Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Value of Art

Suppose we divide objects and occasions, all the things and events that happen in our lives into two spheres of influence, the practical and the artistic, would that be even possible?

We can start by looking at the practical side of life. Preparing ourselves for work, feeding ourselves, dressing ourselves, the things we own, our house, our car, but already this list is giving us an uncomfortable feeling, since there was a certain amount of art involved in the design of a car or our house which gives wonder to the notion of where art begins and ends.

Even if art is an object, there is clearly an occasion during which the art is created. There is also an occasion during which the art is viewed, or experienced.

One of the most amazing art works I have seen that has been the most meaningful to me is the Lascaux cave paintings. These drawings, however accurate and complex, to me, are not exactly like the art in a museum. It is believed that at least some of them were used in training rituals to show correct strategies to be used in hunting.

There are two very apparent aspects to art: One is that it exists in a consumable form. The second is that it can be created. There is a third issue: Is there the possibility that art, or its equivalent, exists that is not only created by humans, but is also inherent in nature? Is there a fundamental deciding difference between what is created by men and what is created by nature, or is it more that natural origins are held as original, or perfect, while all human imitation or reproduction is synthetic or false?

Nature provides humans with two different levels of participation in art, through the sensing and analysis of it, and by creating it. Art is a kind of participation. Serendipitously, our participation in life may be lasting. This is probably true even if our participation is not memorialized. Art is the same way. When we participate in creating art, the artistic result has value – The net value can be said to be what can be derived from experiencing it.

While art itself may be an object, or an event, so may be the experience of it. I go to the museum, look upon a painting, say, or put on a recording or a video to experience an art object. However, art is also an event. There are shows, gallery and museum tours, and concerts, which are events during which many different art objects or at least many different gestures of art will be presented over an interval of time, even if that interval is one we choose.     

If you’ve spent a lot of time in galleries, you know that painting is a form of art that became very important in the last few centuries. Prior to this, the chief source of artists’ incomes was the Church. An educated rich class eventually evolved due to capitalism that could afford to put images by trained artists on its walls. Typically, these were the portraits of family and friends, sometimes engaged in favorite activities. A few paintings were biblical or mythological. Regardless of whether the purpose of the transaction between the owner and the artist was memorialization, or for recognition of the owner’s values and tastes, the notion of art as a type of commodity could finally begin to mature.

From this I think we can conclude that art is something that can be experienced, which memorializes or expresses value to the consumer, regardless of its format or the exact attitude of the consumer. (I understand consumer as an ‘owner’ of art, or someone who has the right to experience the art in question, whether he paid for that right or not.)

Music is a favorite form of art, since it encapsulates the temporal beauty of sonic forms. The process of making music and listening to music is related in the same way as in the visual arts, however the temporal element is held manifest, while in the visual arts, the temporal element may be hidden. We say, “Look at this painting,” in which the temporal element of experience is hidden from view. For many viewers of visual art, time only forces its way into the picture when the viewer is asked to tour an entire museum. Only then does the casual art viewer commit a large amount of time to one artistic venture, only then is the viewer showing the same level of commitment as the artist; the viewer by touring a museum will perhaps spend hours viewing art at his own level of attention and love for detail, thus for this time perhaps, mimicking the love and attention to artistic detail expressed by the painter or sculptor of each individual work.

The process is similar for the composer of sonic, theatrical or cyber art. She must labor, sometimes for months over his creation, and then allow the consumer to experience the entire work in a period appropriate to their expectations, whether 3 minutes for a popular song, up to 1 hour for a symphony, up to 3 hours for a play, film or opera, or 30 to 40 hours for a computer game.  

So while realization and consumption are opposite poles of art, they are entirely related, in that the consumption of art cannot proceed according to expectations without the care of the artist involved in presenting his work and the proper presentation.

More than any other commodity, it is difficult to estimate how the capitalization of art will evolve in the cyber world. Most likely what will evolve over time is that more markets and forms will come available, although piracy and forgery is a continuing concern. Perhaps the great art criminals of the future will be individuals skilled in cyber art. On the other hand, perhaps encryption and identification systems will nullify such attempts. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Great Gatsby

I saw The Great Gatsby on the weekend, and I’m quite excited about it. I was glad to hear the director say that living to repeat the past is quite impossible, but I have to admit that Fitzgerald’s suggestion is quite fascinating, even if it seems  wrong-headed. Since time points forward for us except when indexing thoughts and media, we never look into the past, even relativity doesn’t permit that in any direct sense. The past is read-only. Our minds can survey the times that already happened, and we commonly assume that it is unhealthy to dwell in the past excessively.

That’s what the novel is about, at least. It is a fascinating attempt by a character to live out his own religion not so much in a quest for spirituality, but in a quest for something he feels a need for in his life. Since life is very much about needs, this opens the question of in what contexts it becomes important or relevant to recreate the past.

One recreates the past whenever one tries to preserve love. Love only happens in an instant, and the spectacle of couples trying to preserve their custom of alliance with each other is clearly one in which reproduction of the past plays a big part. That is “Great” Gatsby’s great insight: That the moment of memorializing love, in essence attempting to make it eternal, is the reproduction of, and return to the past through repetition.