Categorizations as reduction.

November 30, 2007

Recently I have engaged Everett Scott in what has become a very interesting conversation into how and why we organize art, looking at why there is Art and art and where entertainment plays a role and how Art acts differently. What has come from this are some very interesting notions as to entertainment and art being on separately playing fields and ultimately incomparable as to effect and purpose on society and culture. This may not be false in the end. And I being one who loves adapting and utilizing arguments contrary to my own brought this up in a recent conversation in a Mystical class I am currently in being taught by Professor K. The conversation was on the mystical merit of Dali. I being of the mind to challenge even my own beliefs on art decided to take the opinion that Dali was a “sellout artist” and one not deserving of any merit; in the end I used this distinction to place Dali as an entertainer rather than an artist. My professor, Professor K, stated rather bluntly that such distinctions were reductive and closed minded.

Well first I’d like to say that I disagree entirely with both sides of that little debate, Dali is an artist to me, and such distinction are most certainly not reductive and closed minded. In fact I would argue that such a statement is the only thing closed minded and reductive in that debate. To refuse to engage in a debate because you believe it to be reductive is the closed minded attitude. I grant that I am not one to revel in categorizations but I do believe there is merit in trying to understand why such works as Guernica or Olympiad or even the Mona Lisa are distinctively different than that of Disney or MGM’s Bond films. But I am not bringing this up to just point out a failure in our class’s ability to discuss openly, rather I want to acknowledge the merit of trying to understand the differences between Art and art and why we should do that. I know that personally I do not believe in such differences but I think in looking at the apparent differences we better understand why we create them. So then I guess I do believe in them I just don’t prescribe to them. I really do not know. But in regards to aesthetics, I do want to delve into how that word applies to art and I will very soon.

Art for Art’s Sake

November 27, 2007

First I must apologize for taking so long to respond to such a wonderful post. I am still new to blogging and am learning just how much time I need to dedicate to it. Everett has introduced an extremely interesting and thought provoking connection between art and a higher mystical/transcendental purpose on his website, POSHLUST. More specifically he has addressed my desire to compare Art or High Art and art or Low Art as to understand why the difference needs to exist. Everett suggests that this difference exists because in reality they are actually two completely different entities with “artists” working towards completely different ends. Art, Everett describes below:  Art exists “for its own sake” in the sense that it cannot serve an ideological purpose. As Robbe-Grillet says, “What [the author] was trying to do is merely the book itself…. And when we ask him why he has written his book, he has only one answer: “To try and find out why I wanted to write it.” This enlightenment, this awareness, cannot be approached cognitively: art must exist free because the very act of creating is a search, a quest, for something that it is not even entirely aware of when it begins. (For all the arguing I have done about “a heightened sense of consciousness,” I could not even begin to describe it; it is beyond me.) Thus to impose any level of direction on Art restrains it. (This is why philosophical works like those of Camus or Sartre or Brecht fail so miserably as literature: they are trying to teach us, but they force the work to fit their ideas, and the work becomes less because of it.) Art for art’s sake does not mean that it is meaningless; rather, it means that art requires freedom to serve its purpose, which is a search for, a desire to understand and communicate, the ineffable.”  

Therefore Art, Everett suggests is not designed for any one specific purpose but rather is an example of one artist’s search to communicate and/or understand the ineffable (a word mystics love to use to defend their experience as being legitimate). He therefore acknowledges his belief in “art for art’s sake” but not to suggest that art is meaningless and serves no purpose but that its purpose is within what Art is. While he calls art, or low art as being entertainment and having a different purpose entirely.

 This is not the goal of Entertainment. The goal of entertainment is to dull our senses to the world, to make us more comfortable with the world as it is. Mythology, Campbell wrote, was designed to make a mysterious and frightening world more acceptable; one cannot help but watch Live Free and Die Hard in the same context: providing our great fears (terrorism, a government incapable of dealing with disasters) and then providing us a comfortable resolution— the idea that these problems can be fixed, that even the great threat of terrorism is weak compared to American determination and ingenuity. Can there be fine works of entertainment? Certainly. David Huddle’s The Story of a Million Years, Chip Kidd’s The Cheese Monkeys, the works of Edith Sitwell, Stephen King (and most other genre writers for that matter), most of the style of French rococo, et&c.” 

With this definition he argues that one should not engage in a difference between the two categories because in the end they are entirely different productions that serve a different purpose and are produced in different ways. Where entertainment seeks to comfort art seeks to understand. This is a very interesting idea and one, I’ll be honest, I haven’t considered when engaging this debate. And I believe that Everett has posed a very convincing argument as to the validity of such a separation. He further argues that these entertainment pieces are:


temporal, their goal is, as the word “amuse” means “to divert from serious business,” a pleasant escapism. It is not to say that these works lack beauty or do not provoke thought, but rather that they are not designed to fundamentally change our perception of the world, our relationship with the world.”

