When, rather abruptly, I ended my university life – I was fed up with the conscientious discipline of all those footnotes behind which I was also hiding an Alzheimer Light as well as my intellectual nonentity – I changed the study in a real Salon.

Where previously the books on the shelves with their colourful bindings had dominated the room, now it is art.


It took a while before I saw the pointe of my own setup – after long siesta hours of staring and daydreaming. Let me explain.

Initially what I aimed for was a version of that 18th/19th-century Salon de Paris effect. This was the ambiance in which at that time paintings were exhibited simultaneously, next to as well as on top of one another. This must have been related to judging each year’s many entries for the Salon competition – as is done nowadays for literary awards. A lot of paintings were nominated and hung in view to be evaluated comparatively.


Not unimportant for me was a certain personal symbolism. Books now had disappeared behind art. Art – lest we do not get ruined by the truth…, as that great German had it. Simultaneously an aesthetic and a therapeutic effect. However, suddenly a new insight is added to all this.

Long ago Walter Benjamin wrote an essay entitled Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner Technischen Reproduzierbarkeit – The work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility. His interest was primarily the relationship between photography, film and experience-as-shock. The essay On some Motifs in Baudelaire led Benjamin to this conclusion: “This, then, is the essence of the sensation that Baudelaire gave the weight of experience. He indicated the price at which in modern times one can get a thrill: The crushing of the aura in the experience of shock.”

This, methinks, may shed a clear light on the experience of art. All experience results from a confrontation between what is felt as ‘ordinary’ and something inconsistent with it, something that even confronts our habits and may jolt them. Such an experience, then, can be a shock or a sensation. Immediately afterwards, however, not much of it is left – the sensationalist who had his shock often does not immediately want to repeat it. And when he does, he will discover that it won’t be the same, and at most a very much reduced version.

A work of art, at the first meeting, also gives one a kind of jolt. However, this time it does not immediately disappear in the effect, it is not ‘shattered’ by it. Instead, the ‘extra’ that gives to a work of art its aura incites our desire, one wants to get more acquainted with it. Even at that first meeting the eye is licking every nook and cranny of that painting over and over again.

Instead of a loss of experience and suffering its ‘poverty’, we get more and more, and also a richer understanding. One wants to expand these riches to wider circles and then return to the work and see it again and again.

Apart from the content of a work having such an aura, it is also the uniqueness of it and the place where the work is situated that contribute to that aura. The unique ensemble of a here and now, a coincidence never to be fully replicated. And do not forget: Also consciousness of its authenticity belongs to this – the realization that this is it, that the thing cannot be anywhere else but here.

The encounter with art itself becomes paradoxically an exercise in a unique experience – you may come and see it and gaze at it again and again, however what you see does not become habit nor more-of-the-same. Precisely this is what I do on my siesta couch, every day. When after a while my eyes run the risk of boredom, I just move a sculpture, turn it around or change the position of my drawings.

This I already knew.

Then suddenly – say as a shock – a new insight struck me. Even literature has been subjected to ‘technical reproduction’, this long before it happened to the visual arts. The printing press took from us the experience of reading a unique volume – a parchment written by hand, with its illuminated features and that beautiful lettering.


From that moment on, only the content of the text read counted, not its medium, not the carrier of a text.

So there they hang, my works of art – above or beside one another, now covering all these reproducible books. Not only reproductions like Klimt’s Nude on her Belly, or the one of Bellmer’s woman opening her Rear End for all to see, But more especially my originals – such as Chagall’s Jacob and the Angel, Haenen’s ceramic Blue Plate, Plokker’s Chios aquarelle and Barion’s cute little nude.


Raymond Barion: Nude, drawing

Those books, more or less invisible behind the unique works of art, suddenly have become the epitome of lost uniqueness. After all, I know of the existence of the same books on similar shelves of colleagues and friends. However, the uniqueness my works of art is enhanced by this contrast with the reproducibility of their bookie background.

Added to this is a separate, perhaps vulgar but no less important experience. The original works are also entirely mine. My property – no one else has them. Only this fact makes intense possession of such works possible. After all possession – in contrast with juridical property – must be understood as the loving and intense and long-term interaction with things that are yours, so as to learn all their properties and keep these intact, in order to ‘know’ them and take care of term – as a fencer controls his floret.

Aesthetic possession, then, can in most cases not be separated from ownership. In a museum or gallery one’s attention is obstructed by too many others visitors, one also visits such places normally only once. Perhaps this is the prime motive of the collector. I’m not a collector; I just love the few things that ‘came to me’. But only as property can the works I possess come thus hautnah.

Perhaps all this solves a famous and classic aesthetic riddle. Could someone just as well enjoy a perfect copy of a beloved work or even a photocopy, as much as he enjoys the original – knowing that it is a copy, thus being conscious of it?


For example, a copy of Caravaggio’s Madonna crushing the head of the serpent with her left foot, just in time before her child is risking this.

Sierksma, Haarlem 03/09/16


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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