Naturae 24%22 x 30%22 2016

Naturae 24″ x 30″ oil on canvas 2016


If men are going to persist on going to war we should insist on the return of pageantry. Let’s make all stealth airplanes brightly colored and outfit camouflage tanks with multicolored banners and flags. Let’s make military uniforms valuable not for durability but how much drapery and bright shiny baubles they have. Let’s blow horns and ring bells and bring back drummer boys. Let’s have a war where the best costumes win.

The Medieval’s did this. They valued proportion, light, color, and decoration because they valued the deeper significance of ordinary things. They wanted their lives to have a significance which they could call up at anytime. Umberto Eco wrote that the Medievals had a “prolongation of the mythopoeic dimension of the Classical period” a revival “caused by a new sense of the supernatural.”  They wore majestic clothing because they believed it had significance.  They had particular theories of music and art because they believed having those ideas reached into a world beyond their own. For them what they did, or wore, or made, was poetic.

Today many of us look back on those people as being primitive. We think of them as superstitiously, as being unable to differentiate fact from myth. The historian and sociologist Lewis Mumford went so far as to call them neurotic.  Well guess what, you can’t have a life of meaningful significance if you think myth and poetry is neurosis.

Medieval thinkers were obsessed with having everything fit together in a type of aesthetic/religious/metaphysical concordance. They wanted what their thoughts to be reflected in the natural world. They wanted ideas and reality to be connected. They wanted truth and beauty to be interconnected or as Eco wrote, “truth was the disposition of form in the relation to the internal character of a thing; beauty was the disposition of the form in relationship to it’s external character.”

Art, poetry, music, can bring significance into our lives. It is a type of visual pageantry with a purpose. A philosophy ripe with ideas and thinking that can make our lives momentous. That doesn’t sound neurotic to me.


(detail) Richard Kooyman oil on canvas




“We are no longer all in the same story and we are rapidly losing the will to imagine it.” David Levi Strauss

It is March 2016 and the country is wrapped in the politics of a presidential election.  We all seem to be searching for what is the truth or who is telling the truth, and yet it seems everyday we get farther away from it.

I forgot who it was that said “once upon a time the world was more nomadic, art was small”.  The country seems very big right now.

The actress Helen Hayes was said to travel with a small painting by Watteau so she could always have something beautiful to look at. There seems to be some type of truth in that.  The Greeks placed reason and science over experience in terms of truth. But then again they thought of Art as something different than we do today.  Anyone can have an experience, their own opinion, their own idea who they want to be president, or their own definition of what art is. That doesn’t make it true.

The art writer and visual historian James Elkins said “eyesight is not a rational activity.”  85% of our visual information comes from our brain. If that’s true then people spend most of their time  just making stuff up in their heads, thinking it is real. Maybe artists are just able to go with the flow easier.

“The Idea is, in short, Art and a work of Art. As a work of Art it directly liberates subsequent actions and makes it more fruitful in a creation of more meanings and more perceptions”,wrote John Dewey.  He believed that “Imagination is the only gateway through which these meanings can find their way into a present interaction…..the conscious adjustment of the new and the old is imagination.”

That is what we need during this election; the ability to consciously adjust the new and the old.  Either that or we need to get better at making it all up.


Five Bathers II 16%22 x 16%22

Richard Kooyman ‘Five Bathers’ 16″ x 16″ oil 2016


John Berger said that anyone passionate about painting “had to come to terms with the mystery, the achievement, the failure or the triumph of Paul Cézanne’s life’s work.”  I certainly did. I had to come to terms with his dark and strange early paintings. Paintings even he thought were not very good. Paintings that drove his long time encourager, Emile Zolla, over to Manet.

Cézanne never sold a painting to a patron until he was 35. Other artists mocked both him and his work.  But he persisted and by the time of his first retrospective in Paris in 1907: Exposition retrospective d’oeuves de Cézanne, a year after his death, he was the most famous painter of the age. He had become the painter every artist has to come to terms with.
It’s been said that you can read a Cézanne by what he had visual knowledge of. A delicate detail of a part of an apple was something the painter knew, another less defined area was something he was unsure of.  My ‘Five Bathers’ 16″ x 16″ while not an exact painterly reproduction is a physical copy of Cézanne’s original. Making a copy of a Cézanne painting  has not only been a way for me to understand Cézanne, but also to play with Eliot’s idea of changing history. Cézanne’s new ideas about painting changed the ideas of the past. Can rejuvenating an visual idea of Cézanne’s change the present?

