“Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may.”
“Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye.”
— William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost
“Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself, a lifelong act of creation that constitutes the essential content of the artist’s work. The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation.”
— Harold Rosenberg
Could there really be a significant difference between the function of art today and in the past? Isn’t inspiration the most fundamental be-all and end-all of art in all its forms and in all ages? Art is “an exquisite work of human creativity that is appreciated and valued according to its own impressive and praiseworthy qualities that transcend the prosaic and the trivial.” (1) An artist gets inspired to create and perform which in turn inspires an appreciative audience. Art in this sense is both internally as well as externally satisfying, i.e., to both the artist and her/his audience.
But does art mimic real life or perhaps art has a life of its own which in certain instances is mimicked by real life? Whatever the case might be, real life and art must have a convergence point that in the course of events in this world enhances, even enriches, both. Aesthetic perception is something inherent in humanity under normal circumstances, though it might be argued reasonably that artists are artists with all the passion and intensity of their arts because there is something in their spirit that gets beyond the so-called normal. Having this in mind leads us to the notion that within an artist’s essence is a yearning that seeks release and expression through a particular medium. Much deeper than the idea of inspiration is this existential artistic yearning whose full fruition is in the materiality of an artwork, a composition or a performance.
“Art is the concrete/tangible/substantial materialization of the human creative impulse to convey her/his most vital desires and needs. Art is the channel that facilitates the release of humanity´s imaginative urge that makes life more liveable and more worth enhancing. In a broader sense, we may even contend that human life in its truest essence is art itself. It is the artistic spirit of humanity that sees beauty in the natural environ of earthly existence. The course of life on earth provides magnificent inspiration to the creative human being in the furtherance of the world which s/he started to create millennia ago and has been the focal point of her/his most determined struggles to survive, to improve and to make life more meaningful despite myriads of troubles, adversities and tragedies. (2)
Paradoxically, an art that creatively captures real life bestows the latter with wings that let it fly in the celestial imagination of a beholden connoisseur. In the same vein, real life that excitedly captures an artistic expression or performance deepens and accentuates the latter’s magnitude with dramatic effervescence. The function of art is therefore purely of a subjective nature with all the possibilities of varied, even contrapuntal, appreciative and non-appreciative receptions emanating from a multiplicity of perspectives. As the saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
An art may have some socially relevant message but its impact may only achieve deep fruition through subjective recognition. It is how an art affects me personally that I consider it worthy of my profound esteem. It is one’s own personal and existential valuation that makes an art essential. No honest-to-goodness aesthete basically cares at all when an art has already achieved wide recognition for such only entails quantitative credit of statistical proportion. What matters at this point is the qualitative value of an art which may only be corroborated through the richness of one’s articulate reflection. Art appreciation is not a follow-the-leader procession but an instance of penetrating discernment. It is characterized by an extraordinary feeling of exhilaration that spontaneously engulfs one’s sensitive state at the moment of encounter. In this connection, art remains and will always be a matter of individual and subjective meaningfulness. It is the inner exhilaration one experiences that makes art sublime.
Manipulative art is thus an oxymoron for an art is composed, designed or performed in a condition of freedom aimed to free the human spirit and appropriate its power to relish the boundless sphere of aesthetic insight. In certain present-day contexts, art is however lamentably used as propaganda tool to advance party politics aimed to brainwash people and condition their minds to toe the party line. In this situation, art defeats itself and what the people get in general is not really art but its semblance. “Propaganda art”–which is a distortion of the true essence of art–isn’t reflective of authentic human experience but a drawing away of one’s sensitivity and sensibility from the existential aspect of her/his reality to get her/him closer to where the dominant political powers want the people to be and that is precisely in a state of subservience and controlled movements. Getting critical to the different forms of this “art” as in literature, painting, sculpture, installation, theatre and drama, among others, automatically courts the ire of the powers that be and the critics are hence instantly declared as subversives.
However, this turn of events may witness the emergence of real artists from among the subversives and give rise to subversive art which in the process recaptures the true essence of art. Subversive art is authentic art for it exalts unconditional expression and unhindered appreciation. In fact, art should in some ways be perennially subversive for in such a state it will always be an exciting arena of human activity that unceasingly challenges aesthetic creativity in a dynamic way.
(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 21 July 2015
(1) “Where Technique Ends, Art Begins” by Ruel F. Pepa . . . https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/where-technique-ends-art-begins/
(2) “The Value of Art” by Ruel F. Pepa . . . https://ruelfpepa.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/the-value-of-art/