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Best Visited Articles: 184.000 views (and counting)

I oscillate between my love for drawing and writing: one day I like writing, the other day I need to paint. When I paint, my love for using colours or using graphite (monochromatic artwork) also swings back and forth with a regular rhythm. It is this versatility, this fight between my pen, pencils and palette, that keeps me ambitious and eager to learn new skills, better grammar, and new styles.

My website statistics list almost 190.000 visitors. This prompts me to offer you an index, slightly categorized, so that -perhaps- you will appreciate an article that hasn’t brought you here via search terms.

This website consists of a variety of seemingly unrelated subjects. However, there is one thing that does bind all these different subjects and that is Jane Austin’s advice: ‘Write what you know’. All that I have written or painted starts with inspiration that comes to me, my thoughts, feelings, and take on life. Hopefully my articles offer you great reading pleasure and hopefully my art will enrich your feelings.

Creative Writing

Writing is fun, therapeutic, a good exercise for the brain, and it feels like painting; you start with a draft and over the days you add more layers of thoughts and quotes, more polished vocabulary, more interesting sources, and refinement. Not a day passes in my life without reading and annotating what I read. I love to pen down quotes, sources, thoughts in my dairy which later will enrich my essays or articles. Here are a few of my most visited articles:

Prehistory

During my youth the Middle Ages was my favourite time in history. As I grew older, I found myself drawn to even older times, to Ancient, Neolithic, and Prehistory. At Oxford Department for Continuing Education I followed two courses on The Celts and Prehistory with great pleasure and I haven’t stopped reading books in prehistory ever since. Here are my essays and articles that have our deep past as subjects:

Mandarin Ducks

Picture my website to be a duck pond, surrounded by lush lotus plants. Which water birds will you spot regularly? Mandarin ducks, or Aix galericulata in Latin. This is because I draw and paint mandarin duck commissions. I opened an Etsy shop in 2011 and mandarin ducks stole the show. It is certainly not that I draw and paint mandarin ducks exclusively, I do other artwork too. However, to make my art-making self supporting, I keep on drawing and painting these lovely birds which always fill me with happiness. It is said that by having mandarin duck art in your home, works wonders.

Art Musings

There are many artists who find inspiration in nature, and so do I. But I find inspiration in art perhaps even more. Art inspires art. Culture inspires culture. Love inspires love. I can spend a whole essay on these cliché quotes, explaining in detail how this works (and I have), but sauntering about in art galleries or museums, or leafing through an art-book instantly fills me with inspiration and musings. Enjoy!

Monochromatic Artwork

Although working with colour is soul nourishing, making monochromatic artwork feels remarkably more soulful. It is as if you lay bare the matter of the soul after taking away its colours. Monochromatic artwork often reveals and uncovers the essence of things. I have a great love for my coloured pencils, but I love equally designing monochromatic bookplates. Bookplates are traditionally monochromatic but nowadays they are more and more in three primary or in full colour because colour printing has become affordable.

ART PROJECTS

For miscellaneous posts, scroll down and down each article and see all categories (subjects) that -with one click- offer you more subjects to explore. Another method to find more inspirational posts is looking at ‘Related Posts’ under each posts you have just found.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula’s portfolio at Instagram

Paula’s art store is at Etsy.

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How to Turn 60 Happily

How to turn 60 happily? Here are my thoughts on how to own your life at 60.

Simone de Beauvoir’s protagonist Fosca, in her All Men Are Mortal (1946), is cursed with immortality. Yes, cursed. I read about Fosca enduring his everlasting life, when I was young and it left me flabbergasted. Don’t we want to live forever? Surely, a state of perpetuity was a blessing, not a curse! Not so, de Beauvoir showed in her fictional-historical writing.

At university, whilst majoring in Philosophy, profound perspectives on being mortal were studied, starting with Socrates who thought that philosophy itself was a long contemplation on human mortality.

Mortality adds value to our lives. But isn’t that a contradictory statement? No. We are coming to an end, and the closer we are nearing our end the more important becomes our evaluation of how we have lived our lives. Make a mistake at 20 and it is hardly a big deal; you are young and unwise perhaps, there is enough time ahead to set things right. Make the mistake repeatedly and the consequences are far more lasting. You might remember your mistakes on your deathbed. The mistake wasn’t a faux pas but a pattern, it becomes a dimension that is attributed to your character, and to the memory people will have of you, and perhaps to your karma. It is thus the end of a life that gives meaning to a life. It is like a ball bouncing back on a wall at the end of a cul-de-sac. Should we have decades and decades of not having to care about the consequences of our lives (of what we do, say, think), like Fosca, everything becomes meaningless. There will be no urgency to improve behaviour, to set things right, to apologize, to learn. And that is unbearable because -in fact- we deeply desire to put our time on this planet, our lives, to good use.

A friend embraced becoming 60 in the most elegant way I have heard of. She said that she finds the closed doors in her life in a subtle way intriguing. ‘Isn’t it wonderful that you had doors to close in the first place?’ She said it is interesting to live with the consequences of one’s choices. Very true! Mind you, this came from a woman. Women have their reproductive doors closing between 40-45, whilst men can have offspring well into their seventies. It made me think of my closed doors. Are there doors that have fallen into their lock that I want to reopen? Do I want to go back to university? Move to the countryside? Becoming 60 means 10-20 perhaps but increasingly unlikely 30+ years ahead. And these years will fly by because for old people time passes more quickly. I have given this some good thinking, especially because my mother and grandmother haven’t reached 65-70.

Another pressing event has shaped my ‘Turning Sixty’ is that I -unwillingly – became somebody’s object of envious obsession. Envy is a cardinal sin, a deadly sin and not alone in old-school Catholicism; every religion warns against envy. One should never permit it, let alone empower it. This shameful exhibition of exhibited envy struck me. Was I to be envied? At my age? Good Lord. I can picture somebody envying me at 25 when I had my whole life ahead of me, but at this age? Then the penny dropped. It wasn’t the promises, prospects, and plans that I at 25 that were envied, it was my life as I had lived it: with my husband, child, skills, and my education. Apparently, at 60 one can be envied, despite not having Fosca’s immortality.

My husband and I, very early on in our relationship and career adopted a mantra to never compare ourselves (individually but also as a couple) to others. One has to live one’s own life; and we all receive our own blessings and challenges. Comparing yourself to others leads to nothing beneficial. Even within the setting of being a positive role-model, comparisons shall fail; even an utterly loyal apprentice will have to break away from his/her master one day. To compare and contrast lives is unbecoming and goes against (my) religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs. However, this envy invited me to look at my life from the perspective of an outsider which led to interesting insights. It surely resulted in deep gratitude, in wholeheartedly embracing my life more than I already had done. It was also a sort of wake-up call from the relentless ambition and profound desire I have to do better, to improve, to not rest till I have created a humble legacy. Whilst every day I was aiming for improvement, pushing myself to do better, trying to leave behind a sufficient portfolio, somebody was envying me which -surprisingly- meant I had perhaps already made a mark? Perhaps the envy held a message that I could sit back a bit more and enjoy what I (plus my husband and daughter) have achieved so far.

Me in an unknown parallel realm enjoying my life in a magnificent relaxed manner by reading a book at noon in a splendid botanical setting. If only life was like Impressionist painted it. 🙂

So, where does all these musings leave me? Turning 60 means there is limited time ahead but that makes the coming years all the more precious. Do I still want to be an immortal Fosca? A bit less but give me the change to be 40 again and I will take it for a sense of having enough time ahead. Still, it is better to bravely accept closed doors and -with deep-felt gratitude- embrace where you are at 60. To wake up every morning with the intention to live virtuous and inspirational is a dream life.

Supplementary I have the following 6 miscellaneous tidbits of advice.

Eat Less and Less: Become Ascetic

The body is aging which means that internal organs become thinner and enzyme production is decreasing. I have established a rule that at the age of 50, you should eat probably 50% less than you did when you were 20-25 years of age. At 60, you eat 60% less, at 90 you eat 90% less and at 100 you most likely … eat 100% less. (😬) Not extreme but sensible asceticism is a good life-philosophy; it saves you diseases of affluence and limits your carbon footprint. I clock 12 vegan years now and before that many vegetarian years; stop eating animals who were not willing to die for you.

Never Compare Yourself to Others

With my husband having a very competitive job and myself being an artist we -early on in our careers- promised that we would never compare ourselves to others, other couples, family members, colleagues. We also would never compare our child to other children: that is such a wrong thing to do. Over the years we saw the most successful colleagues dying of cancer, family members falling ill, and high-flyers taking stunningly regrettable decisions. Comparisons are deeply fraudulent because we aren’t born as a tabula rasa; we come into this life with a package of past lives consequences and a determining set of inherited genetics. We also come into this life for a special reason: to live with your given talents, limitations, traits, and IQ, to live the best possible, virtuous, and creative life.

Make New Friends

Turing 50-60 often means that you have gone through several rounds of purges of family and friends. Some friends and family have naturally drifted away, some have died, some moved to the other side of the planet (I still have contact with my long-distance friends), and some became toxic. In other words, a regular and thorough shake up of your circle of family and friends is inevitably and even desirable. However, make new friends in order to prevent your social skills becoming rusty. Do not turn bitter. Live like a snake by regularly shedding your skin. All losses are natural; all gains are enjoyable.

Old Age Proof Living

Buy or rent an age-old proof house and give all your money to your children and grandchildren. ‘I want to die as poor as a church mouse’, a friend once said. I immediately admired and understood him. At 60 what do you need so desperately? Probably not much. You have probably collected enough stuff. You have probably secured a fallback position, if not as savings then as work-experience, skills or wisdom. Thus, what do well-educated people tend to do with their money? They book short and modest holidays, they don’t spend money on luxury. Instead, they invest in the education of their children and grandchildren, to kick start their lives. Declutter and give away along the way. Here and here I wrote about the importance of donating.

Start Homesteading

Optimize homesteading skills. We are with too many and we are looking at old age with less care staff and less care facilities. Start with developing eco-friendly skills and become as self-sufficient as possible. Learn food preparation, homemaking, gardening, survival skills, and other self-sufficient living skills. The more you learn now, the less mistakes you will make when it becomes increasingly more difficult to receive help.

At Cambridge. After a visit to Waterstones, I find this bench resembling a children’s book stating ‘Once upon a time’..

Keep Walking and Reading

This one is so self-explanatory! Keep walking 5000-6000 steps daily and keep reading for cognitive health. Keep reading a few books simultaneously. Never stop with that, no matter what. There are those who like to do strength training and learn calligraphy at 80 and if you can add this to your daily list of chores, please do, but the minimum is reading and walking. And if your sight deteriorate; listen to audio books. The body and mind need to explore new horizons; the body and mind need to keep moving.

More-overly, I asked around what I perhaps had overlooked. Have a look at the marginalia by my 60-something friends.

Dwell on past agreeable occurrences; never on past disagreeable memories. Keep a gratitude journal. Stop blaming others or circumstances, by the age of 60 you should own your life. Lastly, not so long ago you were regarded to be old at 60. Now, you are -at 60- not even retired!

Wishing you a happy 60th birthday!

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula at Etsy

Paula at Instagram

Artwork by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

New Mandarin Duck Composition

This is a lovely and exceptionally harmonious original Mandarin Duck composition. There is something magical about this couple positioned in the centre of a pentagonal shape, which is a Sakura flower (Japanese cherry blossom). Five chrysanthemums enrich and embellish the composition.

This artwork serves Fengshui aspirations, Valentine’s Day or a wedding inasmuch as you aspire to confirm or attract love and loyalty.

This mandarin duck composition is hand-drawn with coloured and wax pencils used in combination with a (natural) solvent. This creates a high level of details.

The mandarin ducks are closely together. Their show of synchronicity confirms their life long bond.

I have currently several of these Sakura- Mandarin ducks at my Etsy shop.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula Kuitenbrouwer’s art shop is at Etsy and her portfolio at Instagram. Contact her freely to discuss your commissioned artwork.

When your Elderly Parent Hurts You 

In this blog-essay Paula Kuitenbrouwer uses several narratives to illustrate how elderly parents can hurt their adult children. She turns to classical literature and fine arts for soul nourishing inspiration. Kuitenbrouwer guides you through the classical story of Pelops followed by philosophical musings and concluding thoughts.

Over a year I have collected different narratives from three continents; all are voiced by women between 55-65 years of age who have taken care of (one of ) their parents. The stories are anonymized. This blog-post essay offers a message of hope.

Person 1. ‘My ill and rapidly aging parent attacked me verbally. It left me shaking. After a while, I felt a need to talk this over with her but she had forgotten all about it. I know that what she said is part of how she feels about me and that keeps on hurting me’.

Person 2. ‘I felt such deep shame for the attack by my old father that it took me a long time before confiding in a friend. It turned out that I wasn’t alone. It was extremely stressful to find yourself in a situation where a parent turns against you. I was astounded how my father pitted my siblings against me when I told him caring for him became too much for me. My siblings ate out of his hand; my father has always had a knack for playing the victim or for acting vulnerable. It opened my eyes to a side of my father that made me question how much I had benefited and suffered from his strategic behaviour. Ever since, I haven’t been able to shake off the feeling that he had never much respect for his children; he had no problem playing them. Luckily, he took responsibility later and apologized, but by then my relationship with my siblings was irreparably damaged’.

Person 3. ‘After months of hurling insults, my father returned to his charming sweetness without remembering his offending remarks. Only a vague unease lingered in his mind. He kept on mentioning he was indebted to me. It took me a long time to wrap my brain around his behaviour. What was it? Brain damage? Character? Medication? I still do not know and probably will never know’.

Person 4. ‘You have no idea how racist my parent became towards her Asian nurse’.

Person 5. ‘I have seen it in both of my families; my own and the one I married into. Some parents hurt their adult children and then when relations turn sour, they do not shy away from using their fortune to secure attention, care, and power. Disinheriting as a punitive threat or action; it fast-tracks the disintegration of a family’.

Person 6. ‘I had times when I wondered whether I would actually survive my parent. I noticed that my physical and mental health improved exponentially the longer I stayed away. I would never forgive myself for hurting my child. I have also decided to never start any old age medications. These are drugs that keep the body going whilst the mind deteriorates and perhaps that toxic mix is largely to blame for mean behaviour’.

Person 7. ‘Having been insulted makes you question how much love there was in the first place. We are dealing with a generation that had children because that was what was expected from them. Perhaps there just is not enough love to sustain till the very, very end’.

Person 8. ‘No matter how often I drive hours back and forth to my parents, it is never enough. The suggestion that I fail them is often bluntly communicated’.

Person 9. ‘My parent used others to attack me. They voiced my parent’s disdain in unequivocal terms. This cleverness withheld me for a long time thinking in terms of vascular dementia‘.

Person 10. ‘It all has left me depressed and fearful for my own ageing. High age is romanticized. Perhaps it would be beneficial to offer elderly mental health coaching. There used to be a chaplain taking religious care of old people, now there are mainly nurses and managers’.

Person 11. ‘My father discussed disinheriting my brother with me. I would never capitalize on something so unfair and hurtful, so I advised against it. I asked; ‘Did you discuss disinheriting me with my brother also?’ on which the reply came; ‘Yes’. The threat was out in the open. Disinheriting hangs as a Sword of Damocles above primary caretakers whilst siblings not participating in daily care chores are idolized’.

Adult children aren’t snowflakes; they have experienced social hurt as from their young schooldays. There are parents who age into angels and those who resort to toxic games, and all stages in between. The question is why? There are many possible reasons: old age, behavioral side-effects of medication, illness, drinking, rusty social skills, tiredness, decreased empathy, dwindling love, frustration, and character. The answer is seldom uni-causal. Knowing what mix has caused hurtful remarks can put suffering into perspective, so here are a few to consider (and should there be more, please add them to the comment section):

Your parent suffers from brain damage caused by delirium or vascular dementia. In this case, you will shake off the horrible remarks (sometimes even sexual). However, forgiving does not imply tolerance: like with a pet, baby or toddler you should set boundaries. It is no different for geriatric people. Walk away, urge your parent to apologize to you. Prevent this behavior to normalize.

On a less brain-damaged level; parents can have too many debit cards. They pull these cards whenever they feel vulnerable (which is sad). One card is Illness, the other Old Age. Loneliness is another card and so is Inheritance. They masterfully play around with these cards; remember, they know you well. It is a power game of emotional blackmailing, manipulation, and future faking

There can be an underlying trait of autism, arrogance, or narcissism. In the limited world of an elderly parent it is expected that their children will care for them. That is the natural thing to do, right? Well, children of older parents are somewhere between 50-70 themselves. They are the sandwich generation: taking care of their parents and adolescent children, sometimes even grandchildren. If caretakers fall ill or fail, a Vesuvian anger can erupts. Adult children, especially women/daughters, are to be expected to work unrewarded, unpaid, being available 24/7, or else….you will be taught an old fashioned parental lesson.

After identifying possible causes for hurtful behaviour, we need to get as close as possible to compassion. I forgo using the word ‘forgiving’ because forgiving is too often creating fertile soil for more abuse. What I seek here is Buddhist or Christian compassion and kindness which is an inner state that should not (I cannot stress this enough) prohibit assertiveness and sensible self-defense. Many caretakers feel drained, overstretched, and exhausted. They feel like taking care of their elders is a Sisyphean task. Only saints have an inner strength that helps them with their life long service. I am not saintly and maybe neither are you. I need gratitude, encouragement, support not to grow exhausted.

Returning to kindness and compassion. Consider the physical and mental condition of elderly parents; many have old age behavioral changes and inhibitions (neurological changes in the brain), lack of empathic feelings, diminished motherly or fatherly feelings, survival stress (to get through the day), are flushing (or drinking) down bags of medications one-two-three times daily (think about taking these medications yourself; how would that make you feel?), and many -especially the less religious elders- have no perspective other than growing older, becoming more fragile or ill. Where there used to be a heaven and a reunion with those who passed River Styx earlier, now there is just the end of a life. Surely, we can feel the frosty, biting cold of those last wintry years.

Now you have pulled a knife from your back, it is time for some healing thoughts. We will find these by close-reading the story of Pelops”.

LITERARY INSPIRATION

Let us now turn to fine art and literary inspiration for healing and nourishing our minds and souls. After that, I will conclude with practical and philosophical reflections. Greek mythology has it all; it never fails to morally support us with profound psychological insights and supportive philosophical thoughts. Parental disloyalty towards a child is narrated in the haunting story of Tantalus and Pelops.

Tantalus, 1588
Hendrick Goltzius and Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem. What you see Tantalus fall from the realms of the gods after manifesting his hubris. The technique that is used to show his fall from a position above the viewer is called foreshortening.

Tantalus was a son of Zeus and Plouto and as such he was welcomed for dinner at Zeus’ table at Olympus, the abode of the gods ad the site of the throne of Zeus.

Mount Olympus, Zeus’ palace.

There, he is said to have abused Zeus’ hospitality. Even more punishable, Tantalus offers his son, Pelops, as a sacrifice (gore warning; but happy ending). Tantalus cuts up Pelops, boils him, and serves him up as a banquet for the Olympian gods in order to test their omniscience. The gods immediately become aware of the gruesome nature of the menu. Goddess Clotho is quickly ordered by Zeus to bring the poor boy to life again. She collects the parts and together with Hephaestus and Demeter revives Pelops. Pelops grows to be an extraordinarily handsome man.

The torments of Tantalus by Bernard Picart (1673-1733). We see here Tantalus reaching for overhanging fruits that he can’t reach and the waters will recede upon trying to quench thirst.

Tantalus is punished by standing in a pool of water with overhanging fruits; he cannot eat the fruits nor drink the water. Tantalus will forever feel deprived to fulfill his hunger and thirst. This has become to know a Tantalean Punishment, referring to good things in life that are there to grab but forever elude our grasp. In English the word tantalize refers to an object of desire that is out of reach.

Practical & Philosophical Reflections

It is deeply tragic that sometimes a parent cuts up a child, be it metaphorical. Yet, the classical story of Pelops has a surprising happy ending. The child is revived by the loving and crafty care of a few Olympian gods and goddesses. The story could have had a bad ending with Pelops not being able to ‘put together again’. Like Humpty Dumpty who -despite ‘the work of all king’s horses and all king’s men- could not be put (back) together again’.

Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Unlike Humpty Dumpty, the story of Tantalus describes in detail how Pelops is revived. Black-smith Hephaestus and motherly, caring Demeter go through great lengths to resurrect him and even forge a new shoulder made of ivory. The assembling process takes time, creativity, and resources which can be interpreted as ‘don’t expect this healing phase to be rushed’. This contrasts with the fate of Humpty Dumpty, standing symbol for a person or thing that is toppled over, broken, and irreparable. It stands to reason that by stressing that Pelops is brought back to life and becomes an remarkable handsome man, the hurt inflicted on a child by a parent can be turned around with the help of caring others.

We have moved away from believing in Greek gods a long time ago. However, that should not withhold us from replacing the omnipotent gods with loving and supportive friends. They will offer a shoulder to cry on and over time will rebuild self-esteem. You have done nothing wrong. There are thousands, if not millions of Pelopses, well meaning sons and daughters who have been scolded, undermined, or punished, even disinherited.

Since I came to learn that at one time in your life you can become Pelops, I was told that siblings and caretakers should be wary and cautious of taking sides of their geriatric parent when they fall out with somebody. Don’t enable them; geriatric elders have certain age-related behavioral patterns. Like crabbiness, lack of empathy, anger and depression, and a feeling of having been robbed. They are aware of their diminishing auditory, visual, kinetic, and cognitive abilities and this translates into the feeling of insecurity, misgivings, or even mistrust. Not being able to find something, like having lost their wallet or fountain pen, these surely have been stolen! No, they haven’t been stolen. Double check robbing stories, gossip, and avoid believing slander. Only those families whose children and caretakers take a united stand are able to navigate through the choppy waters of caring for an elderly parent.

Now that you know that you are not alone, Pelops does not need to be your middle name. Keep a healthy distance from your elderly parent if abuse happens or continues.

I hope this blog-essay will help easing emotional hurt. Feel invited to add your advice or insights.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula Kuitenbrouwer, drs. M.A. is owner of mindfuldrawimg.com. She works as a commission artist in the Netherlands. Her art shop is at Etsy and her portfolio at Instagram. Paula majored in Philosophy at UU and UvA and won a few essay contests during her study. Paula worked as an editor and teacher in the Netherlands and abroad. For ten years, she home educated her daughter in various countries. Currently, she lives in the Netherlands with her husband whilst her daughter studies abroad.

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DE MENS EN DE VERBEELDING VAN HET DIER

Dieren, Lascaux, Bataille, & Paleopsychologie

De relatie tussen mens en dier is minstens even plezierig als problematisch vergeleken de relatie tussen mensen onderling. Mens en dier kunnen elkaar bezien als een ‘nood­zakelijk’ onderdeel van de voedselke­ten. De mens kan het dier gebruiken voor z’n wel­vaart en het camoufleren van z’n handicap. Niet te ver­geten kunnen mens en dier af­fectief tot elkaar staan. Hierbij is het de vraag in hoeverre het affectieve as­pect bij het dier een door de mens geantropomorfi­seer­de interpretatie is van een dierlijk instinct. De mens wringt zich, in de relatie tot het dier, in vreemde bochten. Er bestaan talloze vervelende voor­beelden die duiden op een pro­blematische relatie tussen mens en dier daar waar belangen botsen. De re­latie tussen mens en dier samenvattende in termen van utiliteit, affectie en agressiviteit is kenmerkend voor de huidige samen­leving. Eens was deze re­la­tie geheel anders. Hypo­thetisch kan gesteld worden dat termen als respect en geestverwantschap moeten hebben gedomineerd in de beschrijving van de onder­linge relatie. Niet zo lang geleden ervoer ik een geheel andersoortige ver­houding tussen mens en dier.

PREHISTORISCHE GROT­SCHIL­DERINGEN VAN DIEREN
Voor mij zijn de prehistorische grot­schil­de­ringen het meest illustrerend voor het be­schrijven van de archaïsche ver­houding tus­sen mens en dier. Uiter­aard be­treft het hier een gewaagde illu­stratie, daar de func­tie van de grot­schilderingen en de daaruit af te leiden relatie tussen mens en dier op ver­on­derstellingen berust. Desal­niettemin zijn deze hypothesen dermate interessant dat, ge­combineerd met andere bevindingen over de pre­historische mens, een beeld gevormd kan worden van hoe eens mens en dier sa­menleefden.

Ook al blijven vele vragen met betrek­king tot de grotschilderingen onbeant­woord, een aantal stel­lingen en interpre­taties zijn vrij ac­ceptabel. De prehistori­sche schilders had­den er veel voor over om de schilde­ringen aan te brengen, getuigende de lange weg die de schilders moes­ten afleggen om in de ruim­te te komen die men in Lascaux de ‘Hall of Bulls’ heeft genoemd of de centrale ruim­tes van de Vallon Pont d’Arc grot. De schil­de­ringen oude graffiti noemen is onzin. Gezien de techniek van het schil­deren, ge­zien het feit dat de verf giftig was en ook in de mond werd genomen om op de wand te spugen, mag men veronder­stel­len dat het hier een grote en ris­kante op­gave betrof. Men bracht een ode aan de dieren door ze te schil­de­ren in een zo’n verbluf­fende schoon­heid dat Picasso, na het zien van de schil­de­rin­gen van Lascaux, ui­triep; “We have in­ven­ted nothing”. En de schoolmeester van de vier, jonge ontdekkers van Lascaux bij het zien van Lascaux ” (I) shouted cries of admi­ra­tion (…) I had literally gone mad” van zo­veel pure schoon­­heid.

De functie van de grotschilderingen blijft voorlopig raad­selachtig. Waarom alle dieren dieper de grot inrennen, waar­om er zoveel te­kens ingekrast zijn en waar­om de mens zoveel minder fraai of als half dier is afge­beeld, dit zijn vragen die een lang traject van studie behoeven. Maar dan nog, zelfs wan­­neer men met antwoorden komt, blijven deze tijdelijk van aard.
In de negentiende eeuw dacht men aan de grot­schilderingen als l’art pour l’art, een hypothese die niet lang standhield. Daarna kwamen structu­ra­lis­tische interpretaties. Vaste patronen zouden doelbewust in rela­tie staan tot andere patronen. Maar wat die pa­tronen betekenen vertelt het meest mo­derne paradigma ons. Lewis-Williams en Dowson, twee Zuidafrikaanse onderzoe­kers me­nen dat deze patronen produkten van hallucinaties zijn. De grotschilde­ringen zou­den dan ook direct in verband gebracht moe­­ten worden met sjama­nistische rituelen. Wat pleit voor deze hypothese is het in de mond nemen van giftige verf ten einde dit op de grotwanden te spugen. Het gif zal on­ge­twijfeld z’n werking hebben gehad. Lorblanchet, een onderzoeker die de grot­schilderin­gen heeft getracht te reproduce­ren, suggereert dat de tech­niek een spiri­tuele di­mensie heeft gehad; “Spitting is a way of projecting yourself onto the wall, be­coming one with the horse you are pain­ting. Thus the action melds with the myth. Perhaps the sha­mans did this as a way of passing into the world beyond“. Het is niet ondenkbaar dat de schilders door het schilderen van de dieren gingen halluci­ne­ren en vervielen tot het aanbrengen van deze abstracte tekens. Want tussen het schilderen van de dieren, vaak vanuit es­thetische en artistiek oogpunt, uniek goed weergegeven en de abstracte te­kens (zigzag­lijnen, cirkels en streepjes en roos­ters) een verschil zit van dag en nacht in weer­gave en waar­schijnlijk betekenis.
De sjamanistische rituelen zijn door de twee Zuidafrikaanse onderzoekers goed onder­zocht en be­tref­fen vooral de schilderingen van abstracte tekens. Voor een interpretatie van zowel de weer­gave van dieren, mens en abstracte tekens leent zich de inter­preta­tie van Anne Baring, historicus en schrijf­ster, en Jules Cashford, filosofie docent en schrijfster. Zij veronderstellen dat de grot de baarmoeder van de aarde is, die als een le­vend organisme wordt beschouwd. Het wegkruipen in de grot is niet alleen noodza­kelijk om te overle­ven, het is het kruipen in het lichaam van de Moeder Godin. Soms zelfs 2 -3 kilometer verder de grot in liggen de centrale, beschilderde ruim­tes.
Om de vraag te stellen naar het ‘waarom’ van deze schilderingen moet nagedacht worden over de band tussen de palaeoli­thi­sche mens en het dier. Men moest dieren doden om te overleven. Al het ge­reed­schap, de kleding en het voedsel kwam van het dier en daarmee wordt duidelijk hoe es­sentieel het dier voor de mens was. Dieren beteke­nende leven en overleven. Bovendien had­den de dieren kennis van de seizoenen en is het denkbaar dat niet alleen het dier voor de mens es­sentieel was, maar dat het dier zelf superieur was, getuigende deze kennis. Het is niet eens nodig de hy­pothese te opperen dat de dieren incarnaties van voorouders waren, zoals bij de Indianen. De dieren wa­ren wijs maar moesten gedood worden. Dit veroorzaakte een conflict. Het is denkbaar dat de grot­schilderingen het conflict weer­geven of een expressieve compensatie zijn voor het leed dat gepaard ging met het con­flict. Misschien ver­tellen de grotten een ver­haal. Welk verhaal is zo oud als het verhaal van Lascaux dat schil­deringen bevat van 30.000 tot 10.000 voor Christus? Welke ver­haal was zo intens dat het zo lang opge­schilderd werd? Les Trois Frères (grot te Ariège te Frankrijk) vertelt onder anderen het verhaal van de verwonde beer. De beer is gewond en de schildering ervan zit onder de krassen en cirkels. Pijlen steken in het li­chaam en de beer spuugt bloed. Zo’n schil­dering bevestigt niet alleen de voorbe­reiding of verwerking van een ver­schrik­kelijk jacht­ritueel, ook kan het te maken hebben met de communicatie die men trachtten te verkrij­gen met de beer zelf. De beer was wijs, su­perieur en gevaarlijk en moest der­halve ver­geving ge­vraagd worden voor het toegebrachte leed en de dood.

COGNITIEVE ARCHEOLOGIE: PALAEOPSYCHOLOGIE


Om het beschreven conflict te begrijpen is het il­lustrerend te be­studeren hoe men de gedachten­wereld van de palaeolithische of archaïsche mens beziet. De studierichting die dit tracht te achterha­len wordt ook wel palaeopsychologie genoemd. In de huidige archeologiestudies wordt meer waardering opgebracht voor mysterieuze ri­tuele activi­teiten die niet marginaal maar relevant voor de menselijke ontwikkeling waren. In 1982 in­troduceerde Colin Renfrew, schrijver van het boek The Ancient Mind: Elements of cognitive archa­eology, het nieuwe concept van palaeopsy­chologie als ‘Archaeology of the mind’. Een net zo moeilijke als interes­sante discipline.
Om palaeopsychologie succesvol toe te pas­sen vereist het kennis over hoe de mens zich­zelf en de omgeving er­voer. Veel des­kundi­gen veronderstellen dat de mens zich niet bewust was van een eigen identiteit zoals wij dat zijn. Het onderscheid tussen ‘ik’ en ‘jij’ was ondergeschikt aan een groter besef dat alles wat leefde gerela­teerd was aan en met elkaar. Oftewel, een wereld zoals die in my­thische verhalen wordt be­schre­ven. Uit de interpretatie van zo’n mythische we­reld wordt duidelijk dat er geen wezenlijk onder­scheid is tussen men­sen, dieren en sterren. De identiteiten zijn aan elkaar gerela­teerd, weerspie­gelen zich in elkaar. Toen deze verbinding met el­kaar minder werd, zijn er nog een aantal pogin­gen ondernomen om deze relatie en weer­spiege­ling te herstellen. Door ‘recen­telijke’ citaten kan men kennis maken met hoe mensen eens met de aarde en de ove­rige levende wezens hebben sa­men geleefd. In 1855 liet Chief Seattle ons zien hoe erg wij vervreemd zijn van het samenleven met de aarde en haar schone nazaten.

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the me­mory and expe­rience of my people. We know the sap which cour­ses through the trees as we know the blood that cour­ses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfu­med flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our bro­thers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man, all belong to the same family. The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our an­cestors. Each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The wa­ter’s murmur is the voice of my father’s fa­ther. The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. The carry our canoes and feed our children. (…..)”.

Opmerkelijk is de overeenkomst van deze levens­beschouwing met de levensbe­schou­wing of mys­tiek van de Kelten. Ook de Kelten hadden een orale traditie van ver­zen en gedichten die blijk ge­ven van een enorme verbondenheid van alle denkbare werelden; de kosmische, de Onder­wereld (wereld van hallucinaties, meditatie en mys­tieke commu­ni­catie met Goden en die­ren) en de aardse wereld. Zo verliefd als ik als tiener was op de wijsheid van de Indianen, zo gefasci­neerd ben ik nu door de kunst en wijsheid der Kelten.
Nu we -heel bescheiden- de geest van de oude mens hebben geprobeerd te analyse­ren, kan iets gezegd worden van het ver­bond tussen mens en dier. Chief Seattle zei het al; de dieren zijn onze broeders. Er is sprake van een familie en een bloedband tussen de levende wezens. U kunt zich het gevoelsmatige trauma voorstellen dat ont­stond bij het doden van een oudere, wijzer familielid, de beer uit de grotten van Les Trois Frères. Het was niet alleen levensge­vaarlijk, het was een zaak van tegen­ge­stelde ideeën: de beer was wijs en z’n leven was een aanwinst op de dun bevolkte aarde en de beer moest dood want er waren ma­gen te voeden, kleren en gereedschap te maken en vet te branden. Zonder religieuze implicaties te willen opperen, omschrijft ‘bloedzonde’ deze situatie het meest tref­fend. Het laten vloeien van het bloed van de beer was gelijk aan het schade toe­bren­gen aan de Moeder Aarde.
De grottekeningen zijn mijns inziens ont­staan uit een levensgroot gevoel van con­flict. Want pas toen het leven in de natuur en het volmaakte besef van eenheid nolens volens barsten ging vertonen, zocht de mens een compensatie en ventilatie voor het gevoel verscheurd te zijn tussen tegenge­stel­de gevoelens. Uit het beschreven con­flict werd de religie als compensatie gebo­ren en de kunst als expressie ervan.

Because the unity of life is the central phenomenon of the situation of psychic origination, every distur­bance of this unity -the felling of a tree, the killing or eating of an animal, and so on- must be compensa­ted by a ritual of­fe­ring, a sacrifice. For early man all growth and development depend on man’s sacrifice and ritual activity, precisely because man’s living bond with the world and the human group is projected upon nature as a whole”.

De religie, het offer als troost. De kunst, het voortvloeisel uit rituele ac­tivi­teiten.

If the blood of an animal slain in returned to the soil, it will carry the life principle back to Mother Earth for rebirth, and the same beast will return next season to yield its temporal body again. The animals of the hunt are regarded in this way as willing vic­tims who give their bodies to mankind with the under­standing that adequate rites are to be performed to return the life prin­ciple to its source”(J. Campbell).

REïNCARNATIE
Al is Campbell een autoriteit op dit gebied, zelf geloof ik niet in incarna­tie van indivi­duele men­sen of dieren. Daarmee bedoel ik dat individuen ofwel ka­rakters kunnen ster­ven. Een terugkeer van dit unieke karakter, hetgeen de optelsom van een constitutie, conditie en conditionering vormt, is vol­gens mij uitgesloten. Het unieke duidt al op het onvervangbare as­pect van een per­soonlijk­heid, dier of plant. Sommige feno­menen zijn eenmalig, waaronder elke le­vend we­zen. Dat een in de aarde begraven dier of mens z’n energie laat vervloeien in de aarde en dat de aarde deze weer kan af­staan aan andere levensvormen, ja, dat lijkt mij aan­nemelijk. Maar dat iden­titeiten aan recy­cling on­derhevig zijn, neen, dat zou ook het ver­haal van de Palaeolithische identiteits-loze identi­teiten ont­krachten en derhalve de sterke verbon­den­heid tussen alle levende wezens als één fami­lie onder druk zetten. Ik hanteer de minimale de­fini­tie van reïn­car­natie. En beschouw het der­halve meer als een metafoor dan een term die een incar­natie van een al eerder geleefde geest in nieuw vlees veronder­steld. Voor mij is reïn­carnatie een begrip dat gere­la­teerd is aan de idee dat energie nimmer ver­loren gaat en transmuta­tie toe­laat. Dit wil zeggen dat bij het sterven ener­gie vrijkomt. Al ken ik de aard van de ener­gie niet, op cel­niveau of spiritueel ni­veau, in wezen maakt het niets uit om de idee reïn­car­natie toe te lich­ten. De mens heeft geleefd en het verschil tussen le­ven en dood is de aan-of afwezig­heid van levens­kracht. Deze kracht, lijkt mij, neemt aan het eind van het leven af en vervalt bij het ster­ven in andere vormen of blijft nog een tijd na-ebben. Het zal deze naëb­bende energie zijn die mensen kunnen ervaren in­dien ze dicht bij de dode mens verblijven en diens ‘aanwezigheid’ voelen. Niet alleen mensen zijn bekend met deze naëbbende energie, waarvan aangenomen kan worden dat die in de sterkst uit­gekris­talliseerde vorm, te we­ten de botten, aan­wezig is.

Ook olifanten zoeken contact met de dode soort­genoten door het aanraken van de bot­ten. Zij keren terug naar de plaats al­waar het dode dier tot ‘stof’ is wederge­keerd. Ik heb films ge­zien waar de olifanten de bot­ten koesteren, aaien met hun slurven, een eindje mee rondlopen om het stuk bot ver­volgens weer te rang­schikken bij de an­dere over­blijfselen. Het is indruk­wekkend te zien hoe deze intelligente dieren soortge­lijke han­de­lingen verrichten als de palaeo­li­thi­sche mens (naar schijnt), die niet alleen botten verzamelden voor het ma­ken van ge­reedschap­pen, maar ook om ze lange tijd te vereren. De Chinese filosofie vertelt het ons duide­lijk: hoe harder de op­ge­bouw­de mate­riali­satie, botten, tanden en nagels, hoe groter de daarin neergeslagen energie. Niet voor niets worden relikwieën (botten, tan­den, ha­ren en nagels) van heili­gen zo lang be­waard en vereerd. Naëbbende ener­gie roept de behoefte aan contact op en vormt de steeds meer subtiel en va­ger wor­dende binding met de ge­storve­nen.

TERUG NAAR DE DIEREN
Opmerkelijk is dat de dieren van de grot­schilde­ringen zo gesitueerd zijn dat het lijkt alsof ze de grot verder inrennen. Wanneer men er van uit gaat dat de grot de opening naar de Moe­der Aarde is, de poort naar de dood en het nieuwe leven, zoals ik dat be­schreven heb, valt één en ander samen. Het lijkt zon­der meer de dood van het dier te be­vestigen en een actieve weergave te zijn van de wens dat de dier snel door de Moeder aarde geab­sor­beerd wordt. Zo’n these zou niet alleen het jachtritueel an sich bevestigen maar ook het concept van de zorg, het res­pect en de ver­wer­king van de bloedzonde betreffende het dode dier.
In principe zijn veel theses te interessant te nege­ren. Ook die thesen die andere tegen­spreken. Het is immers mogelijk dat de grot­schilderingen, net zoals de Megalieten, een speciale functie hadden in de continue­ring van bepaalde rituelen. Dat de monu­men­tale vorm over tienduizenden jaren heen steeds gelijksoortig is, wil niet zeggen dat de in­terpretatie van deze monumenten, grot­schilderin­gen of steencirkels, uniform moet zijn. Zoals de steencircels begrepen kunnen worden “as a com­plex of grandiose mani­festations of ideas that could well have been diverse, but among which the cult of the dead, nevertheless, played an im­portant role”.
Zo zouden de grotschilderingen di­verse vormen van animalisme kunnen weer­ge­ven. De term animalisme is niet ge­heel op z’n plaats omdat het hier een falend con­cept weer­geeft: de palaeo­lithische mens zou niet hebben in­gezien dat de mens supe­rieur is aan het dier. In de palaeo­li­thische tijd, maar soms ook nog in de huidige tijd, wa­ren die­ren heilig en dus superieur. Dat op de grotwanden soms nog een mens ge­schil­derd is, soms geantropomorfiseerde figu­ren van half mens half dier, geeft aan dat er een in­tieme relatie was tussen mens en dier.
Het vereist een intense studie deze relatie te ach­terhalen, men zou ervoor buiten de mo­derne denkkaders moeten gaan. Men zou de leg­puzzel moeten bestuderen van allerlei ri­tu­e­len; het ge­bruik van dierbotten als ora­kels, het offeren van dieren in meren, het na­ma­ken van beren van klei, het naspelen van vrucht­baarheids­rituelen van dieren en de idee aannemen dat die­ren superieur zijn, een ziel heb­ben en magische krachten en wijs­heid bezitten. Deze studie vereist niet alleen een mentale in­spanning, maar vooral een men­tale flexibiliteit. Het verstand moet uit­gerekt worden tot 30.000 voor Christus!

