Friday, October 20, 2006

Unconscious Yesses and Complex Nuances

October 20

The hardest part of that title was figuring out how to spell the plural of "yes." The phrase was used in a recent comment, and the spelling looked wrong to me. I had to reach a decision before I could post about it. There it is, right or wrong.

It referred to my story about the man who couldn't bring himself to read religious opinions that conflicted with those he had been brought up to accept. He was, the commenter suggested, unconsciously saying yes to his own indoctrination. Probably he would have come to the same conclusion if he had done some study, but his mind had been made up for him, probably in childhood, and to become a questioner of the faith accepted by all the people he respected and who had raised him was not an option. I've seen film clips from a new documentary called Jesus Camp which depicts the life of children being so indoctrinated. It is chilling to see the fervor with which they embrace the most troubling aspect of their brand of Christianity -- the mindless, emotional, judgmental passion that has nothing to do with Christ or living a better life. It is a "yes," all right, but an entirely conscious one. To some degree I am afraid this was the religious training my good friend had been exposed to, had said "yes" to. He became a Bible scholar, read the book constantly and studied it hard. He read other books too -- but not those that offered new insights to the basic text.

There are many things we unconsciously say yes to as we grow up. We accept them by default, by not saying no. Doing this unconsciously is what makes life easy at first, and it is what makes life difficult later. Over and over, obstacles are thrown in the path of that unconscious decision we made without making it. We are required to defend something we absorbed without thinking, and finding defenses for such is all but impossible. If it's actually impossible, we may switch to the opposite choice and surprise ourselves and everybody else. But it's so much easier to remain unconscious.

Art, another commenter states, is a set of complex nuances that has nothing to do with a child, even an "inner" one. It is the purvue of adults only. This does not discount the art of children (I hope), but to call art itself the work of children is to diminish it in the minds of conscious adults. As in the early days of Impressionism, Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism, people look at the work and say, "A kindergartener could do that!" People are quick to say that Andy Warhol was a charlatan and Salvador Dali a Public Relations expert. Jackson Pollack and Ad Reinhardt were, in this assessment, pulling the wool over the art consumer's eyes.

Such an attitude is the opposite of an unconscious yes. It is an unconscious no. In both cases it produces a closed mind and deprives the owner of this mind of a whole lifetime of experiences based on joy and learning about the other occupants of the world. It's a shame that so many of us live there, verbalizing, pontificating, pronouncing, yet not capable of saying an unconscious yes to the next great thing that may come along.


John Sweden said...

Let me add a few yesses and nuances.

Here, for the want of better expression, is the e=mc² of “ART”.

-“ART” is the momentary experience of knowing that the whole is greater or lesser than the sum of its parts.-

That difference is potential and, as I pointed out in an earlier blog on “souls”, that potential is soul.

There is no object in the world that is art. To be sure there are paintings, there are Black, Squares, there are sculptures, musical scores, etc and even Urinals that are “works” of ART, but none of these ART objects can or will ever be ART. They can and do in many cases evoke the experience of “ART”.

There is something about the relationships within an object or between a set of objects that makes it or them evoke that feeling of knowing.

An Artist by definition is one who works with these potentials. Working with them clarifies and deepens our perception of reality. “All Children are Artists the difficulty is to remain one as one grows up”, Picasso “Everyone is an Artist” Joseph Beuys.

School and art teachers are by far and away the greatest inhibtor for people engageing in a life long pratice of Art. If I had nickel, or in my case half a kroner ,for everytime I have heard that my art teacher told me I was not good, I would be living in a luxury villa on the French or Italian Riveira rather than freezing my butt off in Sweden.

Society has come to accept both in pratice and belief that Art is primarily for children. In fact it could be argued that the only people socially sanctioned to engage in art are children or those whom society considers to be children, the elderly, the mentally ill, women, and artists. The artist is never considered to be a mature fully functioning member of society. If you don’t believe me just try being one.

Finding Fair Hope said...

It would seem that every child, with the possible exception of that irritating, neatly dressed little girl in the front row at school, who could render a passable representation of a bowl of flowers, was told he was not "good at art."

Maybe what made the real artists was the ability to disbelieve those teachers.

Bert Bananas said...

How about the notion that you have to be 'ready' to be moved by art for art to move you?

And where do "compulsions" come into the art equation? And I refer to the lives of artists, not we fickle viewers/appreciators.

John Sweden said...

