Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A dialogue on the nature of art

Dalton: I’ll be damned! Tino somehow reproduced (Tino Sehgal’s “The Kiss”; February, 2010 at the Guggenheim Museum; “Kiss” basically involves performers wandering about talking informally with visitors, though one pair lies on the floor and kisses) my work at a little park off McRae in 1971 with my girl friend! Onlookers at that performance (8th grade football players with their coach) did not appreciate it though, and tossed dirt clods at us, forcing us to stop the performance and get up . On the serious side though, I find Tino amusingly absurd. Only in a world so dense with experience (made possible by a literal web of connectivity, human communications on an open, open in the sense of no filter or hierarchy of talent, intellect and experience, and immediate scale never before seen---in effect reducing humanity to a herd of cattle, all in the immediate near field of lowing and farting of their bovine companions, some of whom would naturally, after suitably distorted education, assume they should label as art, incisive political philosophy, etc., the banal activity surrounding them) would something so trivial and without merit be put forward with a straight face, much less seriously considered.

Artist CB: First of all- good to hear that you aren't the only one who has first hand experienced KISS. You should watch Michaele Antoinini's Zabrinske Point--Soooooo good.

Dalton: I’m more into performance art in this area---my own (grin).

Artist CB: As far as the rest of your commentary goes I find it refreshing but from a 'distorted education'... don’t know about that…

Dalton: That was a bit aggressive on my part, polemic. To be honest, I do believe much of what is taught in universities is not valid. Keep in mind (but never say it while you are at the mercy of the university system!) that requiring so-called original work for a masters or doctorate often encourages people to engage in sophistry, to pursue interpretations that are clearly absurd or wrong just to achieve “creativity.” In parallel with that distorting influence is the Marxist-radical feminist-anti-Western civilization-cultural relativism axis that really controls the granting of tenure to professors outside the realm of hard sciences and engineering (and even those have to be careful what they say). Their revisionist (“deconstruction”) approach to history combines with a necessity for “forging new ground” in completing advanced degrees whether or not that path is plainly absurd or invalid to cause distortions in education---absurd or invalid ideas are put forth and accepted, then becoming part of the body of ideas that a student is required to regurgitate to his or her instructor in order to receive the Scarecrow’s Certificate from the Wizard.

Artist CB: Believe it or not performance art is considered valid.

Dalton: This is a case in point. When you say it is considered valid, you really are saying that you were told by someone that it was valid. If that someone has an academic position, or that someone is writing in an approved textbook, then you are assuming that grants validity in and of itself. You need to ask yourself, what is art? My short answer would be, “art is human activity that provokes thought and/or mood in those who experience this art.” Aha, you say! You have just agreed Tino’s performance art is valid! No, I say---I would add one important qualification: The activity through which art emerges, whether ephemeral or lasting, must be non-trivial, not something that occurs routinely in everyday life. Art must produce a transcendent experience. Tino’s performance fails in that regard, for nothing his performers do transcend everyday life (at least life for those with reasonable intellect and aesthetic sensitivity---and for those without that level, there would be no understanding in any case).

Artist CB: It's a type of dance or theater.

Dalton: I disagree with you here. Both dance and theatre, to meet my criteria (art elicits thought and affect that transforms the experience of life, transcends the routine, elevates the spirit and understanding) must involve non-trivial performance. That in turn requires talent expressing itself through willful seeking of the peak experience in that mode. It does not involve trivial activity that anyone might perform without talent and practice, or observe in daily life. The mystics say (and I do regard myself as so) that it is the transcendent in daily life that gifts us with holiness. This doesn’t mean daily life is necessarily transcendent, but rather that there are transcendent pearls to be gathered in the moments of which life is composed. When I use terms like holiness and grace I am talking as a mystic, not as one with a religious doctrine. In regard to grace, I mean, as Aldous Huxley said, that grace is always sufficient provided we cooperate with it, i.e., there is a metaphysical transcendent base to reality that is accessible to us if we but open our eyes and remain receptive---and those magical moments of synchronicity indeed help us through our lives, occasionally constituting the dimension of miracles as it were, but I am heading into other topics.

Artist CB: It's viewing a person in life context- but critically- as art.

Dalton: We certainly may view individual lives as art, art of a high order being produced by a creator, or by a universe which lives through the many beings as an infinite series of incarnations (“the one light shining forth through all beings” as said in the Bhagavad-Gita), or both. We don’t require someone claiming to be an artist placing human beings in constrained trivial activities to make those observations, nor would we find them in that context. It would be tantamount to attempting to study the behavior of wild animals in a zoo. I don’t include the aspect of critique as a component of art. One can be critical of any number of entities of experience. They may or not constitute art.