But I must ask the question with this in regards to those well constructed entertainment pieces. What if they fundamentally change our perception of the world or have the influence to affect that change, maybe not fundamentally. But Everett has set up his argument well and stated that they weren’t designed to and therefore their effects do not necessarily influence which category they fall under. My problem with this argument is that it puts too much emphasis on the creator. I believe, as I have stated before , that art is not defined by an object but rather by an interaction and therefore requires active participation by the observer. Thus with this definition I believe that this new distinction between art that seeks to understand and art that seeks to comfort becomes completely subjective based on the relationship with the viewer. I also recognize that I am coming at this from one who believes mysticism and this ineffable thing we try to understand through mystical experiences is simply a euphoric state achieved through aesthetic experience, basically I am saying that art is not designed to explore some higher spiritual existence but rather is designed to explore our relationship with aesthetics. I cannot buy spirituality because I believe it is entirely connected to the “flaw of civilization” that Everett describes in his addendum to his Art as Mysticism post.


As always I am running out of time to post this so I leave it with a question. If art is mysticism and its true purpose is to explore this higher spiritual state, then how can those who do not live in mystical awareness and do not acknowledge spirituality interact with art? No I believe that his is one possibility but one that can only work for those who have strong belief in a spiritual world. For the rest of us art must and always be meaningless. It is in its meaninglessness that is thrives on being able to challenge our concepts of beauty, natural beauty, representation, creativity, productivity, style, design, all of these are aspects that in the end are there to entertain. When I have more time and for part two of this post I will dive more into why I believe art is and should be meaningless.



Audience or Public

November 26, 2007

            One person I have discovered to be very important to any study on weblogs and their history is Rebecca Blood, who has become a voice of authority on the issue of weblogs solely because she has been a longtime blogger, since 1996, three years before the user friendly software of Blogger came out.  In an essay titled “Weblogs: A History and Perspective” written by Blood on September 7th in 2000 and was later published in We’ve got blog: how weblogs are changing our culture, describes the short history of weblogs and how they started as filters for finding more interesting web content.

            Her essay describes the two major trends in blogging, the first being that of a filter where a creator would post a link, a title, and some commentary in regards to where the link leads, while the other (now more popular) form is that of the short-form journal where the creator would post daily (or more frequently) about anything from thoughts to stories of the day to free writing experiments. What develops from software like Blogger and WordPress is the current blogging community where the active dialogue between publisher and viewer helps evolve the artistic creation of the blog. Blood poses a very interesting question with her final statements:


            “I strongly believe in the power of weblogs to transform both writers and readers from ‘audience’ to ‘public’ and from ‘consumer’ to ‘creator.’”


            In my thesis I am eager to reserve a large section of it to look at this relationship between the writer and the reader, the interaction between the two in this artistic process is something that has probably never been seen before in the world of art. In no other medium does the spectator have the ability to comment while the piece is being created, save maybe an improvised performance where the audience can show their approval or disapproval. But the setup of this type of performance is drastically different than that of the blog, for here even though it is improvised it is being viewed as such, and the performer is not directly involved in a discussion with any single member of that audience. Where as in blogs each audience member has a voice, they all collectively become a public as Blood suggests.


So I pose the question, does this apparent democratization of art really affects the creation of art in any new way? Or better yet, is it really there? Are we a public now or are we still an audience and perhaps this dialogue is just another form of cultural control, something Adorno would probably suggest about the current situation.


As always I eagerly await your thoughts,


When we forget where we are

November 25, 2007

In broken door knobs one finds nothing fitting yet all things resolved that all we can do is watch with tinted glasses the never ending debate between the growing amount of coins displaced by the vibrating utterance of a lost generation and that technologically infused support of a new age of equality that by being all at the same level of ability we are all at the same level of opportunity. Nothing is so fitting to this picture then the device facing my direction confused as to its displacement in its own age of existence as if it was ignored by ages of rediscovery, hidden by the lasered generational gap it acknowledges its lost placement and its new found friendship with the inorganic yet aggressive dust empire. But that is all not so true chimed in the four identicals that would be seemingly unique were it not for their rather large brandishing of commercialism signifying from where exactly they were extracted and for what occasion they rest now blocking the one piece of independence that lay behind them, the one identifier of uniqueness that established this obscure scene of incoherence. But sadly it cannot take center stage in this dramatic interpretation of humanity for if the transparent productions did not stand in its way it would still have to shuffle passed yet another mark of technological debris that was currently directing itself in such a fashion as to obstruct any sort of path the one uniqueness of this multitude of products could take to show itself as something special, something worth remembering after the end curtain falls.

Mysticism is religion is literature?

November 24, 2007

I am currently involved in a course dealing with mysticism. So what does that mean? I believe each of us has our own definition of mysticism, at the very least some separate it from religion, if not the majority. Yet all I have read in this class are texts tied to religion, and therefore, because of their religious foundation, are not challenged as literature. My professor, one of the leading Rumi scholars of today, refuses to allow us to engage in a debate over the formal merits of these works because she believes that these works are not “total works” as Wagner sought to create, but rather they are simply messages of a greater experience, that of the mystical experience itself, therefore we cannot criticize their presentation because we have to start by assuming the honesty and sincerity of the author. After all, it is their experience.


