philosophy

1/2- Arts and Crafts (Parade Of Accidents)

3:15:00 PMConstrux Nunchux

In our prideful, endless pursuit of ego, no doubt due to the onslaught of atrocities we either commit, suffer or observe, we often feel the need to communicate with each other in a codified manner, to confide in near anonymity, hiding behind created characters or adhering to countless trials and tropes, using the very same to qualitatively evaluate--often to invalidate--another's attempt at connection and establish an objective standard for observation and discussion. Out of this regrettably facile justification for/explanation of existence has arisen the horrendously overused and misunderstood term, Art. It is the aim of the following discussion to clarify, fortify and specify the idea this word would most effectively express. In turn, that may allow those in assent to do the same with their aims of subjective sacrifices and off-hand offerings.

For those familiar with my personal background, the knowledge already exists that I've embarked on several misadventures involving candid conversations with many who consider themselves artists. For those unfamiliar, it's certainly no surprise that I'm an easily targeted prey (always pretending to be a predator, of course) for this particular, and particularly roguish sub-set. Of course, these invariably have only ended in bitterness, building into a woodpile supply that fuels these incessant bemoaning abominations. This particular idea, however, I can claim was conceived during a happier and hopeful time.

The first mistake made often in the use of the word is actually in an incorrect specification is that of application solely to the still arts--painting, sculpture, photography--some of the genera of this set themselves suspect under the following derived/contrived definition. Art is a broad classification, designating not a medium, but intent and execution, as we'll explore below.

As seems to be the consistent structure of these exercises, we've begun by at least partly defining our term (Art) by negation, by what it is not. We will arrive shortly at an agreeable definition to fill that vacuum by synthesis. Art is the infusion of Craft with Philosophy. As can be expected, neither term is intended to retain its colloquial usage for our purposes.

Craft directly fulfills the demands inherent in life. It applies invention, innovation and construction. The most obvious form of craft is that which provides for everyday needs. Craft feeds a pre-existing purpose and while it may not always be based in absolute necessity, it still eases or accessorizes life in an efficient manner that enables us to be more productive or more advanced, at very least satiated.

Craft does not encourage analysis--not of an object or product itself nor of the world around it. Craft is simply useful for the moment or specific task that requires it and can be replaced or discarded after use. Craft relates to the fleeting, the temporary and the temporal. Craft enables us to live. A second mistake in the usage of the word Art is that it's often applied to craft humorously or ironically, as in the phrase "has it down to an art." As will be explored further, craft is not quite art. The largest omission keeping craft from inhabiting the same space is that it lacks the ability to provoke emotion or thought. One may argue that a great meal or that a well designed building can inspire us, but it inspires not to think on expansive ideals, but only about the meal or the building itself. It's solely self-referential and any craft that attempts to suffice more than an immediate purpose--food to eat or a house to live in--is evidence of a glutted, stagnant and wasteful society.

Philosophy, however, does maintain for the most part its casual definition as the compilation of distantly observed, scientifically measured and factually offered ruminations on the reasons we exist as we do and how, if at all possible, to improve it. Philosophy by its nature arises in a culture that provides excess time for some to contemplate and cull their arguments and justifications. Most if not all philosophies become self perpetuating, building a dense wall of jargon and nearly mathematical proofing. Therefore, Philosophy is generally inaccessible and requires academic study. Philosophy is everything Craft is not. It pertains to the distant and the nonexistent. It is impossible to philosophize in or for a moment.

An artist combines both Craft and Philosophy, whether consciously or not. An artist is a medium between the tangible and intangible. Without Philosophy, Craft cannot assist us in our self-important quest for immortality or at least posterity and without Craft, Philosophy exists in a vacuum, inapplicable and forgettable, dense and completely isolated, pure pretention. Philosophy is inelegant, Craft is insubstantial. Art marries, hybridizes and communicates them. An artist takes an idea without a form and gives it one, and the other way around as well.

An artist embeds Philosophy into Craft, into a memorable, aphoristic, striking moment that lingers and grows and enables us to cohabitate without desire to destroy. Art creates a common language, be it in the obvious sense of a commonly used phrase or in the more obtuse notion of common experience captured in a widely understood moment. This creates a very narrow definition of what an artist is and what art is as well. But we must ask, is Art useful? Most art requires a specialized tradesperson, referred to herein and elsewhere as a performer, which clouds the idea of the usefulness of Art and someone undermines the basis for the thesis of this discussion.