Hej ff,

Actually, I was one of those kids, who could draw the flowers and a decent bowl. Perhaps, if not for a lot of unconscious yesses and nosses, in another life I might even have been “that irritating, neatly dressed little girl in the front row at school”. I think it was Picasso who pointed out the all artists have to come to a point where they must “kill their teachers”. It is why I don’t “teach”. I “Facilitate”, or make easy, by removing the barriers to one’s own Art experience. There is a major difference in the process and the results, not to mention life expectancy.

I use this developmental set of criteria for artists. Starting with Beuy’s “Everyone is an Artist”… as ground. I would add there are dedicated artist or those who dedicate some part of their normal life to engaging in focused art experiences. At the end of the scale is the life dedicated artist in which life itself is focused and dedicated to Art experience. In terms results I would argue there is no qualitative difference in the works that emerge but a cumulative difference in the depth and breadth of experiences for the artist.

Hej BB,

I would have thought that a dedicated Artist of the “Lazthiest non-school”, would have pointed out that the sum of all “unconscious yesses” and “unconscious nosses” couldn’t add up to experiencing a greater whole of “unconscious maybesses”.

You are absolute correct in your notions about being ready, but there are many things that society and individuals can do to remove the barriers and increase that experiential readiness, not only for themselves but for others as well.

In fact, it is this “inner need” (Kandinski pointed out in his book “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” that all works of art are generated from an “inner need”) that for the past fifteen years and probably for the rest of my life, generates all of my “works” of ART. Some might call it a compulsion but I think that is inaccurate description and see the process of increased focus and involvement as response to a deepening and maturing set of revelations coming from one’s work.

To be frank, (no not that “Frank”) based on past comments of yours I’m not sure what you are driving at by the use of the word “compulsions” in terms of the artist’s life. If you could be more clear by giving some examples I could formulate an informed opinion and give an accurate response.

Just to clarify this for you and others, in ART there is no separation between originating artist and viewer or appreciator they are all one in the same. This was one the major breakthroughs in human perception made by Marcel Duchamp. It was demonstrated and proven in his “Readymades”. The general operating theorem that emerged out of these works was “The viewer completes the work”.

The actual description by Duchamp was “The creative act is not formed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

By the way Duchamp’s urinal, turned upside down and renamed “The fountain”, has been cited in a survey done of hundreds of artists, curators and critics as the most influential work of the twentieth century.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Oh, there you go again, John, taking us farther than we are able to go. You had me until the urinal. But I am aware that you prefaced it with "a survey of hundreds of artists, curators, and critics." I am willing to concede that as such they know a great deal more than I do about art, but many of my readers are of the "I don't know anything about art but I know what I like, therefore what I like is art and what I don't isn't" school of thought.

I'm just happy to read your cogent comments and think about this. Only through acceptance that we may have something to learn does the learning process begin.

Benedict S. said...

John S: Well, you said it better than I did ... or Duchamps did. I kinda thought all along that we were in agreement. I perhaps didn't say enough about the artist's role in creating the experience of art, though I vaguely recall trying to. In the act of creating what he thinks is art, the artist and his work carry on a conversation, and when the artist finally "hears" something that turns on his aesthetic "yes" machine, he ends the conversation. When (and if) the viewer -- in his conversation with the piece -- hears a similar "yes," then the work is complete: the sum of the two "yesses" (sic), the artist's and the viewer's, is greater than either of them alone.

Much more could be said of the original conversation -- the one between the artist and his work -- and you better than I can say it, and have.

Benedict S. said...

Incidentally, "yeses" didn't look right to me either. It didn't say "yes." But according to my online dictionary, the plural of "yes" is spelled "yeses." It still doesn't look right, but then neither does "yesses." Maybe we should madify our parlance, from "yeses and noes (or nos)" to "yeas and nays."

Finding Fair Hope said...

As I said, I struggled with the spelling and decided not to look it up. To me, "yeses" would be pronounced yeeses, as "buses," I was taught long ago would be pronounced byuse-s, so another "s" is added to confuse anyone who thinks a buss is a kiss. Maybe we should change the spelling of yes to yess just in case we need a plural..

John Sweden said...

As long as there seems to be some interest let’s continue here for a while, even as our blog master continues moving forward.

ff. The urinal is the end point of no return for many people. Studies have shown that for most the end point is the impressionists and maybe, if you include Gauguin and Van Gogh, up to the post-impressionist. This is particularly true for those who would claim, "I don't know anything about art but I know what I like, therefore what I like is art and what I don't isn't". In my experience with thousands ordinary souls this is not a true statement and people actually know a lot about art even if they can’t express beyond this statement. “I don’t know anything about art” along with I am not an Artist” is one of the first big lies, barriers or big misconceptions to be dealt with in Arts/Facilitation.

