Sunday, January 15, 2012

Art Stretches the Middle


On the one hand, I have this constant performance anxiety. I want to avoid committing atrocities, and—if possible—I’d like to perform little acts of goodness here and there. ‘Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity’*.

 On the other hand, I don’t want to be bored, and I don’t know what to do with myself. There really aren’t any instructions for life—I mean, there are, but they’re radically inconsistent and varied—so it’s really anyone’s guess. It’s like when you go to the doctor’s office and have to read the magazines in the waiting area to pass the time. They’re never magazines you’re terribly interested in, but you read them. You learn a little something about the Kardashians, and maybe read an article on managerial empowerment. The doctor’s appointment is the big deal, but it’s not like he’s going to just come out and meet with you in the waiting area. There are protocols. “Everyone, deep in their heart, is waiting for the end of the world to come”^. That’s me.

One good way to pass the time is to engage in art.

According to Werner Herzog's The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, neanderthals didn't do cave paintings. Homo sapiens did, and the movie is about a particularly wonderful and historic set of them in Chauvet cave in southern France. The paintings are beautiful, and Herzog--reliably--transfers a sense of awe to the audience.

It seems that humans have always used the arts as a tool for making sense of the world around them. That's part of the reason they're my favorite animals. It's probably part of the reason we do terrible things too: our ability to think abstractly enables us to build and to destroy in equally creative ways. It's easy to get caught up in this aspect of our nature. How terrible we can be. But if we weren't us, we wouldn't be making such assessments. We would be moving along as all of our fellow-animals do; drinking, fucking, eating, shitting, sleeping. Not that this is blameworthy. It's not. We're just gifted with the ability to take a meta-view of things when we are so inclined.

And we also get bored.  I wonder if the reason we get bored is because we know we’re going to die. I don’t know if pigs get bored. I think I remember hearing that they do. Whatever the case, they definitely don’t make art while they’re bored. Pigs on Bob Evans factory farms never leave behind bleak existential memoirs the way some survivors of Stalin’s gulags did. Or at least I’ve never heard about that happening.

From the very beginning humans have found activities that fill the time between now and the big appointment with color, as well as lending it a deeper meaning. Art is a tool for escape; we can't escape out the beginning or the end, but we seem to be able to expand the space in the middle. At least conceptually. That's cool.



*Horace Mann
^ Haruki Murakami

6 comments:

Daniel Tricarico said...

Great blog, Spencer.

Lodo Grdzak said...

As a guy with a blog called Intermission, you know I can really relate when you describe "the time between now and the big appointment." GreAt post all around!

Willie Y said...

You are the thinking man Spencer. Great blog.

I just got your book and love it. Also it's just the right size for leveling my coffee tables short leg.

Lodo Grdzak said...

Speaking of that book, did you get that address I sent?

Spencer Troxell said...

Dan: Thank you sir.

Willie: I like that you call me 'the' thinking man. People should remember that. Thanks for buying the book. It's also good for starting bonfires.

Lodo: Got it. I'll be sending you a copy as soon as I am able.

Lodo Grdzak said...

Nice. Thanks yo.