Sunday, January 25, 2009


VII : Signal To Noise

This kind of grand aesthetic theorising invariably lands me into hot water, especially after implicitly accusing somebody's favourite artist of having impure intent. Nevertheless, two things: firstly, this is objective theory, not subjective - what you or I personally enjoy seeing or listening to isn't at issue; and secondly, this isn't an argument for snobbery - intent is being judged on its own terms, that is (in this case) artistically speaking. If, on the other hand, one's intent (through art) is to get laid, then fair enough, but the measure of the work is going to be notches carved in your bedstead and no more; likewise, if the super-objective is to make money, then let's measure it in dollars.

In mediaeval times and much earlier, being a musician or painter or sculptor was a specialised vocation with extremely limited opportunities that required an enormous personal commitment. Compare that to our current age where nearly everyone has easy instant access to technological and educational resources for creativity, whether it be visual arts, writing, or making music; moreover, zero commitment is asked for. Naturally, it would be churlish to resent that kind of universal opportunity - if people are having fun with it, then so much the better. The price paid for that is that floodgates for all types of lazy intent are opened, most concerned with non-artistic gratification, which in turn means the very nature of artistic endeavour has been altered, perhaps irreversibly, to the extent that any nascent pure form is effectively drowned by the numerically vastly superior impure forms. Aversion therapy by default.

In a huge room full of everyone talking at once, how can we possibly ascertain if there's anything significant being said? And how can there be meaningful expression in such an environment?

William Bennett (2009)


Thomas Bey William Bailey said...

Sighs of relief? Don't be so self-effacing! ;)

I can't remember if you covered this before somewhere else, but any thoughts on the Marla Olmstead controversy? It might just have a tangential relation to the discussion at hand, but then again- I think hers is an interesting case in which the will to create is unfettered by 'impure intent', but eventually gets hijacked by various 3rd parties whose intent is anything but pure...

William Bennett said...

not having seen that documentary, Thomas, so can't really comment on it - it looks most interesting (and more than tangential) in the context; the problem for children, as I see it, is when they're denied free rein and 'directed' by adults whose intent might often be to vicariously succeed through the children - common in the realms of acting and music (and of course other fields too, like sports)

n-rich said...

Fascinating... a similar case was commented on in the (UK) Guardian newspaper by Germaine Greer yesterday: Would you pay $3,000 for a painting by a toddler?

Mark said...

I have similar feelings on the role and definition of art

What you mentioned about not being able to draw is very interesting to me. Recently I have been contemplating why it is that I feel I am bad at drawing and I have realised that I am indeed framing my work in what my mind governs a socially acceptable drawing; as in, a good one.

I have always been interested in outsider art or 'art brut', and though you mentioned the fact that those terms are pigeon-holed renders them useless, it is the most sincere art of all, as the art is not corrupted by any social influences, nor is it arbitrary, but art which expels and expounds directly from the mind of the artist, revolving around itself. If the quality of art can be judged from the value that you cannot see which is there to be deciphered, what could be any more genuine than a physical manifestation of the artists mind?

So I'm with you. Give that chimp back his paint brushes.

Oh and one last thing about children and art. My mind has a phrase locked forever in my permanent memory: "There is no more pure evil than a child's mind". Actually that is not it at all, but you get the gist: the mind of a child is free from all the shackles of society, free to roam and imagine before the doors of perception start molding that thin, narrow hallway that will be the only light they are allowed to see once they grow older. A rather thrilling theory as to why children insist they can see and hear ghosts.

n-rich said...

Another link you may find of interest: Social Fiction

William Bennett said...

I like your words, Mark, thanks for your comment, and also, n-rich, for that amazing link