Friday, April 9, 2010

Art

All art is quite useless. - Oscar Wilde

I want to be able to say that Wilde got it wrong, that art is not only useful but necessary. I want to be able to say that art communicates in a way that words can't, that it crosses divides and erases lines in the sand. One of my friends once argued that in a declining society, art flourishes. It communicates desolation, heartache, and sometimes the few joys that are sifted out of the ashes. I certainly can imagine that to be true.. Also, though, art can be anything - funny, scandalous, horrific, gorgeous - and as such can only hold the meaning assigned to it by the interpreter. In that way, when the interpreter walks away, the art, as Wilde asserts, is useless.

My students often ask me when studying literature how we can truly know what the author's intent truly is in his/her writing. I often tell them that it's not that we're trying to fully know the author's intent, but that there is a communication between the reader and the text. In that place is where we find true, legitimate meaning. Perhaps the meaning only exists in that invisible correspondence between art and viewer. Meaning is less controlled, not firm. It allows for anyone creating anything to be the artist. It allows for reasonable (and unreasonable) conclusions.

The students then ask if they can answer the question of meaning wrong.

"Yes, absolutely," is the answer.

*Painting by Wassily Kandinsky
This post was inspired by the Loose Bloggers Consortium, a small and feisty(!) global community. We write weekly on a common topic (Art, this week) and post responses - all of us together, simultaneously, from all over the world. (Lovely!) Please visit Anu, Ashok, Conrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Judy, Magpie 11, Maria and Ramana for other wonderful posts.

11 comments:

Rummuser said...

Ginger, I think that you will approve of the quotes that I have given in my post on the same subject.

All artists, despite their vehement denials, seek an audience to appreciate and understand their work. The audience, particularly the opinion makers and critics, usually are walking eagles.(http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_walking_eagle.htm)

Anonymous said...

All that you say really resonates.

'The Scream' is done in crayon & looks like it was done by a child. It's so moving. It's the target for many thieves because it's so valuable.

Art is more personal than literature. It is reading YOU & not the author.

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

bikehikebabe

happyfunpants said...

I wish I would've had you as a teacher when I was in high school. Well, you were in high school at that time too, so maybe that would've been weird. But what I mean is that I appreciate your allowance of differing points of views.

I felt like with my high school teachers there was one right way to interpret the text - and maybe what resonated with me was different than what resonated with past professors or teachers. To me, high school english sucked the fun out of reading and writing.

I went to a college for engineers where I didn't have to take one english class - and so I didn't.

It's only been recently that I've decided to start to re-read the "classics" and get what I can about them.

I want to enjoy them - I want to draw my own conclusions. I want to have an honest discussion with others about what resonates with me and maybe different ways to think about things.

I want to grow from my reading and writing.

Grannymar said...

Some art moves me almost to tears, while other well acclaimed pieces leave me cold. In years past I wondered why I felt that way. Now I just accept and enjoy what appeals.

Magpie 11 said...

Kandinsky ahoy!

I never gave him much thought until a colleague and I had to put on a "production" at school.... we were stuck until she showed me some Kandinsky pics...we turned them into music and dance and movement..we sorted out some drama...great. Final scene was two attendants awaiting an installation. It consisted of a tipped over rubbish bag with garbage falling out of it..all glued to a board. he sign was then put up it read Garbage Bag by I.S.I.TART... Tracy Emin had not long exhibited her bed.

Later I was able to go to Tate Modern and see the exhibition:

http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/kandinsky/

I'm still trying to get my mind around his ideas of Art and Music.

Some very cogent points made in your post.

Maria said...

Ginger,
I am not an artist nor do I pretend to know enough to judge anyone's work, but I certainly like the way you explained literature to your students.

Jen said...

It's funny because I recently did a lesson with some third graders on this very same idea. The reason for the lesson was to teach kids to pay attention to what their brain is doing while reading. The whole painting a picture as you read. I explained that everyone's picture will all look different.

That's probably not what you were meaning but that's what came to mind when I read this post!! I think it's kinda neat that we teach the same idea even though we work with different age groups!

Mommakin said...

This reminded me of a moment a decade or so ago - it was my last visit with my uncle before his death and we both knew it. He was quite old and his age spots were more prevalent than his original skin color. He had no hair on his head, but a nice healthy tuft growing wildly out of his left ear. Just the left. His wrinkles were deep and plentiful.

