Art / Books / Switzerland

How do you define art, Olivio Ferrari?


Olivio Ferrari, designer, architect and professor inspired greatness within others. In honor of his legacy, students, friends and colleagues created the book Portfolio in 1996. Their reflections cover a span of 40 years with genuine admiration for the legacy of a teacher of art and design.

In one essay, Sean O’Rourke and Deborah Eckbreth share the essence of an artist and philosopher Olivio Ferrari in their question to him, how do you define art. Ferrari’s response was to read The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly.

‘La pensée console de tout’.

We cannot think if we have not time to read, nor feel if we are emotionally exhausted, nor out of cheap material create what is permanent. We cannot co-ordinate what is not there.

The supreme liberty is liberty from the body, the last freedom is freedom from time; the true work of art the one which the seventh wave of genius throws far up the beach where the under-tow of time cannot drag it back. When all the motives that lead artists to create have fallen away, and the satisfactions of vanity and the play-instinct been exhausted, there remains the desire to construct that which has its own order, as a protest against the chaos to which all else appears condemned.

Three faults, which are found together and which infect every activity: laziness, vanity, cowardice. If one is too lazy to think, too vain to do a thing badly, too cowardly to admit it, on will never attain wisdom. Yet it is only the thinking which begins when habit-thinking leaves off, which is ignited by the logic of the train of thought, that is worth pursuing. A comfortable person can seldom follow up an original idea any further than a London pigeon can fly.

Cowardice in living: without health and courage we cannot face the present or the germ of the future in the present and take refuge in evasion.

Art is memory: memory is re-enacted desire.

A great artist is like a fig-tree whose roots run a hundred feet underground in search of tea-leaves, cinder and old boots. Art which is directly produced for the Community can never have the same withdrawn quality as that which is made out of the artist’s solitude. For this possesses the integrity and bleak exhilaration that are to be gained only from the absence of an audience and from communion with the primal source of unconscious life. One cannot serve both beauty and power.

… for art is made by the alone for the alone.

What words did Ferrari use, share?


… think in situation …

… think in alternatives …

… nothing is constant but change …

When in the company of a great thinker it is curious to explore who joins. In this case, several philosophers were included in the tribute to Ferrari, including

There is no teaching until the pupil is brought into the same state or principle in which you are; a transfusion takes place; he is you, and you are he …

Ralph Waldo Emerson

* * *

All men by nature have a desire to know. A sign of this is the joy we take in our senses, for quite apart from their usefulness we love them for their own sake.

Wisdom therefore will be a union of intuitive reason and rational knowledge.

These remains of a great man’s teachings are all we have by which to judge him.

…in general, the proof of a person’s knowledge or ignorance is his ability to teach. Hence we consider art more truly knowledge than experience for artists can teach and the others cannot.


Art, design is manifesting a vision, a philosophy that inspires and connects people.

By Keri Douglas, writer/photographer, Washington, D.C.


One thought on “How do you define art, Olivio Ferrari?

  1. A wonderful piece of article. Very educational, one can always teach when the grey matter is equipped withe the proper ammunition. Best Bekele

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