First, I argue that in western culture virtually every man-made object or environment you come in contact with has been endlessly thought about, discussed, worked over, produced and refined with the consultation and a considerable input of a person and/or persons who have four years and a degree from an Art School, Design School, or Architectural School or combinations thereof. Add to this, the forced input of active media such as radio, television, movies, books, posters, fashion, ipods, etc…etc…etc….all day…everyday for your entire life. You would have be Helen Keller in the extreme, minus the sense of touch or taste, not to know anything about art.

I then proceed to physically prove that point by having the person complete five self-portraits without a mirror. Just that exercise alone without any intervention produces a very rapid increase in sophistication that can be seen and felt in the work both by the person and the observer. That sophistication is based on the continual latent education in art that you received subliminally. Using certain Arts/Facilitation techniques that I’ve developed over the years I can heighten and intensify that sophistication to the point where the person “knows” they have all the potential and skills necessary and in many cases the motivation to continue being a producing artist.

BS. If you remove the words aesthetics and create you might get a little closer. The process is exactly the opposite of what you describe. You don’t stop because an aesthetic “Yes” goes off in your head unless you are trying to illustrate or communicate some point in aesthetics.

In terms of stopping I believe it was the Italian Artist Giorgio De Chirico who pointed out that “A painting is never done we just stop at interesting places”. A place that often has nothing to do with Aesthetics.

Duchamp in his selection of an ordinary manufactured urinal, out of dozens of identical urinals, demonstrated there are no aesthetic decisions necessary for “Art to be Art”. “The Fountain” addressed and demonstrated that number of other issues at the time as to what constituted what was necessary for Art to be Art to be false or unnecessary. That is what makes the fountain historically significant.

I believe that history will eventually recognize that the greatest artist of the twentieth century was not Picassco, but DuChamp. The enormous potential released by “The Fountain” and it’s liberating of Art from Painting Sculpture paradigm gave rise to almost all that we would consider art today. By the way it took painters almost fifty years to bring painting in alignment with Duchamp. Warhol’s “Soup Cans”, Reinharts “Black Squares” and Pollack’s “Drip Paintings” are all examples of that alignment.

Benedict S. said...

The "Italian Artist Giorgio De Chirico who pointed out that 'A painting is never done we just stop at interesting places'," got it right. I do not share your understanding of the word "aesthetics." We may, as art critics, make a "point" about aesthetics, but the aesthetic experience is itself ineffable. It is akin to that Italian guy's "interesting place."

Bert Bananas said...

This isn't an area of interest in which I spend much time. Like Even-Handed Hope, I can't (or won't) turn off the filters my life has put into place when it comes to experiencing Art. But at least I don't see art as a commodity.

I see people confusing Objects de Arte with Art all the time and while I conceive of it as no more harmful than worshipping the sun without sunblock, it does rub me the wrong way. Maybe hoarding Art is harmless; obviously it is possible to sustain life without it. Maybe we wouldn't miss it if we never had it? For how big a mess of porridge would you sell your "Art-Right"?

If I could get the owner of valuable works of Art to step back far enough, to broaden his or her view of his or her place in the Universe, he or she would finally have to agree that we are equally meaningless, that what we think, what we know, what we've experienced and what we own, is all meaningless. (For the life of me I can't get the IRS to accept this POV!)

Of course this is just a metaphysical parlor trick. It's right up there with, "Well, I'm shipping out tomorrow morning, sweetie, going right to the front line. Who knows if I'll live to see another woman . . ."

Humanity, set apart from the animals by our ability to connive.

Finding Fair Hope said...

What a perfect piece of cynicism, bananas. Your sentence, "Like Even-Handed Hope, I can't (or won't) turn off the filters my life has put in place..." should, unless I misunderstand you, read, "Unlike Even-Handed Hope..."

I hope I've made it clear that I think those filters get in the way of experiencing some of the best things in life.

I do love your example of the metaphysical parlor trick, however. Your outlook always leaves us with a bellylaugh.

Bert Bananas said...

Sorry, Ms. Even-Handed. I miss-read a comment. I thought you'd said "Like many of my readers..." when in fact you did not include yourself in that set.

But I bet an artist could come up with some representation of truth and/or strong emotion that critics might buzz about, but which your find distasteful or even repugnant.

I opine this because I believe we all have some basic cultural premises that we can't rationalize away, absent a credible threat to our lives or bank accounts.

Cynicism doesn't enjoy that good a reputaton. I prefer to think of myself and jaded.