Towards an Art of Purpose

I have often heard it said, when in a position of judgemental argumentation, “Who are you to judge, who are you to say what is good or bad!” The answer, so starkly white-hot in the mind as to burn through its cranial cage, is always the same, “The only one present.” This truism can be applied to nearly everything but I find it is, in my experience, most often brought to bear on art.

AA78 by Zdzislaw Beksinski 1978
Beksinski’s “AA78”

“Art,” a new word really needs to be invented to encapsulate what that mighty triumvirate of letters used to signify. Those letters which gave the world the Sistine Chapel,  Bernini’s soul-searing statuary, Beksinski’s hellish paintings, explorations of the evils of Man, the mad-dash glory of Italian Futurism and the harrowing, primal writings of McCarthy. But they have also given birth to the likes of the alcoholic smatterings of Pollock, the idiocy of Andy “Art is anything you can get away with” Warhol as well as Marcel Duchamp and his foppishly signed toilet seat — the new paradigm of the avantgarde. Warhol is also often quoted as saying, “I think everybody should like everybody,” as well as the patently untrue  “Making money is art, working is art, good business is art.” One might therefore assume that brushing one’s teeth and defecating were art as well. By such definitions; why not? What is not? What is?

Worse than these statements shallowness and patent falsehood is their grotesque distortion of the classical usage of the word. Art as a definition has been totally and utterly erased by postmodernism, rendered into amorphous mush. It now means, “Something I can do that is useless — or nearly so.” It’s a literal manifestation of Oscar Wilde’s “All art is quite useless.” Meaning of course that the externalization of an artists ideas or concept is enough — form, function, derivation of spiritual sustenance all goes out the window. What it is matters less here than that it is. The root of the Conceptual Art School. Something like, “I art, therefore it’s good… well, good enough.” It should really be a crime for a mind so large to think so very, very small.

This aforementioned postmodernist tendency in art would not bear so much discussion if it did not also entail the outright destruction of those schools of thought which sought a purpose in their creations — those schools that wished to utilize art as a temple, a internal refuge and source of meditation, a teaching tool, a pathway to political critique and a weapon to combat the moral evils of the day. Art which now speaks to the essence of man’s soul is all too often seen as “stuffy,” or, “snobbish.” Those artists who demand some collective standard, objective or subjective, by which to judge a work of art are told they need to think “outside the box.” But how can this be done when there is no longer a box at all?  The new standard is “For it’s own sake” — no longer do works of art even serve their creators. Those who have gone to art college know what I mean — ask the question, what’s your work about, all too often the reply from the student will be, “I don’t know.” As with the Dadaists, irrationality, chaos and irreverence are championed. Unlike with Dada, the Postmodernists do not utilize these characteristics in the purpose of some higher goal but simply because they are antithetical to what has come before. The classical past is anathema and the new reigns — not because it is good but because it is new. This is just as foolish as romanticizing the events of the past because they happened long ago. The time is now and to the postmodernists, it must never be then.

When faced with such overwhelming, neigh omnipresent, vacuousness one should not fall into the all too easy trap of defeatism. One should not throw up one’s hand and say, “Art is dead.” What to do then? Bring back the manifesto! So seemingly quaint; the word itself rings like a antiquated bell — but why? Atomization (the deplorable case of the death of the author, the birth of the reader). Bring back the tradition of artistic “School of Thought” of “The Movement.” Ruthlessly (and subtly) deride relentless-Escapism and the deconstruction of aesthetic standards at every conceivable turn. Bring back elitism! When you wish to have your car fixed one would be mad to think of the mechanic “who is he to fix my car!” No — one calls around and chooses the best mechanic for the job, the one whose skills (and price tag) outshine the others. So too does this hold in every conceivable area of one’s life where skill and intelligence plays a part so why a different standard for art? Most importantly, bring back a bloody definition! Cleave to it and defend it, whatever it may happen to be.

That definition shall no longer include the tawdry rebel-without-a-cause nor the bystander nor the attention-seeker. That definition will lend legitimacy to those individuals who cast their souls out into the wide ambit of the world like blinding spears. A manifestation of principal. Those individuals whose work sings songs of violence and death, of fertility and re-birth. Of internal empire and external community. Of Reason as Emotion’s master. Of the transcendental, the numinous — the supra-rational.  This new school of thought must be cogent, organized and consistently, doggedly external, its body of works pouring out into the world with all the force and speed of some thundering pack of draft-horses. In short, I advocate for the death of the reader and the re-birth of the author.

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Kaiter Enless

Futurist, artist and published fiction writer whose work asks the question, Of what use is the art which does not ruthlessly seek to force life to imitate it?

6 thoughts on “Towards an Art of Purpose

  1. Hi. I’m glad you’re writing about this stuff but I have a little quibble. The Dadaists didn’t “have a higher goal.” That’s why the surrealists, under André Breton, broke off as communists. Dada was, and is, emptiness and irony.

    More seriously, I think it would be more helpful to not politicize art but rather find out what is good art. A lot of modernism can be good design (form) if you strip away the verbiage (content) surrounding it.

    1. I can understand your quibble but it is untrue to say that the Dadaists didn’t have a higher goal, especially in regards to the beginning of the movement. The early Dadaists (such as Hugo Ball) main goal was to attack the bourgeois nationalist powers which they perceived to be the cause for WWI. But you are correct that the movement changed radically later on, I should, perhaps, have been more time-sensitive.

      1. That WWI canard is establishment propaganda. It’s meant to give Dada and by extension all modern art some sort of moral superiority in a rearview mirror probably cooked up in the 60s.

        1. It’s not all propaganda, there were a few individuals formative to the movement who really did oppose the war. But as I said previously, this purpose became more less and less prominent as the movement expanded and aged. I certainly do not grant Dada any kind of special moral superiority – indeed, I don’t much care for Dada, especially once the “anti-art” label caught on and they all thought they were being wonderfully edgy.
          Are you are artist yourself IA?

          1. “Are you are artist yourself IA?”

            I’ve been involved in the arts one way or another for about four decades. I can understand you wanting to get younger artists energized. I certainly appreciate your article.

            Young sane white men are marginalized so it is possible to break out of the modernist death grip. But it’s tricky. Artists are part of the culture and have to pay the rent. I’d say get rid of the Government hand outs and find a patron. Or find a practical means to make a living. Say, ceramic tiles or architectural reproduction. On the other hand, artists should seek high status roles. Plenty of wealthy women like arrogant bad boy artists. But, I’d try and finesse it by never acting angry or resentful towards modern art. If anything, as you say, embrace it for your own purposes.

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