Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ars Gratia Artis

For some years I have kept a blog at myspace. Doing so has been fun, and it has been a way to keep writing when stalled on some other project. This is my first blog on “blogger” though, so it deserves a suitably pompous subject. Fortunately, I have one at hand.

I recently opened an invitation to the unveiling of a sculpture in Texas done by a talented friend, Michael Somoroff. It is an abstract looking thing (the sculpture, not the invitation), though the shape is not random. It gives time a spatial dimension. That would take several pages to explain properly, and it is best to let Michael explain his own work. However, it begs the question, “What is the purpose of art at all?”

Yes, I know, that’s an old one. Ug probably asked that as he watched Quagg paint a bison on the cave wall. The answer is hard to articulate, no doubt more so for Quagg than for us, and many just say “for art’s sake,” which is just a way of throwing up one’s hands and evading the question.

Yet the beginning of truly modern human consciousness is not dated from upright posture or from the first tools. Slightly more clever than average apes were walking on two legs and making axes by banging rocks together 2,000,000 years ago. It is dated from the first appearance of art sometime between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago (though the evidence is pretty sparse until 40,000 years ago), so art must mean something – and that, simply enough, I think, is the answer.

Creating art is creating meaning. Creating meaning requires a higher level of awareness than is required for simply responding to objects and events directly, the way a cat responds to the motion of a mouse. It is why products of abstract thought such as movies, books, paintings, or music often seem more significant than everyday reality; the deliberate shaping of objects, events, and our own lives is our way of interpreting reality and giving it meaning. (Let me interject here, though it is kicking an art form when it is down, that the abstract expressionist notion of creating works of pure form and color, that represent nothing else, seems to me valid but trivial.)

Art ultimately is not for art’s sake but for our own. Ars gratia nostrum.

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