Thursday, April 9, 2009

Putting a Sweater on the Cat

Last night, I dreamed I was having a philosophical conversation about art. I said to my companion, "If there is no criticism, it is not art. If you are simply enjoying it, it is just entertainment." I must say, this is probably the smartest dream I have ever had--it definitely beats out my usual dreams about beating someone up or driving off a cliff. But I am not sure if I agree with myself.

In fact, while I enjoy reading (and writing) literary criticism, I find myself simultaneously straining against the bonds such considerations can impose. If we write or create with a critic in mind, then the result will almost surely be an awkward mess, like trying to put a sweater on a cat. Perhaps instead of the word "critic," the phrase I want instead is something more akin to "an informed audience." That is, an audience, or reader, with an understanding of artistic convention and history of the craft. The memory of something created in the past with which to compare a current work. That I can work with.

Octavio Paz said, "What distinguishes modern art from the art of other ages is criticism." It seems like he was talking about history as well. In other words, we need the art of other ages in order to understand and appreciate modern art. "Appreciation" seems like a key word as well in what I am trying to get to. Perhaps, rather than criticize, we should work to appreciate what we are watching, reading, consuming. Let's slow down, do a little research, chew our bites a few more times before swallowing. When was the last time you read, then re-read a poem? When was the last time you looked at a painting for more than thirty seconds? In this new age of immediacy, slowing down seems like a luxury. But that's the only way we'll get it (whatever "it" is). 

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I agree with your question, "when's the last time you slowed down to re-read a poem?"
The answer has a lot to do with the medium, doesn't it? I mean, how satisfying is it really to read or re-read a page on a Kindle screen or a computer screen, a medium that begs you to move and move along.
What about those horrible (screen-savers?) mounted on walls in ornate frames that cycle pixel images of paintings? How long is the viewer meant to comtemplate those? I guess we often choose to forget that art has it's own ability to defy it's static form... that the same painting (or photograph) standing in it's same space is forever changing it's perspective for the person who "appreciates" it.