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.

  

Huysmans


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.

Huysmans