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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

What the Hell is Art


The practice of art is not to make a living. It is to make your soul grow. Kurt Vonnegut
California State University Long Beach Advanced Ceramics 451 A Anthony (Tony) Marsh Spring 2005

Art is an interior event employing rhetorical enthymematic metaphors that resolve the struggle of transforming endless becoming into beingan idea into an objectwith the aim of embodying and/or illustrating the idea. Rhetoric lives in the world of possibilities. We define and construct our realities [and our art], Robin Peace Marcario. Art is rhetorical. It is an expressive portrayal in a metaphorical language of objects. It is at once universal and individual. It is reflective in nature. What would we be missing if we did not experience the meaning of art? Interpretation and Postmodern Art Art is seen with the eye of flesha sensory-motor monological gaze. It has simple locationyou can point to it. It has exterior reality. However, the interpretive aspect or the meaning of the object cannot be seen; it has an interior reality. Thus, art is seen by introspection and interpretation, not merely the eye of flesh but the eye of mind, the eye of contemplation. So, if you want to study art you can do so empirically. The object is made of wood and glue or clay and glaze. We identify the formal aspects of the piece such as composition and rhythm to name just a couple. That is all we can know about the art object empirically. These are exterior aspects. But if you want to know the meaning of the object you have to read it and enter into its interior; its meanings; its intentions. The only way you can do that is by interpretation. What does this object mean? Here, Page 1 of 9

What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

empirical scrutiny alone is worthless. We are entering interior domains and symbolic depths that cannot be accessed by exterior empiricism but only by interpretation and introspection. Thus, you can see the object its color, size and shape but what do these actually mean? How do you find out? You talk about it with others who also see the objects surfaces. Art is not just subjective but also intersubjective. It is not just monological but dialogical. But in order to understand the interior depths you will have to enter into the interpretive circle. You, as a subject, will not simply stare at the object with a monological gaze rather you as a subject will attempt to understand it as a bearer of intentionality. Art has intentions. You will talk about it and interpret what it says. We are not subjects staring at objects; we are subjects trying to understand subjects (purposeful double entendre). We are in the intersubjective circle; the dialogical dance. Monological is to describe. Dialogical is to understand. This is not only true for art but for all aspects of our daily lives. The interior significance of a thing can only be accessed by interpretation. Thus, to put it bluntly, exterior surfaces can be seen but interior depth must be interpreted. And precisely because I believe this depth to be an intrinsic part of the cosmos, interpretation itself is an intrinsic feature of an art object. Furthermore, interpretation is not something added onto the object as an afterthought. It is the very opening of the interiors themselves. Perhaps we can now see why one of the great and noble aspects of post-modernism was to introduce interpretation as an intrinsic aspect of the cosmos and necessarily the art object. Whereas, in the past, interpretation was understood as being extrinsic to the universe, something we impose upon the corporeal and therefore upon art.

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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

We gained this new perspective from the two great theoretical models of the early twentieth century; General Relativity, and Quantum Theory. General Relativity gave us relativity and subjectivity on every scale and domain in our collective mind. Quantum theory gave us non-dual subject-object or, more precisely said, subject-subject interaction and also interpretation as intrinsic qualities to all we experience including fine art. So, art has an objective or exterior component and a subjective or interior interpretive component. Among other qualities, art is interpretation. Postmodern Art What art is not. Postmodern art is a complex cluster of notions defined to a significant degree by what it rejects. It rejects: Foundationalism Essentialism Transcendentalism Rationality (a rock bottom definition of art) (the core components of art) (art exclusively transcending the immanent) (art exclusively immanent)

Meanings solely derived from correspondence and representational knowledge and meaning. Metanarratives Realism Final Vocabulary Canonical description Fasten your seat belts, it gets more confused and convoluted. (grand narratives or the big picture)

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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

Construction and Deconstruction of Art The absurd and self-defeating Immanuel Kant said that much of what we take to be innocently given to us by the senses is actually a construction of the mind. And so it is with art. Meaning is a mental concept that we produce after experiencing certain raw sensations. Nowhere in that sensation do we actually receive meaning; we construct it and interpret it. We never actually take delivery of it. Much of what we accept to be perceptions of art are actually conceptions of art and not empirical. Consequently, when viewers of art receive sensory data of the work they are actually constructing a mental structure or interpretation without realizing it. This is known as Structuralism and it is chiefly characterized by contrasting the elemental structures of the phenomena that have been mentally constructed within nesting contexts. There is truth in this and I believe this but many take this to extremes, which I think is absurd and self-defeating. Post modernists and Post Structuralists believe that nothing is concrete, and there is nothing but interpretation. We can dispense with the objectivethe objective component of artthat is the actual object altogether. Everything is interpretation within contexts and contexts are boundless. Said another way, the only thing that matters are the mental constructs of humanity. Their credo is, the object is dead long live the never-ending contextualization of contexts and meanings. The Idealists have a different take on this. The Idealist believe, and I concur, that art is a product of mind, a supra individual and transpersonal mind or spirit. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself. I will discuss this later. Let us consider the existence of art.

