Friday, February 03, 2006

Raindrops Falling On My Head

Given the current state of the weather, it seems rather appropriate that my musing comes from the rain and the dichotomy between nature and the influence of man, withthe overarcing theme of beauty as a metaphorical umbrella. See, I was walking home late a couple of nights ago, wandering through the rain when I got to the intersection of 6th and Lawrence where the streetlights were shining and cars were occasionally passing through. I could see raindrops bouncing off the pavement, ferocious little ricochets caught in the illumination of headlights. To me, the sight of those raindrops was one of beauty.
The more that I thought about it, though, I started to wonder on various aspects of the situation and, especially after reading the Oscar Wilde piece, to what degree did nature play? The rain was a base of nature to be sure, whereas the lights, the cars, the pavement all were not. If it were to arise singularly from nature, I imagine that I would have to have witnessed rain falling on rock with the moon and stars as my source of light. While that might have been an equally beautiful scene, it would not have been the same at all.
To incorporate Oscar Wilde into these thoughts, were the feelings I felt ones that arose from nature itself, or rather from how art has taught me to feel? Take for instance Hopper's painting Nighthawks ( Even though there isn't any visible sense of rain, I kind of feel like it is a very noir sort of setting where rain might be completely appropriate. So have I taken these feelings and transported them to settings of my own discovery?
Further complications of things came when I wondered whether or not my reaction was completely individual to myself, or if others might not feel the same way. Granted, there is little doubt in my mind that inhabitants of desert areas would feel completely different about the rain than those who live in areas frequented by monsoons. Maybe I'm just overly romanticizing the rain and that is all there is to it. My own personal beauty.

Japanese Gardens and Human Beauty

After class on Wednesday I started thinking about the connection between highly manicured Japanese gardens and human beauty. I find it hard to view the gardens as products of nature since they are so deliberately sculpted, groomed and arranged. In this sense, because they are the creation of humans, they seem to be works of art. Although nature may have created the materials, that nature slowly evaporated as each hedge was pruned and each branch was molded into a specific shape. If man’s intrusion on nature can be viewed as art in this sense, how are we to view ourselves?

Humans may be products of biological nature, but no one (or at least very, very few) exists in a truly natural state. We are continually sculpting, grooming and arranging ourselves (using products from Sephora’s beauty tool aisle, among others) to appear as our idea of perfection, or at least something more perfect than we are by nature. Does this mean we create works of art every morning when we shower and dress ourselves, every time we shave our faces or our legs and every time we exercise?

Ruminations on Mr. Wilde

I suppose I must begin with the admission that Oscar Wilde is, without a doubt, my favorite dandy, dead or alive (save perhaps M. Erik Satie). He never fails to reassure his readers that behind each of his arguments is a man of infinite wit with a fondness for jest. He's a pleasure to read, to put it simply.

As for his claim that it is life that imitates art, rather than vice versa, I think he is quite on the money. While the point is well made that before there was art there was nature, I think the bulk of his rather weighty argument rests on the statement that "to look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and only then, does it come into existence" (41). All our lives we have been trained by works of art and other cultural artifacts to direct our aesthetic attention, our beauty-seeking antane in the direction of a fairly agreed-upon set of objects occurrences. It would be problematic, or at least a bit cocky to assume that we have an innate sense or any a priori knowledge of the beautiful and the aesthetically pleasurable (though, oddly enough, Mr. Wilde would probably credit himself with this preternatural and inextricable good taste). Instead, we have a grand body of recieved information about what constitutes beauty, likes and dislikes that are, more or less common throughout a given social group.

This body of aesthetic information covers enough territory that we rarely find ourselves in a situation that is not represented by some familiar work of art or cultural artifact, whether it be a painting in the Louvre or reality TV. Our own experiences, then, are inseparable from those that we are, willingly or otherwise, exposed to in the business of everyday living. And, like it or not, this is sure to affect our experience of living as well.

Fog, like any easy-on-the-eyes natural phenomenon existed long before it was painted by painters, but only as a physical, passive entity. Not until it was recreated by the hand of an artist did it become an aesthetic object; even if we were to suppose that pre-historic, pre-artistic man had an affinity for fog, he certainly did not have a concept that fog was a thing of beauty worthy of our affection or know that he was supposed to appreciate it.

