Freedom from Utility

I decided to change this post, which is one of the reasons I love having a small blog; it is far more intimate. I free myself of utility here. Still, lest it seem strange to change my words, I cite Bismarck, of all people, who is known to have said something to this effect: only a donkey doesn't change its mind. Also, novelist Balzac would change his manuscripts from edition to edition - thus the importance of the galley proof: seeing one's thought in print highlights its weak points.
So I was thinking about cultural and historical concepts of art; how there are Hindu beliefs that the artist is channeling the divine, not creating the work of his mind. I wonder about what it means to have a tradition that has already set out the parameters of one's expression. We do not have this so much today in the West. We do not even have the Pythagorean measurement for our sculpture: lacking a shared horizon of the infinite to imitate. We are left on our own and it is far harder to wave, and not drown.
The words that are said signify something other than what is meant. The weight of the symbols is not felt - due to the impatience of thinking something through, due to there not being a stable horizon on which to first try out the ideas.
According to Plato, the task of the dialectician was to learn to see things together in respect of the one, through the heavenly order of the cosmos: considered as beautiful, the ideal. This beauty required of the person to see it through a creative language: the person would see, read, then decipher it.I learned from Byzantine art, which inherited much from the ancient world, that the symbolism of beauty is only accessible to the person who looks for it - Gadamer adds, it is available only to the person who looks for himself and sees himself on that horizon. Seeing is related to nous, the higher faculty of creative insight, which perhaps returns us to the faithful artisan, mentioned above.
Art that is a work of creative silence, le point vierge, even where representative of politics, is free from utility - wherein our conception of fine art, drawing our minds to something beautiful, is "used" for something higher than merely the material.



So the ability to speak well may require then that the person understands that words represent the immaterial as much as the material. This already implies a breadth, as well as the discernment of moral views according to the cases to which they apply: immaterial love may be manifest, sometimes, in material situations that would appear to the untrained eye as immoral. But if it is true love, the sacrificing kind, it may very well be moral.
Such discernment was arguably never universally shared, but related refinement and the discipline of craftsmanship is certainly not as widespread as it once was. Consider the manufacture of the typical blazer.
Rather than end, without assistance, on my own platitude, I'll cite from Vision and Design - a nifty little chapter called "The Ottoman and Whatnot," by Roger Fry - a Victorian polymath who studied natural science, then art (so I consider him an authority on "seeing in respect of the one" - also, he wrote of it, pp. 84, incidentally, he is an important figure in early American art collections: working at the MET and apparently purchasing art for robber baron Frick).
"Craftsmanship was dead, the craftsman replaced either by the machine or by a purely servile and mechanical human being, a man without tradition, without ideas of his own, who was ready to accomplish whatever caprices the amateur or the artist might set him to. ... To gratify sentiment, nature was opposed to the hampering conventions of art ; to gratify fatuous curiosity, the most improbable and ill-suited materials conceivable were used. ... A drawing of a pheasant is coloured by cutting up little pieces of real pheasant's feathers and sticking them on in the appropriate places. ... always we feel behind everything the capricious fancy of the amateur with his desire to contribute by some joke or conjuring trick to the social amenities. The general groundwork of design ... [is] ...by now, so richly redolent of its social legend as to have become a genuine style." Though Fry champions modern art, I consider this excerpt on Victorian art partly to blame for the one-size-fits all culture that is pawned off just as society scorns the untailored fashion of yesteryear - due to disregard for tradition, caprice, and conjuring tricks...



1 comment:

  1. Just thought I'd drop by to say hello. I've really been enjoying reading your thoughts on art and, a little while ago, on doing what you love for a living. Though, all your posts are nice to think about.

    Anyway hope you are well these days, and that maybe spring has found you.

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