BATAILLE
Diegene die een intense studie van de grot­ten heeft kunnen opbrengen is de Franse filo­soof Georges Bataille. In 1955 publi­ceerde hij een boek onder de naam Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art. Het boek wordt helaas noch door palaeontologen noch filo­sofen gele­zen. Ik had zo graag 25 jaar lang z’n studie van Lascaux willen volgen. Voor­al de dagen en nachten die Bataille in Lascaux verbleef ten einde de grotteke­ning­en te bestuderen. De bevindingen die Bataille heeft gemaakt zijn inte­ressant. Ook Bataille is gefascineerd door het verschil tussen de afgebeelde mens en dier. De men­senafbeeldingen zijn schets­matig en lij­ken soms niets met de dierschil­deringen, veelal gesti­leerd, te maken te heb­ben. De dood moet angst hebben ingeboe­zemd, al­dus Bataille, getuigende het feit dat de pa­la­eo­­li­thische mens hun doden be­groeven. Op de dood rustte een soort taboe. Het pro­fane, noemt Bataille het doel­rationeel han­de­len dat de palaeolithische mens eigen was en de gra­ven die uit die tijd te vinden zijn. Uit­er­aard staat het profane niet op zich. Is er sprake van een hei­lig­schen­nis, dan be­staat iets hei­ligs. Het doden van dieren is heilig­schen­nis, mensen en die­renof­fers kunnen in het licht gezien worden van het verzoek om vergeving.
Het empirische argument van Bataille spreekt een pragmatische functie van de grot­schilderingen te­gen. Bataille beschrijft het verschil in gevoel en ervaring bij het schou­wen van palaeolithische ge­reedschap­pen en de schilderingen. De grotschil­derin­gen ma­ken een veel diepere indruk, aldus Bataille, ze raken het hart. Dit valt niet te verkla­ren uit de pragmatische functie die men deze schilderingen destijds (rond 1955) toe­dichtte. Volgens Bataille roepen de schil­deringen het beeld op van het hei­lige. Het beeld van de dieren, het natura­lisme waar­mee ze geschilderd zijn, ge­ven blijk van het respect dat men voor de dieren had. Dat de mensenafbeeldingen dit niet doen ge­tuigt van het feit dat de mens dit respect re­ser­veer­de door de dieren alleen. Mijns in­ziens treft Bataille in z’n be­schouwingen een goede snaar. Immers wanneer de schil­ders zo fraai, artistiek zo buitengewoon kundig, zelfs rekening hou­dende met de on­effen wanden van de grot­ten en daar zelfs voor het effect gebruik van makende…dit ta­lent had ook aangewend kunnen worden voor de mensenafbeeldin­gen. Maar dit is doelbe­wust niet gedaan. “Slechts getooid met het pre­stige van het beest” een vacht of een ge­wei, dan was de mens een afbeelding waard. Pas dan werd de mens gethematiseerd.

Met zekerheid kan het volgende gesteld worden. De dierschilderingen zijn buiten­gewoon prachtig. Het heeft de palaeo­lithi­sche mens veel inspanning gekost. De die­ren rennen de grotten in. De men­sen­afbeel­dingen zijn artistiek beneden­maats af­ge­beeld. De palaeolithische mens heeft doel­be­wust de schilderingen over tien­duizenden jaren aangebracht. Het ver­haal van het waar­om is complex en uiterst moei­zaam te achterhalen. Misschien zal er net zo weinig met zekerheid ge­zegd kunnen wor­den als het aantal grotten dat ons ter be­schik­king staat. Door de stijgende zeespie­gel ligt het merendeel van de beschilderde grotten waarschijnlijk onder de zee­spiegel. Net zo­als vele grotten onder de zee­spiegel liggen, zich als het ware onttrekken aan onze vin­ding, zo ontglipt de ware betekenis van de schilderingen zich aan ons bewust­zijn dat -als door een zee- ge­schei­den lijkt te zijn van de diepe palaeolithi­sche geest der voor­ouders. Ergens, diep in ons oude ge­nen­ma­teriaal ligt het antwoord, maar een zee van nieuwe informatie heeft het overspoeld en alleen door in­tense studie, zoals van Bataille, komen gefrag­menteerde, intelli­gente inzichten aan de opper­vlakte.

HET DODE DIER
Ik herinner mij dat ik een geliefd huisdier moeten laten insla­pen. Het werd steeds zieker. Ik herin­ner mij een enorm ver­zet en hoop dat het on­vermij­delijke te vermijden was. Het was één van de meest tegen­natuurlijke dingen die ik moest doen; ik wilde het dier ver­zor­gen en bij mij houden en moest het op­ge­ven.
Het dode dier werd in de kou­de grond ge­legd en de aarde dekte het nog lauwe beestje toe. De warm­te van het dier, de ener­gie zou vervallen en het dier zou verder sterven. Uiteraard was het dood, maar in tegen­stelling tot een geconstateerde dood -het weg­vallen van bio­chemische funkties- is sterven geen momentop­name maar een proces. Nadat ik het dode dier begra­ven had, speelde schuld­ge­voe­lens en verdriet een grote rol. Ik her­inner mij dat ik somber was. Zo viel ik, de eerste avond na de dood van het dier, som­ber in slaap. s’ Nachts werd ik plots wakker. In m’n droom had ik het dier zien zitten op een zacht, blauw kus­­sen. Dit symboliseerde zonder­meer een he­melse staat. Ik had het dier voer ge­bracht en ter­wijl ik het dier be­naderde, knorde het van ge­not. Het zat prins­­heer­lijk, ja, het gaf zelfs blijk van ge­not. Ik was stom­verbaasd. Het was zo’n con­trast met hoe het dier de laatste dagen stil en zie­lig in een hoek had ge­zeten. Zo gelukkig had ik het dier bij le­ven de laatste tijd niet meer ge­zien. Hoe kan zo’n beeld in m’n droom dan ontstaan? En, hoe kan ik in een zo’n trieste stem­ming een zo’n plezie­rige droom ontwikke­len?
De volgende nacht schrok ik wederom wakker. In een lucide droom had het dier onder de slaap­kamerkast ge­zeten en had z’n kop omhoog gegooid. Ik kende dit ge­baar maar al te goed. Het was een teken van plezier. Het dier leek niet alleen gezond maar ook erg in z’n nopjes. De dag daarop gaf ik toe aan de idee dat er iets vreemds gaande was. Met mij of met het dier, ik weet het niet. Het dier was ster­vende en ik riep het steeds weer op in m’n dromen, in m’n gevoel en be­wust­zijn. Ik herinner mij dat ik overvallen werd door een vreemd­soortig idee. Wat zich sterk aan mij op­drong, ja, inderdaad als een idee dat niet door mij voortgebracht was, maar zich aan mij op­drong, was een indruk dat het dier een grote vorm aan­nam. Niet zicht­baar, niet voelbaar maar als een aanwezige identiteit waar ik op­nieuw ken­nis mee maakte. Het riep respect en ontzag op. Ik was er zeer verbaasd over. Ik herinner mij dat ik schrok van deze ideeën of in­drukken. Diverse ma­­len riep ik mijzelf tot de or­de, maar de indruk­ken bleven dominant. Ik wist ze niet te plaat­sen al­leen ­maar te obser­veren. Ik meende er goed aan te doen de idee­­ën scherp te onthouden om, wan­neer het ver­driet over was, ze rustig te over­den­ken.

La­ter heb ik be­dacht dat het een unieke erva­ring was. Het was een ervaring met de dood, die, omdat het hier een dier betrof in een geheel andere maat of omvang bestu­deerd kan worden in verge­lij­king met de dood van een mens. Dat wil zeg­gen, bij het sterven van mensen is het verdriet zo alles­over­heersend dat het op­vangen van de glimp van de dood of van een ­ziel onmo­gelijk is. Het ver­driet was be­perkt (in ver­gelijking met verdriet over het verscheiden van een mens, het was groot in vergelijking met het verdriet over een gekapte boom) en kon daardoor niet domine­ren over gedach­ten en gevoelens met be­trekking tot de dood van het dier. Ja, zelfs de dood van een dier roept vragen op over de onme­telijke af­stand tussen leven en dood.

Ik zei tegen mijn man dat er twee ver­kla­ringen voor de dromen en in­druk­­ken wa­ren. De eerste heeft met her­sen­func­ties, verdriet en nor­male droom­acti­viteiten te ma­ken. De tweede is archaïsch en ver­langt een stu­die van de bo­ven­beschreven relaties tussen mens en dier. Het heeft te maken met de ziel van het dier, verdriet, con­flict en het losweken van een verbin­te­nis tus­sen mens en dier. Van een rela­tie tussen mens en dier zoals de pa­laeo­lithi­sche mens, de Indianen en de Kelten die moeten heb­ben gekend. Hierover had ik gelezen met een afstandelijke acade­mi­sche in­stel­ling. Na de dood van het dier meen ik deze ma­­te­rie beter te kun­nen begrijpen doordat de materie zelf was ervaren. Of zelfs een zeer be­scheiden idee te hebben wat palaeo­psycho­logie met be­trek­king tot het onder­zoek van de re­latie tussen mens en dier kan bete­kenen. “Een klei­ne Keltische er­va­ring”, heb ik deze wonder­lijke indrukken ge­noemd. Wat het voor mij zon­der meer be­ves­tigd heeft, is dat leven en dood mystiek verweven zijn en als dusdanig er­varen worden. Zowel bij mens als dier.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula Kuitenbrouwer werkt als kunstenaar te Utrecht. Ze studeerde af in de Wijsbegeerte en is alweer 12+ jaren vegan.

Paula’s shop is hier en haar portfolio hier.

LASCAUX: HET DIER SPREEKT EN DE MENS VERSTAAT HEM NIET

Dit essay voert de lezer mee naar een rijk waar de mens respect heeft voor dieren en planten. Een rijk waar respect is voor het leven gebaseerd op gevoelens van gelijkwaardigheid. In dit rijk, dat de mens waarschijnlijk al wel eens eerder heeft betreden -al is het alleen maar in de geest-, laat men zijn conditioneringen vallen. Met conditioneringen bedoel ik misschien wel het meest de conditionering dat dieren dom zijn. Pavlov heeft met zijn proeven ‘bewezen’ dat dieren gewoonte beesten zijn. Dit associëren we met niet-flexibel kunnen denken, geen zicht hebben op men­se­lijke verwachtingen en dit alles zou getuigen van een inferieure positie ten opzichte van de mens. Conditioneringen die de mens heeft gemaakt tot een we­zen dat zich superieur voelt aan dier of plant. Wanneer deze superioriteit vervalt, volgt respect. Men ontdekt dat de dier ons ver­vuld van onzekerheid. We weten maar bar weinig van wat een dier bezielt, denkt, voelt of over wil bren­gen aan de mens of aan zijn soortgenoten. Wanneer het menselijk denken zich niet meer bedient van oppervlakkige oordelen, sentimenten en angst met betrekking tot het niet-menselijk leven, wordt de juiste mate van respect en liefde voor het dierlijk leven erva­ren. De mens heeft mogelijkerwijs al eerder dit rijk van respect betreden. Getuigen de prehistori­sche grotteke­ningen niet van een groot respect en empathie van de mens met het dier?

HET RIJK VAN RESPECT, DE GROT VAN LASCAUX

Op 12 september 1940 betraden vier jongens, Marcel Ravidat, Jaques Marsal, Georges Agnel en Simon Coencas de grot van Lascaux. Zij troffen daar de best ge­conserveerde wand­schilderingen aan uit de Paleolithische periode. Wat zij zagen kunnen we vandaag alleen nog maar op foto’s zien omdat de grotten -zeer terecht- sinds 1963 voor het publiek zijn afgesloten. Niettemin zijn de foto’s van de grottekeningen indruk­wekkend. De jonge mannen hadden de grot geopend en waren afgedaald in het diepe en donkere gedeelte van de Hall of Bulls. Toen zij de wandschilderingen ontdekten, beloofden zij elkaar dit geheim te houden. Dat de ge­heimhouding van een zo grote ontdekking een te zware last was, dreef hen ertoe een oude schoolmeester, Monsieur Laval, hun verhaal te vertellen. Deze man betrad enige dag later de grot en ‘shouted cries of admi­ra­tion’. ‘I had literally gone mad’, zou hij later hebben gezegd. In de Hall of Bulls, een ruimte van 17 meter lang, zijn wandschilde­ringen te bezichtigen van een bijna niet te be­schrij­ven schoonheid.
Middels het bezien van foto’s die de wand­schilderingen van de grot weergeven, kan men een fic­tieve wandeling maken door de grot. De wandschilderingen van Przewalskipaarden, van Chinese paar­den, van wilde runderen, de voorouders van onze runderen doen je duizelen van schoonheid.

Sometimes a detail in the rock with a particu­lar shape was the initial motif: the eye, for example, of a horse whose body will be per­fectly integrated on the wall. Some animals were distorted by the painter to give the spectator, who will view it from a different place, a more striking perspec­tive. The use of undulations in the wall is frequent, and they give a surprising volume to the paintings. Thus a concavity forms /the belly of a pregnant cow. Also to give a third dimension, the artists have detached- by the means of a blank or uncoloured area- the legs that are most distant from the spectator from the rest of the body of the animal. Thus the ar­tist knew perfectly how to render this perspective with the bison in the Nave‘.

Zo betreden we het atelier met schilderijen van 17.000 jaar oud. Een ruimte waar hoogstwaar­schijnlijk riten gehouden werden en religieuze bijeenkomsten plaatsvonden. Het diep in de aarde wegkruipen, begeleid door de geschilderde dieren op de wanden en het plafond moet de prehis­torische mens in vervoering hebben gebracht zoals 17.000 jaar later de oude schoolmeester Laval.

Dit is de grot van Plato. Hier kunnen de dieren worden aanschouwen. Als afbeelding én idee. De schaduwen van de dieren kan je zien bewegen alsof een fakkel hen illusoir laat bewegen. Zo kan men een reis maken naar het diepste van de grot. Voel het respect voor de vele zwangere, laag hangende buiken en de krach­tige dikke bizon­-nekken! Zo’n fascinatie duurt uren, dagen, neen een heel leven, zoals ook Jacques Marsal, de jonge ont­dekker die zo geïnspireerd werd dat hij zijn hele leven bij de grot bleef en nu rondlei­der is. Deze wer­kelijkheid, de stille getuige­nis van een 17.000 jaar oude vervlogen tijd, tegen de wand, fascineert en ontroert. Wat is werkelijkheid? Buiten of binnen in de grot? Kan van de in de grot op de wanden geschil­derde wer­kelijkheid iets worden geleerd? Welk verhaal vertelt de grot? Ligt tussen het zonlicht van buiten en de 17.000 jaar oude im­pressies van een lang vervlogen tijd een speciale waarne­ming? Een boodschap? Gaan de schilde­rin­gen het juiste verhaal van de oude tijd vertel­len? Kan dat verhaal juist geïnterpreteerd worden? En wat vertellen de reeds uitge­stor­ven dieren? Zoek maar in de verste uithoeken van de menselijke geest naar wat er in de re­latie tussen mens en dier fout is gegaan. Doe dat snel. Want de oude grot met tekeningen ge­tuigt van de voorbijgegane tijd, maar won­derschoon gestold in ons heden. De grot slokt in zijn oudheid de vluchtig menselijke ideeën op. En het individuele, vergankelijke menselijk bestaan.


De grot, het huis van 17.000 jaar oud waarvan de inwo­ners of be­zoekers reeds lang geleden zijn gestorven, toont de dieren op weg naar het binnenste van de aarde. Zij bestaan en zullen blijven bestaan. Zij zullen nog eeuwen doordraven op die wanden. De vergankelijk moderniteit buiten de grot is ten dode opgeschreven. En met die moderniteit alle vergankelijke para­digma’s. Geen paradigma zal de grot overle­ven. Wil men het verhaal van de dieren ver­nemen, dan moet men bereid zijn voor­oorde­len ten opzichte van dieren te laten voor wat zij zijn. Er zal dan experimenteel gedacht moeten worden vanuit dier-perspectief.

DE EMPIRISCHE OBSERVATIE
Grote steun voor dit denkexperiment of voel experiment vind ik bij de schrijver John Cowper Powys. In zijn ‘My Philosophy up to date as influenced by living in Wales’ schrijft hij over hoe hij het leven ervaart. Hij noemt zichzelf een empirist.

‘For I am proud to be the sort of empiric who is called a quack, a charlatan, and even a mountebank because he insists on accepting the immediate shocking, startling, soothing, tantalizing, transporting, terrifying physical -psychical contacts with life , as his starting-points -‘the many’ as against the ‘one’ ente­ring, you see, at the very start -in forming his patch-work hand-to-mouth philosophy’.

Powys beschrijft hoe hij impacts van het le­ven maar ook van natuurbelevingen of litera­tuur kan nemen als zijn startpunt voor zijn le­vensbeschouwing.

My system of thought-tricks or of thought-gestures, then, represents a return with a dif­ference, with that inevi­table difference which all such Renaissance must reveal, to the chaoticisme, animism, fetishism, polytheism and pluralism and even something uncom­monly like magic, of those happy ages be­fore the authoritarian Parties and Dictators in both religion and science became the totalitarian ab­sorbers of and the infallible an­nouncers of all the truth as they have taken upon themsel­ves to be to-day’,

…vervolgt Powys zijn uiteenzetting van zijn le­vensbeschouwing. Voor mij klinkt dit ci­taat als muziek in de oren omdat deze empiri­sche levenshouding noodzakelijk lijkt te zijn voor het achterhalen hoe de relatie tussen mens en dier in de prehistorie is opgeschil­derd in de grotten van Lascaux.

BATAILLE’S ONTROERING
Wanneer ik de beschouwingen neem van de filosoof Bataille, die 25 jaar lang met dit on­derwerp bezig was en dagen en nachten in de grot van Lascaux verbleef om de schilderijen op hem in te laten werken, sluiten deze aan bij Powys’ levensbeschouwing. Dit omdat Bataille zijn inzicht in de afbeeldingen van de beschilderde grot-wanden baseert op een em­pirisch argument.

Als ik naar vitrines vol prehistorische fossie­len en gereedschappen kijk’, redeneert Bataille, ‘doet me dat niets. Het feit dat de prehistorische mens wellicht honger had en daarom op een succesvolle jacht hoopte, doet mij ook eigenlijk niets. Maar de afbeeldingen die hij heeft gemaakt, die doen we wel wat, die raken me in mijn hart. Dat valt niet te verklaren uit één of andere pragmatische func­tie die de afbeeldingen misschien had­den‘.