I've endured heartfelt, though most likely well-rehearsed, defenses that acting and musicianship are high, unassailable forms of art. Expression, maybe. Performance, certainly. But one is mere recitation of lines coupled with regurgitation of emotion leeched off of others and the other is simple muslce memory and fine tuning, both repeated so many times as to insult the very idea of authentic connection with another person. Performers--actors, musicians, dancers and models--are conduits for artists--writers, composers, choreographers and painters--who can claim no true authorship to the final product. At best, they exercise an influence over the reception/perception of the actual substance of a work. This doesn't mean that actual artists cannot be the performer and interpreter of their own works and as we know, this happens often. Oddly though, this is given a special designation as an auteur or singer-songwriter or self-portrait or one-man-show, as if it's exceptional to want to present an undiluted or poorly interpreted version of their consciously connective paeans.

This doesn't mean that it doesn't require strength or a certain talent to hold a position for hours or master the fingering of an instrument. Certainly, there's a level of elite skill required, which is often possessed, I will argue, by the artist who provided the core concept, thus doubling back to the previous point. If we take away a piece created by an artist and we have performers on a stage, what do we have? We're left with what is loving called today improvisation. The fact of the matter remains, though, that all structures for all subconscious or spontaneous performance come from an initial creator or collaboration or at the most reductive point from a common origin which negates the need for an artist, and therefore for a performer. The people are their own artists at the genesis of culture (valid if barring the glaringly obvious observation that they fulfill all of their own requirements). It isn't skill that communicates to another human, that eases suffering or invigorates a hidden sense of purpose. In fact, an excess of training in any particular form of performance has a doubly opposite effect--it first becomes the vehicle for performers to preen excessively while secondly building an unnecessary barrier by adding a more complex layer of distance between the initial statement and the audience.

Yet arguments still persist to aggrandize performance, which at best can be called a type of craft, its practical implementation being entertainment and diversion, to the level of art. The foremost reason this is ridiculous is that art itself is not mythical sublimation of human experience at the hand of a demi-deity. Art is a parade of accidents--accidental creation through a series of events or chemical flux that creates an artist, that creates an idea for that artist, that completes that idea, that the idea's actually seen (the last being the most important qualifier). So first the concept of the artist needs to be deflated and grounded. Secondly, I will acknowledge that it's the actual performance of art, what is seen (again the most important part), which holds the immediate impact to connect. But any emotional connection, whether it is through the conduit or a direct result of the source, is also accidental, based on accidental sympathy or empathy through accidentally similar experience. It can be acknowledged that one performance, more skillful than another, can imbue the substance, the content with unexpected or previously unnoticed idiosynchracies. It is truly a symbiotic relationship and in the end this is all sophistry born out of thousands of years of reduplication.

The more artful or artistic a particular creation is, by definition the less practical it is. At best, art can only be half-practical (as it is Half-Craft). It is, at its most useful, a presentation of ideas that can be converted or invested into immediately applicable action for the purpose of strengthening a society. Art that is of a lesser consideration usually fulfills this role

Of course Art that leans too far toward pure craft, whether it's soulless technical execution or an attempt at mass appeal, "giving the people what they want", loses the effect of Philosophy and exists as no more than momentary distraction. This isn't too say that danger isn't present in excess in the opposite direction, perhaps moreso. When one encounters pure didacticism, presented inelegantly, it often shocks or repulses a prospective student or convert. It is necessary to appeal commonly held conceits in order to relate any new or even strong idea. Additionally, any art that is too solipsistic in its presentation as to appear enigmatic without any self-contained cipher cannot be understood. Art cannot be art if it is not communicated or if it lacks communicative skill. This hints at the concept of subjectivity, an easy word for self-proclaimed artists to hide behind and defend poorly crafted art with, but the truth is that for Art to be Good, it must relate to a greater percentage of people without prior empathy than those with. This poses us for the next discussion.

(Dedicated to the Groundskeeper at the AIU in Pittsburgh, the self-proclaimed "Picasso of Peat Moss)

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