Afflatus to Acedia and Back

‘Life swings like a pendulum backward
and forward between pain and boredom’

‘…aesthetic pleasure in the beautiful consists,
to a large extent, in the fact that,
when we enter the state of pure contemplation,
we are raised for the moment above all willing,
above all desires and cares’

–Arthur Schopenhauer

For Schopenhauer, life osculates because of Will, which is an aimless, amorphous necessity that an individual life is a perceptible objectification of. What you personally desire, or think you desire or even think you should desire is but Will acting through you. Sadly though, once you have got what you think you wanted, you don’t want it any more, you want something else that you don’t have . Life, as it’s controlled by the Will, is suffering and ennui in alternation.

‘Pure contemplation’ of art is possible; one can lose oneself in art and be lifted one above ‘all desires and cares’ of the ordinary. But it is not probable. Art is not just contemplated, it is created and consumed as well.

Creating art even if it for your own contemplation–art as an end in itself–is to be fully under the control of Will. Artists suffer the pain of ‘I’ve got this great idea in my head but I can’t get it out there on paper!’ then the ennui of the ‘Now what? It’s done, but it’s not as good as I thought it would be.’ It’s just lust then satiation then lust again and so on. Yes, those are sexual terms, but try psychological ones too; the artist as bi-polar, manic during creation and depressed after.

If the art is a means to an end so much the worse. Now what you desire as well as others’ lust objects matters. You and the others are eye-deep in the muck of the living Will, you all are lustful and greedy. Bad enough, but worse are the self-proclaimed ‘connoisseurs’, falsely thinking of themselves as better than mere consumers, they are in addition jealous and prideful. Working artists must compromise their desires and cares with those of the consumers, the result is that ‘Pure contemplation’ becomes impossible for anyone.

But what about the drawing? The scene, from an 19th century photo, is a crowded room, there are men in suits and a naked woman. The men are making idols of her. The scene is surreal, a real woman (plus copies of her) and real men together, yet separate.

The scene is not like the Eakins paintings of a real sculptor and a real model. It is more like the ‘Slave Markets’ of Gerome and his ilk; voyeuristic, soft-porn pretending to be art. I don’t have the details but I think the slave markets were wildly commercially and (at the time) critically successful, and the sculptor/model pictures were not.

The Geromes are art as a means more than an end; the paintings are objects of Will, exoticism hiding eroticism (lust and satiation in alternation, again) and therefore to be consumed not contemplated. The photo, likewise, shows a market, where instead of a group of centuries-old near-eastern stereotypes bidding to buy a naked, fleshy slave girl, we see only somewhat less antique identically smocked, coifed and mustachioed ‘artists’ visually consuming a naked, fleshy model.

In the drawing the real woman is gone and replaced, not by an image of a obedient slave girl, but block of plaster; the sexy parts remain, but they’d be cold and unresponsive to the touch. And the occidental creator stereotypes are also gone and not replaced by Gerome’s oriental consumers. what’s left of them are their empty, dehumanized uniforms, updated to 21st century dress-for-success suits to mirror the cast torso, a copy of an ancient original. And the brushes suspended, impotent, perhaps drugged, between what could have been artists and what’s yet to be art.

Is there art here? Is this drawing in and of itself, art ? is there a picture of art in it? is any one ‘raised for the moment above all willing, above all desires and cares’ by it? It doesn’t matter. Will is, of course, necessary; if you don’t get hungry you don’t eat. So art as will is not necessarily a bad thing…and there are those weightless moments between the suffering and the boredom.