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October 17, 2011

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Gwydion Suilebhan

Totally agree. Self-expression isn't an end, it's a means.

Scott Walters

Where's the like button on this blog....

Nikki

Love it. Art is like sound - without a receiver, it doesn't exist. So t must be understood as (and treated like) a social function in order for it to have any meaningful value.

Mark S.

I basically agree with you, Isaac, but I think there's a lot to unpack in this brief manifesto. Here's a first attempt at some of it, though I'm afraid it might be incomprehensible!

By saying that the purpose of art is not self-expression, you imply that there is a discernible purpose to art. I'm generally wary of "purpose of art" sorts of questions, because they often boil down to defining art's use-value which, more often than not, comes out in the wash as one vague educative purpose or another. Which is not to say that art is purposeless (though, to be honest, I am more comfortable with an idea of art that simply "bloweth where it listeth"). But I've found that the art that moves me most involves less learning and more of something profoundly intangible--it involves a visceral experience of terror/awe and wonder. Which leads me to believe that art aims not at teaching us anything particularly meaningful, but at creating a space in which meaning can be made. And the name of that space, I would tend to think, is Beauty. Which is to say, the purpose of art is Beauty, and Beauty is the only means by which sense of the world can be made, because it is the only way by which and through which the world makes sense or reveals itself. I'm speaking of Beauty here very generally, though I think of the Beautiful more in terms of Rilke's sublime (a beauty which is the beginning of terror which "serenely disdains to annihilate us"), as opposed to some conventional standard of beauty or form which (more often than not) cannot help but fail to produce awe and wonder. With this in mind, I think some incredibly "ugly" art can be possessed of a fierce moral beauty, an incredible formal beauty, etc.

So if the purpose of art is Beauty, then the self-expression which is involved in making a work of art is actually the process by which the contours of an individual experience are crafted to conform to the contours of Beauty--or, seen from the other way, the process by which individual experience is recognized as an expression of the Beautiful. “Nothing human is alien to me,” says Terence. We should say the same! The less I realize that all lives can be found in my life, the more liable I am to see some aspect of human experience as alien to me, the less fully and collaboratively I am able to participate in the great human adventure, and the less I will be able to apprehend Beauty which is the shape of that adventure and the true language of the world.

Which, I suppose, is a long-winded way of saying, somewhat paradoxically, that self-expression is meaningless unless I’m telling someone else’s story.

Does any of that make sense?

Cheers!
-M

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