Beginnings & Endings

Chapter 10

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The Word “Art”

There is a misconception propagated by the misuse of the  word “art” when applied to fields of design and craft that in previous ages would never have been  assigned that  appellation. The result has diminished the expectation of what art is and replaced it with examples either outside of  art or whose limitations suggest a  complete misunderstanding  of what constitutes the aesthetic experience.

The current usage was initiated to acknowledge the expanding  parameters of art practice that hitherto resided in the  precincts of theatre, dance, or carnival. Its  consequences have diluted aesthetic practice sending it to the margins  and leveling the playing field to mediocrity, blatant exhibitionism, superficial extravagance, and chaos.

 Its proponents have purposely alienated new generations towards understanding their heritage and disregarding what that tradition might still offer. With this in mind,  it may be time to reexamine the current widespread practice of  calling fields that boarder on art “art” and practitioners in those disciplines “artists”.

At issue is not the wish to diminish their achievements nor to  withhold honor and respect towards them, but simply to call a spade a spade and a diamond a  diamond. After all, once a great craftsman was proud of being called a great craftsman; just as a great designer was proud to be called a great  designer. Their  works were treasured for being great designs and great crafted objects.

In truth, we use the word “art” in place of the word “mastery”, and when we wish to award a tribute to a great craftsman or a great designer, we automatically assign  that person the  title “artist” and his or her work “art”.

This particular usage had once been implied as an unusual honorarium only. Now it has assumed a greater significance  than what is the province of that creative  mtier no matter how successfully achieved or how agreeably received by the world.

There is confusion about what constitutes high craft or high  design as distinct from the function of art. What separates  the experience of art from design is the scope  and breadth  of how art triggers the entire human cognitive capability,  stimulating the full spectrum of perceptions and insights  that human beings enjoy.

I  do not see that wide range of possible experience happening in the results of design in the applied arts- their goal being the sensual satisfaction of form matching  function in  a utilitarian entity. That’s no insignificant task, but it  keeps within its own boundaries: its intended purpose being functional beauty.

If we feel nostalgic for the object designed, that is a circumstance after the fact as all “artifacts” assume the status of relics. Usually emotional resonance does not  come with the design but as a by-product of time. Although in instances of unusual eloquence a design might inspire a fuller emotional engagement, and in consequence, one needs to make an exception.  

 But delight in sensual beauty alone is not the full engagement of the aesthetic experience. Nature has all the most incredibly beautiful designs we ever need to  see, and in almost every instance we can observe form following function. So what is it that humans can do beyond Nature’s  sensual attributes that makes art a unique experience.

If an image by itself doesn’t address multiple states of  perception whose functions work in cooperative dialogue towards the comprehensive unity of heightened  awareness, than what is before us is not art but a crafted artifact.

It is a vital experience that happens through one’s eyes and in one’s mind. And it happens quietly, endlessly quietly. The  carnival of frenetic activity is not a  replacement for the  meditative experience. That’s why there were the words: carnival, vaudeville, and circus for all those imaginative,  ingenious, uproariously  inventive entertainments containing  deconstructive, institutional critiques centuries before the avant-garde was a word to describe performers involved in  such “popular” activities.

 At issue here is the wholesale makeover by adherents of the social sciences of what constitutes a work of art. And what once was a reference point to gain a  sympathetic  understanding of the cultural milieu from which artistic  expression emerges, has become the principle means to evaluate that art. Consequently,  aesthetics are not a consideration, for aesthetic grounds by which to make  judgments is considered elitism for those adhering to a  pluralistic agenda. In a  world where everybody’s art is equal than there can be no mastery; there can be only artists and art.
Then the words have no meaning.


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