Now I would love to engage the question on whether or not this is an academic approach, and furthermore if this is not an academic approach and perhaps one would argue, like my professor, that this topic needs its own approach separate of academia, then I would say that this has no place in academia and should never be placed on the same level as real academic work. Why?


Why is the key here and I will explain it briefly for myself but then I do want feedback more on the idea of how to integrate mysticism and literature. For me the difference between mysticism and academia, literature, and even philosophy (which mystics love to compare themselves to) is that it requires a leap of a faith, a belief in something without evidence. I being an atheist cannot comply with that requirement and therefore cannot accept that in a university. A university is a place for open minded education, a place where those from all backgrounds can come together to understand, comprehend, and debate ideas and issues. Presenting an idea that requires a leap of faith has no place here.

 Lastly I want to make something clear, I use atheist because no other word exists. I am non-religious, by that I mean I have received no formal religious education and grew up in a household void of religion. I feel that today atheism implies some sort of active rejection of god; well I would not agree with that because I am not doing anything active when it comes to religion, I just live separate from it.


Narratology enters the blogosphere

November 23, 2007

I would like to change gears a little bit here and delve into a conversation on Narratology, a relative new field dealing with narrative and its transmedial aspects. A leading author on the topic, Marie-Laure Ryan, defines a new definition of narratology for the contemporary transmedial world of today in her book Avatars of Story. I would like to start by quoting her definition of story and narrative:


“Story, like narrative discourse, is a representation, but unlike discourse it is not a representation encoded in material signs. Story is a mental image, a cognitive construct that concerns certain types of entities and relations between these entities. Narrative may be a combination of story and discourse, but it is its ability to evoke stories to the mind that distinguishes narrative discourse from other text types.” (p5, Avatars of Story)


Using this definition we can expand the concept of narrative to include more abstract media such as music, where the story is not specifically established but rather our absorption of the melodies are interpreted through narrative means. Ryan acknowledges this through identifying the terms we use to describe musical narrative such as exposition, complication, and resolution. What I find extremely intriguing about her approach to narrative is that she sees it more as a scalar rather than a binary feature. Basically she is of the mind that rather than being or not being a narrative, something (that being a musical score to a novel to a film) falls under a level of narrativity, basically it has a level of storiness that makes it more or less a narrative. What is useful about this definition, and this relates to a recent comment made on my Art or art post by Kaz, is that it removes the debate on whether something is or isn’t a narrative and places the emphasis on how different narratives relate.

            This will become extremely important when we start to look at how the internet functions as a medium of artistic expression. The internet will allow for the audience to become participants in a much more constructive and collaborative way. I bring this up because I think that the exploration of narratology, the storiness of a work of are despite the medium, will have a big impact in looking at how blogs will function as their own style of literature. It is the thesis of my thesis that blogs should be treated as a new genre of writing, something to be compared with poetry or pros. I believe that the largest element that differs the blog from other forms of literature is the blog’s ability to allow for collaborative creation. Unfortunately one only speaks in potentials at this stage and my research has yet to show me established artistic blogs, comparable to say the New York Times Best Seller List, but I doubt that that is entirely true so I ask my readership for help at this point. Show me the hidden treasures of the blogosphere.



Revisiting Journalism with Documentaries

November 22, 2007

For a second post on Thanksgiving I want to expand on the conversation of Journalism and Art. Specifically I want to add a conversation on Documentaries. What is the role of a documentary today and how does that role interact with art and journalism? What is interesting to me is the word itself, I believe it is only applied to film and then when we think of the equivalent in literature we fall into the “nonfiction” category of biographies, historical studies, social studies, and so on. So we have touched upon the artistic value in journalism that it may be art through the way in which this “information” we receive on a daily basis is transmitted to us. That basically journalism and especially photojournalism becomes art because of the way it (being the “information”) is interpreted by the journalist. Well the same can be said about documentaries and I bet one would be hard pressed to find a documentary film director who would disagree with the idea that what they are doing is art. After all it was Buñuel’s film, Las Hurdes, which highlighted the fundamentally paradox of documenting: by observing you alter and therefore influence.

So by this same argument can nonfiction literature be art? I guess the most ironic example of this would be the publication art criticism or history. Is André Bazin an artist like Jean Renoir? The truth is, and I believe critical theory will back me up on this that it is impossible to comment on society without influencing society, therefore all critical thought and philosophical theory plays as much a role in shaping society as it does in describing it. So one could argue that it is the way in which André Bazin writes as well as how he chooses what to write that makes him an artist. But then does art become about form rather than content? Are we suggesting that he, along with journalism, is artists because of how they create rather than what they create? Basically I return to the fundamental question: Is the newspaper a work of art?


I expect answers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.