“..the most satisfactory creations are those which like Piero’s and Cézanne’s remain ineloquent, mute, with no urgent communication to make, and no thoughts of rousing us with look and gesture. If they express anything it is character, essence, rather than monetary feeling or purpose. They manifest potentiality rather than activity. It is enough that they exist in themselves.”  Bernard Berenson

“All objects in this world have hidden meanings. All of them, I thought- people, animals, trees, stars- are hieroglyphics. Bravo, and also woe, to whoever begins to divine what they say and give them voice. The moment you see these objects, you fail to comprehend; you believe that they are just people, animals, trees, stars. It is only years later, much too late, that you approach the hidden meanings.”   Zorba the Greek



“Great art inspires because it is separate, it is for nothing, it is for itself. It is an image of virtue. Its condensed, clarified, presentation enables us to look without sin upon a sinful world. It renders innocent and transforms into truthful vision our baser energies connected with power, curiosity, envy and sex.”  Iris Murdoch




Why is Art Beautiful?

I feel empowered when I look deep into the past for the presence of beauty .  I get clues and direction there.

Plato said that knowledge was to be found in pure Form and that Form was a type of beauty.  He believed that the best way to know something, to understand Form, was not through our senses, not through the objects in the world, but through thought.

Aristotle disagreed with Plato and contended that Art had the potential to teach us about Form and that Art, or what the Greeks called techne, could be a valuable way of gaining knowledge.  To the Greeks a sculpture,  a poem, or a play was a way to mimic the beauty of pure ideas.

500 years later Plotinus said that Art could represent Form.  “The ugly thing is something that has not been entirely mastered by pattern, that is by Reason, the Matter not yielding at all points and in all respects to Ideal-Form.”  Beauty for Plotinus resided in the object, the sculpture, the poem itself.

Now jump ahead to the 1700’s when both David Hume and Immanuel Kant changed that way of thinking. Hume argued that beauty is subjective and exists not in the object but in the mind. He said that “Beauty..exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.”  Today many people still think that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Kant straddled the fence on that point.  He believed beauty was subjective but that it wasn’t that simple. Beauty, for Kant, wasn’t only a subjective matter of personal taste because taste changes. Your subjective mind can be taught to appreciate an object’s beauty. Kant didn’t believe beauty resided in the object but he argued we can’t help but think of beauty “as if [beauty] were a property of things.”

To determined whether something was beautiful or whether something is art Kant said you must approach it (judge) in a disinterested manner. Being disinterested meant that you should approach a work of art or even a beautiful sunset without preconceived notions or feelings. It is a way of being subjectively ready for the aesthetic experience about to unfold upon you. A disinterested judgement is about the experience of the object not in you dragging your feelings into the experience.

Hume wrote that we need to prepare ourselves for beauty.  “Strong sense, united to delicate sentiment, improved by practice, perfected by comparison, and cleared of all prejudice, can alone entitle critics to this valuable character; and the joint verdict of such, wherever they are to be found, is the true standard of taste and beauty.”

It is a ‘beautiful’ philosophy. It says you have to be poised, “cleared of all prejudice”, open and ready to perceive if you are to experience the beauty that the object has to offer.


Piero della Francesca



“One can see why beauty—by Homer, by Plato, by Aquinas, by Dante (and the list would go on, name upon name, century by cen- tury, page upon page, through poets writing today such as Gjertrud Schnackenberg, Allen Grossman, and Seamus Heaney) —has been perceived to be bound up with the immortal, for it prompts a search for a precedent, which in turn prompts a search for a still earlier precedent, and the mind keeps tripping backward until it at last reaches something that has no precedent, which may very well be the immortal. And one can see why beauty—by those same artists, philosophers, theologians of the Old World and the New—has been perceived to be bound up with truth. What is beautiful is in league with what is true because truth abides in the immortal sphere. But if this were the only basis for the association, then many of us living now who feel skeptical about the existence of an immortal realm might be required to conclude that beauty and truth have nothing to do with one another. Luckily, a second basis for the association stands clearly before us: the beautiful per- son or thing incites in us the longing for truth because it provides by its compelling “clear discernibility” an introduction (perhaps even our Šrst introduction) to the state of certainty yet does not it- self satiate our desire for certainty since beauty, sooner or later, brings us into contact with our own capacity for making errors. The beautiful, almost without any effort of our own, acquaints us with the mental event of conviction, and so pleasurable a mental state is this that ever afterward one is willing to labor, struggle, wrestle with the world to locate enduring sources of conviction— to locate what is true. Both in the account that assumes the exis- tence of the immortal realm and in the account that assumes the nonexistence of the immortal realm, beauty is a starting place for education.”  Elaine Scarry -The Tanner Lecture


