Tor Nielsens good friend Laura decided to make an interview with him in December 2018.
Laura: So why did you decide to become an artist?
Tor: There was never one point in time when I decided to become an artist. I have been drawing since childhood. I was in love with comic books. Which is a great art form in my opinion. And comic books inspired me draw. And this inspiration for many years was my main drive. So when I was around 7-8 years old I started doing my own drawings and one-page comics. I did not have many friends and instead I grew a large universe using my imagination. And with drawings I could express myself. I remember I was very self-critical and did not like many of the drawings I did. I always thought I could do better ha ha ha..
After drawings I was inspired by cinema, and then photography, and then philosophy. I have an ability to completely obsess about a subject if it captures my imagination. But drawing always came back. It is such a powerful tool for your imagination, for developing ideas. Whatever happens in your mind you can quickly express it not matter if it is in words, figures or anything.
But to answer your question, I guess there was a moment that made me take my creative interests more serious. I applied in 2016 for a Phd. in Philosophy on the subject of consciousness. I had recently finished my degree and now finally found a subject motivating me enough to continue in academia. But my proposal was rejected. My ideas where thought to be too far out. I was proposing to analyse more deeply the infamous theory by Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff called “Orchestrated Objective Reduction” and argue for consciousness being a fundamental part of the universe. They did not like that. Natural sciences rein supreme in our time and if you attempt to do science on anything remotely spiritual, then you get rejected. Oh well… I still believe in those ideas by the way.
But this rejection made me think more carefully about what I wanted. And I came to the conclusion that you can creatively express yourself much more refined and broadly. You are not bound by anything. I saw for me art a natural continuation of my curiosity.
Laura: So does that mean that there are similarities between art and science in your opinion? How are those two connected?
Tor: I came up with this distinction at some point, that science seeks truth and beauty seeks understanding. Those are just words of course, but the point is that there is a certain similarity between art and science. When I am working hard to understand a scientific topic I experience a similar type of curiosity as when I am working hard to create something that is beautiful. I am in a sense searching for something unknown. And only when I find it, do I know what it is. It is a search of trial and error.
Perhaps there is a connection between science and art that goes deep in the human spirit. Plato suggested that there exists a connection between what is True, what is Beautiful and what is Good. To me science expresses itself in words that can carry truth. Art expresses itself in beauty which can carry an understanding. But understanding is more emotional while truth is more linguistic. Emotions in my opinion go deeper in our human nature and are superior for expression
Laura: But coming from a background working in research and studying Philosophy also means that you have no real education as an artist. What does that mean to you?
Tor: I really do not know. I am an outsider. I know so little about the art world and industry. What happens at contemporary art schools today? I do not know. I was dating a girl once who went to The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. She was working on a project and took me around to abandoned buildings to find old scrap metal like screws, bolts and similar. She wanted to build instruments and play music on the old metal. I did not fully understand but enjoyed being around her. I had the impression that modern art is a lot about experimentation. That contemporary art school teaches less technique but rather offer resources for young artists to find their own voice. So they have to experiment to find that through trial and error in order to learn what is their story. And honestly I think I did precisely that, only I did it on my own through the years next to my studies in Philosophy. At first my ideas in drawing where primitive and very similar to the comic books that inspired me. But over the years it became more and more own voice.
Laura: Also Western Philosophy has its roots in the old Greece. And Ancient Greece is also praised for its aesthetic ideals. So maybe there is a historical connection between the two as well?
Tor: Well I know from studying Philosophy that in ancient Greece practicing fine art was not limited to artistic professionals. It was in fact broadly practiced by those who had ambitions to become something in society. And for those practicing Philosophy it was considered essential. Learning art was a further refinement of your character. So there certainly historically is a connection. Also if you look at the Renaissance where the re-invention of art methodologically is closely related to science. You see this through the clear rules which applied to the use of perspective, colour, compositions and more.
But this connection between Philosophy, science and artistic expression is not universal at all. If you look at history you will see that the public idea of the artist has changed over the centuries. Is the artist a craftsman just like a carpenter? Is he a genius worthy of recognition of eternity? Is he a specially selected being who expresses himself through god? Or perhaps a rebel or social critic as we see often in our times? I like to keep it simple, and I see underneath the different periods of history an unchanging common denominator: All artists irrespective of their time, are motivated by some sort of idea of what is beautiful. They want to create, discover and experience beauty. But beauty for an abstract painter today is not the same as it was for a vase painter in ancient Greece. In this sense we are certainly defined by history. But the search for beauty itself universal across time.. And that is a powerful insight! Why are we so attracted to beauty? Is it something fundamentally human? Or fundamental perhaps to any intelligent and conscious being in the universe? That is something I think about a lot.
Laura: So how would you define your idea of what is beautiful?
Tor: For me beauty is twofold: Beauty is instantaneous. It touches you immediately when you see it. It draws you in. You want to see more. But then it also has depth. Not everything is revealed at once. An art piece can grow on you. You revisit a painting after some years, you have changed as a person and the painting makes you think and feel in a different way, because you are different. In this sense a great painting never cease to influence you. A strong piece or art is both immediate and lasting. That is a least my opinion.
Laura: You seem to be quite pre-occupied with the topic of consciousness. What is the story with that?
Tor: Consciousness was my favourite topic back when I was still studying and working in research. What consciousness is, its function in the brain and ultimate purpose in the Universe is still today unknown. That is something that can capture my attention – the very basis of our subjective experience is a complete mystery. Wow! Do you not just want to dive in and try to understand? I did and what did I find? That consciousness might be something much more powerful in this universe than our current physical and biological theories can explain. And to some extent it comforts me that parts of our lives are still a mystery. Any future discovery on consciousness might just flip everything we know right upside down. Everything is open for discussion. Isn’t that just great?
Laura: So one more final question. What is the deal with all this electronic music on your Instagram?
Tor: Techno? I love Techno! For me Techno is the music of the future. In a general sense music brings people together. It is such a powerful art form. Techno makes me feel compassionate. I feel connected to all life; animals plants and whatever intelligent life there might exist in our galaxy and the rest of the universe. Techno also makes me think of our tribal ancestors that lived in pre-civilised societies. I imagine them celebrating a spiritual rite of some sort. They are singing and drumming and dancing around the fire. Above them is a clear starry night. And they too, like me, wonder, what is this universe, what is life about. And perhaps out there somewhere another conscious being is thinking the same, looking at the same stars, but from a different perspective.