Art is Language... (Art)

by xeno6696 @, Sonoran Desert, Thursday, June 11, 2009, 14:23 (5228 days ago)

Art is Language - dhw, - Art in whatever its form is only another form of communication between one person to another. Art fills a very special and precious place in my life, and in the grand scope of things I'm probably even more qualified to discuss this than any other as I've been a practitioner for over 11 years, primarily vocals, but playing guitar and keyboard ranging from classical to black metal. - For the moment, we shall set aside the idea of inspiration, as I will show shortly that inspiration is a process, that while we don't know the mechanics—I don't have a particularly compelling reason to think it has a divine origin. - When you analyze art and music, the connection between culture and art is absolute. Art at large makes up the majority of a nation's culture, as it encapsulates everything from ideals to stark reality. My favorite baroque painter, is Caravaggio. - - Here we have an ideal, as well as the reality. - When you look at this painting, note that it communicates a scene that is instantly recognizable to virtually anyone raised in a "Western" nation. However, show this same masterpiece to natives living in aboriginal Australia, and I promise you they'll think the painting is interesting, but they won't be able to tell you why the painting is significant, or why it was so controversial when it was painted. In other words, paintings (and therefore music) needs some kind of context in order to be properly interpreted. And it can indeed be interpreted incorrectly! The song "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi - "O Fortuna" " from Carl Orff is typically used to portray very ominous or even evil events in movies and TV but the lyrics are about the joy of the coming spring! - A symphony that causes a person to come to tears does not universally do so. The only reason that it does so to you or I is because we have assimilated the language of music just as much as we have assimilated our native tongues. We learn early on that certain tones sound "sad" and certain tones sound "happy." When a composer writes a piece of music, he plays with these ideas and weaves sentential structures with them, deliberately playing with our latent musical vocabulary to elicit a desired and specific response. It is in this sense that music is simply another form of algebra. - To further my position that art is communication, music and art both suffer from the same kinds of noise associated with all our other channels of communication: when Stravinsky first played his "Rite of Spring" it caused a riot. This most certainly was NOT what he had wanted his audience to do. So obviously, there's enough personal subjectiveness in music to say that there is little that is truly 'absolute' about it... just like ideas communicated with 'normal' language. But usually, the composer does relay his message appropriately. You mention awe that you can feel anything at all when listening to a piece. Well, by and large the idea of the composer is to make you feel what he wants you to feel. Where is the magic in that? It's like the physicist who is shocked that math explains the world so well. Should it be any surprise that the most precise language describes the world precisely? Really? - Now on the topic of inspiration, to put it bluntly, if we are to remain truthful to ourselves we do not have a single instance in all of human history where a person thought of something that was completely novel. I tell people that my music is my own take on everything I've ever heard before, but this mental algebra also applies to painting, writing, and anything else. Writers often say that they "write what they know" but this is the same for any other artistic practitioner. No one wakes up with a theory of calculus who has never done math. This means inspiration has a very real and hard limit. - Now your primary objection to me is likely to be, "But Matt, at some point there had to be a first painter, first sculptor, first musician, etc." Right, but the earliest cave paintings are of animals and people. Nothing... too spectacular about that to me. Man looks at his surroundings and—writes what he knows. 
When I write, I will tell you that inspiration indeed comes when it wills, but I can make it more likely to happen, and when it does it is the same exact feeling I get when I get an incredibly good idea that I have to go share with someone. Innovations are invariably different perspective on something that already exists, or a progression such as "Idea 'x' leads to idea 'y.' This is also, incidentally the general process of how ideas build upon each other—not just in the fields of art. - This means that our proper topic should be consciousness, not art.

Art is Language...

