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The Nonexistence of Art?

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The Nonexistence of Art?

One perennial essay topic is the General Debunking, or finding a sacred cow to gore. Here is a fine example of the genre: A Treatise on the Nonexistence of Art.
Art is mostly fraud perpetrated by narcissistic academic quacks on a public easily gulled. They should be prosecuted. This is as true of literature as of painting and sculpture. If modern sculpture were placed in a junkyard, art critics couldn’t find it. Most of what we are told are great works are great works only because we are told that they are.
Well that's clear enough! There are certainly narcissistic academic quacks and there are certainly fraudulent artworks and yes, it is quite likely that a lot of modern sculpture could be easily lost in a junkyard. So the only word there that one should really question is the word "mostly." Is art mostly fraud? Partially fraud? Just a little bit fraud? After some irrelevancies, the argument starts to go south:
Art has nothing to do with what the thing looks like, and certainly nothing to do with beauty. If it did, an indistinguishable copy would serve as well as the original. But no. The point is not to look at the thing, but to feel superior for owning it, and how can you do that when every mutt in Boise can get an equally good one for $37?
The visual arts certainly have to do with how the object looks, denying that is silly. As for beauty, that is the subjective experience of art and the perception of beauty has a lot to do with context, experience and training. Yes, a lot of collectors might feel superior for owning a great piece of art, but the international art market certainly denies the claim that someone in Boise can get something equally good for $37.

The essay goes on, flinging spaghetti on every surface hoping some will stick, but making very few actual points. For example:
You see the critic’s progression. To maintain superiority, he has to appreciate ever worse daubs, so that he can be increasingly alone in his exalted insight. The up-and-coming critic goes through Mondrian, who painted what would normally be considered linoleum patterns, and arrives at Kandinsky, who sold his drop-cloths.
There is nothing worse than Kandinsky. The critic who appreciates him has reached the pinnacle.
A classic instance of "begging the question" in the correct use of the phrase, meaning an argument that assumes its conclusion. Modern art consists of "ever worse daubs" so the critic who appreciates them merely demonstrates his hypocritical fraudulence. Here is train of thought that we have flirted with occasionally:
Art critics can’t even recognize art. Suppose you went on a castle crawl in England and found an original, unknown play by Shakespeare, a really good one, like King Lear if it combed its hair and put on a clean shirt. Suppose that you copied it out and sent it to fifty publishing houses and Shakespearean scholars, saying that you were a graduate student trying to imitate the bard’s style, and what did they think of it?
This seems like a nice thought experiment so why hasn't someone gone ahead and done it? If you find an actual undiscovered manuscript by Shakespeare, a brigade of scholars would leap into action to trace the provenance. But at this point, it is quite unlikely. So perhaps you could just run off a convincing fake? Ah, now that would be rather difficult, wouldn't it? So the experiment is pretty much an empty threat. What has been done is to create some fake pseudo-science papers, which proved easy to do. Some of them were even published. But faking a genuine work of art? I rather suspect that is a logical impossibility. The act of faking art will result in a fraud, not a genuine work of art.

Unfortunately the writer ends up by settling on an empty distinction, between "literature" and "writing," neither of which he defines.

I was trying to explain to someone how one goes about composing a piece of music and described it in these terms: While it would be nice if everyone enjoyed it and gave me lots of money, that is actually completely irrelevant to the art object itself and the act of creating it. If you are trying to guess what will sell, you might or might not create something that will sell, but you will almost certainly create something that is not a good piece of music. Mind you, I am still puzzling over the strange nexus of the creative originality AND the commercial success of the Beatles. But let's set that aside!

If people like my music and want to perform it, I am delighted. If it communicates something important to them, I am delighted. If they perceive it as beautiful, or expressive, I am delighted. But I don't aim for any of these results when I am composing. I am trying to explore something about the nature of music, or one aspect of it. I am not trying to express how I am feeling at the moment, or generally. I am not trying to express my "philosophy." I am just trying to write a piece of music. I am trying to tread new ground, if I can find any. I am trying to see where a certain idea or sound leads. I am composing! Most of the time, the idea doesn't lead anywhere or proves to be empty or a feeble echo of some other piece of music. At that point, you throw it away and start again. There are lots of things that can provide an "inspiration" such as a random sound you hear, or a bird singing, or a strange rhythmic effect. Anything, really. But the inspiration is just a kind of happenstance.

Composers have influences too, but that is such an enormous topic that I am going to deftly sidestep it!

Let's have a nice envoi. Here is a musical work of art one can have few doubts about. It is a suite for solo cello written at a time when there were no suites for solo cello (only viola da gamba). It is a masterpiece likely written when J. S. Bach was in charge of the music in Köthen for a minor noble. We know nothing about performances. Though editions were published from the first quarter of the 19th century, the suites did not catch on until Pablo Casals' advocacy of them through performances in the 1930s. The Netherlands Bach Society's unpretentious survey of Bach provides us with an excellent video performance.




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