He was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

I wanted - almost needed - to paint his portrait.

Of course, I have no artistic skills.

It was the only moment in my life when I resented that. A photograph wouldn't do. A story wouldn't do. There was so much THERE - it needed to be a painting.

I felt like EVERYONE needed to see what my uncle looked like that day. All of the things that we see as ugly coming together to create something so beautiful - the whole being more than the sum of its parts...

gaelikaa said...

I just feel that Oscar was trying to say that in a world driven by commerce and industry, where money means a lot, real art may not generate money.

I feel that the real beauty in art lies in the senses of the beholder.

Ginger said...

Ramana - Yes! I'll come by soon..

bikehikebabe - It's hard for me to admit to the idea that art is more personal than literature because literature is my first love, but I think you're probably right.

Anne - I hope you enjoy the classics. I found a new apprecitation for them, too as an adult. I'm embarrassed by how many I haven't read, especially as a Lit major, but the great thing about the classics is they're always around.

Grannymar - It's a very zen state you've found. Someday I'll get there. :)

Magpie - I love Kandinsky for some reason. I think it's the colors that inspire me. Odd story - Kandinsky as interpretive dance. Amusing, though.:)

Maria - Thank you. I really hope my class is more of an exchange. I'm not an expert on anything either. What I can do is guide..

Jen - What you said is EXACTLY what I mean. :)You explained it a lot better than me. And yes, it is cool that we are teaching the same thing.

Tammy - Your story is gorgous. I know exactly what you mean. You painted a picture with your words. That's art, you know. :)

gaelikaa - I think you are right to say that art lies in the senses. Wilde was such a cad, though. He was fantastically sarcastic and witty (in an ass-ish way). I think he meant that art is useless and that that's fantastic. We shouldn't try to assign meaning to it. It is what it is, in other words. He thought all aesthetics were useless and completely entertaining in that regard. Money? Sex? Drugs? Also useless, but very much worth having.

Christine said...

By the way, I really like this post. Maybe art isn't useful, but I agree that it is necessary. Human history proves that.

And I'm only marginally jealous that you can write this well in the tiny time you had at the coffee shop, especially considering how I practically jumped up and down distracting you. Talented, sister!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Art

All art is quite useless. - Oscar Wilde

I want to be able to say that Wilde got it wrong, that art is not only useful but necessary. I want to be able to say that art communicates in a way that words can't, that it crosses divides and erases lines in the sand. One of my friends once argued that in a declining society, art flourishes. It communicates desolation, heartache, and sometimes the few joys that are sifted out of the ashes. I certainly can imagine that to be true.. Also, though, art can be anything - funny, scandalous, horrific, gorgeous - and as such can only hold the meaning assigned to it by the interpreter. In that way, when the interpreter walks away, the art, as Wilde asserts, is useless.

My students often ask me when studying literature how we can truly know what the author's intent truly is in his/her writing. I often tell them that it's not that we're trying to fully know the author's intent, but that there is a communication between the reader and the text. In that place is where we find true, legitimate meaning. Perhaps the meaning only exists in that invisible correspondence between art and viewer. Meaning is less controlled, not firm. It allows for anyone creating anything to be the artist. It allows for reasonable (and unreasonable) conclusions.

The students then ask if they can answer the question of meaning wrong.

"Yes, absolutely," is the answer.

*Painting by Wassily Kandinsky
This post was inspired by the Loose Bloggers Consortium, a small and feisty(!) global community. We write weekly on a common topic (Art, this week) and post responses - all of us together, simultaneously, from all over the world. (Lovely!) Please visit Anu, Ashok, Conrad, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Judy, Magpie 11, Maria and Ramana for other wonderful posts.

11 comments:

Rummuser said...

Ginger, I think that you will approve of the quotes that I have given in my post on the same subject.

All artists, despite their vehement denials, seek an audience to appreciate and understand their work. The audience, particularly the opinion makers and critics, usually are walking eagles.(http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_walking_eagle.htm)

Anonymous said...

All that you say really resonates.

'The Scream' is done in crayon & looks like it was done by a child. It's so moving. It's the target for many thieves because it's so valuable.

Art is more personal than literature. It is reading YOU & not the author.

"A picture is worth a thousand words."

bikehikebabe

happyfunpants said...

I wish I would've had you as a teacher when I was in high school. Well, you were in high school at that time too, so maybe that would've been weird. But what I mean is that I appreciate your allowance of differing points of views.

