Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Art and Relationship

"An artist is a nourisher and a creator who knows that during the act of creation there is collaboration. We do not create alone."  -- Madeleine L'Engle

A moment's reflection in the midst of grading book reviews. The following thoughts are inspired, I suppose, by a former student's apparent philosophy that any kind of human relationships are basically illusions, and that they aren't really necessary or desirable-- maybe only tolerable at times.  The thing that has always made no sense to me about this person is that he/she is a gifted poet and drawer/painter. And so...

A writer, an artist, a creative person must both discipline and indulge oneself in order to create.  Discipline: of technique, of time, of practice, perhaps even of research, of precision.  Indulgence: of time, of imagination, of personal resources invested in oneself, one's mind.  Right?  My mom and dad can probably speak to this.

However, I have a hard time swallowing the idea of an artist as a complete nihilist, a complete misanthrope, someone who has absolutely lost faith in humanity.  I just don't think it is ontologically possible.  I haven't fleshed all of this out, but here's my basic line of reasoning (and I'm sure there are other philosophers and artists who have said the same thing...):

1. Being creative implies creating something.  This seems self-evident, but sometimes I think people start to think of "creativity" as this abstract faerie-like quality that artsy people have.  All creativity is is coming up with an idea that you make real-- you create something.

2.  In bringing something into the world, in creating it, I believe there is inherently an intended or implied potential transaction.  Plenty of writers write about writing for oneself, to see the thoughts of one's own mind.  However, although our concepts of reality are deeply rooted in language, really, why would thoughts need to be made into language unless there was the possibility of someone somehow reading them one day?  

3. Even if you can argue that language might be used for the artist's own reflection and metacognition without an outside audience, what is the point of refining that writing and fine-tuning language, if not for a potential reader?  Even if a writer is attempting to create new language to describe new concepts, I suspect every writer, if she were honest with herself, would be gratified if someone at some point read the writing and thought that the new concept and new language were works of genius, and not some impregnable code or gibberish. 

4. If life has absolutely no meaning, then why create art?  Art creates meaning.  Even in absurdity, meaning is created.  Even with lack of intention, art creates meaning when it is viewed, when writing is read, even if the reading or viewing is done by the creator.  And if there is no intention for a work of art to come out a certain way, or no intention for any ideas or inner feelings or thoughts of the artist to manifest themselves in any way in a work of art, then I would argue that it is not art, but coincidence.  Still, art can be made out of coincidence by a viewer with intention or imagination (hence, Dada or found sculpture). I wouldn't argue that anything has to be eternal to be meaningful.  Meaning can shift, sometimes abruptly. However, art is inconsistent with nihilism, because it inherently creates meaning.

Existentialism, sure.  Nihilism, no.  Art cannot be nothing.

“The poet, however, uses these two crude, primitive, archaic forms of thought (simile and metaphor) in the most uninhibited way, because his job is not to describe nature, but to show you a world completely absorbed and possessed by the human mind.” 

-- Northrup Frye

5. Art can be dark, can question our concept of reality, can condemn human folly and idiocy, and explore thoughts of destruction and violence and suicide. But a real artist can never be a complete misanthrope, because an artist has to respect at least her own mind.  And she is a human being, after all.  And she must extrapolate from there.  So, although I believe that art, if it is going to be honest, can definitely explore hatred, and an artist might feel hateful about certain topics, an artist must have some kind of small flickering of faith in the mind to create a better world.  Otherwise why communicate all of those emotions or ideas?  Why not just implode?  I suppose a person could be a self-loathing artist, but somewhere in the mix would have to be a desire to not loathe oneself, and even that is a glimmer. 

6. Nihilism is an absolutist, materialistic and reductionist philosophy. Art, by its nature, is not based in the material, but in the imagination.  Art that is materialistic and/or reductionist and/or absolutist is propaganda.  Living one's life by propaganda is as bad (if you're a nihilist) as living one's life according to faith in God, right?  Propaganda requires a certain type of secular religious attachment...  which I would imagine any self-respecting nihilist would reject.  So, a person who sets out to create art to promote nihilism is, in effect, producing propaganda.  Which is not art.  So, therefore, art and nihilism are inherently in conflict with one another.

Sometimes, I'm really good at breaking down arguments, but not so good at constructing them.  So I appreciate any comments that would help me clarify or challenge these ideas.  

Perhaps it is too late.  I've been grading too many teenage book reviews. And none of this will make any sense in the morning.  It's certainly possible.

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.”  -- Stephen King

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