Artis pro Artista

What is art, let alone art for the artist’s sake? Is it a noun or a verb? I say both. On the left is an art as object, on the right it’s an action.

On the billboard, you no doubt recognize Manet’s ‘Picnic’. It’s a composite scene of several parts, all posed indoors. The figures are out of scale relative to one another, the lighting is all mixed up, even the woman on the left’s head and body aren’t even from the same model. Manet did lots of little things  to be just a little off contemporary standards, making the nude not a goddess or other ancient beauty was just one. The sum of which is what pissed everyone off.

Today, we don’t get it, the painting looks like any other 19th century ‘grand’ nude. We don’t see the subtle yet offending differences between this and Delacroix’ ‘Death of Sardinopolis’ and Ingres’ ‘Le Bain Turc’ not to mention lesser works like Gerome’s ‘Phryne before the Areopagus’ and slave market scenes and Millais’ ‘Knight Errant.’ We see the obvious similarities instead, we note how much these art objects look alike, at least when compared to the variety of objects called art these days.

‘Art is purposiveness without purpose’ –Immanuel Kant

Back to the billboard, that would-be ‘art’ is not on display as an exalted masterpiece carefully preserved and protected in a museum; it’s a cheap copy exposed the elements, it’s just one of many visual diversions one encounters in life. Ars gratia artis, it ain’t. It is no longer an object of beauty and end in itself (Kant). Not that our interest in it was ever disinterested. We’ve let this and other art become a means to an end, where the pleasure we derive is pride (elitist superiority in the appreciation of it,) lust (imagining enjoying the ministrations of the naked hotties,) and gluttony/avarice (owning, buying and selling the things.)

Worse than that it’s become a piece of propaganda telling us that if we buy (insert product name here) we will soon be enjoying such a picnic. but as usual the propagandists have been too cheap and the billboard paste fails, showing us what’s behind the scene. Art is “all about the benjamins.”

‘Art is a human activity consisting in this,
that one man consciously by means of certain signs,
hands on to others feelings he has lived through,
and that others are infected by those feelings
and experience them.’ –Leo Tolstoy

‘It is in the space between inner and outer world,
which is also the space between people
–the transitional space–that intimate relationships
and creativity occur’  –D.W. Winnicott

And at the right is the part of art that is verb, an action, a gesture. A gesture spontaneous (Winnicott) or planned, a gesture recorded, repeatable, and remembered. artists are not disinterested in their art[ing]; Kant’s –as opposed to Tolstoy’s or Winnicott’s– aesthetics is all from the art observer point of view. The latter gents include the artist in aesthetics. Art is existential  not idealistic/essential philosophy-wise I say. When art is a verb, a subject is required and he or she is very interested in what going on.

Crudely put, artists are exhibitionists and, sad to say, are often received as such. Sadder still, because what really obscene is what’s done to the object by others. The artist here, exhibits(expresses?) himself at art (as object,) not with it. He flashes a’ transitional space,’ quite removed from his fellow creatures who go about their business on the streets below. An e-metaphor for this semi-aesthetic exhibitionism would be blogging.

‘It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found’  –D.W.W.