after Ingres two

The definition of art is a somewhat amorphous thing.  Recently I chided someone for identifying “art” with whatever will challenge me, make me feel uncomfortable, touch me, transform me.  I suggested that some things will have these qualities and yet will decidedly not be art.  Driving in rush hour, doing taxes, taking a standardized test, getting a root canal — all are challenging.  I guarantee the root canal will make you uncomfortable.  Perhaps a dentist will argue that root canals are art.  But, for goodness sake, let’s let the dentist make the argument.  Artists don’t have to do it for them.

What is art?  In the era when drawing doesn’t count, art has morphed into namelessness.  Everyone is an artist now.  Art is whatever you want it to be.  And still life beckons.

Let me suggest that art’s definition be reserved for the hard stuff.  Let an old master’s skill be an ingredient.  Better that we be striving toward it than grinning and slapping our own backs in self-congratulation. 

Life still beckons.  I say art is a mystery, and I will pursue it.  Better to ever pursue and never reach than to cheapen the journey with goo-gaws and touristy nick-nacks.  Can I persuade you to share in the longing?

Okay, I don’t usually rant.  But the ubiquitously recited litany that art will challenge me, make me feel uncomfortable, touch me, transform me — it’s so “me, me,me”!  When did we lose our bearings?  When did we leave nature aside?  When did we lose our capacity to see inside the veil?

I copied Ingres (who knew what art is) and left the face blank.  I think she makes a nice metaphor for Art.  Art is she whose face is hard to see, the mystery that beckons, the life that needs transcription, a line suspended in air, a thought held in a breath, a definition that defies.

6 thoughts on “It is hard to see her face

  1. Beautifully written as always. I concur, let us work toward a world in which art becomes something special and unique again, which requires a set of learned skills and a particular and different way of thinking and seeing. When you make everything ‘art’, you remove all meaning from the word and all value from the activity.

  2. Paul, I was thinking of you, wondering what impression my “rant” would make on you. I had wondered if it was wise to say something of this sort. Those who understand don’t need to hear it. Those who don’t understand probably won’t get it. And meanwhile, various others may easily mistake my meaning, thinking that I uphold some style or manner or period as “art” and rant against other styles or manners or periods.

    The truth is that we look for the high standard of skill and perception because it leads us along the right path/current/matrix/broad cosmic background nether whatever — and as we saunter along we know that the destination can be nothing other than a deep mystery. In aiming high, one gains many things.

    I do love many kinds of both “high” and “low” art. I can adore Bach and still enjoy even a little elevator music. The space for discovery is quite broad. The distinctions aren’t mutually exclusive. But those who want to dilute the whole project, the whole business of what an artist is and does, they end by having no goal — which might be fine for them… I guess I put the world on notice that it’s not fine for me!

    By definition, I think that makes it a rant. Ugh. But one or two or more kindred spirits come along, and you discover you aren’t alone. I suppose one doesn’t make that lovely discovery without sometimes giving voice to one’s feelings. Rants are sometimes good things.

    Give art, poetry, narrative, music back their rightful claims over our souls, and we are all improved. This mystery is not a junk food to ingest while we bang around the planet. The authentic mystery is, rather, a doorway of meaning that puts us in contact with the very fabric of reality — with our hearts, our being, our happiness, our regrets, our everything. And still great art has room even for great good humor, as every generation from Shakespeare’s riff raff to certain contemporary Aussie poets knows!

    Anyway, thank you, Paul. Here’s lifting an imaginary beer-in-thought to you and our common cause.


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