Sunday, October 3, 2010

Deep Thoughts

I was reading this blog by an old friend of my family’s. I was fascinated by this particular post in which he discusses the mind/brain problem. Now, I am very interested in anything pertaining to the mind/body because I would say that therein lies the dilemma, the drama, the delight of ART but I’ll get to that in a minute.
It would seem that culture has encouraged a widening of the mind/body gap that has the chasm getting bigger and bigger, like two tectonic plates determined to form continents that will be settled eventually by warring tribes. I have my theories why. To reduce them to a single sentence? I would say we despise our bodies because they DIE—best to focus on the soul which we can’t usually observe rot so we can pretend its eternal. The Industrial Revolution didn’t help with the mind/body split problem as it reinforced the idea of physical labor being the realm of the poor, the uneducated and unfortunate and entirely a separate thing from those who were rich and schooled and could live an intellectual existence and a leisurely life thinking deep thoughts. I hate that. Especially as a craftsperson. Of course, I work with my hands and I can see clearly its not just the head that is intelligent and that hand skills are a vast body of knowledge—and one our culture undervalues to the point where we are in danger of losing it altogether. Let’s see where that gets us shall we? Outsourcing, anyone? Its gonna be a bitch if society collapses or the bombs drop.
Mechanization certainly enabled us to imagine our thoughts as being entirely divorced from our senses and our physical existence. Everyone knows their soul doesn’t look nasty like a spleen. It looks like this. Or, I guess, like this! (Perhaps they could rename it the “Penile Gland”?)
OK, bear with me here—I will try to relate these concepts at some point!
Because I am evil, I asked my students at NYAA to define art. Not in the personal sense, but the universal. Cuz I’m just nutty that way, I assume commonalities—that all peoples have always made artistic stuff and I wanted the students to think about some sort of baseline definition.
I then gave a power point about the definition I came up with... which I have since decided was a bit overly wordy and I have simplified it. Before I poison you with my definition however, I shall insert an absorbing graphic so you can come to your own conclusions without the influence of my own incredibly persuasive mumbo jumbo.
OK—done? Please add it to the comments!
My universal, all encompassing definition of ART is thus: the marriage of form and content.
I have also asked my students at times, to define creativity. I define it, not as “an original idea” but as creating relationships between disparate ideas. Now if Art is the marriage of form and content its sort of the ultimate union of two incompatible ideas.
Think about language: that’s putting ideas into forms too—no wonder most of my students answered the art definition as some variation on the idea of communication. I actually think that art’s communicative power is sort of a side affect and that we have verbal cognition for a reason!! Art is no replacement. It’s more like telepathy than talking. And its very personal, one to one communication—it’s not preaching (lest it become propaganda)
So, to marry physical form to mental content sounds easy. Hahahahahahaha! Joke’s on you. Artists know that it’s damned near impossible to do in any original way or with any finesse—you non-artists try it sometime! Get back to me with pictures, please.
But my point here is that the artist is re-enacting the greatest creative connection in the universe. That of spirit to matter—content to form. Perhaps it’s why religious people can see artistic creation as being in competition with God-the-Creator. To actually, successfully turn the intellectual, the emotional, and the inspirational into a physical THING is pretty miraculous.
The aware (sometimes even enlightened) human soul is packaged in this gloppy, wrinkly object... Where do they actually connect? Where does the soul begin and the brain end? I’m guessing in that synaptic leap. If it’s something scannable then maybe someday we can diagnose artists!
It’s enough to make you religious....


Jx said...


Jack Walsh said...

Well, Judith, thanks for linking to me.

Also, hey, I'm still a language guy. I think art, like everything else, makes more sense if we look at the way people talk about art in ordinary language.

Something like "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder", but not quite. More like "If we say it's art, it's art". Makes more sense to me, particularly given the post-modern and whatever has come after.

Judith Schaechter said...

Don't get me started on "the eye of the beholder" and beauty!!! Although I am coming around to that in my dotage. pretty, is NOT in the eye of the beholder by the way. Another reason to hate it.

As for art...I waver between open minded "art is what we say it is" to NO EFFING WAY is it that because that's so vague as to be meaningless...especially post-Duchamp.
I demand all neuorpsychologists to immediately mate with Primate Anthropologists and have their kids get back to me with what art is!

Form+Content=Art but how good that is IS an issue (I am an elitist. So there. I said it. Sue me.) This form/content thing as art also requires that it be somehow privileged and EXTRA SPECIAL!

The word inspiration is important. Wherever the soul meets the brain is an inspired connection.

