Tune In!

A conversation between art historian Oskar Feldbæk and Peter Birch

By Peter Birch

I decided to find out which impact art can have on our everyday life beside serving as decoration in our living rooms or being an excuse for going to the local gallery or museum to fill our cultural account. How can it affect us? How can we use it? And how has the role of art changed with our society? My hunt for answers led me to Oskar Feldbæk, a young art historian at the University of Copenhagen, currently working on his master thesis about fountains around Europe. I was lucky to get the chance to meet Oskar for a talk, so I got on my bicycle and went out into the dark through the rainy streets of Copenhagen to find some answers.

As I enter the small and cosy apartment, Oskar is telling me to feel at home, while he prepares some tea. A quick glance around his living room sets the scene. The aura of art is tense. A messy desk buried in notes and books, a completely stuffed bookshelf with books such as ‘Why art?’, ‘The beauty of art’, ‘French Masterpieces’ and ‘Art in the society’ is giving me an idea about who this young man is. An art enthusiast, that’s for sure. As Oskar enters the living room, he gives me a ‘Ready!’ sign, and I tip the box of questions open.

Art Historian Oskar Feldbæk

PB: How did your interest art begin and when did you know you had to study art?
OF: “I remember being a small kid visiting a lot of galleries and museums with my grand mom. I must have been around 8 or 10 years old, and I increasingly found art more and more interesting the more museums I visited. What started out as a deep-felt passion ended up being my study field. I actually had a brief encounter with Political Science but I quickly realised that I had to follow my passion, so I ended up studying Art History at the University of Copenhagen.“

PB: It sounds like you are the guy I’m looking for! What would you describe as the main purpose for art to us as spectators?
OF: “That is a big question! But in short, I’ll say that art is about yourself. It doesn’t matter if you look at art in the public space, at the gallery or in your own living room. No matter what, art is about finding your own impression or interpretation.

It is a bit of a cliché that art is restricted to a limited amount of the population. Art is definitely for everybody. So, don’t be afraid of missing the point. The purpose is individual and what is ‘the point’ anyway?

PB: So even though your knowledge about art is close to nothing, you can still enjoy it?
OF: “Absolutely! Especially if you share your experiences with somebody else. Another pair of eyes most likely perceives something different than you. There is no kind of hierarchy when it comes to opinions. If you see something else than me, it’s just brilliant! That is actually a quite important fact about enjoying art. It doesn’t matter if it’s your girlfriend, family or old schoolmate, everybody is able to make their own impression, and that’s what makes it interesting for me. I would like to share my own opinion as well as I would like to hear other opinions. Obviously, it is good to know something, but everybody has different kind of taste and emotions. Make sure to use that. I would actually say this is what makes art democratic.”

Art Historian Oskar Feldbæk in his office

PB: Art being democratic, I like that expression. If everybody is cable of enjoying art, what is the main function of art?
OF: “To some extent, you can say that the role of art is the lack of function. When I put on my jacket I maybe do it because I’m freezing, I use my bicycle to go around the city, and I use my knife when I cook. But art does not fill out a function as such. And that’s why it becomes redundant to some people. “What do I get out of it?” is a common question. That is a huge misunderstanding. This is the key to art, because it is on another frequency so to speak. You got to tune in! Some people might say art is functionless, but I’ll turn it around and say that art is of great value exactly because there is no guidelines on how to use it. You can feel it, get some intellectual impetuses and get enriched by the art in a distinctive way.

PB: If art is on another frequency, would you say that we should use it as a break from our everyday life?
OF: “Yes indeed. Maybe you are busy at your job or feeling depressed about something. Then art can help by deviating your feelings. Then it’s the experience of going away for some minutes, or even hours.”

PB: I think I’m on your frequency right now. Can this frequency be used in different ways?
OF: “Sure thing! Your mood and mind is everything when it comes to interpretation. That’s why you can go back to the same piece a lot of times, which I often do myself. A piece of art you like can be like a good friend you get familiar with. The element of surprise is often quite big with something you think you know in every detail. You are constantly discovering new perspectives. Art is without an expiration date, and that is vital for its value. You can have a piece at home you bought when you were twenty-something, but possibly twenty years later it would mean something else to you. Your life will change, and so will your impressions. The motif is not changing, but you are. Art is what happens in your mind, and that truly makes the art world inexhaustible.

Art Historian Oskar Feldbæk

PB: But if we are changing, is the art changing as well?
OF: “Definitely. Art is tailing the changes in our society, just like anything else. And if it doesn’t do that, it would get behind quite quick. Art is constantly finding new ways of interacting with people. Just take a look at the Internet. This digital age we are living in is making a huge impact on art. It has become online, just like we are ourselves. We have a real life and a virtual life with Facebook and so on. The art is undeniably online as well. Now you are able to find, buy and learn about art online. Only 10 years ago, the situation was completely different. But art is keeping up with our modern lives. And it really has to.

Oskar, thank you very much. I would use your words to reflect forward when I think and talk about art.

“You are most welcome. I hope you enjoyed our conversation.

As I get out on the dark, rainy streets, I feel that Oskar’s inspiring thoughts has helped answer some of my questions. More than that really, he has helped me to tune in. To experience art on my own terms. I hope that you will use his words for your next art experience – as a reminder to tune in!

About Peter Birch
Driven by a curious mind, 27-year-old historian Peter Birch is constantly looking for new adventures in his city Copenhagen. As an avid explorer, he seeks out every nook and cranny in the world of art. He is no expert in the field, but he is an expert in asking questions and challenging the predominant opinions. Follow in Peter’s footsteps and discover the art world through new eyes.


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