Saturday, March 11, 2006

One-eyed wonder...

Great art viewing is characterized by the moment when a piece of art comes off a wall or the pages of a publication and grabs its viewer. "Hello, I am here!" it announces with clarity and intrigue. From there, the work can either enter one's own frame of experience (in a way that is almost always described as "visceral") or it fails to connect but gets points for trying.

There has been much written about the moment of aesthetic arrest and this experience of breathtaking connection that occurs between an art work and an art observer. Basically, if something "holds" you, prevents you from moving on, this is when you should start to really pay attention. Joseph Campbell says, "At this moment the art object becomes pure object. You are pure subject. You are the Eye of the universe beholding the Thing of the universe. The mystery of that thing is the same as the mystery of the universe. You have gone past all accidental experiences and arrangements."

So much art, of course, fails to go the extra distance, to communicate anything (let alone the mysteries of the universe) with the actual living beings who chance upon it. This kind of art is so much about itself, so concerned with its message and its own making that it fails to greet (or shock or offend or whatever) its viewers. Without reaching out in some way there can be no entry into the realm of creative discovery. There can only be the observer and the masturbator. This gets a lot of mileage in our culture, and I would argue that it deserves a place, for even if there isn't much we can learn from watching the masturbator, we can be reminded of our own isolation, delusions of grandeur, and ineffective fantasies.


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