“There is then creative reading as well as creative writing.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Art is bullshit.”
Art is bullshit. If there is one thing that I’ve learned about art, it is this single fact. Everything that anyone creates, anything that anyone has ever said about the things that people create – it’s all bullshit, crap that we make up in our heads. But does this simple truth, that art is made up, mean that art is meaningless, that it has no place in nor any importance to the soul? I think to admit this without qualification would be foolish.
I think the thing that eludes my friend Darwin, as well as many others of our time, is not so much the beauty of art, but the truth of its nature. It’s easy to see art as the action of a single person, that is, the artist. But what few people realize and even fewer truly understand is the dualistic nature of art.
In all forms of art, there are two major participants: the artist and the viewer. The artist’s job is to create a piece which can move the soul. The viewer’s job is to be moved by the artist’s work. People tend to fall into the mistaken belief that art is merely the action of the first, while some others fall into the mistaken belief that art is merely the action of the second. In truth, art is neither of these things. The creation of art, real art, is not the work of the artist or the viewer alone: art finds its creation in the conversation between the two. Art is not one person talking at another, rather, it is two people talking to each other.
One problem with art is that the artist, one half of the conversation, is largely absent. It is the artist’s job to convey his meaning and message to someone else through the medium alone. Obviously this is very difficult. Even when using mediums less subject to interpretation (i.e. written or spoken word), conveying meaning and message is certainly no cake walk. It is easy to simply declare your meaning, to make your message obvious to the viewer, but this amounts to no more than yelling and ranting. A truly great artist can sway his viewers, inspire them to think a certain way rather than about a certain thing. Even in conversation, the speaker who dictates less and appeals more to the reason of the mind or to the feeling of the heart will always find his message heard and considered.
The second problem with art is the problem of the viewer: the viewer must occupy all art with the full faculties of both his mind and his heart. The artistic process doesn’t end when the artist has finished his work; it can only find its completion in the mind of the viewer. The notion of “creative reading” that Ralph Waldo Emerson so aptly put forth is a necessary component of art. It’s easy to view art as merely the quality of the brushwork or the style of the narrative or the flow of the beat, but art is so much more than these things that we see or hear. Art isn’t just what’s created for us to view: art is something that we create in our minds, what is brought about by our experiences. A good viewer realizes the importance and beauty of interpretation, of learning through all experiences, not merely the ones that are easy to learn from. People today have forgotten all about that. They want the message to be obvious. They are looking for a single answer. They want things to be told to them because they are too lazy or arrogant to find meaning on their own. That’s such a sorry state for a world to be in.
Now I’m not saying that we should all go out and experience the WONDER! of art in all of its many and varied forms. There’s certainly a lot of stuff that people call art which is really just mindless blathering or some guy’s attempt to alleviate his own boredom. And I’m not saying that all interpretations of art hold equal weight either. People certainly make up a lot of crap and make utterly groundless claims when they want to sound smart.
What I do want to say is that we should never close our minds to the possibility of being inspired by things, regardless of how mundane or strange those things may be. Part of the beauty of art is its subtlety: a message can be no more beautiful or truthful as when we arrive at it through the rigors of our own contemplation. Both the artist and the viewer must realize this. A mind cultivated by reason and imbued with the fire of the heart has the ability to be both a good artist, a good viewer, and, well, a good anything; in this world of function and utility, we’ve forgotten that our most valuable ability is our ability to create, both within the world and within ourselves.
Food for thought: He who presses all things against his sharpest intellection and measures them against the full weight of his own soul finds both his wits sharpened and his burdens eased.