burds, smocks, and dames: minutiae in the arts

‘Nature’s law says that the strong must prevent the weak from living, but only in a newspaper article or textbook can this be packaged into a comprehensible thought. In the soup of everyday life, in the mixture of minutia from which human relations are woven, it is not a law. It is a logical incongruity when both strong and weak fall victim to their mutual relations, unconsciously subservient to some unknown guiding power that stands outside of life, irrelevant to man.’

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov


It’s less than a fortnight since I first used the word minutiae when describing my methods and practice. A few days prior to a CBC Radio interview, Will Robinson touched on the notion and I found myself saying on air, ‘My work deals with minutiae; is that a word?’

In the conversation precipitating the minutiae epiphany, Will had to steady himself. We had only just met and he was navigating moss-covered rocks in a fast-moving stream with this one because he was proposing the phenomenon of ‘brave disclosure via the everyday’ was primarily evident in the work of female artists.

Jesus, these are dangerous and murky waters. The last two words in the above paragraph should probably read ‘woman-identified artists’ and I hesitate to go any further. But I will, with the caveat that the the following thoughts and observations are preliminary and hugely unscientific:

  • The above image is a capture of BJ McCarville’s In the ear of the teacup II,  a jury selected, interactive installation which was part of Art in the Open, 2013. My viewer/participant experience of the work ‘felt like’ what I am trying to convey when I speak about minutiae.
  • And my experience of McCarville’s piece ‘felt like’ two others in Art in the Open: The Creativity Project (Jill McCormack, Janeen McGuigan, Julie Love, Janice McGuigan, and John MacKenzie, curated by this town is small) and Curiosity: a love letter to abandoned houses (Monica Lacey, curated by the Confederation Centre Art Gallery).

DSC02764The Creativity Project


  • I have hinted in a previous blog post that Lacey’s Curiosity and Jay Dort’s Conflagration, curated by this town is small are ‘different limbs of the same tree’ or maybe separate trees with ‘tangled roots’. At the moment, I am struggling to find an antonym for minutiae that would describe Dort’s piece.
  • There are a host of negative connotations associated with the word minutiae including: fiddle-faddle, frippery, frivolity, minute, minor, nonsense, small, small change, small potatoes, trifles, trifling matters, trivial, and trivialities.
  • As I approach the ‘Publish’ moment – ‘click’, is it too early for wine? – I am still searching for an antonym for minutiae. I worry that, when found, the word will have no negative connotations.

3 thoughts on “burds, smocks, and dames: minutiae in the arts

  1. Donna, some possible antonyms of minutiae that would have negative connotations could include generalities, superficialities, or the broad strokes.

    • Thanks for this. I read your suggestions yesterday and today am thinking I was barking up the wrong red herring with the frantic antonym search. Has led to discussions regarding Deleuze’s Rhizomes and also – and this one came as a result of thinking about your interest in cicadas – this book on rainbows which I would buy for you if I wasn’t still paying for my MFA: http://www.brynmawr.edu/bmrcl/Summer2003/Fisher.html

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