Dat de schilderingen nog steeds tot de ver­beelding spreken komt volgens Bataille doordat ze een beeld oproepen van het hei­lige. Er bestaan talloze beschrij­vingen van volken die het heilige zien als iets machtigs dat tegelijkertijd ongrijpbaar en le­vensge­vaarlijk is. Het heilige was bovendien nauw verbonden met de overtreding van verboden. Een universeel en fundamenteel verbod is het verbod om te doden; dit verbod wordt in veel cultu­ren overschreden tijdens offerrituelen. Misschien zijn de schilderingen gemaakt in een tijd dat de overtuiging dat mensen superi­eur zijn aan dieren niet was uitgekristalli­seerd. Het onderscheid tussen mens en dier berust tenslotte op een overtuiging dat men­sen anders of beter zijn in verge­lijking met dieren. Maar waren de mensen ten tijde van Lascaux beter dan dieren? Het natura­lisme van de schilderingen geeft aan dat men res­pect had voor het dier. Datzelfde respect had men niet voor de mens; in de mensen afbeeldingen wordt het menselijk onderwerp als het ware ver­minkt, onder meer door de toevoe­ging van dierlijke kenmerken. Blijkbaar ging het erom het men­selijke te ontkennen ten gunste van iets heiligs dat geassocieerd werd met het dier. Slechts getooid met het prestige van het beest is de mens in de schil­deringen gethematiseerd.

Batailles’ these is zonder meer interes­sant. Zijn argument ‘De schilderingen doen mij meer dan vitrines vol prehistorische ge­reedschappen’ is een empirisch argument dat interessante be­spiegelingen tot gevolg heeft gehad. De bespiegelingen zijn zinnig maar ook eigenzinnig. Ze on­derstrepen dat ieder­een zijn eigen interpretatie kan en mag geven van Lascaux. Totdat het weten­schappelijke onderzoek is afgerond en de filosofen zijn uitgedacht, kan je veronderstellen dat de kennis verloren is gegaan. Wat overgebleven is, is de schoonheid en die interpreteert ieder naar believen.

DE ONVERSTAANBARE TAAL
De prehistorische grotten vertellen een ver­haal, zoals ook de tekeningen en hiërogliefen in de Egyptische piramides een verhaal vertel­len. Zoals ook de zegelringen uit het oude Mesopotamië een verhaal vertellen.

Het verhaal van Inanna, de godin van het oude Mesopotamië, is een aantrekkelijk verhaal. Haar naam is in Noord Sumerië Ishtar en haar grootheid ten tijde van de Bronstijd is vergelijk­baar met Isis van Egypte en Cybele van Anatolië. Zij is het archetypi­sche vrouwelijke en haar le­ven is het verhaal van geboorte, moederschap, sexuele liefde en vruchtbaarheid, de hemel en de dood. In haar verhaal van het heilige huwelijk wordt de maan en de zon, de aarde en de hemel sym­bolisch verbonden. De vegetatie-god waar­mee Inanna zich trouwt, is Dumuzi-Tammuz. Het overgeleverde gedicht van deze ceremo­nie vertelt hoe de Summarische bevolking dit ritueel op de juiste maanstand in het Summarische paleis uitbeeldt. Rond 2250 voor Christus liep de hoge priester die Dumuzi verbeelde naar de tempel en bracht offers mee voor Inanna. In het gedicht van 2250 voor Christus wordt het huwelijk tus­sen Inanna en de vergoddelijkte koning Isin-Dagan uitgebeeld:

She embraces her beloved husband.
Holy Inanna embraces him.
The throne in the great sanctuary is made glorious,
Like the daylight.
The kind like the Sun-God,
Plenty, happiness and abundance before him prosper.
A feast of good things they set before him,
The dark-headed people prosper before him.

Tot hier lezen we een in scène gebracht ritu­eel. Het toneel is als het ware geschetst. We denken dat twee mensen elkaar ontmoeten. Maar dan volgt een dialoog voor tweeërlei uitleg vat­baar.

Dumuzi zingt;
My sister, I would go with you to my gar­den.
Inanna, I would go with you to my garden.
I would go with you to my orchard.
I would go with you to my apple tree.
There I would plant the sweet, honey-co­vered seed.

Inanna zegt;
He brought me into his garden.
My brother, Dumuzi, brought me into his garden.
I strolled with him among the standing trees,
I stood with him among the fallen trees,
By an apple tree I knelt as is proper.
Before my brother coming in song,
Who rose to me out of the poplar leaves,
Who came to me in the midday heat,
Before my Lord Dumuzi,
I poured out plants from my womb.
I placed plants before him,
I poured out plants before him,
I placed grain before him,
I poured out grain before him.
I poured out grain from my womb.

In dit gedicht lezen we twee talen. De lief­destaal tussen man en vrouw. En het verhaal van het zaaien, oogsten en de vruchtbare aarde. Inanna spreekt over haar baarmoeder waaruit ze graan laat stromen wanneer Dumuzi haar mee naar de tuin -de vruchtbare aarde- neemt.
Voor de meeste lezers zal het duide­lijk zijn dat het ritueel waarin Inanna en Dumuzi sa­menkomen een vruchtbaar­heidsri­tueel is. Het gedicht is als het ware dubbelta­lig. Dat dubbeltalige aspect vinden we ook te­rug in het verhaal van de Egyptische Isis en Orisis. De relatie tussen Isis en Orisis is te beschrijven als van de creatieve krachten van de aarde. Het is een verhaal van mensen die de creatieve krachten van de aarde verbeel­den. Zo groeit uit Orisis graan dat door de priester water wordt gegeven. Is Orisis een mens? Of de aarde? Of verbeeldt Orisis zowel de aarde als de mens? Valt in dit verhaal de vruchtbaarheid van de mens samen met de vruchtbaar­heid van de aarde? Of moest het verhaal van de aarde geantropomorfiseerd worden ten einde het begrij­pelijk te maken? Zoals ook het geval is in het fraaie verhaal van Inanna en Dumuzi?
Wat hier in ieder ge­val uit geconcludeerd kan worden is dat oude verhalen, tekeningen, rituelen een andere taal kunnen hanteren die ons als dubbeltalig overkomt. Maar misschien lopen hier niet twee ver­ha­len door elkaar. Wij, moderne mensen, lezen er twee verhalen in: het ver­haal van de vrucht­bare aarde en de zaaitijd en het verhaal van de mens. Wij lezen er twee verhalen in omdat wij de natuur en de vruchtbaar­heidscyclus van de aarde, de sei­zoenswisselingen, de zaai en oogsttijd onder­scheiden van het verhaal van de mens en diens liefde en intermenselijke relaties. Net zoals wij, maar nu loop ik op de zaak voor­uit, een onderscheid maken tussen mens en dier door te ver­onderstellen dat er über­haupt een onderscheid te maken valt. Wanneer we een denkexperiment doen en ons trachten te verbeelden dat deze onderscheidingen tussen aarde, dier en mens niet zo evident zijn als het nu voor ons lijkt, ontstaan er nieuwe in­terpretaties. Ineens bezien we het ver­haal van Inanna en Dumuzi of Isis en Orisis niet meer als dubbeltalig maar als een consistent ver­haal. Een verhaal dat mens en aarde als gelij­kende en gelijkwaardig beschrijft.

OUDE VERHALEN

Wanneer we kennis hebben gemaakt met de dubbeltalige oude verhalen van Isis (3000 v. Chr.) en Inanna (ongeveer 3500 v. Chr.) kunnen we terug naar de prehistorische grot­tekeningen van 17.000 v. Chr. Dat is een hele stap terug in de tijd. Welhaast een te grote stap. Om zo’n gapend gat in de tijd te kunnen overbruggen, moeten we nadenken of dat het überhaupt tot de mogelijk­heid be­hoort. We zouden moeten concluderen dat het verhaal van Inanna en Isis al moeilijk ge­noeg is te lezen met de bedoelingen en inten­ties zoals het ooit eens neergeschreven is. Te lezen met de geest, de denkwijze en de cog­nitieve inhoud van een persoon van 3500 jaar terug. Kunnen we de grottekeningen zien en begrijpen door een transformatie van onze geest naar een grotschil­der van 17.000 jaar terug in de tijd? Kunnen we onze mentale in­houd transformeren? Zelfs Bataille nam er 25 jaren voor om tot heel bescheiden, hypotheti­sche argumenten te komen.
Laten we eens bedenken wat we met zekerheid kunnen zeggen van de grotschilde­ringen. Zonder twijfel opperen we dat er die­ren geschilderd zijn. Maar is dat zo evident? In het verhaal over Orisis -waar graan uit groeit- denken we een mens te zien waaruit graan groeit. We hebben al moeite om met zekerheid te stellen of het verhaal van Isis en Orisis een mensen of vruchtbaar­heidsverhaal is. Wij zien dieren geschilderd op de rots­wanden van Vallon Pont d’ Arc en Lascaux. Maar wanneer Orisis als mensenfiguur de aarde verbeeldt, dan zouden de dieren van Lascaux zonder enige twijfel een vergelijk­bare verbeelding kunnen zijn van iets bewegelijks (ze draven immers allemaal een kant op) en derhalve bijvoorbeeld de wind kunnen verbeelden. Of een waterstroom, of de trek van mensen naar een veilige plek.


Het volgende feit dat we zouden kun­nen stellen van Lascaux is dat de mensen er veel voor over hadden de rotsschilderingen aan te brengen. De inspanningen en de geva­ren waaraan de mens zich blootstelde ten einde de schilderingen aan te brengen zijn in­drukwekkend. Lange passages werden af­ge­legd om in de beschilderde ruimtes te ko­men. Dieren, gehuisvest in de grotspleten, werden getrotseerd. De koude, de duisternis, het ge­vaar te verdwalen…en dan het schilde­ren zelf met giftige pigmenten bij het bewege­lij­ke licht van een fakkel. De krassen in de rots­wanden met scherpe voorwerpen en het zoe­ken en gebruik maken van het oneffen vlak en pla­fond. Een Sixtijnse Kapel van 17.000 jaar geleden? Nou nee, de (on)comfortabele positie van Michelangelo (hij lag op steigers) is niet vergelijkbaar met de barre condities waaronder de prehis­torische schilder moest werken (vuur, koude, gevaar). Dit argu­ment, het argument van het ‘er veel voor over hebben’, blijkt stand te houden. De bezieling die de schilder had en schilders van prehisto­rische schilderingen hadden, is wel degelijk vergelijkbaar met die van prehistorische bouwers van monumenten zoals Stonehenge, Avebury en Silbury Hill. En ook met de pi­ramides en de latere Kathedralen in West-Europa. Meer feiten hebben we niet dan dat er dieren geschilderd zijn om waar­schijnlijk het schilderen van dieren zelf. Nogmaals, misschien zijn dieren geschilderd om het water of de wind te verbeelden. En dat er sprake is van een enorme bezieling die de schilders ertoe motiveerden de schilderin­gen aan te brengen.

Minder subjectief is dat de schilderin­gen mooi zijn. Ik geloof wel dat zo’n subjec­tief oor­deel kan rekenen op instemming, maar misschien vonden de schilders het natu­ralisme waarmee ze schilderden niets meer dan gewoon. Het probleem dat zich na het verzamelen van deze harde en minder harde feiten voordoet, is het identificeren van de schilderingen. Gaat het hier om buiten­ge­woon fraaie en bezielde schilderingen van dieren of moeten we sceptisch zijn en con­cluderen dat het gaat om schilderingen van iets dat door dieren uitgebeeld wordt. Proberen we deze twee voorlopige conclu­sies met elkaar in overeenstemming te bren­gen dan mogen we spreken van een belang­rijk gegeven met betrekking tot de dieren. Immers, wanneer het gaat om het dier of wan­neer het gaat om iets dat verbeeld wordt door het dier, het dier is het belangrijkste ge­geven tot dusver. Of het dier gewoon of mooi of buitengewoon mooi is weergegeven, de kunstzinnige waardering van de schilde­rijen is irrelevant wanneer we het hebben over de keuze van het te ge­schilderde object, te weten, het dier. Het dier was belangrijk, als medium om iets te verbeelden of als we­zen an sich. Het dier was het object van de bezieling: door het schilderen van dieren werd een passie, een missie volbracht. Welke en waarom weten we niet, maar dat er veel voor over was, fysieke ontbering en artis­tieke inspanning, is klaarblijkelijk.

Het laatste feit dat we kunnen over­denken, is dat er vele grottekeningen zijn ge­vonden waarop het dier prominent vertegen­woordigd is. Het dier vormt op de rotsschil­deringen, waarvan er waarschijnlijk vele on­der de zeespiegel liggen en nimmer meer ge­vonden kunnen worden, steeds het object van de thematisering van een ons onbekend verhaal.

DIEREN EN HUN TAAL
Onze hedendaagse relatie met het dier ken­merkt zich door een nogal tweeslachtige houding. We beschouwen het als etenswaar, proefdier, sportattribuut en knuffelobject. In al deze functies wordt het dier ondergeschikt gemaakt aan de doeleinden die de mens stelt. We knuffelen het dier zo in­tens dat het dier zich gaat richten op de mens en zijn natuur­lijke leefomgeving en taal met soortge­noten vergeet. We gebruiken dieren als proefobjec­ten om onze make-up en medicijnen op uit te testen. We willen bekers en medailles halen, desnoods maken we het paard na de wed­strijd af omdat het z’n benen heeft gebroken. En tenslotte zijn we niet erg kieskeurig met het eten van vlees, althans de economische belangen prevaleren boven de ethische. Onze relatie met dieren is door de steeds verder doorgedraafde veronder­stel­lingen dat wij su­perieur zijn aan de dieren, doorgeschoten in willekeurige utiliteits­beginselen. Markante voorbeelden ten over: we hebben een schaap voor het gerecht gesleept, apen naar de maan gestuurd en ergens in Nederland liggen een op intensive care honden hun derde chemo­kuurtje te doen.
Uiteraard zijn er ook biologen en de wat meer kritische mensen die zich inzetten om een ‘natuurlijke’ leefomgeving en condi­ties voor dieren te realiseren. Die het bestude­ren van dieren in hun eigen leefwereld inte­ressanter vinden dat het dier in de kooi of aquarium. Maar dat het dier te lijden heeft van de superioriteit van de mens zal toch door de meesten beaamd worden.

LEREN VAN DE DIEREN VAN LASCAUX
Wanneer men de geconditioneerde superiori­teit ten opzichte van dieren afbreekt, beseft men hoe de mens het dier tekort doet. Zelfs wanneer we voor het dier zorgen of het knuf­felen, schieten we te­kort in gevoelens van respect tegenover het dier. We leggen reser­vaten aan, prachtige dierentui­nen of hangen een kooi vol hamster­draai­molens…het is nog steeds een zorg om het dier dat niets (behalve geld) van ons kost. Waar we onze superiori­teit niet voor hoeven in te leveren. Maar stel dat we dat wel doen. Stel dat we onze superioriteitgevoelens eens op de tocht zetten. Dan doen we nieuwe ontdekkingen.

Eén van die nieuwe ontdekkingen betreft de grotschilderingen. We willen het verhaal van Lascaux leren ontsluiten maar moeten erkennen dat we maar weinig harde feiten kunnen achterha­len. We bestuderen de grond, de verfstoffen, de artistieke waarde, de menselijke inspanningen die nodig waren de schilderingen aan te leggen. We bestude­ren de handafdrukken, de cirkels, de krassen in de wand, de botten en voetafdrukken op de grond. We bekijken de voor­ouders van onze dieren, we concluderen dat ze zwanger zijn afgebeeld of dat ze al rennende zijn weergege­ven. We hebben het over een Sixtijnse kapel van de ijstijd, oude graffiti of een prehis­torische kunst. Maar wat over­geslagen wordt in al deze beschouwingen is het geschil­derde ob­ject, het dier. Ik bedoel niet dat we de dierenschilderingen niet be­wonderd hebben. Dat we heb­ben gekeken naar welke dieren geschilderd zijn. Naar hoe ze geschilderd zijn. Waar ik op doel is dat we de schilderijen hebben bestudeerd maar niet de dieren zelf. We bestuderen het verhaal van de prehistorische schilder, maar we ver­geten het verhaal van de prehistorische dieren te be­studeren. We trachten met het onderzoek naar de grotten de geest van onze voorouders te be­grij­pen, maar we kruipen niet in de geest van het prehistorische dier. Neen, dat doen we niet om­dat het kijken in de geest van onze voorouders een schier onmogelijke taak is, het proberen te be­grijpen van dieren is zo niet uitgesloten. Maar toch, er zijn voorbeel­den die het tegendeel beplei­ten.

HET DIER VAN DE MENS
Dat er een onderscheid valt te maken tussen mensen en dieren is geheel te danken aan de mense­lijke eigenschap zich te willen onder­scheiden. Wij zijn geheel vertrouwd gemaakt met deze onder­scheiding. Wanneer we niet­temin de mythologie bestuderen, kan een an­dersoortige relatie tussen mens en dier vast beschreven worden. Heel makkelijke voor­beelden zijn bijvoorbeeld de uitspra­ken en riten van de Amerikaanse indianen. Niet zel­den leest men vol romantiek de prachtige uit­spra­ken van Chief Seattle die spreekt over de dieren en rivieren als zijn ‘voorouders’ en ‘broeders’. De wijze Indiaan spreekt niet te­gen ons om ons een romantisch beeld bij te brengen. Neen, hij legt zijn levens­beschouw­ing en cultuur aan ons uit. Zonder sentiment of romantiek moeten we met kracht proberen ons in te leven hoe het werke­lijk voelt een beer of paard als je broeder te beschouwen.
Misschien lukt dit denkexperiment nog. Moeilijker wordt het je dierenbroeders en zusters te beschouwen als wijs. Of als medium voor goddelijke boodschappen. Neen, niet zozeer het dier maar de heilige krachten welke het dier onthult, zijn dan het object van de verering.
Maar er zijn ook middenwegen be­wandeld. We herkenden dierlijke driften in ons hetgeen ons lichaam dierlijke karakteris­tieken gaf. Maar onze geest, onze ziel was goddelijk. Althans dat was de Middeleeuwer de mening toegedaan. In de moderne tijd is deze visie bijgedraaid. Biologen kunnen na nauwkeurige observatie sociaal gedrag aanwijzen bij bijvoorbeeld apen en koolme­zen. We zijn dankzij het werk van biologen weer naar elkaar toegegroeid. Immers, dieren en mensen hebben gemeen dat ze met elkaar kunnen praten, ze onderling seksuele en so­ciale rela­ties vormen.

