On Art 3

So every few months I get the urge to make a blog post about art, the state of art, what art can be, and what have you. You can find On Art 1 and On Art 2 at those links, respectively. I think that constantly defining my position on it is something that may not matter, but it at least makes me feel good in a little silly way. I think that discussions of what art is are similar to discussions of what the canon should be–they’re pointless and stupid because people will think what they want. But I don’t care.

I read 90% of In Search of Lost Time last semester, as some of you probably know, and Proust comes down pretty hard on how art should function. Through Elstir, the painter, Proust suggests that art always has to be productive, or at least wishing that it is producing; the artist has to actively desire and be drawn toward her vocation in order for art to be something worthwhile. A mere reflection of the art that has come before, however, will not do. Proust demands that art constantly be reflecting backward while developing methods and images.

So what does that mean now? I have a hard time with this, and in my discussions about art with Belle Avant, I’ve come to the realization that good art needs to be something that uses the unique productive methods of our time to articulate an affective offense to the world. That seems like it’s overly complex, but I promise that it’s not. There are two wonderful examples of this that I can think of.

The first is A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter. At its very core, A Tool is both a work of art and a work of criticism. It is all about the contemporary period; it literally sells itself to teach the owner a lesson about ownership and how little that word really means now. It controls its own means of production; it is its own means of production. It should be impossible to enjoy A Tool. It laughs in the face of current convention. It slaughters everything, even itself, because it is valuable and yet completely valueless for the owner.

The second is Ray Caesar’s recent interview in Hi-Fructose magazine.

In many ways my childhood is reflected in the years I spent working at the Hospital for Sick Children and the pain and hope is all mixed up in unexplainable emotion. I do feel that the years I spent at the hospital were necessary and even in some ways a gift, as I had to learn to deal with what I saw in that place. Those years gave me the courage to face some of my own demons. “Art” is the ship I use to sail into uncharted waters.

Later he continues

I suppose art for me is that process in which we bare our inner most feelings, trouble and pain; happiness and joy…it’s an important form of communication and that is more important than my need for privacy.

Caesar wants us to understand that art, for him and myself, is something that communicates at a base level from one being to another. His refusal to write an artistic statement because they are “meaningless” is tied up in this idea; in the transmission of affect, not of information, and that we shouln’t have to rely on a textual mediator. The affect itself should foster/connect/divide all on its own–no text required.

I am still tied to the idea that everything called art is art, but the way that I think art should function is different. It doesn’t need to be violent, though violence is a transmission of affect 99% of the time. There are some spaces for a one-sided art where there is the realization that another person will witness your act of violence or act of art; I think that Scu’s troller repeatedly calling him a Satanist (among other, much more terrible things) is a prime example of this. It is a violence caught up in awareness, in the experience of intimacy, and I think that’s probably similar to what artists like Bob Flanagan did. He brings you in, makes it intimate, and then shatters everything with horrifying violence. The fact that it’s disembodied and only language-based, well, that only adds to the layers.

Last, but not least, I want to talk about Douglas Burdorff. I’ve written about him in the past, and it is something that people come to this blog to read over and over again. Burgdorff is one of the best examples of art that I can think of right now. He takes snippets of extreme human behavior and divorces them from all context. It is a snippet of experience, and it’s usually a terminal moment; often his videos end in self-mutilation or the revealing of a terrible sexual secret; a peek at the sublime in the same vein as David Lynch. The drawing-in of affect, that’s something that I think is important to good art. The ability to create these little moments and disseminate them amongst large populations is something that is unique for the past few years, and the fact that Burgdorff chooses to do it in the way that he does–it’s interesting.

Good art, right now, for me, is supposed to drive you to tears.

A sample of Burgdorff’s video work

prick from Douglas Burgdorff on Vimeo.

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