I felt like with my high school teachers there was one right way to interpret the text - and maybe what resonated with me was different than what resonated with past professors or teachers. To me, high school english sucked the fun out of reading and writing.

I went to a college for engineers where I didn't have to take one english class - and so I didn't.

It's only been recently that I've decided to start to re-read the "classics" and get what I can about them.

I want to enjoy them - I want to draw my own conclusions. I want to have an honest discussion with others about what resonates with me and maybe different ways to think about things.

I want to grow from my reading and writing.

Grannymar said...

Some art moves me almost to tears, while other well acclaimed pieces leave me cold. In years past I wondered why I felt that way. Now I just accept and enjoy what appeals.

Magpie 11 said...

Kandinsky ahoy!

I never gave him much thought until a colleague and I had to put on a "production" at school.... we were stuck until she showed me some Kandinsky pics...we turned them into music and dance and movement..we sorted out some drama...great. Final scene was two attendants awaiting an installation. It consisted of a tipped over rubbish bag with garbage falling out of it..all glued to a board. he sign was then put up it read Garbage Bag by I.S.I.TART... Tracy Emin had not long exhibited her bed.

Later I was able to go to Tate Modern and see the exhibition:

http://www.tate.org.uk/modern/exhibitions/kandinsky/

I'm still trying to get my mind around his ideas of Art and Music.

Some very cogent points made in your post.

Maria said...

Ginger,
I am not an artist nor do I pretend to know enough to judge anyone's work, but I certainly like the way you explained literature to your students.

Jen said...

It's funny because I recently did a lesson with some third graders on this very same idea. The reason for the lesson was to teach kids to pay attention to what their brain is doing while reading. The whole painting a picture as you read. I explained that everyone's picture will all look different.

That's probably not what you were meaning but that's what came to mind when I read this post!! I think it's kinda neat that we teach the same idea even though we work with different age groups!

Mommakin said...

This reminded me of a moment a decade or so ago - it was my last visit with my uncle before his death and we both knew it. He was quite old and his age spots were more prevalent than his original skin color. He had no hair on his head, but a nice healthy tuft growing wildly out of his left ear. Just the left. His wrinkles were deep and plentiful.

He was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

I wanted - almost needed - to paint his portrait.

Of course, I have no artistic skills.

It was the only moment in my life when I resented that. A photograph wouldn't do. A story wouldn't do. There was so much THERE - it needed to be a painting.

I felt like EVERYONE needed to see what my uncle looked like that day. All of the things that we see as ugly coming together to create something so beautiful - the whole being more than the sum of its parts...

gaelikaa said...

I just feel that Oscar was trying to say that in a world driven by commerce and industry, where money means a lot, real art may not generate money.

I feel that the real beauty in art lies in the senses of the beholder.

Ginger said...

Ramana - Yes! I'll come by soon..

bikehikebabe - It's hard for me to admit to the idea that art is more personal than literature because literature is my first love, but I think you're probably right.

Anne - I hope you enjoy the classics. I found a new apprecitation for them, too as an adult. I'm embarrassed by how many I haven't read, especially as a Lit major, but the great thing about the classics is they're always around.

Grannymar - It's a very zen state you've found. Someday I'll get there. :)

Magpie - I love Kandinsky for some reason. I think it's the colors that inspire me. Odd story - Kandinsky as interpretive dance. Amusing, though.:)

Maria - Thank you. I really hope my class is more of an exchange. I'm not an expert on anything either. What I can do is guide..

Jen - What you said is EXACTLY what I mean. :)You explained it a lot better than me. And yes, it is cool that we are teaching the same thing.

Tammy - Your story is gorgous. I know exactly what you mean. You painted a picture with your words. That's art, you know. :)

gaelikaa - I think you are right to say that art lies in the senses. Wilde was such a cad, though. He was fantastically sarcastic and witty (in an ass-ish way). I think he meant that art is useless and that that's fantastic. We shouldn't try to assign meaning to it. It is what it is, in other words. He thought all aesthetics were useless and completely entertaining in that regard. Money? Sex? Drugs? Also useless, but very much worth having.

Christine said...

By the way, I really like this post. Maybe art isn't useful, but I agree that it is necessary. Human history proves that.

And I'm only marginally jealous that you can write this well in the tiny time you had at the coffee shop, especially considering how I practically jumped up and down distracting you. Talented, sister!