Wanneer we de taxonomie (het wetenschap­pelijk classificeren) van mensen en die­ren even terzijde schuiven, kunnen we nieuwe gedachten ontwikkelen. Uiteraard moeten we dat niet alleen in gedachten doen, maar ook met ons gevoel. We moeten een enorm taboe opheffen dat is inge­steld om de gebruikelijke classificatie te doen standhouden. Ik bepleit niet met een aantal dieren rond een tafel te gaan dineren. Noch met een duif te gaan picknic­ken. Echter, willen we het raad­sel van Lascaux kunnen ontrafelen dan moet er een soort respect en empathie ontstaan dat dwars door de taxonomische barrières breekt. Het onderscheid tussen mens en dier moet als het ware semipermeabel worden: noodzakelijke onderscheidingen blijven bestaan ter preven­tie van ziekten, sentimenteel gedrag, idiotie en sodomie. Maar uitwisselbaar moet worden het vermogen tot com­municeren, gevoelens van respect en liefde. Dit element van uitwis­seling of vloeibaarheid is op veel verschil­lende wijzen uitgedrukt. Om enkele voor­beelden te noemen; het sociale karakter van het totemisme, de mythen van geboorte en dood van de we­reld uit dieren. Maar ook vi­sueel heeft de mens een scala aan hybride entiteiten gecreëerd die doen vermoeden dat de relatie tussen mens en dier een enorme reikwijdte aan motieven en implicaties heeft; de Centaur (paard-man), de Minotaur (stier-man), Echidna (slang-vrouw), Pegasus (paard-vogel) en de Sfinx (vrouw-leeuw-vo­gel).
Het belangrijkste aspect van het doorbreken van de grenzen tussen mens en dier is wel het werk van de sjamaan. De reli­gieuze specialist die dwaalt tussen hemel en onderwereld en niet zel­den een gevecht moet leveren met een dier of een dier ontmoet als zijn begeleider. De sjamaan transformeert zichzelf in een dier en heeft contact met de overige dieren. Enkele aspecten van het werk van de sjamaan zijn verrukkelijk speels be­schreven door Terence H. White. Deze auteur laat Merlijn de jeugdige Koning Arthur in meerdere dieren transformeren als scholing voor zijn aankomend leiderschap. Wanneer Koning Arthur vele jaren na zijn scholing zijn innig geliefde metgezellen in een grot ont­moet;

Doe de deur open en kijk”, (zei Merlijn te­gen Arthur). Hij deed hem open (…)…en het beste van alles was, zijn oudste vrienden waren er (…). Zij (de dieren c.q. Arthurs vrienden) zaten in een kring rond het vuur; das, die zich bedeesd overeind hees ter­wijl een ware la­wine van beschreven vellen papier uit zijn schoot in de haard vloog; T.natrix, die zich ontrolde en met een ebbenhouten tong trillende waarmee hij van plan was, zo nodig, de vor­stelijke hand te kussen; Archimedes, die op en neer danste van plezier en verwach­ting, de vleugels half spreidend en ermee fladderend, als een kleine vogel die vraagt om gevoerd te worden; Balin, dier er voor het eerst van zijn leven verpletterd uitzag, om­dat hij bang was dat hij misschien verge­ten was; Cavall, zo gekweld door de heer­lijke van zijn gevoelens dat hij zich in een hoekje moest afzonderen om over te geven; geit, die de keizerlijke groet in een vooruit­ziende flits lang geleden had gegeven; egel, die loyaal en rechtop aan het eind van de kring stond, waar men hem afgezonderd van de anderen had doen plaats nemen vanwege zijn vlooien, maar vol vaderlandsliefde en verlangend, indien mogelijk, te worden op­gemerkt. Zelfs de enorme opgezette snoek, die een noviteit was boven de schoorsteen­mantel onder de Stichter, scheen met een smekend oog naar hem (Arthur) te kijken. “O, mensen!” riep de koning uit.

Het antropomorfiseren en de reactie van Arthur op het weerzien van zijn vrienden ont­roert de le­zer. Terence White heeft speels geschreven aan de hand van een prachtige le­gende. De premis­sen zijn ‘scholing door ob­servatie van het dierenrijk’ en ’empathie met het dierenrijk’. Als van­zelf volgt het mo­ment waarop we onze dierenvrienden begroe­ten met ‘O, mensen!’.
De sjamaan, Merlijn en de vakkundige bio­loog vertellen het verhaal van nauwkeurige observatie en  empathie. Deze ingrediënten zijn onmisbaar om gevoelens van verant­woordelijkheid en empa­thie op te bouwen. Op een meer directe wijze verhaalt het vol­gende gedicht van een puur inle­vingsvermo­gen:

Vlinder/papillon

Een vlinder danst rond mijn hoofd

en zet zich opeens op mijn knie.

een trillend rustpunt van leven.

in het gras aan de rand van het water

zit ik een vlinder te zijn.


De Klimmende Boomvrouw  
Catharina van der Linden

LASCAUX ADEMT SCHOONHEID MAAR ZWIJGT IN ALLE TALEN
Zo wandelt men denkbeeldig door de grot van Lascaux. Men probeert vanuit mensen en dieren ogen te kijken naar de schilderijen. De dieren zijn zo vrienden, neen zelfs broeders en zusters. Net zoals de jonge Koning Arthur is ontroerd, begroet men de die­ren met ‘O, mensenlief, wat mooi zijn jullie’. Net zoals Bataille, die een interessante filosofie over de grottekeningen heeft ontwik­keld, loopt en kruipt de ware geïnteresseerde mens daar rond. Zo bevoordeeld als Bataille was, is men helaas niet. Vandaag de dag zal men zich met plaatjes en kleurenfoto’s tevreden moeten stel­len. Desalniettemin valt te denken aan Franciscus van Assisi en aan de ontroerende foto’s van het zwaar autistisch kind dat lacht wanneer een dolfijn langs zwemt en tegen het kind spreekt in dol­fijnen-taal.

Zo zal men beseffen dat de grottekeningen niet alleen ontroeren vanwege de schoon­heidservaring. De grot ademt schoonheid maar zwijgt in de ons bekende mensentaal over haar verhaal. De ge­dachte dringt zich op van een menselijke tekortkoming; het tekort schieten in broeder en zuster gevoelens ten opzichten van het geschilderde dier. We be­studeren de tekeningen maar slaan iets over. We bekijken het als een schilderij, maar het schilderij heeft een object. We beschouwen Lascaux als een Sixtijnse kapel maar vergeten dat het de prehistorische mens misschien ge­heel niet om het schilderen was gedaan. Zij, deze schilders, waren gefascineerd door het object dat in talloze grotten een hoofdrol speelt; het dier. We willen Lascaux ontsluiten en doen enorme moeite in de geest van de prehistorische mens te kruipen. We moeten echter onthouden dat het onder­scheid tussen mens en dier door de geschiedenis heen di­verse vormen heeft gekend. De schilder was bezield  in vrij letterlijke zin van het dier en als weergave van deze bezie­ling schilderde hij of zij deze dieren op een naturalistische wijze.

Willen wij het verhaal van Lascaux leren kennen dan zou het kunnen zijn dat we in de huid van het dier moeten kruipen. We moeten onze huidige ver­onderstelling van super­iori­teit verlaten, experimenteren met onze empa­thische vermogens en een subtiele wilskracht ontwikkelen. Want wij zijn ergens in de ge­schiedenis gestopt met ons in te le­ven in het dier. Met onze superioriteit kwam het breek­punt in het communiceren met hen. Deze dramatische breuk moeten we herstellen. Want het Lascaux-dier spreekt wel, maar de mens ver­staat ’em niet meer. Wanneer we onze superioriteit transformeren in respect en op den duur res­pect in liefde, dan zal het communiceren tussen mens en dier weer op gang komen. Vele verhalen zullen volgen.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Lascaux’ officiele website.

Drs. P.M.L. Kuitenbrouwer is kunstenares in Utrecht. Ze studeerde Wijsbegeerte aan Utrecht Universiteit en aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Paula is vegan.

Paula’s Etsy shop is hier en Paula’s portfolio is hier.

Mandarin Ducks, Mandarijneendjes, Aix galericulata

Over the last month, I have designed and worked on a new Mandarin Duck composition. A mandarin duck couple happily swims in their duck pond that is surrounded by five chrysanthemums. The duck pond has a pentagonal ‘Sakura’ shape, sakura referring to Asian cherry blossom. I combined the sakura, chrysanthemums, and mandarin ducks and was delighted and surprised by how harmonious the combination turned out.

At my Etsy art shop, I have several of these compositions available, mounted and not-mounted with a passe-partout, with full colour mandarin ducks or with albino or leucistic ducks. I am going to experiment with another Japanese flower shape: the Yukiwa flower, an equally harmonious shape that will elegantly ‘frame’ the mandarin ducks.

Should you like to commission a larger mandarin duck composition or you like to order a wedding set, feel free to contact me.

Stay healthy, creative, and kind.

Love,

Paula

Paula Kuitenbrouwer ‘s art shop at Etsy, her portfolio at Instagram. Here website at mindfuldrawing.com.

What is Cassandra Syndrome?

Cassandra Syndrome, also known as Cassandra Complex, Phenomenon, Predicament, or Curse. What is it? In this blog-post you will learn about Cassandra. Three women describe their experiences with Cassandra Syndrome.

IN SHORT: Cassandra Syndrome applies to a person whose valid warnings or concerns are not believed by others.

Cassandra by Ferdinand Rothbart

A TAD BIT LONGER

In Greek mythology, Cassandra is a beautiful daughter of King Priam of Troy. The young god Apollo smitten by her beauty, gives her the gift of prophecy. Despite this gift, Cassandra does not return Apollo’s romantic feelings. As a result, Apollo is so angry that he ensures Cassandra’s prophecies are never believed. Thus, in stories, Cassandra often appears as a prophet of doom, forewarning all her warnings stay unheeded. Over time, Cassandra’s name has become synonymous with prophets of doom.

IN DEPTH

Modern people have little knowledge about prophesies; we prefer statistical data and scientific simulations to map out our future. Those who dare to speak about prophecies are seen as mad or religious fanatics. That said, we fill our days with policy making. Whether you are a housewife/man, or a governmental senior policy maker, we run errands for the rest of the week and make plans for the next five year. We are very busy with forecasting and foretelling our future. Keeping an eye on the future is an integral part of living a well-planned life.

Remember the fall of Troy? Cassandra attempted to warn the Trojan people that Greek warriors were hiding in the Trojan Horse. Nobody believed Cassandra. Instead the Trojans resorted to calling her names and hurling insults at her. At night, the Greek soldiers hiding inside the horse, take the city of Troy, leading to its fall. So, what is Cassandra Syndrome? It consists of two aspects: prophesy and disbelief.

PROPHESY

Prophesying is about seeing, or believing, or knowing something goes wrong. This knowing is based on a gift by the god Apollo in Cassandra’s story, but we -modern and often secular people- can base this knowledge on life experience, intuition, or scientific data. Whatever the source or method of knowing, Cassandra Syndrome is about knowing what is about to happen, and this can be very stressful.

I once read about a man who saw his whole life playing like a movie in his mind when he suffered a NDE (Near Death Experience). After this NDE, his life evolved just the way he had ‘seen’. He knew what would happen, who would die (first), just as he had ‘seen’. I gave this much thought and asked myself ‘Would I want to know all that? And would I be in such acceptance?’ The man’s wife died before him. ‘Would I put effort in trying to change that, to change the ‘natural’ course of things as they had presented in his NDE?’ These are difficult questions.

DISBELIEF

It is extremely stressful if your warning or knowing is met with disbelief. People die; Troy falls. All of that could have been prevented had people listened to Cassandra. Most climate change advocates must have suffered from Cassandra Syndrome. Who believed their doom scenario (of rising sea levels, increased heatwaves, horrendous floods) till we actually saw it happening?

Max Klinger, Cassandra, 1893

Have you ever suffered Cassandra Syndrome?

I did at least twice and it was very stressful. Am I bestowed with the gift of prophesying? No, of course not. Whether knowledge comes intuitively, divinely, logically, or scientifically, that is rather irrelevant. The point is that you had knowledge about a future development and you weren’t believed. Like Cassandra, I was ridiculed.  

Cassandra was seen as a liar and a madwoman by her family. Her father, Priam, locked her away in a chamber and guarded her like the madwoman she was said to be. How could Priam rule when his daughter could foretell the future? As a king, he should be in charge of the future, not his daughter. But because of the gift of Apollo, Cassandra was the real policy maker; she could anticipate the future. Thus, she was shamed as a madwoman. She was silenced.

THREE PERSONAL NARRATIVES ON CASSANDRA SYNDROME

I. ‘I got Cassandra syndrome from a conflict with my father. We strongly disagreed about his future. In my opinion, he should sign up for an old people’s home because he needed care and socializing. He said I was psychiatric, which is a very classical reaction of an old man in relation to a woman speaking her mind. Priam drove a knife in Cassandra’s back to stay in power; my father back-stabbed me in order to silence me. And boy, a flock of sheep was too willingly believing the Master of Manipulation. Calling women psychiatric is what (some) men do when women saying things they dislike. This begs the question; has anything changed since Ancient Greece?’

II. ‘When I think of Cassandra Syndrome, I think of Camille Claudel. She was a very talented sculptress but she lived in the shadow of Auguste Rodin. Claudel made art at the time when it was highly unusual for a woman to make a living as an artist. How could she ever step out of the shadow of the famous Rodin with whom she was in a collaborative and passionate relationship? It is said she lost her mind and lived for 30 years, till her death, in a mental asylum. Why was it that the woman of the artistic couple was stored away? Was she a madwoman or was she perhaps silenced by a male oriented society?’

III. ‘How long did it take for the pharmaceutical industry to acknowledge that it has been a men’s industry, testing medicines on men, for the benefits of men? How long have women taken medicines that were designed and tested on men? I understand there has been reluctance with testing medication on women for fear of damaging the reproductive system or unborn babies. But when these male designed medications didn’t help women, women too often were advised to seek psychological help for ‘psycho-somatic’ illnesses. In essence, the pharmaceutical industry was failing women and by suggesting they needed emotional help this industry was ridiculing and silencing women, saying they were a bit loopy, in need of mental help. In fact, the industry should have designed medicine for women. I think that women collectively suffer from Cassandra syndrome.’

For more on women and healthcare issues: Voices of Women. Books: Invisible Women, Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. And: Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn.

How many women (and men) -do you think- have been Cassandra during a time in their lives? My guess? Too many. Far too many.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula Kuitenbrouwer, owner, commission artist, and writer at Mindfuldrawing.com, a website full artwork, art-musings, art-appreciation, and art-essays. Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and loves painting and drawing. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s artshop is at Etsy. Just go there and have a look. You do not need an account to order art. Paula is also at Instagram, where she uses her Instagram as a portfolio for pictures and videos for you to enjoy.

THE ANATOMY OF A FAILED CHARACTER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

Ina, a former arts & crafts teacher, tells her story about a failed character assassination attempt. Her narrative does not focus on the causes or conflicts that lie at the roots of the attempt nor on the mortally malcontented being in need to vent their frustrations on her and her family. Instead Ina’s story centers around the notion of a failed attempt. Why did it fail? And how did it fail? What role did art play? Ina shares her experiences because she profoundly hopes that it might help others. ‘Even if it is one teenager or woman that is helped by my story, I am happy‘. Her story is illustrated by several artworks.

Medieval Illuminated Manuscript
of a Phoenix burning and regenerating itself. Ina says that she adopted the phoenix as her role model. She got burned but regenerated herself.

Ina’s interview takes place at her studio. Her large work table and various artisan tools ignite a desire to become creative. Various unfinished projects give evidence of an overload of inspiration. Ina reluctantly revisits a time in her life in which she and her family received hate mail after hate mail. ‘Hateful emails seek a reaction, a response, they invite a counter attack’.

I read ‘Religion and Violence’ by historian René Girard when I was in my twenties and I was struck by his theory of the Scapegoat Mechanism. How important a scapegoat is for social cohesion and how collectively accusing is more important than the substance. Thinking back of Girard’s theory, I concluded that -unluckily and apparently- it was my time in life to experience that mechanism first-hand. Scapegoating me was skillfully done with drip-feeding fabricated and exaggerating accusations that resulted in attacks on me’. 

As soon as Ina realized that attempts to counterbalance false accusations didn’t help, and that she wasn’t responsible for one other’s envy, she withdrew and refused to interact with those who made it their mission to bring her down. She hoped that the campaign against her would die down as soon as some fact-checking was done. It was not the accusations that hurt her (they were silly, made-up, and unfounded) but the fact that people were so willingly believing gossip. Ina knew therefore that trying to get into the good books of her aggressors was a Sisyphean task. Thus, Ina decided to wait it out. That didn’t work. Eventually, she had to hire a lawyer as a firewall. ‘Seal off your personal space, and resort to things that are soul nourishing, like studying, being creative, doing sports,’ advises Ina.

‘Just because there is an attempt to harm your life, to bring you down, to harm your family, it does not imply that you should get emotionally involved. That said, hate-mails hurt no matter how unfounded or dumb the content is. I noticed that I started to excuse myself and resorted to using disclaimers, I adopted an apologetic attitude. That was not good, so I changed that’.

‘I realized one has to live one’s own life, suffer one’s own sufferings and rejoicing in one’s own luck and happiness. Not to say that I have adopted a hyper-individualized form of existence, instead, I am Aristotelian in believing that one’s telos, one’s full potential should be the focus of our lives in relation to others. We are inherently social beings. But you need to select carefully with whom you hang out. Relations are healthy when they support each other’s telos and growth, unhealthy when they hamper one’s telos. It was unfair to ask from me (and my family) to absorb other people’s hate and discontentment.

What does character assassination look like? What is its anatomy?

‘It is much more than an ordinary squabble or an unresolved conflict. Character assassination is a coordinated and prolonged effort to maliciously harm a person, to damage a person’s good reputation, and to destroy someone’s self esteem. I will not sum up the long list of areas of my life that were targeted but the vile accusations were emotive, paternalizing, and downright hateful. There was relentless criticism on almost every aspect of my life along with reproaches and objections. My education, my past, my choices, what I said-thought-felt, the way I looked… my husband, his work, his voluntary work, even my child, nothing got spared. It was obsessive.

I noticed many characteristics of conspiracy thinking too: deep and unfounded suspicion, blaming without evidence, no fair hearing (jumping to conclusions or unsubstantiated ideas). The amount of emails describing me and my family as elitists and elite were significant. And of course, the ‘elite’ was to blame for ‘everything’.

It grew -even without me interacting- and after a few months the hate had accumulated in that I was a despicable and dangerous person. That I was dangerous made me almost laugh, had it not been so sad, because I am a boringly good citizen. And, also very conspiracy-like, I was to blame for everything that was wrong. My villains were so proud of echoing that I was the single cause of a layered, multi-faceted, and complex problem. Ever since Eve! Such is the beautiful, simple world in which one woman causes the fall out of paradise.

‘Things completely spiraled out of control. It was frightening (and interesting) to see how every next email or letter was harsher in tone, more accusative. When my family and I received a physical threat and a death-wish, we were advised to go to the police and a lawyer.

‘At that time, I came across ‘Tax Collectors’ by Reymerswale but I did not know the title of this artwork. It shows two tax collectors doing their paperwork. Despite their luxurious clothing and fine interior, the painter has deliberately made them look downright ugly. To me, this painting could have been titled ‘Two Hate Mail Writers’ because hate makes ugly’.

Workshop of Marinus van Reymerswale Two Tax-Gatherers probably 1540.

‘I asked myself what in my life had been left untouched by hate. There was not much left. Realizing this, I knew it was about a need for hating, exactly like Girard had theorized. There was a need for a shared enemy on the part of the accusers to ease tensions. I had become a lightning rod for an unsolvable conflict and problem. I was deeply shocked.’

HOW TO DEAL WITH ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY YOU?

I suffered terribly. I have had moments wondering whether I could cope with all the anger directed at me. Hate is a terrible monster, like Cerberus (the three-headed dog of Greek myth guarding the entrance to the underworld). Envy is an even more devilish monster. You have to protect yourself against monsters. I was greatly supported by my husband but I needed judicial help too. So, get help is number one.’

‘Number two: look at where the anger comes from. Is it justified? Does it come from a well-educated, well balanced person (or persons) who is open to mediation, respecting the choices you make in your life? No? Then try to stay unaffected. People willingly venting their unrestrained anger are harming themselves; it is like the trash taking itself out. So, get help and try to stay unaffected. That sounds contradictory, but it isn’t’.

Peasant Mother by David Alfaro Siqueiros. To Ina this painting shows there are times you feel surrounded by cacti.

Ina came across a painting of a mother with her child positioned between man-high saguaro cacti navigating her way through a barren and hostile landscape. She felt one with the painting. ‘This is a great expressionist painting. You immediately are drawn into the painting. The background shows a sunset but it looks like it is on fire, adding to the dramatic scene. I loved this painting because it so cleverly shows danger juxtaposing tenderness. I felt like the mother in this picture. But I also felt like the child, held by the protective arms of my family. As long as my family and I kept on walking, that landscape would change for the better’.

Phoenix Regenerating, Aberdeen University Library: showing a Phoenix after its regeneration.

‘During the prolonged attacks, I felt as if I had died a bit inside. A crisis can break or make you. If I died a bit inside, I decided that I would be like a phoenix, the mythological, immortal bird, who dies by flames and arises from its ashes. It took time, but I completed my regeneration. My health was restored (that took more than a year) and I felt good again. The biggest compliment I gained is that I looked younger. There is much truth to that observation. I adopted a Phoenix as my mascot. Its picture helped me to keep strongly focused on regeneration. That was very important to me’.

Will you forgive and what did you learn?

‘It would be a mistake to forgive because it was a well-planned and prolonged attack, not a faux pass. I decided against forgiving because I am setting an example to never allow emotional abuse’.

