Odd Nerdrum, a world of Kitsch

When you start painting you see yourself in your work, the painter is recognizable in the brushstrokes; but as you keep on working you have to lose yourself and let your painting become universal.
— Odd Nerdrum, Florence 2017

Today we finally take the time to talk about an extremely important event that took place at TIAC International during 2017: Odd Nerdrum's Master Workshop.

From the 1rst to the 8th of October 2017, The International Arts & Culture Group hosted a painting Master Workshop with the famous Norwegian Master, who travelled to Florence along with his wife, the painter Turid Spildo, and his son, Öde Spildo Nerdrum, to share their technical and philosophical knowledge with a group of thirty painters from all over the world and from a variety of artistic backgrounds.

To say that it was a painting workshop is, for sure, reductive. Odd Nerdrum's visit to Florence brought times of deep philosophical study since the moment he stepped inside TIAC's headquarters and filled the space with his thoughts, lifestyle, life stories and presence.

 Photo by Alexandra Morris

Photo by Alexandra Morris

The workshop was daily structured in three main blocks: self-portrait painting in the morning, figure painting in the afternoon and evening lectures. 

The purpose during the first block was to create a self-portrait following the Master's advices after seeing him develop his own one day by day. A room full of mirrors, one for each painter, was the best scenery for the activity of observing one-self. The task was almost allegoricaleach painter, each human being, had to face his own image, observe it, depict it and believe in it.

The better painted apple is the one I want to eat.
— Odd Nerdrum

The self-portrait session where combined with necessary breaks during which Odd and Öde generously shared their wisdom about practical painting techniques such as color palette selection, color mixing and canvas preparation. To see Odd and Öde talking about such interesting topics in their XV century painter-style tunics was like having a glance at the times of The Great Masters, when it was all about focusing in what was being done, only listening to the sound of the palette knife scraping the wood while mixing the color, feeling the smell of the fumes and the chemicals of the products used and observing and analyzing how to achieve a color mix close to what there is in nature, without the distractions of our modern world.

After lunch, the mirrors where left aside to focus attention on the human body. Two podiums where set up for the figure models, and the mission was to capture the flesh and the volume of two curvy women on the canvas. 

Evenings were dedicated to philosophy. Students had only time to clean up and have a quick snack before the lecture room was ready for the most interesting discussions about the concept that encloses the reason why Odd Nerdrum doesn't consider himself an Artists, but a Painter: Kitsch.

Art is not art in Odd's world. To him, what the worlds calls "Art" is a series of contemporary creations that are successful and famous because some people with power, like museum curators or art critics, manipulate the trends and the economics of art  to draw the attention to what they think is good. In other words, an "Artist" is such because of someone else's recognition. The drama, from Nerdrum's point if view, is that often curators are not looking for meaning; they are, instead, hunting "The New".

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Odd uses the word "Kitsch" to talk about his own art.

The Kitsch Movement is an international movement of classical figurative painters, which define ‘kitsch’ on similar basis with Aristotle’s rationalized virtue of thought ‘Techne’, that is to say, the craft*. 

The movement was born in 1998, upon a new philosophical understanding of kitsch. According to Hans Reimann, the concept of ‘kitsch’ came into being in mid-1800´s Munich ateliers. Its purpose was to attack ”the previous culture”, making room for modern art. Historically, the term is linked with the birth of the system of the fine arts 100 years earlier. While the latter praises aesthetically indifference, ”kitsch” encompasses sentimental and narrative paintings, literature and music. Kitsch motifs typically deal with the unchanging experiences of human life. These motifs could even be further analyzed ”in terms of Jungian archetypes” that contain universal concepts. To Nerdrum, Kitsch represents a new superstructure for sincere and narrative figurative painting.**

I shed two drops of tears, the first tear because I’m touched, the second tear because I’m touched by my first tear. This second tear is kitsch.
— Odd Nerdrum

What we see in our dreams is what a painter wants to capture: timeless scenes of universal human feelings.

To Nerdrum, what we think it is beautiful, but often it is not accepted by the mainstream museums and mainstream art critics. To him it is fundamental not to teach "Art", but to sow the seeds of his philosophical ideas into the minds of his students to trigger a far-reaching thought that will replicate itself through the ones that will understand it, devote to it and spread the word. 

According to Nerdrum, Kitsch is a concept with three levels of depth, and a painter must reflect about what stage he or her is in. 

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The first level is egocentric, that is to say kitsch at a basic state. It is a people-centered state, a primitive reaction to human beings based on the artist's ego, concerned with the individual rather than society. It is a reappearance of things seen without any explanation. It is the art of painting without passing through the brain, but with the inertia of the technique learned, linked to a reference frame based on one's own location within the environment (as when giving the direction as "right" rather than "north").

The second level is geocentric. This state is about relating to the environment, taking the Earth as the center of perspective and valuation. When we see beauty, we feel beautiful, and in order to express that feeling through a painting there must be an interpretation, meaning a mental process much more articulated than the mere reaction to the world around of the egocentric level.

The third and highest level of Kitsch is heliocentric. Helios is the ancient greek word for Sun, therefore, heliocentric refers to a perspective that takes the sun as the center and as a starting point. In this state, the painter has a level of understanding of reality that goes far beyond from the world observed and, through his spirit, he can give space to imagination.  "When we look at the Earth from space, we see the whole planet, we do not see details, we just have the feeling that it is Earth, which has become a world we imagine. This imagined world can be a particularly perfect world, it can be a particularly miserable world. This is our interpretation of the imagination. And this world is truly a timeless, a world without limits."

To create universal meaning is a painters mission. To encourage philosophical thinking is a teachers task.  

To Odd, universal meaning is conveyed especially through the expressions of the faces painted. To him it is of high importance to paint faces.  He believes contemporary art has no face, therefore, contemporary art may only have a temporary impact on people, but it will not leave behind any heritage for mankind. 

From this perspective we could infer that the exercise of painting a self portrait is the act of searching for "the universal" in oneself.

What would it happen if we understood that we are only expressions of a bigger ancient concept? Perhaps it wouldn't be necessary to teach tolerance as a virtue, and mutual understanding would be human's natural state of mind.

After one week of intense work, TIAC organized an exhibition called "Self-Portrait" to display the pieces created by the students during the week along with the ones by the Master. This was a touching event full of spontaneity, laughter and unexpected hugs to say good bye to the Nerdrum and his family and thank him for being a reminder of the true meaning of Art, or, in this case, of Kitsch: Human Encounter. 

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*Read more about Aristotle's virtues of thought here.

**Taken from nerdrummuseum.com

Anna Rosa Paladino