"The Art of Consciousness" by Olga Tokarczuk

Daniel Benjamin Gallery has the great pleasure to share the essay “The Art of Consciousness” by Olga Tokarczuk, recently awarded with the Nobel Prize in literature.

The text was written for Pola Dwurnik’s acclaimed artbook “Girl on Canvas", giving her interpretation for the artist's painting "School of Smoking or a Concert in a Cave".


“ Smoking isn’t simple. It doesn’t come easy, all by itself. It’s a certain technical adroitness that first needs to be mastered, and then assiduously practiced, like other skills. So you have to learn to smoke, and only afterwards does it become a pleasure. Everyone who remembers their first puff on a cigarette knows what I’m talking about. And that first joint? With the accompanying chorus of advisers: ‘Inhale, hold it, let it out slowly…’

Smoking can be something more than inhaling and letting out smoke. It can evoke emotional states, and often enhances intuition. It fosters the rise of remarkable conceptions and brilliantly formulated thoughts, making ideas flow through the mind like a stream, and making us swim in that stream. This is what’s known as life. This is consciousness.

So this is a Lesson in Consciousness.

You have to inhale air and smoke deep into your lungs and then slowly change them into thoughts, conceptions and theories. The more complicated, the better – the more impressive the names the theories get and the more effect they have on people. For instance, you have to come up with ways of imagining the unimaginable, you have to create the most entangled and inherently contradictory mental states, and you have to combine separate emotions into intricate complexes and syndromes – and then you can ponder and attempt to cure them, and explicate, express, and interpret them. Clearly, a precise idiom is required for this; you can never forget about the idiom of consciousness if you want to keep up with the stream of thoughts and images, and also co-create them.

The double-barreled title is correct: this is a concert and a lesson at the same time, and it metamorphoses into a concert because the students are talented and quickly learn the art of consciousness. They’ve barely grasped the basics and they’re already creating worlds. Because out of consciousness comes reality, or at least something the people in the cave take for reality.

After all, there’s no certainty that another world – the one outside the cave – exists, but they believe in it. It must exist. Otherwise, everything would come down to this gloomy place that resembles a prison, wouldn’t it?

The Lesson in Consciousness is the complicated science of creating a world in the cave where we sit and where only reflections of light from outside reach us, glimmering across the walls, flashing and vanishing. There was a time when the denizens of the cave still tried to speculate about what was outside. They used the gift of consciousness very pragmatically – they wanted to find out the way things are. They all had different ideas and in the end they got into bitter arguments. But today they have lost that enthusiasm, and seem to feel helpless. So now they simply have a good time. They create a world of smoke and their world is smokelike – fluid and impermanent. They’re all wrapped up in this world and don’t even remember that they’re sitting in a cave.

How carefree these world-spinners are! The only cognizant being lies at their feet. Only he has eyes that see. This may be true wisdom ".

Translated by William Brand, 2013.


We would like to congratulate once more Olga Tokarczuk for her prestigious achievement.

#PolaDwurnik