk inside of museums ?

    I sincerely hope this doesn’t bother you. If you decide not to participate that’s ok

    Cheers
    Uwe Hoche from doctorkandinsky.wordpress.com

    Like

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