by dhw, Saturday, June 27, 2009, 08:13 (5213 days ago) @ xeno6696

Matt S. has made some comments on art, most of which are straightforward enough. Like all other matters of taste, reactions are subjective, and like all other matters of culture they depend to a large extent on what we were brought up with. The statement that "we do not have a single instance in all of human history where a person thought of something that was completely novel" may well be true, since whatever we are will depend on what has gone before us, though I must confess that I don't actually know "all of human history". However, the significance of novelty may be a point at which we begin to diverge, and at which we have rather different views on the "magic" of art. - Firstly, it's true that everything we are consists of bits and pieces handed down to us ... genetically through our parents, culturally through our environment, educationally through our teachers etc. But at all stages, including genetic, there has to be selection, and the sum total of that selection is what constitutes our individual identity. In this respect, you are right that nothing is completely novel (though it would be a brave ... and pretty stupid ... critic who dismissed the work of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Michelangelo etc. as derivative!) In terms of art, however, what comes out of the individual identity is new, and it is also mysterious. - You wrote: "Writers often say that they 'write what they know'." And "man looks at his surroundings and ... writes what he knows." This certainly applies to some writers (and to those forms of art that are mimetic), but you are missing out on a vast range of others, and it is the others I am interested in. Shakespeare, we can assume, did not cavort with fairies, kill a king to take his throne, smother his innocent wife, go mad when his daughters shut him out. Agatha Christie never murdered anyone, Jules Verne didn't dive 20,000 leagues under the sea, and J.K. Rowling never studied at Hogwarts. "Innovations," you say, "are invariably different perspective on something that already exists". Of course none of the above could have come into existence without the influence of earlier literature, but that is what I mean by individuality consisting of selected hand-me-downs. What is missing from your account is the process whereby all these influences form themselves into new ideas. To illustrate this, I'd like to stick to literature, as it is the art I understand best. - Some writers plan their work, and others don't, but in many if not most cases they find that the characters take over. The writer is not fully in control. The process is very similar to dreams, and no doubt it's the subconscious that is at work here, but that doesn't provide us with any kind of explanation ... it just gives us a recognizable word to describe something incomprehensible. When you say "our proper topic should be consciousness, not art" you are missing out on the subconscious, imagination, and a creative mechanism that defies analysis. The characters and the story may not be "novel" in absolute terms, but the work that emerges has not been written before, and the non-autobiographical writer has not experienced it before or even met the people in his play or story. Yes, they may well be projections from the selection that constitutes his identity ... that's what gives him his uniqueness as a person and as a writer ... but they are not him. And furthermore, perhaps most importantly of all in the context of this discussion, he may even be surprised himself at what they get up to. Many writers start with an idea, and the rest is a voyage of discovery ... i.e. they write about what they DON'T know. It is as if the writer is a world that contains another world, and this may even offer us an image of a possible god: the macrocosm containing microcosms. (There are physical parallels to this, because our body also contains vast numbers of organisms that do their own thing without our even being aware of them, let alone controlling them.) - As I've mentioned in the "brief guide", children often ask visiting writers where their ideas come from. It's the simplest and most difficult of questions, and all too frequently the only honest answer is "I don't know". Materialists think they do know ... it's all a matter of chemicals, cells, electrical impulses. We can single out which part of the brain is involved in certain activities. Without our brain, there would be no ideas. Well, without the wires in our television sets, we wouldn't get any pictures. But the pictures are not created by the wires. They come from somewhere else. The fact is that no-one has a clue how these impulses translate themselves into new thoughts, ideas, sounds, visions ... new even to those who produce them ... just as we do not have a clue how the same collection of cells can create awareness of what we are doing. - I'm not, of course, saying that a god sends us our ideas, and many artists are atheists or agnostics. What I am saying is that the whole process is incomprehensible to me. And until someone comes up with a convincing explanation, I'm not prepared to dismiss the notion that there may be other dimensions of existence that we do not yet know. The 'magic' ('mystery' may be a better word) of art does not have anything to do with its originality, but everything to do with the source of its creation.

Art is Language...

by xeno6696 @, Sonoran Desert, Thursday, July 02, 2009, 06:20 (5208 days ago) @ dhw

I don't know why my posts continuously never seem to make it in this thread. - Your question is best directed at intuition... I write myself, and I write a psych profile for my characters, and I let my intuition take over after I internalize it. This is similar to method acting, and this is something I bet many authors do (in an unstructured way.) - I think we have different definitions of what someone "knows." You seem to interpret this as me saying, "only what one has experienced." Maybe in some regards this is true, but its not what I'm getting at. - There are limits to what a person can think of. In my own life, I can think of nothing I've ever thought of that didn't have precedent somewhere else. Shakespeare thought of faeries, because he knew of Celtic myth. - Robert Louis Stevenson probably can lay the best claim to writing "what he didn't know," in that his stories were acted out in his dreams by "little people." He just wrote down the stories. - But none of his stories are beyond the believability of his time. - Even Tolkien's stories are largely grounded in Celtic and Nordic myth. The original stories were almost invariably depictions of nature. - So I see literature as a grand "revision." All of the original ideas, have already been thought... all of the basic motifs exist now that ever have: Man v. nature, man v. self, and man v. man. - Though even my hallowed Nietzsche balked at placing limits upon Man... I say that such limits indeed exist. - I just wish it wasn't true.

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