Miss Piggy, as the staff at the Journal used to call him, came in first.
He was a fucking idiot
We live at a moment when it is clear that art can be made of anything, and where there is no mark through which works of art can be perceptually different from the most ordinary of objects.If a character in a novel lights a cigarette, the cigarette is part of a work of art. In a play the cigarette is a prop. In the older definition of art objects the craft supplied a formal logic internal to the piece. The iconography supplied an formal logic external to it. For relics as opposed to artworks the logic was external only: absent its place in a narrative, a thighbone is a thighbone, a cigarette is just a cigarette, a madeleine... etc.
repeats, from 20 years ago, but posted here at the start, others more recent, and some new, all written out of the process of trying to articulate what I've always taken for granted. There are a few conflicts.
The only difference between a well reasoned argument about a metaphysical subject and a badly reasoned one is the complexity of the portrait of the author and of his ideas. There is no difference in their value outside of that. Complex sophistry remains sophistry.Something is "beautiful" if it is seen to manifest a unifying order beyond that which is commonly acknowledged in everyday experience. It has no necessary relation, as extension, to being "pretty". A desolate wasteland is beautiful. "It’s a truism that the mushroom clouds at the end of Dr. Strangelove are beautiful."
All art is sophistry.
Something can be judged a work of it art if its arguments are rendered with an idiosyncratic subtlety beyond what is necessary to communicate its ideas, and which may even oppose them, but which so colors our perceptions that we can not separate the sensibility from the idea without feeling a loss.
Subtlety beyond necessity but not without purpose.
A few years ago, at a gallery opening I got into a conversation with an astrophysicist from Caltech; we were mutual friends of the curator. He felt slightly dragged along. He was game but said he didn’t understand art. The conversation drifted, and he mentioned a book he was reading, a biography of Sandy Koufax, the great pitcher for the Dodgers, in Brooklyn and LA. He said what he liked most was the way the author wrote not only as an observer, a professional sportswriter, and fan, but as a woman, an outsider in the world of male athletics, and as a Jew writing about Koufax, another Jew and outsider in the gentile world of professional sports. He said her description of those relations was really interesting. I asked him if he could have described any of it as she had. He said no. I told him he understood art.
Beauty in the products of human activity is seen at it's highest level as manifesting an order that is taken to model a moral (integral) order of the world as a whole, but which at the same time is seen as inseparable from its immediate form (words, sound, substance) so that the mind experiences a conflict, a moment of aphasia.
Even if, as is often the case, the audience admits to wanting to ascribe a "truth" to the work in its relation to the world, they will admit that the "truth" is nonexistent outside of the material arrangements that make up the work. For language to be "beautiful" in this sense, rhythm and tone are no less important than syntax. The total structure of a poem is seen as beautiful, not simply the "meaning" of the sentences. Art is a lie that compels you to believe while reminding you again and again of its artificiality, of the craft that brought that illusion into being. A Stendhal moment is a moment of crisis, when the perceiving subject is caught between desire for a thing to be fully real, combined with an equally powerful awareness that it's not.
Art is material arrangement.
Art makes/describes the world as more interesting than it is.
Film was until recently our most easily immersive art, but the best films have always been those where the arrangements, shots, cuts, and staging, remain foregrounded, not merely telegraphed as "style" but inseparable from the other elements of the film. The best films remind us of their artifice as much as sculptures never let us to forget they're carved in stone. We always see the craft in Hitchcock and John Ford. And it's the craft that we remember as much as we remember the worlds made out of it. We sit watching worlds we want to be real, while equally enraptured by the crafting of the lie.
Art makes/describes a world more interesting than ours, a world where every object and event is suffused with meaning. Rocks and trees as things in the world are meaningless: religion ascribes meanings to them. But a drawing of a rock or a tree is the product of our "intelligent design"; meanings are a given, and the humanities are no more or less than varieties of comparative religion.
All of us recreate the world through our preferences; there is no value free perception. Artists regulate and ironize the illusions that most of us live without thinking. Philosophy, compared to art, is pedantry, predicated on the assumption that irony need only be directed outward, at best referring to self directed irony as an idea, or concept, whereas in the arts it's the foundation of a practice. Philosophy is predicated on the ideal of a total, global, or universal, view. The arts are built from the fact that we all imagine such views for ourselves, that they're shared by no one else, and that the one thing we can share is the awareness of that fact.