Negative Capability, Living with MS

Saskia Risseeuw

Thirty years ago, I was diagnosed with the lifelong brain disease Multiple Sclerosis. I want to show how living with MS requires ‘Negative Capability’. The poet John Keats defined this concept as the talent to live in uncertainties, to draw strength from limitations, mysteries and setbacks. Just as in the process of making art. I have asked a few people with MS to cooperate with me and to photograph how they cope. What is art, work, life, more than an adventure in not-knowing?

Saskia Risseeuw (1963) is a Dutch image maker. She studied sociology at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam and Photography at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. Her work shows both her commitment to the conditions of modern life, as well as an awareness of the cultural tradition which has kept us together through the ages. The Still Life is her favorite form to explore the human condition. She is inspired by the concept of Negative Capability, the talent to live in uncertainties, to draw strength from limitations, mysteries and setbacks. Just as in the process of making art. What is life, work, art more than an adventure in not-knowing?

Art as Process, Process as Art



In this thesis I will investigate the process of making art. My research questions are • what is involved in this artistic creative process? • why do we show the artistic end result and not the process itself? • is there any relation with the concept of ‘Negative Capability’? I will analyse a group of artists who have participated in the Project "Voorjaar 2020" (Spring 2020). I will base this investigation on the key words I have selected during my preparatory work and on the concept of ‘Negative Capability’. A selection of these keywords: There is nothing stable under the sun - Conflict of an artist with society - Organising thoughts - Change and dynamics - Thinking is pivotal - Experiment - Research and Creation. I will define the concept of Negative Capability as: The ability to work or live or think in conditions of uncertainty, confusion, etc., without trying to transform these conditions as quickly as possible into certainties, recipes, or guidelines that must or can be followed. Striking about the artists involved, is that they often find the artistic process more interesting than the end result. This gives us more insight into what the process of art can be, what others encoun-ter, how they get their inspiration. What is art, work, life, more than an adventure in not-knowing?

To Conclude: Negative Capability

Common to all artists is that they do not know where they will end, that it is trial and error over and over again, developing, not wanting to repeat yourself, not falling back on what has been made before. There is a yearning for mystery, confusion and uncertainty which is not evaded but on the contrary actively sought. They prefer not to follow laws, but make them themselves, or evade them or change them beyond recognition. Simply because it is possible, it is not science. After all, there is very little in life that you have any control over. It is a desire to work in the absence of certainties and to allow mystery to take its course. To have the confidence to float and follow the flow of time to see where it will bring you. Keats' concept of Negative Capability is more than a literary construction to describe the creative process. In my opinion it's mostly about the courage to free yourself of the expectation of success, the fear of time wasted when I’m at the beginning of something without knowing where I will end. Will it be possible to make something out of it? And who is actually waiting for this work? For a long time, I felt inhibited to make things, every press of the button on my camera was a failure already. But nothing you try, create or research during your process can fail; it is part of the process. Making art does not involve meeting high expectations, but to enjoy exploring a world that does not yet exist. That talent to work in the absence of certainties and to admit mystery also works in the viewer. He too steps into an unknown world that he has to explore without a map and without a guide. A work of art hopes to arouse the same curiosity and creative energy that drives the maker to go further. I will have to move around in uncharted territory with nothing to go by but my confidence that I will arrive at something, no matter how long it takes. I have nothing to go by but my Negative Ca-pability.