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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What is art anyway?

Lewis concludes in Chapter 1 of Mere Christianity (1952) with two points, "First, that human beings,all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.  Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way.  They know the Law of Nature; they break it.  These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in (Lewis, 1952, p.8).
Having read that, I start to try and understand what this means to me and my work.  From reading this, it seems as if there is a moral standard/code that we as human beings adhere to - I agree with Lewis.  With that, how does this standard apply to and translate to art?  Is there a standard that we are trying to achieve in making art?  I hear a lot of talk these days about how art can be anything we want.  Is this because there was/is a standard but in our human nature have decided to break the Law of Nature?  Is art supposed to break rules or point to a standard? It is the intent of the artist that matters; which to some extent, I agree.  However, I start to wonder what is art then?  I am interested in having these conversations. We are all getting a Master of Fine Arts degree, but we never talk about this in a real way.  We all just say we make art, but why?  If what Lewis is saying is true, it seems as if there must be some rules about art that we strive to adhere to as well.  However, as he said, it is our choice to adhere to them or not.  If art is a depiction of our values, worldview, etc. what are we communicating?
I am thinking about these topics in what I do.  I strive for my work to adhere to a standard and depict my values and worldview, but how are those things being communicated?  I am asking myself, am I being successful?  I think art should lead viewers to consider something greater than themselves and maybe question their current view of the topic being addressed by the artist.  This is all for a purpose so that we can grow, work together, and come closer to understanding truth in this world.  I do not believe it is relative.
Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York, NY:  HarperCollins Publishers.
I will close with a quote from artist Mako Fujimura that I have been thinking about,
"We are today, border-less in more ways than one.  As we have become multi-cultural, we have become "multi-phrenic." There is no true, lasting expression of the sublime in a center-less world.  If there is no center, there is no periphery border in which art can thrive.  Today we need a centralizing vision of our being" (Fujimura, 2007, p.5).
This is an interesting concept - one that I am trying to wrap my mind around.  If there is no center, there are no boarders?  Webster defines border as "a boundary between places" or "an outer part or edge."  With that I ask the question, do we need borders in art?  If we do need borders - why?  If borders are defined by the center, what is the center?  If one says that borders are not necessary, does that mean that a center is not necessary?
Fujimura, Makoto (2007). River Grace. New York: Poiema Press: International Arts Movement. 
Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (1503-1517)


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  2. I have been trying to remember an essay I read once by an American novelist about how abashed he felt, once upon a time, at being asked by an earnest student attending a lecture he gave in another country something like "What service do you as an artist perform for your humanity."
    I can't find that essay.
    But I did find this bit from a famous speech given by John Updike in 1984, and although he's talking about literary art and about the books that professors review for pay vs the ones they read for the joy of reading, it hits a few notes that seem relevant to your questions. Here goes:
    "Whatever art offered the men and women of previous eras, what it offers our own, it seems to me, is space - a certain breathing room for the spirit. The town I grew up in had many vacant lots; when I go back now, the vacant lots are gone. They were a luxury, just as tigers and rhinoceri, in the crowded world that is making, are luxuries. Museums and bookstores should feel, I think, like vacant lots - places where the demands on us are our own demands, where the spirit can find exercise in unsupervised play. Our artistic heroes tend to be those self-exercisers, like Picasso, and Nabokov, and Wallace Stevens, who rather defiantly kept playing past dark. There should always be something gratuitous about art, just as there seems to be, according to the new-wave cosmologists, something gratuitous about the universe. Art, out of its own freedom, should excite and flatter our sense of our own. Professionalism in art has this difficulty: To be professional is to be dependable, to be dependable is to be predictable, and predictability is esthetically boring - an anti-virtue in a field where we hope to be astonished and startled and at some deep level refreshed."
    I like the idea of the artist as celebrating play, validating the value of play. But at the same time, I feel called to, in some way, express more than just "myself." I am such a poor artist that I feel like a fraud writing this, but I do feel called to document what I see in my world, specifically the joy and the good humor I see. Not to pretend that the world is not hellish, little hells everywhere, and corruption, violence, damage, hurt, betrayal, dementedness, lonely aloneness. But to state that, also, there are good and joyful realities. Those are real realities. They are truth. It can be truthful to make art with humor.
    That is my rather grand attempt to think seriously about your blog post.

  3. I make too many typos. There should not be the word "your" before "humanity."