Kooyman_Richard_C_ Meme_oil_8%22x8%22 $800

Richard Kooyman Aphrodite 8″ x 8″ oil on board 2016



-Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love, beauty and pleasure. She was known by many names: Acidalie, Cytherea, Cerigo, Aphrodite Ourania, Aphrodite Pandemos and was often depicted with images of the sea, dolphins, apples, roses, scallops, and pearls.

Aphrodite was forced to marry the dour Hephaestus, god of artisans, craftspeople, metallurgy, and fire. She was powerful with unmatched beauty and had many lovers.

Christian monotheism needed to attack the reasonability of multiple gods to spread their message and Aphrodite was the first goddess they went after. Their vengeance turned sexuality and pleasure into something scorned and dirty. Christians portrayed her as a demon. The Greeks and early Romans believed making love was giving Aphrodite her due respect until the Christians turned sexuality, pleasure, and secular  beauty into something to be renounced.

This scorn is something still felt today.  I can’t help but imagine what life might have been like if we still idolized the goddess of beauty.

“God against man, man against God, man against nature, nature against man, nature against God, God against nature. Very funny religion.”  Daisetz Suzuki

” Homer, Plato, Aquinas, Plotinus, Dante….describe beauty as a ‘greeting. At the moment one comes in to the presence of something beautiful it greets you. It lifts away from a neutral background as though moving forward to welcome you-as though the object were designed to ‘fit’ your perception.”    Elaine Scarry

BILL MOYERS: What do you think we’re looking for, when we subscribe to one of these theories of creation, one of these stories of creation? What are we looking for?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Well, I think what we’re looking for is a way of experiencing the world in which we are living, that will open to us the transcendence that informs it, and at the same time informs ourselves within it. That’s what people want, that’s what the soul asks for.

BILL MOYERS: You mean we’re looking for some accord with the mystery that informs all things, what you call that vast ground of silence which we all share?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL: Yes, but not only to find it, but to find it actually in our environment, in our world, to recognize it, to have some kind of instruction that will enable us to see the divine presence.

(from the PBS Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell 1988)

What happens to the beauty of an object when you turn away? Does it stop working or continue to radiate regardless. For 1500 years one of the greatest of paintings, The Villa of Livia, was buried in rubble just outside of Rome. Did it stop working all that time? Has the rubble changed it into something new?  Beauty is a compact between us and whatever form it chooses. We will welcome each other in this agreement to make life great.

“What is beautiful is in a league with what is true because truth abides in the immortal sphere.”   Elaine Scarry


One  Sunday my grandfather took me upstairs to a small bedroom in his house and in the back of a closet he removed a small box. It was the remains of a paint-by number set and in the box were maybe a half dozen or so some small tubes of oil paint. Several of them leaked and they smelled like linseed oil. The tubes had names  written on them; raw umber, ivory black, terra verte, canary yellow, and phthalo blue.

“Art is informative and entertaining, it condenses and clarifies the world, directing attention upon particular things. This intense showing, this bearing witness, of which it is capable is detested by tyrants who always persecute or demoralize their artists. Art illuminates accident and contingency and the general muddle of life, the limitations of our time and the discursive intellect, so as to enable us to survey complex or horrible things which would otherwise appal us. It creates an authoritative public human world, a treasury of past experience, it preserves the past. Art makes places and open spaces for reflection, it is a defense against materialism and against pseudo-scientific attitudes to life. It calms and invigorates it gives us energy by unifying possibly by purifying our feelings.” Iris Murdoch

Making a painting, or writing a poem, or singing a song is a way to show that you lived.

My mother’s mother had a sister who lived in Wormerveer in the Netherlands. She was married to a painter and as a young boy I went with my family to Holland where we spent an afternoon with them.  The painter, Jan Wijnands, had a small store front where he sold his local landscapes. I remember the shop being small and smelling of oil paint. The couple lived in the back of the shop in a larger apartment which you entered by pushing back a thick velvet curtain.  I felt like I was in a magic shop.
When my parents died I inherited two small paintings by Jan. They are traditional dutch landscapes. They aren’t great paintings but all my life they served as a role model for living a self made life. They made me want a studio and shop like his, with a velvet curtain.