Blah blah..I am just thinking out loud and I love dwelling on this stuff and I change my MIND all the time!

By the way Jack, we use the mind like this too: "I need to mind my manners!"It can mean obedience.

I love words too. I answered on your blog too. Hypergraphia? I have "logorrhea"!

Judith Schaechter said...

Thanks, Jx!!!!! I always love hearing from you!

Anonymous said...
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Dan Maher said...

Dan Maher October 6 at 11:09am
Hi Judith, I usually boil all things back to what we are as animals, and how we express ideas on a more primitive level, less so than a personal level, and how things we do relate to our basic purpose of survival and continue our DNA. In modern culture some of those basic drives seem to become secondary as people don't need to try as hard as our ancestors to survive or find the need to procreate as a personal survival mechanism or to continue our DNA. I think art is a part of the survival and procreation strategy of humans and why everyone on some level finds it essential.
Industry could be defined as humans attempt to create things like housing and tools and build a physical world to make survival easier. When humans first thought about what their structure looked like and not just what the function was architecture was born. Making the structure look more aesthetically pleasing may have been an attempt to attract a better mate, thus a procreation strategy.
Things that are done to express feelings, art, come from our personality, maybe our soul if you believe in that type of thing. Singing is similar to a bird singing, a procreation strategy. The earliest art was injecting personal expression into utilitarian objects, like tools and clothing used for survival. They are physical representations of personal feeling and expression. In some way this could be thought of as "the industry of the soul". That is the way I think of a definition of art and why I am more drawn to the "applied arts" instead of the "fine arts". I like the idea of participating in human nesting behavior. I don't particularly like the idea of the visual narrative unless it is literal. The abstracted narrative only exists in the makers mind.
So my vote for what art is, "the industry of the soul". xox d

Judith Schaechter said...

Thanks, Dan!!!
This may sound sily, but that certainly explains the reproductive success of rock stars!! Who, by all measures should not be doing so well in that department. After all, they aren't bringing home lots of meat to the cave are they? But they are demonstrating their resources are beyond that actually. They have others deliver meat to them and they seduce with song which shows they are so fabulous the stupider birds support them.
Or something like that...

Franklin said...

1. Content is recognizable form. The former is a subset of the latter.

2. Art is a category of objects made by humans for visual pleasure. Other objects presented within that category are nominal art.

Judith Schaechter said...

Hi Franklin--
I always get stuck at pleasure. Pure pleasure's such a bore. I would say made to be "special"

Content is recognizable form I love. I think that's what I was trying to say. Although I find it most obviously recognizable in its physical form. And also the most transformed.

Franklin said...

Pleasure is the high work of civilization. The elaborate project we call "culture" has been an effort to create pleasures of greater sublimity, variety, and duration.

Jack Walsh said...

Art is not objects. What about performance are? Art is an experience that a person describes having been in an aesthetic relation with an object, a performance, etc. It is the name of a relationship.

Franklin said...

In performance art the objects are people. In fact, that's the only way to characterize it as art, as opposed to a poor form of theater.

Pinning art to a relationship allows you to justify activities going on at the categorical edges of art, but it thereby fails to describe what happens at the categorical center, which is the crafting of objects. That is a bad trade-off.

Judith Schaechter said...

I am all about the crafting of objects. SO that’s my big fat bias.

Words tend to drift around in terms of meaning—especially abstractions like "art" and "beauty".
That's why I originally asked my students to define art in terms of its commonalities and not by its radical limits. We call performance art, extreme conceptualism and all those dematerialized things art. Sure--but as Franklin points out, its at a big cost. Another issue is "visual"--much visual art isn't visual anymore.
Once we’ve defined art as not being an object, and also not being a subject (in the case of images slouching towards the outmoded)--then what's happened?
Art becomes another mode entirely. So the problem then is what on to call the work of the persisting painters and sculptors? I vote for "hobbies"....just kidding.

Kill me now!

When the archeologists dig up our culture it doesn't matter what word they give to our IMAGES and OBJECTS. If they are human they will agree that some are killer rockin' and some are LAME. The awesome ones are art. Regardless of what performances are called.

Franklin, Marina Abramovic would be pissed at performance being referred to as having any relationship to theatre!

Franklin said...

It needn't boil down to your bias: the majority of people making art are making objects, by far. When designating a category, you look at the majority cases. You then accommodate as many edge cases as you can without defining away the central ones. The price of doing business at the edges is that your work may rightfully belong to other categories, and your presentation of it as art makes it art by fiat, or a kind of nominal art. That is not as categorically stable as art that works with the conventions of the category.