‘The long period of harassment happened during the pandemic. It was a shameful fact that in the Netherlands there was an increase of women and children abuse during the pandemic, especially during lock-downs. Apparently, some were in need to vent their boiled up anger. Perhaps it helped them to write hate mails, but they should have dealt with their feelings differently’.

What I learned? I learned that people are shockingly easy to mobilize against another person. All the instigator had to do is preying on feelings of envy or frustrations’.

DID THE HARM CAMPAIGN FAILED OR SUCCEEDED?

Shame withheld me to look for help. It is probably a womanly thing to react as a sin-eater. I felt ashamed being so hated. Shame is a very bad reaction to bullying (there is no way you have brought scapegoating onto yourself). It results in withdrawal and silence. What one needs is the opposite, to set up a robust defense. I remember my lawyer hearing my story and saying; ‘This is awful, let me take it from here and I’ll run this pass a criminal lawyer too’. The intense relief that caused! So, did the character assassination fail? Initially, no. It caused emotional and physical damage. Also, money was spent on judicial help which better could have benefited the next generation. And I still keep my friends at an arm’s length, afraid they too pop out of Pandora’s box as hateful puppets. But overcoming shame and seeking help changed everything. I am absolutely not a fan of Nietzsche, but he is frequently quoted for having said that what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. In the end, the character assassination epically failed’.

Any advice for teenagers who get bullied, for women who become conduits of anger?

‘In teenage language? ‘What the fuck! Seek support NOW. You are worth living your cool life without the bullshit of others’. To adults, I advise the same, though in different wording: go to the police, get a good lawyer. Stop feeling shame, stop suffering; harassing behaviour by others is socially or judicially unacceptable. Seek help’.

–XXX–

THE MORAL OF THIS BLOG-POST? You have read this before on this website: We make art, appreciate art, and see our lives reflected in art. The great stories about the human predicament, whether Ancient Greek, Biblical or classical literary sources, or famous fine art paintings, all cover some part of our lives. Seek refuge in art and literature. Nourish your soul with literature and art. Art matters. Books matter. Art heals. We -humans- have created a huge reservoir of healing properties to be found in libraries, museums, galleries, studios, and bookshops. Use it; enjoy it.

Next blog post will be about what is a Cassandra Syndrome?

Mindfuldrawing.com is owned by Paula Kuitenbrouwer who holds an MA degree in Philosophy. Paula’s pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic. Paula has an Etsy shop here. Her Instagram account serves as an online portfolio and is here. Contact Paula freely by email or a contact form for commissioned artwork.

OTHER BLOG POSTS:

Midwinter Holiday Season Christmas Art Cards 2022

It might sound paradoxical but thanks to the heatwave of Summer 2022, I have my Midwinter holiday season art cards available in my Etsy shop. I know this is very early so let me explain why.

I am too much a northerner to enjoy weeks of deep blue skies, high temperatures, and sweltering nights. In fact, during a heatwave I prefer to stay out of the sun, pretending trees, shrubs, and plants do not suffer from drought, animals aren’t thirsty, and all is perfectly normal. But of course, it isn’t. We are breaking weather record after weather record and these high temperatures are very challenging. The heat also has taken a bite out of our holiday. Not that we didn’t enjoy our holiday; we did! But the high temperatures prevented us making long walks and caused long delays on motorways due to fires on the shoulders of roads. So, these are the downsides to a heatwave. Now, the upside! A deep longing for cooler temperatures, made me work on two Midwinter compositions. Perhaps, subconsciously and illogically I thought that as long as I focus on winter, I can endure the hot summer a bit better. ‘Art-heals’ is said, isn’t it?

Midwinter Forest
Six languages

I designed a round composition showing a midwinter forest with deer, hares, and a squirrel with pine trees and holly. Inside there is a Christmas wish in six languages and on the backside you find a deer, the title of this painting as well as my name in small print.

The other composition shows a mandarin duck couple resting near their duck pond that is surrounded by holly, ivy, and overhanging rowan branches. The scientific side of me urges me to tell you that a mandarin drake loses much of his bright plumage before winter arrives. Should he keep his outrageous bright colours, he would stand out too much and soon would become a colourful meal for predators. That said, you won’t spot a teddy bear with a snowman’s hat during your winter walk either; the holiday season allows us some room for imagination.

Enjoy my Midwinter Mandarin Duck postcard and Midwinter Forest double folded note-card. Should you like to order a set, or a large quantity, contact me freely. As I will have them printed on demand, allow me 2-3 weeks of production time.

There is nothing better to have all seasonal greetings cards ready halfway November. Not only because it takes away last-minute pressure, also because there are still postal delays.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

I have my shop at Etsy & my portfolio (including videos) at Instagram.

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What is Future Faking?

I could have been living the life of Esme, the main character in The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, going through my days learning new words. When I am reading and I come across a new word, I use a dictionary and make notes. New words are intriguing. I like to share a (to me) new word and supplement it with personal reflections and artwork.

FUTURE FAKING

Future Faking is when a person lies or promises something regarding your future in order to get what they want in the present. It is often used in the context of men telling lies to women. For instance, a man does not like to bring a relationship to the next level but also do not like his girlfriend to date others, thus promising a future. His lies sound like ‘When I introduce you to my parents’ or ‘When we go on holiday together’. That is future faking (if it turns out to be a lie). The same counts for gifts, inheritances, and rewards. ‘Take care (of me), work hard, stay loyal, and one day you will receive a reward’. Or, ‘One day I will deal with my indebtedness towards you’. But that day never comes. The rewards or gifts never materialize, hence the faked future.

Apparently, women suffer more from future faking than men. When it comes to trust, women are more gullible (forgive me this generalization). Perhaps this is because women do not easily negotiate proper payment, deadlines, promotions, or rewards (forgive me also this generalization). A woman asking for a raise, a promotion, or expenses is often seen as unbecoming, over-assertive. Because the natural state of a woman should be voluntary caring anyway, so way pay?

Future Faking symbolized by an empty gift box.

EXPERIENCE & ADVICE

I have suffered a good dose of future faking. Once, I was promised a compensation for caring/assistive work that I had done for many years. After waiting and waiting, I mustered the courage and asked for it (friendly). What followed was moral indignation and conflict. Instead of being compensated, I was shamed. Not the person (a man) -who for years ‘forgot’ or postponed to compensate me- was being accused of being shameful, but me a woman asking for a compensation was breaking traditional rules”.

‘I have a word of caution for young (or new) female artists. Beware of future faking whilst building a business as an artist. ‘Exhibit your art for free’ -followed by a future faking- ….’and you will gain a lot of exposure’. And that will bring in sales. Or, ‘Let me do some P.R. for your art’. Or ‘You will gain followers’, which are exactly that ‘followers’, not customers. I believed it, foolishly. But the promised results never happened; the only thing that de facto happened was giving away art for free. My advice is to never take the future-faking-bait. You should always make signed arrangements on paper or draft a contract to prevent future faking’.

Are you now more aware of future faking before you knew the word? Do you have a more acute awareness of this manipulative trick?

ILLUSTRATING FUTURE FAKING

When it comes to choosing an illustration for this blog-post, my head swirled with stories. God and Moses and the opening of the seas? No. That was a case of a kept promise. ‘(Exodus 14:21) Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.” Moses reaches the holy land. No future faking.

I have chosen Orpheus and Eurydice trying to walk out of the Underworld to illustrate this blog-post.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld, 1861

Hades, god of the Underworld, promises that Orpheus is allowed to guide Eurydice out of the Underworld as long as he does not look back at his beloved Eurydice during their perilous journey. What does this mean?

In Hades’s Underworld dwell those who have died. Orpheus can’t accept that Eurydice has died and thus has parted from him. Orpheus descends into the Underworld to plea for his reunification with Eurydice. Hades promises Orpheus a future with Eurydice however Hades’s promise is conditioned: Orpheus is not allowed to look back at Eurydice during their journey out of the Underworld.

During their journey, Eurydice is in tremendous need for support, and constantly begs Orpheus to check on her during the long and perilous journey to the end of the Underworld. Imagine the darkness, the horrors. Moments before stepping out of the Underworld, Orpheus can’t ignore Eurydice’s need for his encouragement anymore. He looks over his shoulder to Eurydice (‘Is she still there?) and by doing that he irretrievably loses his Eurydice to Hades (to death) again. He was just about to live with Eurydice again and have a future with her, when he loses her again. The suspense in this story is breath-taking and has inspired musicians, writers, and painters forever).

Hades knows beforehand that it is impossible for Eurydice to leave the underworld. As long as Eurydice dwells in the Underworld and does not see daylight, the natural order of things (Eurydice being dead) is not breached. Read: ‘no-one is brought back to life after having died’ but close to entering daylight, Orpheus loses Eurydice because Hades will never give up his power over his realm of death. However, this does not withhold Hades from perfectly preying on the deep longing of Orpheus for Eurydice.

The moment Orpheus looks at Eurydice, she slips back into the underworld.
Orpheus and Eurydice by Carl Andreas August Goos  (1797–1855) 

Hades foresees that Orpheus will feel an overwhelming urge to support the vulnerable Eurydice along their journey. Is she still following his footsteps? Has she fallen back? Does she still trust him when he is not making eye contact with her? Has the darkness swallowed her? Orpheus loses Eurydice but he was never able to retrieve her from the underworld in the first place. Odysseus is deceived by Hades. Hades has made a false -future- promise. Orpheus and Eurydice being united again after her death? No. Impossible. Too good to be true, future faking in hindsight.

Perhaps the end of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is the most haunting. Orpheus has given it all; he has ‘convinced’ Hades and has tried to guide Eurydice out of the Underworld. Yet, he loses Eurydice twice. A double heartbreak is too much for Orpheus. He becomes so pitiable, being alone (again), that he is murdered by malicious wood nymphs. Perhaps Orpheus’ death symbolizes that something dies after a breach of trust.

Death of Orpheus (1494) by Dürer

Future Faking has inspired writers to great stories and artists to haunting paintings. Forgive yourself when you have been a victim of future faking, but don’t make the same mistake twice.

THE MORALE:

Future faking is a highly manipulative method; its relational or emotional damage should not be underestimated.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer
Commission artist living in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and owner, artist, and writer at Mindfuldrawing.com. Mindfuldrawing.com is a personal blog full art, art-appreciation, art-musings, and essays on art plus artwork made by Paula Kuitenbrouwer.

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula has a lovely Etsy shop here. Her Instagram account serves as an online portfolio and is here.

Contact Paula freely by email or a contact form for commissioned artwork.

Commission your Fengshui Mandarin Duck Artwork

Should you need a mandarin duck display in your home, think about a commissioned painting. Consider real, original art. The benefit of ordering a mandarin ducks commission is that you have a large say in your exhibited artwork: you can order a mandarin duck composition in bright or toned-down colours, the position of the ducks can be discussed, the background (floral, water-plants, or no background), all preferences are cared for. Do you prefer a border, Asian or West-European, gold or blue? We will discuss the possible use of a tiny bit of iridescent paint to highlight the awesome plumage of the mandarin drake too. And so on.

Mandarin ducks come in all sizes, positions, and environments. Some couples sit, others swim. Some rest and hide, whilst others are out there in the open. Look at your room and look at what you favorite quality of your (possible, new or existing) relation is: you like to be depicted synchronized? Lovingly looking at each other? Side by side? Resting or bobbing on high waves? All is possible.

Room with my Mandarin Duck artwork (imagine a mount and frame).

Fengshui says: ‘Mandarin ducks are the most effective remedy for love, devotion, marriage and luck. Since mandarin ducks are clear sources of love and romance, the ideal spot to place them is the couple’s bedroom. Place an artwork -showing a marvelous mandarin duck couple- to cherish their attractiveness. For married couples, the strong vibes given by the mandarin ducks keeps them together and deepens their love for each other’.

I happily work on Wood duck and Albino mandarin duck commissions too as these ducks are as pretty as full colour mandarin ducks.

Contact me freely to discuss your mandarin duck wishes. I might have a painting ready to ship, or otherwise, I welcome your commission.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Owner, artist, and writer at Mindfuldrawing.com, a website full artwork, art-musings, art-appreciation, and art-essays.

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s artshop is at Etsy. Just go there and have a look. You do not need an account to order art.

Paula at Instagram. I use my Instagram as a portfolio for pictures and videos. Mainly, for videos that that show me working on a drawing or painting.

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A Dystopian Creative Writing Challenge

I wrote ‘Felix 120’ as a contribution to the writing challenge ‘Write like Kazuo Ishiguro a dystopian piece of max 500 words’. I received encouraging feedback: ‘Your darkest and best piece so far’, which surprised me because I do not favour dystopian literature. That said, I highly admire Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never let me go and The Buried Giant. Allow me to share my writing with you.

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FELIX 120

Once upon a time there was a man named Felix, and goodness, did he live up to the meaning of his name happy and lucky. Felix rode the waves of the economic boom following the Second World War which meant that he could afford the life he had in mind. He loved his life. In fact, he loved no one or nothing more than his life. This wasn’t surprising after all; he had been able to turn disadvantages into advantages. Felix was the embodiment of the principle that effective egoism is best achieved by calculated altruism. Thus his life was long and fortunate. Health-wise he was lucky too. Not only had his deceased wife helped him through all the minor health troubles he had had during their time together, Felix was also blessed with a strong immune system. He survived a war and two pandemics brilliantly. In fact, so blessed was he that it was hard to glow in his shadow.

Felix set out to become a centenarian, which he did with ease and in good health. It slowly became obvious that he stood a good chance to become 120, even 122, which scientists regard as the limit of a human life. When Felix turned 100, a few remaining children attended his birthday but when Felix turned 118 it was a lonely business. His last children had expired in their eighties due to a combination of fragile health and the four year lasting nuclear winter following North Korea’s bomb.

The mayor of Felix’s town paid his annual obligatory visit to his city’s oldest man, Felix. Cheerfully the major advised to all that were in the room, a medium sized cooled cell, to enjoy each other ‘whilst they were still alive together’. The director of the retirement home quickly whispered to the mayor that there was no family present. Later, after Felix was hauled to bed by his robotic nurse, the mayor and director walked to the exit exchanging some facts and figures.

‘Any children left?’ the major inquired.

‘No, only a few grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Rumor has it that they all moved north’. The mayor was well aware of the ‘moving north’ phrase; it meant escaping global warming by moving closer to the arctic circle.

‘Who pays for his Aircocoon and assisting robot then?’ asked the mayor.

‘He himself’ said the director, ‘Felix is a man of great self-preservation’.  

The director and mayor continued their walk to the exit passing tens of cocoons. Soft neon lights and whooshing sounds of bleeping assistive nurses emanated from the cabins.

Outside a scorching sun burned down on the roof of the former warehouse.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

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Whilst googling for illustrative pictures -to my surprise- I found photos of a Japanese assistive robot that is capable of putting immobilized patients to bed. During my writing, I had projected these robots in the future, however after I had written my piece, I learned that their implementation into nursing homes is well on its way.

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.OTHER BLOG POSTS AND LINKS:

CONTACT FORM:

P.S. My wood duck composition is ready and available at Etsy.

My shop is at ETSY. Please, feel invited to contact me directly should you be interested in my art.

I am currently very inspired by our recent stay in the Cotswolds. Expect some lovely medieval paintings before the end of this year!

Listen to Intuition

My husband and I were driving through the countryside just around the time of a wonderful pink-orange sunset. I was driving and my husband was sight seeing woodlands and meadows. Suddenly, I decided to drive slower which prompted my husband to ask if anything was wrong.

‘Nothing wrong’, I replied, ‘I do not like to hit crossing deer’.

Not many seconds later a suicidal squad of weasels crossed the road just in front of our car. I braked (reflex), stopped breaking (for fear of being hit by someone driving behind us) and asked full worries to my husband whether I had hit the daring family.

My husband checked his mirror and said he saw no roadkill. Big sigh of relief! That was close.

Later, I recalled that just before breaking for this twilight loving family that I had slowed down, knowing there could be a confrontation with wildlife crossing our road (or, and better, our road crossing their habitat). I interpreted my ‘knowledge’ as a worry for crossing deer.

The point is, one knows. Ones knows more than one knows. That intuitive knowledge, or intuition, is a very subtle knowing, extremely easy to dismiss or being overrule with thoughts, day dreaming, or reasoning. It is not vague or nebulous. But it is subtle. In fact, it is so subtle that one probably and unknowingly fails to act on intuition perhaps 99% of the time when it tries to gets its subtle message across to you. A suitable metaphor would be picking up the song of a nightingale at the time ten lorries are passing.

Driving through the lazy countryside, at sunset, with very little traffic to worry about, I did pick up on intuition and it saved four weasels. I wish that more often I would be able to hear, feel or act on intuition, because it is so beautiful. It makes you feel an actor in a large play in which the director (male/ female) allows you to act with his/her overview and wisdom.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

P.S. Allow me to show you some recent work. I’ve been very productive which makes me very happy. Happiness equals art-making and vice versa: art-making generates happiness. 😁

For my artwork click here. I have a portfolio of at least 100 artworks. Should you have questions regarding my work, please feel free to contact me.

Stay happy and cool,

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Mandarin Duck Art Card Set

They always come in handy, mandarin duck art cards. They are perfect for weddings, marriage anniversaries, engagements, Valentine’s Day, to reaffirm friendship, or to renew wedding vows, or just to express a bit of kindness to a wonderful friend.

Would you like to receive a set of mandarin duck art cards? I have a selection of 4 double folded note-cards and 4 postcards. They all come with matching envelopes. The set contains only professionally printed art cards that will delight you. You will receive four very different mandarin duck compositions. Minimalist, romantic, 19th century and vintage-like, the four different compositions will make it easy for you to select the right card for the right occasion.

It is almost a point too obvious to mention that these cards are only at my Etsy shop and that they are nowhere else for sale. They come with some add-ons and as long as my stock lasts, with a special vintage mandarin duck postal stamp that I bought from a Canadian philatelist.

Follow the link or contact me if you need some help. You do not need an account to check out at Etsy. But even should you need an account, that is okay because Etsy supports small businesses, craftsmen and artists.

Click on the link underneath this picture to be transferred to my card set:

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

At Instagram

Traditional Palette Colours

I had to buy new gouache paints and, as always, I tried to stay close to the ‘Traditional Palette’ referring to the masters of Dutch Golden Age. Take Rembrandt, his original palette consisted of ochres, umbers, and siennas. Rembrandt used lead white, which for health reasons, is replaced with other whites, for instance titanium white.

The Dutch Golden Age palette is so famous; its warm earthy tones even inspired make-up artists.

Maria van Oosterwijck (1630-1693)

The Seven Colours of Maria Oosterwijck

Allow me to analyse the colours Maria van Oosterwijk shows on her palette. She holds seven pencils with beautiful tips, perfect for her exquisite and highly detailed floral still-lifes. From top to bottom, I say (disclaimer, I was not there): Lead White, Ochre, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red, Deep Red, Ultramarine Blue (green shade), and Deep Green. (Please, feel invited to upload your educated guess in the comment section; we can learn from each other).

SO FEW COLOURS!

One may feel puzzled how exquisite artwork is done with so few colours but the secret is simple: the art of mixing. Have a look, for instance, at the website of Natural Earth Paint and enjoy studying their mixing chart. Notice how a variety of colours can derive from 16 colours only!

With the advance of paint production came healthier paints but also fancier colours. Earth pigments were complemented with synthetic paints. Some colours still carry traditional names like Titan Golden Ochre, but others go by fancier names like Delfts Blue.

The traditional palette as I know it (in oil) consists of Burnt Sienna & Burnt Umbre, Cadmium Red & Cadmium Yellow Pale, Winsor Red Deep, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre Pale. Two greens: Permanent Green Deep & Terre Verte and two blues: Ultramarine (Green Shade) & Cobalt Blue and last, Titanium White & Ivory Black.

I never buy fancy colours with fancy names in our local art store whereas my neighbour, who loves to paint modern and abstract, finds it good fun to add newly developed colours to his palette. I ‘blame’ it on the echo of remarks made by my former teacher warning against wasting money on fancy colours, explaining how they can lead to vulgar results, easily leaving a dirty impression after mixing (only allowed to be mixed with white) and how they clash with classical colours. I understood what he said; ever since I have been religious with his advice.

