Sunday, July 4, 2010

What Art Can Never Be or Do

One thing art can never be is a negation. It can nullify nothing. No matter how shocking, frightful or abhorrent one may find it, it can only be an affirmation of life and of that which peaks through it. If a tragedy, say by Sophocles, brings an entire audience, men and women, to tears, it still remains in the positive. For it has opened up the spectators to life (as long as they have allowed it to). Indeed, their tears are evidence enough of this. Through any piece of artwork – be it a play, a poem, a song, a painting, a movie, a sculpture, etc. – life is opened up through it to the observers or witnesses, and they are in turn opened up to life through it. For this reason, art can only be an affirmation of life and reality, no matter how abstract or surreal a given piece may be. Now in this standard case that I have given, it surely makes the people enthralled feel, and, in that way, it consummates them with life and existence itself, for it gives them a taste of its miseries and sufferings in a ferocious gulp. But let us now put this thesis of art’s inability to negate or be purely negative in the context of the shocking, offensive brand of artwork.

Let us say that we have before us a painting where, at the centre, there stands Adolf Hitler, on a stage – with a halo around his head. Before him stands an enormous pile of human bones and ashes, which he is elevated over. His arms are stretched downwards to the front of him wide open, with eyes directed towards heaven, along with his palms, which are slightly upturned, all as if to give thanks to God, with a look that says, “Thy will be done, Master, for I – am your messenger and prophet. – Mankind’s true Saviour and final Redeemer.” Is this painting in poor taste? Of course. Is it ghastly? Indeed. But does it contribute nothing at all? Certainly not! For it opens us up, with ever greater clarity, to the diseased, depraved mind which produced such a morbid display, or, if it is just another piece of dark, post-modern irony, then at least to the mind of which it expresses and warns of – the mind of the Nazi and Hitler himself. For this reason, with all its negativity, it still carries with it the positivity of truth, which only art can bear (and bare) and encompass, and in all its disturbing affects, negates and/or nullifies nothing. A perspective and deep-seated, abysmal world-view has been realized, and for that alone the artwork is worthy of praise. For that reason alone, its positive character cannot be denied.

And now for the million-dollar question: “Is all art, no matter how ridiculous, positive, then? Does anything declared to be a piece of artwork ‘open one up to life, and life up to the person?’ What about shit on a stick? Does that contain any positivity to it? If so, do tell!” Good question! I like it. I shall indeed oblige, as it is only fair to want to know what could possibly redeem such a display of “art.” And the point will once again be shown that no matter how puerile, “bad” or “shoddy” it may be, an “artwork” is not, and cannot, be a nullification. Even such a vacuous thing as shit on a stick, presented in its glass casing for show at some godforsaken museum, would have its eye-opening aspect to it, and, hence, the dung on a twig, put on display for all to see, would, indeed, contain a fragment of something positive, something truthful. Like all art, it cannot be purely negative, no matter how ugly and grotesque it may seem. For (in this case) it has opened up those who have seen it, and even heard of it, to how desperate some so-called artists are in attracting attention to themselves, and whose egos are so impoverished as starving artists, that they will put out there in the awaiting world the most basest of expressions, in order to have some effect (or affect) on the minds of others. A pathetic expression of will-to-power and a being-in-the-world. Such a sad person would now be opened to the world for existential consideration, even though there would be nothing at all, artistically speaking, to consider in the “abstract” itself. Not to mention, we would have a better idea of what kind of committee such a museum would have as its regulative body. We would be one step closer to answering the infamously rhetorical and undying query, “What’s this world coming to?”

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