“I delighted in every age where poet and artist confined themselves gladly to some inherited subject-matter known to the whole people, for I thought that in man and race alike there is something called “Unity of Being”, using that term as Dante used it when he compared beauty in the Convivioto a perfectly proportioned human body.–William Butler Yeats, on Unity Of Being.
The eternal question, what is art? seems to me, like a good place to kick start my first blog post here at Artists United. This is a personal blog, and does not reflect the values of everybody at Artists United. With luck it will strike some universal chords and cause the reader to reconsider the burning question, what (is) art? Please forgive any error in judgement.
Firstly, I would like to address the question of what ‘is’ is, by paraphrasing the response of Bill Clinton to a tricky question: “it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is.” Plato, Buddha, and others throughout history have robustly questioned the essence demanded by the concept of isness, or beingness, and challenged the authority of certitude. What objective certainty? Where can we find certainty to go ahead and claim, absolutely, that something ‘is’ or equally and oppositely, ‘is not’? Semanticist Alfred Korzybski inferred that “isness is an illness”, and I agree with his prognosis, and would extend his advice beyond the question about Art. When we distinguish between ‘things’ we make sense, and can begin to use a limited certainty of convenience to enable a fair discussion. The menu is not the meal, the categories and labels are used for convenience, not for ultimate truths.
When confronted with the question, is it art? I try to first reframe the question into something bound to space and time. With two polar opposite examples, one may view the Universe and all things in it as art, and from either a secular, and/or theological standpoint, another may perceive nothing as art, again, from either a secular, and/or theological perspective. Ignorance and certainty feed into each other, no matter the particular social, cultural, psychological foundations. What “is” to one man, simply isn’t to another, and as long as we keep a two-valued logic system of language in place, this dichotomy will flourish.
The philosopher Nietzsche once remarked that we are all greater artists than we may at first realise, in the context that we create, filter and engineer our realities, for the most part based on our perpetual efforts to artifice, to recreate, and to project realities inside of our own heads (if we do indeed truly own our heads and the contents inside?) we tell ourselves fabulous stories most the time, and then communicate these projected realities, remarkably, to others. Some see the world like a great collaborative artwork of dazzling fiction, the question, “is it real or not?”, like the question, “is it art or not?” is meaningless. How can it be anything else but art? Perhaps then, the artists are trying to remind everybody else of their hidden creative abilities, eclipsed by the language of those who do not consider themselves an artist, and break any stereotypes. To perform by example, teaching the craft of the art to empower the individual with a new toolkit, a new skill for expressing the subtle with shades of meaning and nuanced harmonies. To build and collaborate in a unified symphony of shared experience.
Artists who I have met and that I have read about, often commit to the daily practice of creative interpretations of their sense impressions, “is it still true, today?” Dedicated artists acknowledge openly that realities, in the plural, extend way beyond everyday speech and the written word. Artists tend to inhabit a multitude of sensory worlds, made accessible by using the vehicle of experiment, coupled with technical skill and craft. She who dares toward unity of being, a concrescence of self.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that words are devoid of art, or cannot be used with artistic expression, on the contrary poetry in the best case can charge language to a higher degree of meaning, by using techniques like juxtaposition, alliteration, synecdoche, metaphor, imagism, and onomatopoeia. Some could argue that sacred scripture is art, or perhaps a financial report can be viewed as art? Lao Tzu mixed up art and war, and I wonder how and by what means and and by what measure, art and war mix?
Taking this idea further, some scholars might argue that the (slice of life) literary style, innovated by James Joyce in his books Dubliners and A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, was borrowed and/or stolen, by popular magazine writers and soon after that large publishing houses, and so on eventually to the modern day newspapers, until it trickled down to every aspect of modern literature, fiction and nonfiction alike. The artistic methods developed by James Joyce have influenced the global perception of language, and enriched it en masse. Joyce managed to make literary fiction seem hyper-real, fusing external and internal experiences to reach a new unity, a wholeness. Let us make multiple points of view great again.