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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

The Ontological Predicament of Art As we have discussed above, in the extreme view of the post modernist, post structuralist art world of the West, art is not at all a sensory perception but solely an interpretation and thus there are no foundations to ground definitively anything as fine art. So, there is no absolute and concrete designation as to what is and is not art. Art has finally arrived selfconsciously at the existential dilemma. It exists and that is the only universal statement anyone can say unequivocally. What it is and why it is here is fiercely debated, and each person constructs his or her own conclusion concerning this question. I will answer this question from my perspective in a moment. For now, let us consider that art has disappeared into arbitrary interpretation themselves imposed by power, gender, race, ideology, anthropocentrism, androcentrism, imperialism, logo centrism, phallocentrism and phallologocentrism. Nevertheless, the fact that all art has an interpretive as well as an objective component does not deny the objective component; it merely situates it. It has physical existence, not knowing the meaning of and deciphering the meaning of that existence defines the existential dilemma of art. There is hope, however. In an effort to clear the existential fog Mandelbaum, a philosopher, has indicated a new direction for aesthetics by suggesting that the defining property of art might be found in some non-exhibited property that connects art with a background of artists intentions and purposes. Thus, any adequate account of the difference between what is and what is not art can only be given in terms of a background that is logically prior to any particular work of art. In other words, all the art of the world that preceded art today and all of the intentions and purposes of previous artists taken together can guide us to

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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

determine what art is. There is truth in this, of course, but in the main; I think it is a load of tripe and I am not the only one who thinks this way. Ian Dunlop has stated that a persistent feature of the last hundred and more years of art has been the seasonal recurrence of the shock of the new. On any number of occasions during this period, the art world has been shocked by the appearance of avant-garde movements that have seemed to challenge artistic traditions and prevailing conceptions of art. Recall the impact made by the first impressionist showings, the fauves, the post-impressionist, the surrealists and so on. Professional critics and casual gallery-goers alike have been so disturbed and puzzled by these new developments that they did not know what to make of it. The new works did not seem to accommodate themselves to what art was thought to be and frequently the motives of the artists were themselves impugned. This sort of thing is still very much with us and has been especially exacerbated by a number of movements of the very recent past including some manifestations of pop art, minimal art, arte povera, conceptual art and the like. You need only to think of Andy Warhols Brillo Box or Claes Oldenburgs Placid Civic Monument, the hole he dug in Central Park behind the Metropolitan Museum. And so, the polemical volley will continue for quite some time. Now let me tell you what I believe. On a More Personal Note For me art is an act that adds quality to my life. The greatest value lays in the act not the artifact. The act of making art is dynamic; the art object a static reminder of an act. Therefore, art is both dynamic and static. The brush stroke, a fingerprint and the like are telltale signs of an act and of the spirit in which it was made. Like the cave-paintings of Neolithic humans, we can divine to some degree or imagine the individual and how he

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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

or she moved and felt or thought while making it. Art engages me to such a degree that all the woes of my life fade and my entire consciousness is engrossed in the moment. This is the aspect of art that is common with worship. In this way art is a form of worship of the spiritual and a celebration of the divine. I believe spirit is transcendental intelligence or transpersonal mind. This mind is creating and thus celebrating existence through me. It is a celebration of existence, my existence and the existence of the transpersonal self or Atman; that god part of us that is in each of us. Art is a celebration of living and of the divine so it follows that the object I produce is a physical manifestation of spirit, of my own existence and of my expression of joy of existence. Art is a reconciliation of the existential dilemma. The creative spirit of art is its own purpose thus in creating art I appropriate purpose and meaning for myself. This is why the act has primacy over the end-product. That is not to say the end-product has no importance but that the act is the goal. In light of all I have explained, therefore, art is a state of mind. Art is and will be my only legacy. All of this is why art is here, why I love and create art and why humanity has produced art from time immemorial. There is, however, an aspect of postmodern art I loath. As discussed above, contexts and interpretations can be taken to absurd extremes. Sometimes I notice a spillover of this mentality in contemporary art exhibits. I study the object and work at its meaning then I walk over to read the statement about the piece. Usually it is eloquently written and the concepts are fascinating and enthralling. Then I look at the object again and think, The writ is more interesting and has greater aesthetic value than the object. And, mind you, I do not confuse aesthetic value with Kinkadesque pleasing beauty. Therefore, my contention is that the object must-needs

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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

equal the value of the writ. Exactly because this often is not the case, I have coined a phrase to describe this; it is the over-intellectualization of art. There is one more protest I must voice regarding art in the West. As mentioned above, the shock of the new has excited and disturbed ideas of art in the West and has set a new paradigm for art. Now, the novel object or genre in art is venerated most highly so much so that all else fails to reach the lofty heights of praise. Although it is said by many that, nothing is new anymore, yet the new, the fresh, the innovative is exactly what most artists dream of creating. They have the same tacit understand of this standard as I. Our culture is youth oriented and progress oriented. We put our old people away in neat little communities where they will not get in the way, for they are old and move too slow for the constant change and flux which is accelerating at an alarming rate. Our society is always pushing the new upon us in electronic media and print media, in science and technology, in theories and paradigms, but not all new things are necessarily better or more enlightened or more evolved. It seems that the West pays the obligatory tribute to the great artistic feats of the past but quickly disembowels these tributes by subtle denigration with such comments and attitudes as, Oh, that has been done before or That is pastiche, usually spoken in a discrete pejorative but subtlety salient manner. In conclusion, I think that a definition of art is not impossible. It is not that art can be proved to be an open concept not amenable to definition and it is not as if all possible defining properties have been surveyed and found to be neither common nor peculiar to all works of art. I think that the very idea of a definition is a confused one. It is not clear what could possibly count as a defining property of art. However, this does not rule out

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What the Hell is Art by James R Walker

all generalizations about the arts and make it impossible to not only discover, but also even to look for, common threads and similarities within the work of a single artist or the art of a period or even between various art forms. If we could not look for and sometimes find such connections, we could not define a style or characterize an age; we could not have art history and our understanding of a culture would be needlessly impoverished. Of course, we can do these things. In the meantime, we will continue. We will continue making art and arguing about it and it is all good.

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