Scroll up and study the Natural Earth and Mineral Pigment chart and notice how harmoniously these colours go together. Plus, there are more reasons for remaining loyal to a classical palette: one gets so familiar with the colours that mixing does not require consulting charts, and should you have to restore a part of your painting, it is easy to analyse which colours you have used. But most of all, avoid frivolity and vulgarity. There is no need for short cuts or buying harsh colours. I rest my case now but not before letting Maria van Oosterwijck’s art convince you.

Maria van Oosterwijck’s Floral Bouquet

Here you can download a handy list of traditional colours.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linkree

Postal Stamp Commission Postzegel Tekenopdracht

Printing your own postal stamps

Not all that is handy is nice. Take, for instance, digital postal stamps. Do you feel a bit nostalgic when you write 9 or 12 numbers on the top right corner of an envelope? I feel a bit like cheating on the art of philately.

DRESS -your stationary- TO IMPRESS

Dutch Post offers the possibility to order your own postal stamps. All you need is an image stored in your computer, upload it here, and Dutch Post turns it into an eye-catching stamp. Many countries offer this possibility. The stamps cost a few extra cents, but they are worth that.

Should you like to commission a postal stamp, there is no need to look further. I have experience with designing postal stamps. All I need to know is the required page orientation: landscape or portrait. Plus your favourite theme, perhaps an animal, a butterfly, or a flower?

The wonderful thing about a commission is that you might use the commissioned drawing also for a personalized bookplate.

Contact me freely to discuss your wishes.

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  • New Mandarin Duck Composition

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SELF INQUIRY FOR AN ARTIST

Recent Mandarin Duck Gouache Paintings with Gold Leaf and Iridescent Paint

Who are the Killers and Midwives of your Art?

Upon visiting our local bookstore, my eye caught two titles. ‘The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness’ by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. And The Beauty of Everyday Things’ by Soetsu Yanai. I did not need encouraging reviews to bring these books home. I hope both books will offer intellectual rigour that will influence me and my art.

With my new books safely stored in my backpack, I walked home musing over the question of what if I had lived, like Robinson Crusoe, on an island and there was nobody to admire or criticize my art, what would be my creative take on my life, on my small island, on my spiritual growth and so on. Or to put it slightly different, in a void of art appreciation and art criticism, what kind of artistic development would I experience? Is inspiration a divine energy or a genetic trait that keeps its steady flow despite having no social relevance? And with the book title ‘The Courage to Be Disliked’ in mind, if inspiration is independent of art appreciation, is it also independent of being disliked?

I have a deep and unwavering dislike for ugliness, hate, and aggression. My art therefore always will be beautiful, meditative, calm, and romantic because that is what flows out of me on my canvas. There is enough ugliness and hate, that it doesn’t need to receive more spotlight. (I need to make a disclaimer here for political art; artists have to paint the human predicament, thus also war, hell and death, think of Picasso’s Guernica).

Time for some self-inquiry. Keep the answers to yourself and enjoy possible new insights:


Who has stimulated your art? Who has tried to kill or belittle your art? Who are the killers and midwives of your art?

What art would you make being a Robinson Crusoe (miraculously having a free and fully stocked art store available but alas nobody to appreciate your art)?

What would be your L’art pour l’art (‘Art for the sake of art’).

A bit of musing can yield astounding results.

Success!

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linktree

Graphite Art is Soulful Art: Artwork and Reflections

Let’s focus on some recent colourful artwork, and afterwards discuss some graphite artwork.

Who does not feel enchanted by koi carps? The way that they gracefully slide through their watery world makes us believe that they represent our thoughts and feelings. These large, but ever so elegant, soft-finned koi carps swim in freshwater; they appear and disappear, come and go from all directions, like our thoughts during meditation. The more the koi carps feel relaxed whilst being watched by you, so our thoughts slow down during meditation as we do not engage with our thoughts, but observe them manifesting and disappearing. Koi carps stand for prosperity and success. Their hardy nature has also led to koi being associated with longevity.

Graphite Artwork in Progress

I have been working on large graphite drawings. Whilst the world around me bursts into colour (it is spring here), I find myself turning to graphite artwork more and more. Somehow Dutch 17th century artists, working with graphite, ink and chalk, have me under their spell. I can not get enough of their soulful art. The funny thing is, I love colours! If the world would fade before my eyes and represent itself as monochromatic, I would cry my heart out. Yet, when I study graphite artworks by 17-18th century landscape artists, one has to admire their beautiful artwork. We see a drawing more clearly when the it is reduced to its essential lines, textures, light and shadows. Like a philosophical essay: one selects a subject (like a scene or scenery in drawing), adds perspective (like an architectural artist), focuses on an essential aspect or subject (as an artist does), and makes it clear what part of our complex world should receive our moral (in art, our aesthetic) attention.

Work in progress. Under -layers in graphite. The outside border shows oak-leaves. The inside border will hold my brothers name, date of birth and death in Latin numerals, as well as a Latin text that I find suitable for remembering my brother’s life. The passionflowers allude to my brother’s academic passions which will be worked out in the centre of this large drawing.

I am also working on an In Memoriam drawing for my late brother. I like to share a few observations. First, this is a self-assigned task which I haven’t done before. I had to let the first weeks of grief pass because I needed a calm mind to assemble a composition that celebrates my brother’s life. As soon as I had worked out a composition, I noticed that I had postponed working on it. To my surprise, I found myself somewhat deliberately delaying working on this large drawing that will eventually become a prayer-card, a remembrance note card, and an Ex Libris. Why, I asked myself? I am a far stretch from a procrastinator; procrastinating is just not me. Then I knew. I do not want this drawing to be finished, at least not any time soon. I want to stay with the drawing, as if sharing -in mind and in spirit- moments with my late brother.

I know myself well enough; this drawing shall get finished as I will offer it to those who want to have a remembrance card or Ex Libris with my brother’s name on it because this is not about me, but about remembering my kindhearted brother. Yet, I now understand more profoundly why artists add ‘unfinished’ symbols to their artwork: an open book, a broken off branch of a tree, or an open door, to name a few. As long as I am transforming my grief into artwork, I feel much better, and delaying only shows that one needs time. This is not the kind of art-making that should be hurried. *Note later added: the In Memoriam- Remembrance drawing can be viewed here.

More updates shall follow soon. For now, may peace prevail on Earth, may my fellow artist friends feel a steady flow of inspiration, and wishing all others the very best.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Portfolio at Instagram

Commissions and Freehand drawings at Etsy

Academic essays, articles, and miscellaneous stuff at Linktree.

Portraying the Young and the Old

When you compare and contrast taking care of a toddler and geriatric person, you find yourself dealing with brain growth and brain damage. It is simply wonderful, in fact enchanting, to read aloud to your child and see how your child absorbs knowledge, language, and illustrations as a dried-out sponge. This is such a rewarding and pleasant, if not addictive, task, it brings pure joy. That lovely warm body of a relaxed child to hold close to you, seeing these beautiful big eyes staring at illustrations, and these sweet small fingers pointing out what riddles him or her.

Taking care of a geriatric person is completely different. It feels like a Sisyphean task. (What is a Sisyphean Task, click here). There is forgetfulness, decline, less energy, and an increasing need for rest. Eventually, just like taking care of a baby, you end up just sitting close, holding hands and dwelling in the here and now without expectation or ambition.

Roman sculpture: Silenus with Dionysus by Lysippos. Glyptothek Museum Munich Germany

I had an uncle who was full of character. He thought that the old only had a ‘nuisance value’. He was in his late seventies when he talked about this, so we laughed off his notions. The first time he made my husband and me aware of his old age ‘nuisance value’ ethics was when he had to stop his car (in which we sat) and wait a long time for a very old person, bending like a crooked tree branch, to cross a street. All the while step… wait… step… wait. .…my uncle shared his philosophy on nonexistent values of old age. He knew that old men often become aggressive and very old women often grow depressed. To him there was no way out of this Sisyphean predicament other than dying on time, which he did.

Whether you agree or disagree with the nuisance value philosophy, we need to nourish one’s soul, keep the brain going (or prevent further declining), and see that sharing every ounce of love is worth the effort.

Guido Reni’s St. Joseph with infant Jesus; the beauty of young and old united. For more on this painting click here.

The difference between taking care of a toddler and an old person is that with a toddler you are gearing all education towards gaining independence in the future. Whereas with an old person, you accept the loss of independence and find comfort in sharing memories about the past. One embraces the inevitable and inescapable short timeline we all have. Whilst it is so incredibly fulfilling to witness the growth of a child and its growing cognitive capacities, it takes courage to come to terms with loss, with a brain that is shutting down operations. That said, is it therefore not wondrous that in an old person, childhood memories are so manifest? The first memories that were written in stone (in the brain) are those who will disappear last. I find incredible comfort in this because it shows that a healthy and happy childhood keeps its value for a lifetime. That said, it is also an urgent reminder how we need to take excellent care of every single child’s early life. (‘It is easier to raise a happy child than to fix a broken man’)

As an artist, I like to add that painters overall seem to be more inspired by old age than by young life. A baby is a tabula rasa, a clean slate, nothing written on it yet. It is lovely, beautiful and adorable, yet it has no depth. A baby is like an angel, pure, and alluding to heavenly innocence.

Raphael’s baby Jesus with Maria

Take the old, they have lived. Lived! Life has thrown 101 blessings and troubles to them. They have dealt with war, conflict, illnesses, labour and misfortune. Oldies have weathered heavy storms. How did they do that and what resilience shows in their countenances? They have turned into wise sages or mean, ugly elves with too large ears. It is an inspiring challenge paint an old man or woman; trying to capture the many layered life experiences that a human being has endured, the blessings and damage they are responsible for, the rewards and punishments.

The same counts for painting a sea or body of water. A calm sea only mirrors the heavens (like babies do), whilst a stormy sea is great fun for an artist; one hardly can’t go wrong with the wildness and chaos of high waves and lots of foam (just like the wrinkles in an old person’s face).

Christian Seybold (1695 – 1768) Portrait of an older woman.
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, Germany

Make sure you have lived…because life has been given to you and staying a young is no option. Keep your brain active, keep your enthusiasm going. Accept high waves. Make sure that when you get your portrait done to give a painter enough wrinkles. Makes sure you give a biographer enough soul.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Dutch artist at Etsy & Instagram & Linktree

In Memoriam M.B.P. (Michael) Kuitenbrouwer (1961-2022)

Mr. Michael Bernardus Plechelmus Kuitenbrouwer

Jurist

Beste familie, vrienden, (oud) collega’s en jaargenoten,

Met groot verdriet deel ik u mede dat mijn broer Michael op 28 januari 2022 plotseling is overleden. Graag wil ik stilstaan bij mijn lieve broer en u een schets geven over zijn leven, wie hij was en wat hij heeft gedaan.

Michael studeerde lang geleden af aan Faculteit Rechten van de Universiteit Utrecht. Hij was lid van de Utrechtse studentenvereniging Unitas. Na zijn studie volgde hij diverse Scandinavische taaltrainingen aan de Open Universiteit. Wanneer je eindelijk kon onthouden dat hij Deens studeerde, was het inmiddels Noors en wanneer je zeker wist dat het Noors was, studeerde Michael Zweeds voor Beginners. Michael was geïnteresseerd in de verschillen en overeenkomsten tussen de Scandinavische talen.

Michael studeerde breed af hetgeen terug te zien is in de diverse functies die hij had maar ook in de verscheidenheid van onderwerpen waarover hij gespecialiseerde artikelen schreef voor juridische tijdschriften in de periode van 1986-1989, 1995-1999, 2015-1019 en vanaf 2018 op Linkedin.

Het Tijdschrift voor Bouwrecht publiceerde in 2014 Michaels artikel ‘Anti-speculatie bepalingen sinds HR 14 april 2007 en 27 april 2007, een inventarisatie’. In een ander blad Bouwrecht 2015/68 publiceerde hij: ‘Juridische aspecten van handhaving bij permanente bewoning van recreatieverblijven, de stand van zaken van medio 2015’. Het tijdschrift Verkeersrecht publiceerde van Michael op 23-10-2016 ‘Juridische aspecten van de uitwegvergunning’ en in Bouwrecht van 31-12-2016 ‘De evidente privaatrechtelijke belemmeringen bij bouwaanvragen, een kwestie op de grens van het bestuursrecht en het privaatrecht’. Het blad Verkeersrecht publiceerde op 16-3-2018 ‘Verkeer en Evenement’ van Michaels hand. Een inventarisatie van Michaels artikelen is te vinden op Recht.nl.

Michael Kuitenbrouwer

Mike was tot zijn overlijden Juridisch medewerker evenementen bij de gemeente Breda via detacheringsbureau Solyne B.V.

Michael was een lieve zoon, een lieve broer en een lieve oom met een zeer grote liefde voor Geschiedenis. Hij had een formidabel geheugen voor geschiedkundige feiten.

In oktober 2020 vatte hij het plan op om enkele autobiografische verhalen op papier te zetten. Hij schreef twee A-viertjes vol interessante, grappige en ernstige ervaringen op, maar verder dan een index lijkt hij niet te zijn gekomen.

Een kort opgeschreven herinnering kenmerkt Michael zeer. Het was zomer 2016 en Michael ging op sollicitatiegesprek bij de gemeente Schagen in Noord-Holland. Hij schrijft dat hij gekleed in zwarte en donkergrijze kleding, kort haar, met zwarte schoenen, een zwarte tas en een donkere jas binnenstapte. Michaels fashion mistake resulteert in dat iedereen veronderstelt dat de sollicitant een bezoekende ouderling van de Hervormde Kerk was, waardoor hij zeer vriendelijk door iedereen werd begroet. Michael kon goed lachen over dit soort kleine en alledaagse grappige zaken.

De meeste familieleden en vrienden zullen minstens een paar lachbuien herinneren wanneer hun gedachten teruggaan naar Michael. Met Michael kon je serieus praten maar ook goed lachen. Hij hield van humor; hij hield van lachen. Zo herinner ik me een langlauftocht nabij Inzell (Duitsland) waarbij Michael zonder enige schroom een afdaling inzette en terecht kwam in een privé garage, om daar vervolgens nauwelijk uit te kunnen klimmen niet in de laatste plaats omdat de rest krom lag van het lachen. Ook denk ik (ik zeker niet alleen) terug aan hoe hilarisch Michael de schuld aan het ijs gaf wanneer hij tijdens het schaatsen viel. Met zijn schaatsbeschermers gaf hij het ijs dan een bestraffende klap. Michael was niet snel beledigd en ook had hij een flink incasseringsvermogen. Een doorzetter in hart en nieren.

Michael had een enorme werk- en levenslust. Tijdens ontmoetingen en diners konden we steevast rekenen op zijn optimisme en geschiedkundige verhalen. Wij zullen zijn zachtaardige persoonlijkheid vreselijk missen.

Michael is 60 jaar geworden.

In youth we learn; in age we understand.

Michael en ik in onze pyjamaatjes. ‘Nog even buiten spelen!’ ca. 1965.

TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL KUITENBROUWER

REMEMBRANCE CARD & AN EX LIBRIS

In Memoriam Michael Bernardus Plechelmus Kuitenbrouwer
1961-2022 NON INUTILIS VIXI (copyright Paula Kuitenbrouwer)

My drawing ‘In Memoriam Michael Kuitenbrouwer‘ shows a border of classical oak leaves, referring to my brother Michael’s love for green and nature. The inside border shows Michael’s baptismal names and Michael’s life dates -1961-2022- in Roman numerals. Non Inutilis Vixi means ‘I have not lived in vain’.

All four corners are decorated with Passionflowers, a plant that is associated with our hope for everlasting life. It also shows passion, which alludes to Michael’s academic dedication: Law and History. Lady Justice (Iustitia) takes centre stage: Michael studied Law and never changed his subject and profession, supplementing it with foreign language training and historical knowledge. The many stacks of books symbolize Michael’s unwavering love for living an intellectual life. In the front lies an open book showing the Latin text Rest in Peace.

Michael was remarkably well-read and he was gifted with an extraordinary memory for the past and the contents of his books. In the background, a buzzard is flying away to the horizon, symbolizing Michael’s departure.

Feel free to contact me should you be a former friend, acquaintance, or colleague of Michael and you would like to receive the above shown Remembrance Card or Ex Libris that I have made to remember and celebrate Michael’s life. I will post this card or bookplate to you without costs. Please, do contact me through the Contact Form.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Lighting a candle at the first anniversary of Michael’s birthday in the parish church of Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
Memorial Card & Bookplate

All text and images are written and made by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Keeping a Diary

WHY KEEPING A DIARY?

I found an old diary that I had forgotten about. Being in a zealous decluttering mood, I was about to throw it away but leafing through some pages made me sit down to read a few old entries. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it. I had mistakenly assumed that I had fallen prey to what A.S. Byatt warns against: diary whining. Encouraged by my old diary entries (it showed no whining) I decided to keep a pandemic/lockdown diary assuming that years from now I -again- would find it interesting to read back how my loved ones and I sailed through this unusual, pandemic time.

My Paperblanks Diaries

I bought a pretty Paperblanks notebook (which is such fun because oh-dear there are so many beautiful Paperblanks notebooks). However, as soon as I sat down with a blank page staring at me, I felt again apprehensive about keeping a diary, afraid that my writing would be seen as pathetic. And I had good reasons for that, because of the Corona pandemic! (What on earth is not whiny and negative about living through a pandemic?) How can one expect grand and compelling entries when one is living a lockdown life? I opposed self-sabotaging doubts by remembering Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s, who wrote on mindfulness whilst being confined to a monastery. (Not that I compare myself to Lawrence, only comparing and contrasting our voluntary and involuntary ‘lockdown’ in a monastery and at home).

I concluded that for a diary one does not have to have an epic and sweeping life. A confined life amidst a clear and present danger that shakes our world, the corona-pandemic, has intrinsic value. So, no reports on being chased by the three-headed Cerberus, I am not surviving Odysseus’ ship-wrecking storms, and I am not discovering prehistoric cave paintings, but -instead- I report on thoughts, progress on drawings, on the joy of reading, and setbacks during lockdown. Also, on the growing anger in our society, cutting ties with toxic people, the intensity of lockdowns, the pressure of staying at home, a home that has turned into an office, studio, and library. Just the best solitary scribbles I can think of. The beautiful thing about writing diary entries is that one is part of the world but one is also a distant observer, reporting on the human predicament.

Book cover of Dorothy Wordsworth by Edmund Lee. This painting shows the two main actions involved in keeping a diary: the thinking part consisting of evaluating, musing, playing with memories, and the second part, finding a voice and penning down diary entries.

And what blessings are there to report! It makes you cringe realizing how many have been affected by the pandemic far more severe than me and my family. This leads to gratitude. That said, nobody is the same anymore; we all have changed profoundly. Our lives have changed and our priorities have changed. I have seen ill people becoming more ill; angry people become more angry, despondent people growing depressed, ambitious people becoming overworked. Everything has been or felt exaggerated, hyperbole I dare to say, due to a lack of social engagement.

Should you have doubts whether or not to keep a diary, please take my advice and do it. Do not think big; think about the small pleasures of life.

So, what does my diary look like? I write in my diary most days, often before the day draws to a close. I have a stash of washi tape that I use to support pages that I often use. These pages I use for recording my book list, new vocabulary that I pick up from reading, how much Iron, Vitamin D & Vitamin B12 I supplement I take (I am vegan for 12 years now), and here and there inspirational pen sketches for new compositions. I mark some pages (like my book list) with stickers as tabs. Sometimes I let my daughter or husband write a line, like a Twitter tweet, when they have a witty remark or a smart one-liner. All in all, a colourful and engaging diary, a handy dandy notebook. My best friend.

Diary keeping is not working on a book. It is nothing big. It is one of the small pleasures of life.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s art shop at Etsy

Paula’s portfolio at Instagram

Paula’s links at Linktree

Valentine’s Day equals Mandarin Ducks

There is so much aggression and hate! I wrote about this before in my blogpost on the pandemic and on how artists stay well balanced in a world that seems to resort to aggression and depression. Stop the hating and dwelling on disagreeable occurrences. Let us celebrate Valentine’s Day joyously despite the fact that we easily dismiss Valentine’s Day as a bit silly, commercially driven, and only for the young.

