Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I'm Glad I Didn't Meet This in Art Class

Commenter Arthur directed me towards this abuse of "quantum" and other scientific jargon. I've spent some time in some fine arts classes, and I'm glad I didn't encounter a flood of nonsense. The only woo I remember encountering involved a field trip to meet an artist who used a lot of 50s memorabilia as material. The stuff was pretty good, and I got a smile out of some "What Would Elvis Do?" posters. Of course, the woo came in when he described the "energy" of art, and talked about everything already existing. Attributed some of his decisions to "resonance" or something that made him "recreate" a copy of his art that already existed. Hey, when I'm making art, I've felt a "pull" that compelled me to move a blue rectangle further to the right, but that's just my sense of composition kicking in non-verbally. No need to invoke woo waves in my art.

Anyway, back to the nut of the moment. Please note that a lot of my commentary on the purpose of art is opinion:
The title, What Good Are the Arts? seems as idiotic to me as asking What Good is Food? If you believe, as I do, that life has an inside as well as an outside, you will accept that the inner life needs nourishment too. If the inner life is not supported and sustained, then there is nothing between us and the daily repetition of what Wordsworth called ‘getting and spending.’
Already, a bad analogy. We can live in a daily repetition. I wouldn't want to, but I could. I couldn't live without food.
Carey would counter here that I am confusing art and religion, and one of his chapters is devoted to the fallacy of art as a religion, primarily debunking any notion of ‘transcendence’ or ‘spiritual experience.’
I wouldn't insult art by comparing it to religion. As Picasso said, art is a lie that tells the truth. Religion is just, as far as I've been able to tell, a lie.
Like religion, art offers an alternative value system; it asks us to see differently, think differently, challenging ourselves, and the way we live.
Sorry, but religion does the opposite of what's suggested. Art isn't an alternative value system, either: It's a diverse means of expression. The values are what it tries to communicate.
Most importantly, art is a continual reminder that the money and celebrity scrabble of the modern world can be countered by the serious pleasure of doing something for its own sake.
But people can do that for its own sake. Does that make money and celebrity scrabble art? They could also make art in celebration of that.
The twenty- four emergency zone that we call real life saps our energies.
Given the slant of 24 hour television news, I'd agree.
Art renews those energies because it allows us an experience of active meditation.
Depends on the art. Art is not a monolithic entity.
The energies of the artwork cross-current into us. It is a transfusion of a kind, and if this has religious overtones, it doesn’t matter. Nobody need be nervous about a connection between art and religion. All of life is connected and our deepest experiences, whether of faith or love or art will share similar qualities. That does not mean they are the same thing, it means we are in a particular territory – that inner life that John Carey finds so suspect.
Art is intellectual stimulation. There. Saved you a lot of meaningless text. Also, does anyone else smell a straw man at the end there? I haven't read Carey, but I've heard similar lines said about me, even though I'm all about intellectual stimuli. I just prefer not to flower it up by claiming that some types are inherently more magical than others.
He dislikes the words ‘real’ and ‘true’. Such words suggest absolutes, and for Carey everything is relative.
I don't know about Carey, but you won't catch me shying away from those words.
‘A work of art is anything that anyone has ever considered a work of art, though it may be a work of art only for that one person.’ So everything is art, East Enders, internet porn (‘ once again people are being sent to prison for looking at the wrong kinds of pictures’) the cartoon dog I drew this morning for my god-daughter, and nothing is art, because there is no there there, as Gertrude Stein put it. Nothing exists, only our impressions.
Anything can be art. Whether or not it's good art is left open for argument.
Carey rushes to science to back him up here, and points out that only science can offer ‘proof’. The best art can do is ‘persuade’, and what persuades us is really a amalgam of snobbery, prejudice, fashion, period, and emperor’s new clothes. If enough of the right people keep saying that a thing is a work of art it becomes one, but that doesn’t mean it is one, because there are no absolute values, no objectivity, only the mind observing itself and what it makes.
I have no idea what he's going on about at this point. Science is a tool for finding the truth. Art is a tool for expressing ideas, emotions, etcetera.
The muddle here is to confuse objects with energies. Yes, we live in a quantum world where there is only, in TS Eliot’s phrase, ‘the dance’, and the dance is always changing, both in the sub-atomic world of particles, and in the visible world of objects. We construct out world so that we can apprehend it, we make our ideas visible so that we and others can enjoy them and debate them, and usually destroy them at some time or other, but we go on making, we go on turning energy into objects.
I need earplugs so brain don't leak out me head. We don't construct reality. We change around parts of reality into forms we find interesting and/or pleasing.
The object itself is provisional, the energy, though changing, is permanent, and is a feature of the whole universe.
And the square is square, though round. But seriously, matter and energy will stick around, at least until someone builds the opposite of a free energy machine. All that stuff just goes through different arrangements. We like some of those arrangements.
What art does is to release and focus energy in a particular way, and I would argue that what we call art objects are places where energy is especially intense. It doesn’t matter whether it is a picture or a book or a piece of music, or a performance, it is a concentration of energy.
It also doesn't matter if it's my dinner from last night, a meteor passing Jupiter, or a rain of neutrinos. Stuff is stuff. Art objects are just stuff we've arranged in certain ways to express an idea. Being art doesn't change the intensity of the "energy."
This is why the arts occupy relatively timeless space, and why one of the tests of art is that it should go on working on us long after any contemporary interest in its subject matter is extinct. We don’t go to Shakespeare to find out about life in Elizabethan England, we go to Shakespeare to find out about ourselves now. The energy in the plays goes on being released.
No, Shakespeare is still relevant to this day because, like Nietzsche, Shakespeare was a monkey. The human condition hasn't changed all that much.
This is why Carey’s rubbishing of any distinctions between high art and low art is so misplaced. There is no such thing as high and low art, there is only the real thing, and it comes very differently packaged and dosed at different strength. This is why, in one of my ‘barely sane’ periods, (Carey), I talk about the huge truth of a Picasso and the quieter truth of a Vanessa Bell. The dosage is as different as the packaging, and not all art lasts forever, indeed forever is a meaningless term, when in performance art, for instance, every performance lasts only as long as itself. One of the liberations of contemporary art has been to free us from the mandarin view of ‘everlasting monuments to the human spirit’. It is the human spirit that is everlasting, not its monuments, but art’s great gift is to transmit that spirit across time.
I don't think I'd be as polite about this person's sanity as Carey apparently was. Whatever you want to believe the "human spirit" is, there's no reason yet to believe it's everlasting. Here's a much shorter and more sane thing I'd say in this place: Art communicates ideas. Some forms of communication last longer than others.

That's about all I can stand for now. I need to run my brain through the opposite of a blender to get it out of the milkshake consistency this article turned it into.


Anonymous said...

That was different. I liked it. One thing that I thought your post came tantalizingly close to without quite striking is the idea of religion as art. That is, religion as a way of communicating a set of values and beliefs in a manner that resonates in people's minds. It seems to me that this may be a valid comparison, although I haven't fully thought it through.

Anonymous said...

Art is that which has no other reason for existence.