The same may be said for Picasso and the impact of Cubism, and arguably Einstein’s relativity, and special relativity. Art, in the context of trans-disciplinary activity such as painting, physics and literature, includes playful exploration, free spirited willingness to study the rules and traditions, and then break them to attain a new level of coherence, the opposite of disorder. To produce something obviously beneficial to all humanity, to help rekindle the inner artist in everybody and evolve toward a balanced superposition of mask and anti-mask. Toward Unity Of Being.
I’ve seen paintings made by clever elephants which arguably deserve to be called art, equally appealing to my eye as what passes for human art in some galleries today. To compare an elephant painting with the works of M.C Escher, causes one to extrapolate good art from the mediocre, and to begin to distinguish the difference clearly, toward a hierarchy of values.
Could DNA be considered high art? I suppose that to code and transcribe information into biological matter, that’s some good and functional art work right there, the question remains who’s the artist? Who made DNA that way? At this point, some people might be attracted to anthropomorphize the artist responsible for DNA, and go down a theological route to rationalise what appears to me a very unlikely event: the evolution of human DNA RNA transcription. Some species of Octopus have been recently discovered to edit their own DNA-RNA transcription process which I think deserves a Turner prize, at least.
“What if it were true that nature speaks in signs and that the secret to understanding its language consists in noticing similarities in shape or in form?–Jeremy Narby, The Cosmic Serpent.
What is art? Whatever you want it to be? To begin to find out, follow the process of reaching further and deeper to find some measure of appreciation for the artists and fine artworks that came before, and that influenced the specific thing which you deem to be worthy of that exalted title, art.
After we are all skilled artists what happens next? what of social justice and change and agency in our community, equal to political powers? To paraphrase Alan Moore, artists and magicians are similar in that they trick themselves into altered states of consciousness, using words, symbols, images, sounds, at a busy crossroads all of the senses. The will to transform yourself and your surroundings for the enrichment of both. The artist and the magician express an alternative, non-linear, intuitive script for processing reality, like that exhibited by the traditional shaman, storyteller, artist.
Some artists and magicians may delude themselves with fiction, often intentional, to join forces with the little man or women inside your head making up all this stuff. Small changes are often seen to be insignificant by those unable to fathom how tiny acts of beautification or provocation, celebrated by the artist, can produce results on a macro scale. Some art strives to transform the cosmos beyond the physical limitations of the medium, for example the dashes, dots and symbols of familiar writing, as transcended by the hologrammic prose poetry of Joyce.
Magicians and artists both entertain the possibility of the transformation of realities through a creative act of will. Morphogenetic Resonance, as defined by Rupert Sheldrake, and principles of Quantum Entanglement, lend evidence to this intuition, which is popular with many professional artists I’ve met personally. To repeat, playfulness seems inherent in the modus operandi of the artist and magician. A focused and sustained will power to enchant the mind of oneself, and of others, to dazzle and illuminate, and provide a launchpad for new inquiry and investigations.
Shakespeare championed poetry for the people through innovating poetic arts. James Joyce, together with other modernist writers, each in their new way, helped to remix gems of literary history and secure them all onto the page, and by osmosis out there, into the realities of everyday people. I think epic literature and other arts, synthesize both the highbrow and lowbrow elements into the work, so as to remain relative and meaningful to the working class, not just art to entertain a few Ivy league academics and wealthy collectors. Language itself (is) often employed as a weapon in class warfare, and as Norbert Wiener observed…poems contain high information, political speeches low. Surprise = Information. Innovate!
“Bad critics judge a work of art by comparing it to pre-existing theories. They always go wrong when confronted with a masterpiece because masterpieces make their own rules.–Robert Anton Wilson.
The sense of time dilation in literature, exhibited and mastered by Russian and Balkan writers, created another literature of, and for the people. Detailing the struggle and complexity and sense of dread pushing down upon the shoulders of those who endured the war torn 19th and 20th centuries, the resilience of the people. in Russia or elsewhere. A new artform in literature can lead to a whole new style, and a new way of seeing. Highly charged writing can lift the spirits of a population, and be of comfort and guidance in challenging times. To go further, perhaps aspiring to have an IMPACT equal to a major religious texts, while being able to jettison unwanted dogma and absolutism. No small order, consider the following:
“We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity.–John Lennon.