Lastly, I second his motion that art never expresses anything but itself. Like a spoiled child or a delicate, opium-ravaged Romantic poet, art will quickly collapse under the weight of the world if it is asked to do anything other than just want it wants to at any given moment.

And Wilde's appeal to Walter Pater's famous claim that all art aspires to the condition of music sits nicely with me as well.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Art is an expression of human life, so art is mainly imitating life

The bird is imitating art, but he cannot be consciously doing it because he lacks the mental capacity to imitate art. This is a funny picture and goes along with Oscar Wilde’s essay, so I wanted to include it.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines nature as, “the totality of physical reality exclusive of things mental”. This definition shatters Widle’s claim that life imitates art more than art imitates life. True nature in its entirety is free from the mental because it exists in an uncultivated realm. True nature cannot imitate art because nature is free from the mental.

Humans are imitative creatures. A child imitates their parents to learn new and acceptable behaviors. Life as a reflection of art, primarily atleast, doesn't work. Dewey explains art's role in life, "The self-conscious aim of life is to find expression, and Art offers it [...]". Art is an expression of life; therefore art is primarily imitating life.

Aspiring to Psychopathology...or Beauty

Last year I saw a German Shepard get hit by a car on a busy street. I pulled over as a crowd gathered, including some acquaintances I had made through my job—one of which a woman who always wears a pendant with saint Francis of Assisi, the patron and protector of animals. “Thank god!” she exclaimed. “We were just praying for a truck.” We loaded the limp dog, whose collar read “Waldo” into my truck bed and sped to the other side of town. I had found him just in time, I thought, as I watched the nurses carry him on a piece of plywood into the vet’s office. The next day I returned to the gas station near the accident to rinse the dried blood out of my truck bed when my pendant-wearing customer approached me to report that Waldo had died.

Myself? I did and have referred boldly to this as “an experience,” though it is blatantly contrary to the definition John Dewey takes. It was a “continuous merging” filled with “holes, mechanical junctions and dead centers” (48). The woman’s pendant held no power to stitch the seemingly arbitrary events together, and my good timing was to no avail. I didn’t even make any new friends.

Despite the lack of resolution, I was moved and felt—dare I say—“a satisfying emotional” sensation as I watched the bright red fluids dilute and trickle off my tailgate (49). Arguably my emotions in this instance were “pathological” or attached to the animal’s loss rather than any present coherent development (50). But even in reviewing Waldo’s last day, I am certain, and in fact I will swear on my art, that they were “attached to [the] event” in its “movement,” and not “intruder[s]...from without” (51, 53). I know this because I felt nothing but “intensified” clarity as I supported the dog’s broken neck and as I sped down the sun-speckled street, scanning for cops. I was thrilled and evoked by my timing, and moved by the smell of the animal, the sweat and thick hair. Not to say I enjoyed his pain, but I was moved by it. It was cinema-graphic in its precision, and even if the events had no outwardly apparent “consummation,” I felt that I brought a “quality of intelligence...upon the perception of relations” (51).

This is hard to write about and probably harder to read about, because we haven’t talked about plain old daily experience as being aesthetic yet, and because I am knowingly contradicting Dewey’s detailed argument of the seamless nature of experience. Also, because my aesthetic experience, so called, was both totally made of Semblance, and yet fully grounded in reality (see Schiller, number 4). This does touch on Dewey’s default argument that “we drift,” but that such happenings have no “initiations [or] concludings” (50). On a totally personal level, I object to that. What arose in me in those moments were awe, fear, excitement, and anxiety. Indeed these emotions have been “absorb[ed] and carr[ied] on” since then to a more complete cognition of what it will mean to die (50). That experience was a review of “everything [I’d] ever lost and the premonition of everything life will take from” me (Ellen Hawley in What We Forgot to Tell Tina About Boys). I feel the same arguably aesthetic emotion when I listen to Handel’s Oratorios, read T.S. Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, or sit before Picasso’s Guernica. It is an emotion that is sometimes nothing more than play-drive, and sometimes an emotion filled with memories, that is to say—Mr. Schiller—filled with extraordinary reality.