This year Valentine’s Day is different. We have not seen our best friends for ages and there is nothing wrong with sending Valentine’s cards to more than your best friend, your crush, or your lover. Why not spread Valentine’s cards like Christmas cards? By sending a card you are saying so much; you are saying that you thought about somebody. That thought made you buy a card. You sat down to add a text to the card and an address on its envelope. But even without a splendid text, you show somebody that you took some time apart for making this person realize how special he/she is to you.

Oh, that is nice!

Oh, look at the card from …’

How kind!’

Everybody’s heart makes a little jump when receiving a bit of kindness. Especially in pandemic times when people, collectively, suffer from anxiety, cabin-fever, stir-craziness, and easily lose their equilibrium.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of extra attention and love. And the beautiful thing about mandarin ducks is that they symbolize love and friendship, just like doves and swans although ornithologists have observed occasional adultery among doves and swans (just ignore that).

Mandarin ducks melt our hearts because of their stories on life long partnerships, their cute colours and shapes, and their adorable ducklings.

Paula Kuitenbrower

At Etsy

At Linktree

At Instagram

Artists Stay Well Balanced

“How are things going creatively?”

“Very well, thank you”

And how about your creative energy?”

“Actually…really well, surprisingly”.

THE PANDEMIC AND ARTISTS

I have discussed the effects of the pandemic with many of my artist friends. I was wondering whether they loathed or embraced various lockdowns? I found out that long weeks or months at home brought them deep focus and a relief from the continuous time crunches they often experience combining art-making and family life.

However, I observed more. A pandemic causes many people to lose their equilibrium. Anxiety sets in and various lockdowns cause mass stir craziness and cabin-fever. People have become so aggressive! The Netherlands saw a huge increase of domestic or family violence towards women and children. There is such road rage on highways too. It is like people have become mad.

To the other end of the spectrum of mental health, people have also grown depressed. There is a radicalization of feelings due to a lack of social contact. It is not good for people to feel trapped because that easily leads to restlessness, anxiety or being agitated. Not that we should all pollute the air with kerosene again, but being cooked up at home is a hardship for most of us.

WELL BALANCED

But interestingly artists, avid readers, and musicians seem to suffer less problems (disclaimer, so it seems in my social circles) because they do a lot of mind traveling. They transport themselves to artistic, literary or musical realms and go on about their days making music, painting canvases, and reading books. In fact, for many artist friends the numerous lockdowns have been productive and inspirational, (though less profitable because of closed concert halls, galleries and shops).

ARISTOTLE’S GOLDEN MEAN

How can we explain this? Let us turn to Aristotle’s Golden Mean. The golden mean, or golden middle way is the desirable middle between two extremes. If aggression is an excess of energy, depression is a deficiency of energy. Let us go back to those who lost their equilibrium and became aggressive. Aggression is a deficiency of despondency; there is too much stirring up bad energies. It is extreme to be aggressive. It shows an excess of boiled up energy.  Depression is a shortage of aggression, of combativeness; it is a lack of energy. It is extreme too. One should neither be aggressive nor depressed. One should have healthy, harmonious energy. So, if aggression and depression are two extremes, what or which is the golden mean state of being? What is the middle between aggression and depression? That is initiative, or resourcefulness, or name it creativity.

Take a difficult meeting in which compromises must be made. Those with too much aggressive energy walk out. Those who give up, look hollow-eyed. But those who have healthy energy show creativity, offering creative ways out of a deadlock.

#Artheals #Nevernotmaking

This creativity, imagination, this resourcefulness and initiative, did we just describe Aristotle’s’ golden mean or did we focus on personal characteristics of artists by naming inventiveness, creativity, resourcefulness and imagination? We did both. I think that the personal traits of an artist keep an artist well balanced and resilient during lockdown. Artists will resort to their habits of creating, taking initiative, keeping their creative juices flowing. #nevernotmaking is a trending hashtag on Instagram. So is #artheals. I see it with all my creative friends: they fare well through lockdowns. Of course, there are boring days, but depression? No. Aggression? No. Creativity? Yes, plenty of it.

Open museums and concert halls

Now that is established how important art making and art is, why not open up our (Dutch) cultural sector? Why are shops now open but museums and podiums closed? Apparently, it is because our government aims to keep us local (not spreading the virus). People are discouraged to travel beyond their region to visit museums or concerts. But in the light of this hyper contagious Omicron, this is a lost fight. Omicron will come as a tsunami and nobody will be spared. Open up our creative and cultural sector because it is hugely important to collectively feel well balanced. Art should not be an afterthought; it lies at the heart of our well being.

So how are you keeping?”

Very well, really

“How come?”

“Because I have more time for drawing!”

I hope artists inspire others becoming creative too. Prevent depression and aggression by engaging in artistic, musical, and literary activities.

Love,

Paula

Paula at Etsy

Paula at Instagram

Paula at Linktree

Living Dying Battling

Ever since the pandemic I have been reading and reading. Of course, when there is plenty of natural light, I prioritize drawing. But since consecutive lockdowns came into effect and meeting friends, running errands, and going for a walk were pushed to the background, literature reclaimed its rightful place. I kept a list of books in my diary and every time I finished a book, I proudly ticked off a book title. I like to share the moment with you that within the time-span of two days I came across a book title and a harrowing painting. Let me first give you the book title. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

‘Generaals Sterven in Bed’, a Dutch book on WWII. Generals die lying in beds.

Generals die lying on beds

I thought the title was brilliant (disclaimer: I did not read the book). It rang so true to me. I have seen it again and again, those who have struggled in life have died an untimely, painful or medicine induced death whilst those who have ruled, manipulated, or were in charge, Machiavellians, lived a long, happy life and died a peaceful, luxuriously death neatly tugged between crisp white bed linen. But foot-soldiers die on battlefields, in the dirt, at a too young age. ‘Comes with the job, an occasional ‘habit’, collateral damage, kind of thing‘. But generals die at a high age on luxurious beds.

Dead Soldier, unknown (Italian) painter. Notice the skull and bones that symbolize death in case you overlooked the bloodless colour of the soldier’s face.

Next, the painting of a dead soldier. It made me wonder whether it is a detail of a larger painting because of its unusual angle that is a bit uncomfortable for a viewer. But perhaps, this uncomfortable perspective was something the painter precisely sought? I imagine the soldier has most likely fought for someone else’s cause, principles, or power games and now dies an anonymous, early death. Maybe he ends up in a mass grave, unlike the general.

The book title and the painting made me wonder what battles we fight and for who? Who are foot soldiers and who are generals? Do you know them in your life, amongst your friends, at your work? Who is dying for who? I thought of Machiavelli’s philosophy. But also of a very old flyer of a political party that I vaguely remembered. It showed a sweet, little girl, standing all alone in a desert whilst you are asked the question: What if there is a war and nobody is willing to participate? Nobody shows up on the battlefield?

Art and literature make us evaluate the roles we take up in life. Art and literature offer us endless inspiration to ask questions in our lives that need to be asked.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Next blogpost will focus on Aristotle’s Golden Mean in relation to lockdown/quarantine and living the artist life.

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Paula’s shop is at Etsy

Paula’s art portfolio is at Instagram

But above all, @ her workstation drawing, drawing and drawing.

What is a Sisyphean Task?

Sisyphean by Titian

You have seen him in fine art paintings, or in cartoons. He, Sisyphus, is as strong as Atlas who holds the globe on his shoulders. But Sisyphus is not carrying the globe on his shoulders but a huge boulder. He is a character in Homer’s Iliad, and it is said he was the reputed founder of the Isthmian Games, a festival of athletic and musical competitions in honour of the sea god Poseidon.

We are talking about an exceptionally strong man fit to complete a physical demanding chore. See, Sisyphus tricked death, he outsmarted death, and was therefore everlastingly punished by Hades, the Greek god of the Underworld (the Greek god of Death). Sisyphus is ordered to roll a great boulder uphill. Approaching the summit, the stone drops and rolls down. This happens over and over, repeat after repeat. A Sisyphean task therefore is characterized by that it is demanding as well as a completely fruitless.

What is your Sisyphean task? Read on….

Titian at work, a wonderful illustration in Collins Children’s Encyclopedia of The Arts of the World.

Tiziano Vecellio (c 1488-1576) a.k.a. Titian was one of the most famous artists of the Venetian School. He is categorized in the art-movement known as the Late Renaissance or Mannerism. Mannerism would later be replaced by the Baroque. Titan shows Sisyphus in his youthful strength. His arms, legs, torso and back are muscular. Titan achieves a rich effect of light using deep contrasting colours. We, viewers, are encouraged to emotionally interact with this painting. We are invited to feel empathy for Sisyphus’s endurance, strength, and suffering. We are invited to feel what he feels and thus enrich ourselves with deep understanding what a Sisyphean task is.

What is Your Sisyphean Task?

Are you taking care of children during lockdown? Are you in quarantine with energetic, young children that need to burn off their wild energies in playgrounds but are not allowed outdoors and are having meltdowns at home? You are trying to stay calm but at the end of the day you feel drained and discouraged?

Do you have shielding friends who are in cancer treatment or remission and you are therefore not able to meet them face to face due to their vulnerability? You try to be a good friend but Covid restrictions make your efforts fruitless?

Are you taking care of an ill or elderly person and whilst their brain is undergoing alterations due to medication, illness or old age, you are -fruitlessly- trying to take away their confusion and anxieties? Perhaps they are mean, suspicious, and manipulative? Perhaps they are chronic complainers? Are you fruitlessly trying to improve living conditions but you only see the quality of life becoming less and less?

When a Sisyphean task affects your life, it can make you feel hollowed out. When life throws a Sisyphean task to you, all you can do is to accept that life never comes without hardship. We are not Sisyphus, luckily, we are mortals and all suffering will end because, unlike Sisyphus, we haven’t tricked death. We may try to carry a boulder uphill for a year, ten years perhaps, but eventually we will stop, sit down, and do some deep thinking. We will eventually stop with our Sisyphean routine, nolens volens. That sets us, mortals, apart from the everlasting, suffering Sisyphus.

Test you Knowledge, Questions & Lesson Ideas

What is the difference between a Sisyphean and a Herculean task?

Is Sisyphus preforming a Herculean task?

Compare and contrast Sisyphus, Atlas and Herculean using pictures of statues and painted artworks.

Which beetle reminds you of Sisyphus? And why is this beetle not preforming a Sisyphean task but a Herculean task?

Explore the mythologies telling you why Sisyphus was punished to carry a boulder uphill for eternity, and why Atlas is condemned to hold up the heavens and sky for eternity. Explore the multifaceted character and adventures of Hercules.

Hercules in Utrecht City Centre, graphite drawing by Paula Kuitenbrouwer, Statute by Ton Mooij. You feel tricked? This is not Atlas. Hercules steps in for Atlas by taking over the globe because Atlas needs a moment to rest his back. See this blog post for more.

As from now you will remember Sisyphus and Titian’s painting. And perhaps you will see that art is able to comfort us. One feels understood by artwork or musical pieces that resonate with our predicament. That alone is comforting: art inspires and heals us.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Paula holds an MA degree in Philosophy and she is the owner of mindfuldrawing.com. Her pen and pencils are always fighting for her attention nevertheless they are best friends; Paula likes her art to be brainy and her essays to be artistic.

Commission Artist at Utrecht

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linktree

RELATED AND RECENT BLOG POSTS:

Trilingual Sympathy Condolence Note Card by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

I designed new Sympathy Condolence note cards. They are double folded and professionally printed. The details are amazingly clear.

Camberwell Beauty Butterflies fluttering nearby an autumn tree that shows old leaves and new beginnings (seeds). Camberwell butterflies –Nymphalis antiopa, are also known as Mourning cloak butterflies.

There is inter-religious symbolism in this elegant but solemn note card. My butterfly composition shows seasonal change and the cycle of life, in a realistic way. The autumn leaves and seed pods strongly suggest that, a new life will start, again, somewhere, somehow. This happens to the butterfly, too. A butterflies lays eggs, the eggs become caterpillars and the caterpillar becomes a chrysalis. The chrysalis turns into a butterfly. Everything lives on, although in another form.

The composition alludes to transformation and rebirth, to earth and heaven. It shows hope, or functions as a mindful and artistic reminder of impermanence and transformation. It is also a multi-religious condolence message in three languages open to your personal symbolic or religious interpretation.

The purchase of this artwork does not transfer reproduction rights © Paula Kuitenbrouwer. This note card can be personalized and posted on your behalf. Link to Etsy where the cards are available is here. Or contact me through the contact form.

More to announce…….’Work in Progress’ & ‘William Morris home improvement’ ….read on!

WORK IN PROGRESS

Blackbird Nest, work in progress by Paula Kuitenbrouwer.

Leaf by leaf I am making progress with this large graphite drawing. I have to weave several plants (Ivy, Honeysuckle and Hydrangea) and thus build a nest for this sweet blackbird couple. By spring, surely this large drawing will be ready. I am intended to keep the blackbirds hidden from predators by filling my large drawing sheet with all sorts of lush plants. There will be no open spaces which makes this drawing so laborious. Or maximalist, one could say, which brings me to more maximalist designs: designs by William Morris.

William Morris Festive Christmas Yule Dinning table

LAYING A TABLE

Being inspired by William Morris, I surprised my family and guests with a William Morris themed Christmas dinner table. Combining family gifts with home-improvement is a clever thing to do because you end up with a dazzling table that inspires your family and guests. Please, before you think this was expensive, it was not. William Morris products are very popular and there is always something is on sale. Just start months a birthday or festive holiday by collecting bits here and there. All William Morris designs fit wonderfully together and since his designs often are maximalists, there is nothing wrong overdoing your home improvement by combining various designs. In fact, putting various Morris’s designs together, results in rich and rather pleasant visual joy.

Stay well! Keep yourself in your best possible health and joyful mindset.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linktree

Shapeshifting Duck Fish

Mandarin Ducks shapeshifting into Koi Carp by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Obviously, I was in one of my Celtic, shapeshifting moods when I drew these mandarin ducks morphing into koi fish. The mandarin drake shapeshift into a blue Asagi koi carp and the duck keeps her camouflage colours by shapeshifting into a regular orange koi. I used a graphite under-layer and various colours of ink to make the ducks and fish stand out: gold, black, blue, silver, and glittery grey.

What I like about Celtic art is its deliberately illusion. One is guided into a realm where one might see faces or animals but the next thing is doubting yourself. Did I see a duck or a fish? A deer or an owl? Perhaps both? It is a world of shapeshifting faces and animals inviting stories and poems, bearing testimonies to ancestral knowledge.

In an oral culture there is a need for imagery that has double, perhaps triple the amount of illustrations than prima facie noticeable. This makes Celtic art often clever art. It is practical art but it is also mysterious, enchanting, and engaging. But most of all, it is cunning and imaginative, a testimony of a time of great artists and craftsmen that were extraordinarily mathematically, psychologically, and mythological skillful.

My workstation with my drawing and tools

Shapeshift with me and notice the mandarin ducks and koi carps in their fluid realm. I have blended the koi carp and mandarin ducks, but in order to qualify for ‘Celtic’ art, I should push this concept to a higher geometrical and abstract level and add more illusions along the way. Till the moment the viewer sees and not-sees ducks, fishes, or faces, and questions his/her own perception. Then and there a Celtic shaman would step in to guide you to new levels of observing and understanding, aiming for healing, passing on knowledge, and bonding between tribal members. Like a nowadays art teacher or museum guides does. Isn’t viewing art not always an enriching experience?

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

At Etsy

At Instagram

At Linktree

Blog Posts:

Parting is Part of a Pandemic & Art Heals

How do the seemingly unrelated quotes above interconnect? They conjure up memories of my annus horriblis (Latin phrase, meaning “horrible year”). Misery sometimes comes down like torrential rain. However, I can now look back and see how literature and art brought me valuable insights.

Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826) Les adieux de Psyché à sa famille; Psyche Bidding Farewell to her Family

ACCEPTANCE

Acceptance is a powerful emotion. Acceptance causes less suffering than trying to change the unchangeable. But how does one reach this stage? That question -of course- requires a highly personal response. Some take to sporting, others to long nature walks. But art has been my method. This year, I worked harder than ever, and, luckily, inspiration kept coming and coming. I felt so blessed to be at my desk with its workstation and Arches sketchbook. No matter what happened, I always returned to my drawing pad. I would pour a cup of tea and work on various projects. The more hours I worked, the easier my deep focus would became and blissful moments would follow in which I forgot about all and sundry. Only my art would exist; more exactly, only art-making would exist (and my loving and supportive husband and wonderful daughter, of course). The world around me and myself would simply disappear. These moments of non-existing were nourishing and healing, offering me a transformation from sadness to acceptance.

Recently, I read Wintering by Katherine May. May defines winter not only as a season, but also as the process of going through an emotional winter. Author May resorts to walking. She pulls herself through a yearlong suffering by long distance walking, and unsurprisingly, she guides herself to a better (mental) place. Even though I have always liked Aristotle’s peripatētikos (‘philosophizing is best done whilst walking’) as to prevent stagnation of emotions and thoughts, for me art-making has been more crucial than my daily walks. For me, it has always been art-making, drawing and painting, that has pulled me through any hardship home or abroad, and through any winter, be it a seasonal winter, or a year full of farewells. One better accepts farewells; there is no use in fighting. Because winter, seasonally and emotionally, is a part of life, one can better sooner than later wrap one’s head around it.

Winter Holly by Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Wintering, May describes, is also about preparing, stocking up stuff, or finding coping methods that help one endure the cold. And so, I did, and whilst I found great pleasure in stocking up crafts-tools, sketchbooks, graphite pencils, I came to experience my annus horriblis as a coming to terms with (a sudden and accelerated) ageing of beloved ones, ‘friends’ turning into foes, and family members falling ill to cancer.

I rigorously de-cluttered my house of memories, of stuff that till recently were reminders of pleasant ties, but now seemed to trigger vexatious feelings or sad memories of estranged ones. Letting go of all of that didn’t hold up eventually became a rewarding and deliberating exercise. And not only that, I have friends describing beneficial effects of the Corona pandemic and its various lock-downs as an exploration of what actually and really matters and of letting go of unnecessary frills of life. Apparently, vintage shops are more stocked than ever and employees have walked away from underpaid jobs in the thousands, giving new directions to their lives.

Not everything withstands the test of time

The Pandemic’s Battle for Life

The year 2021, the corona pandemic, obviously has been a battle for life. Literally, metaphorically, and personally. Worldwide, there has been a collective fight to prevent mortality numbers from accelerating. On an individual level, people battled with corona, with stress, with people falling ill or ageing beyond recognition, with their bosses, with siblings, or their landlords, and so on. In these fights, much was lost but those who took lock-downs as spiritual retreats reported gaining much wisdom. And isn’t a pandemic a ‘winter’, with being advised to stay indoors, scaling down social contacts, hibernating and living a postponed life?

Bookplate by Paula Kuitenbrouwer with a tree representing wisdom having its roots in literature.

I highly recommend literature and art at such wintry times. Literature offers a whole spectrum of pleasant effects from enchanting escapism to tapping into sources of wisdom. Art offers nourishment for the soul and healing from the pain that life sometimes throws at us.

Is my ‘winter’ over? Am I enjoying the merry months of May? Winter is about hibernating, withdrawing, decaying, dying. It is part of life. Is it possible to feel spring whilst there still are subzero temperatures? Yes. One can arrive at spring amidst a cold winter. For me, making art has been instrumental for working through a challenging time. I highly recommend seeking refuge in the realms of literature and arts where you will find much wisdom and inspiration.

Paula Kuitenbrouwer

Commission artist living in the Netherlands (see contact form below).

Commissions are welcome.

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Charlotte Mason & Levende Boeken

CHARLOTTE MASON, EEN TIJDLOZE ONDERWIJSHERVORMSTER

(Although this website and blog is normally written in English, Paula wrote this article for a Dutch educational magazin and therefor is in Dutch).