Artists strive to innovate, and once in a while some succeed in creating a whole new way of perceiving/conceiving the world, and get recognized for their contribution. Salvador Dali, for example, transformed the art of painting with his surrealism, Charlie Parker changed jazz music forever with his bebop riffs. The modernist trio of bebop jazz, beat poetry and Cubism (embodied by Thelonious Monk / Jack Kerouac / Picasso) encourage the kind of synesthesia I wish to invoke in my own attempt here to describe art. A little bit like the principle of cultural inheritance defined by Buckminster Fuller, art too is your birthright, and an inheritance from all who came before you, both the continuation of a tradition and the brevity to experiment and innovate new forms, always aiming to simplify the equation. Like in physics and the search for a grand unified theory, artists explore the totality of the theater of consciousness, to unite the arts in some sense. Make produce a tool that reveal something once hidden.
Some might say, much of what passes for art today, when compared with the masters within each respective field, pales in comparison, and could be better described as a therapeutic pass time. However this view kicks up a stench of elitism and high-brow attitude. It helps to untangle our sometimes destructive tendency to compare ourselves to others, especially artists who may early on compare themselves with the great masters, and give up deflated or never get started. “Never give up giving it up”–Garaj Mahal.
Artists tend to actively pursue knowledge through direct experience, and custom to be neophilus: with a love and passion for new things and new experiences. Those with an aversion to art and artists, tend to be neophobic, conservative, afraid of new things and resistant to change, static as a noun. Art and artists strive to open up the senses like a verb, expand the create contrast and focus within the mindscape, pump up the heart and begin a broad discussion process, start a movement to create new connections, new neural pathways, more verbs, a melting pot of emotions and memories, senses and imagination. Artists, in my biased view, help to define the meaning of progressive, wrestling the term from muddy politics, to colour it with the spirit of fair play which it deserves. Art can bring you back to your senses, that seems like a form of progress, to me.
Money and the means to populate the meme-sphere, go hand in hand. If you can pay for the ads, then you can get the message out there, whatever the message is. And I feel that the new age of money mad politics getting into bed with social media and internet based coercion, has left millions of incredibly talented artists left out in the cold, ignored, under funded, not given opportunity to play, work, create and collaborate. In countries across the developed world we see a decline in funding for public art projects and for artists themselves. What is wrong with the arts is rarely wrong ONLY with the arts.
Jobs are increasingly digitally outsourced, as a direct result of the strategy that everything can be privatised, and so monetized, and those who already own most of the wealth can simply buy up, and control an ever increasing chunk of the ever decreasing planetary pie. This capitalist nightmare, in some sense, seems to me driven ai ts core by marketing agencies and ad campaign groups, vultures who capitalized on the art of deception. Manipulating news headlines, and words and music and photography and film (the tools and trade of the artist since the very first cave painter) to please the directive of some employer: Trump/Hillary political campaigns, Brexit leave campaigns, and a disturbing amount of election campaigns around the world. In my bold opinion, these are a memorable examples of the well paid and successful artists (if money and jobs for huge companies are the unit of measurement) those who weaponized art as a propaganda tool to incite hatred, the opposite of love, and to spread lies, the opposite of truth. This sad story can teach us, if we can listen and humble ourselves, the inherent power of art, and can inspire artists when properly united and funded and focused to reclaim the long tradition of integral arts.
“Love is metaphysical gravity–Buckminster Fuller
The Art of deception, like the art of war, seems to me oxymoronic. Although art maybe the meeting of mask and anti-mask, fundamentally I feel it seeks truth and the real, the process oriented world of experience. Always searching, open for new signals, a friendly landing pad for the muse to stop by. Art for truth and beauty, artists for responsibility and balance. To encourage the imagination to soar and the feet to remain grounded. To create and share, to illuminate and to teach healthy scepticism, to be fair, drift, better able to spot a fake, explore, cut your own path forward.
“I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether that be music, writing, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness… Indeed to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people’s consciousness, and this is why I believe that an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a shaman.–Alan Moore.
Hello dear reader. My name is Steve Pratt. I’m 42 years old, live in Amsterdam and spend my days writing books, composing poems and music. I produce a weekly radio show (fly by night) for radiofreeamsterdam.org My latest work is a book of poems called #PassportToBrexit you can reach me at flyagaric23 @ gmail. if you have any questions.