Artist CB: As a statement about something- its a new context of socialization/being human.

Dalton: A performance, even trivial, may indeed by a statement about something, for example, people marching with placards protesting some political course of action---it would not, however, necessarily constitute art. I don’t believe sociology would agree that performance art has much if anything to do with socialization, but perhaps that discipline has deteriorated since I studied it in 1971 at UTEP. Socialization occurs through cultural entities like family, church, school, groups---entities that impart and enforce norms, expectation in belief and behavior. Nothing in Tino’s performance art could be expected to impart or enforce any norms (or force a re-examination of any norms).

Artist CB: I, quite frankly, really appreciate his concern about material waste.

Dalton: There is a place for concern about the amount of waste human civilization is creating and the effect on the environment. However, the primary reason it has become a problem is because human beings insist on the right to breed like bacteria, i.e., without thought or limit. The inevitable result of that, as any mathematician can show you with an exponential curve, is that unrestrained biological growth will eventually be stopped---by starvation, disease (see Malthus), or, in our case, wars among competing groups of human populations. It is irrelevant ultimately how much or how little we consume or create as long as we reproduce without limit. In that context it should be clear that concerns about art contributing to the bulk of non-degradable or otherwise noxious waste on the planet are trivial.

Artist CB: It's a big concern for me and, I hope, a group of like-minded artists. Of course, in my own practice I have made concessions, but it is a train of thought that haunts me and one that I am concerned with resolving.

Dalton: Beware that you do not fall under the spell of people who are unable to create and so therefore put forward these distortions encouraging you to stop creating art. The world is the better for material things that persist and continue to improve human life. Art is at its best one of the things we definitely want in our world, not merely in our memory. Don’t think I haven’t considered at length that most of my art, the peak experiences when I was really “on” when improvising on the guitar in my live career, live on only in the memory of those who were there for the experience. You can be sure that the occasional archival tape recording that surfaces is a great joy---as is meeting someone who recalls a particular performance. Making recordings of music is certainly a desirable mode of artistic expression, because it presents the possibility for limitless experience of the art by one or many. Deal with overpopulation and you make the general criticism of material things moot (adding a rational civilization not controlled by semi-humans of monstrous greed, apparently without much of a sense of aesthetics, grin).

Artist CB: It's interesting you know. I mean, dada-ism, fluxus, performance- all that shit is interested in acknowledging art as life (and all of this is has been going on for a little bit now- your time and before). I can really get behind that.

Dalton: Well, yes, let us regard our lives as art (personal art) of a high order and live them as a work in progress, maximizing intensity of experience while avoiding destruction---but let us not invite the world to watch the neighbor’s teenage daughter kiss her boyfriend and watch a passerby talk informally to the neighbors and laude that as some kind of epiphany (grin).

Artist CB: That's what spurred me into the art-making world. It’s the appreciation for the fleeting moment of a sunset, a decaying flower, a gust of wind, the temporal...a moment of conversation involving true connection.

Dalton: Now you are in the mystic sphere. This is what we mean when we talk of the transcendent in daily life. Your “job” as an artist is to teach others how to open their eyes to this fantastic experience of life.

Artist CB: I think that's a completely amazing thing for art to be about. Why not! Why do we as a society have to obsess over OBJECTS exclusively? That is not to say objects aren’t valuable, but they are not valuable exclusively.

Dalton: There are many modes of art; not all are objects, e.g., dance, musical performance, theatre. But objects, e.g., graphic arts, literature, written or recorded music and film, photographs----all these are very special because they permit the intensely personal and private ecstasy (and agony) of living to be shared with others, time and again. The reason we have advanced (in some areas) as a civilization is precisely because we, as a species, can evolve through objects---knowledge won by a single human now becomes part of the racial heritage and those who follow us need not begin at the bottom, but may stand on our shoulders and reach even higher.

Artist CB: All that aside, congrats on your cd release!

Dalton: Thanks. Mp3 download for the moment, but we will do some CD’s also at some point.

Artist CB: Exciting! I hope you sell some discs. I can’t believe you're on iTunes! You’re a big deal now! Ha-ha!

Dalton: It is not about ego. It is about art (ironically). Lallie commented (about the album), “This must be good for your self-esteem.” I smiled and asked her, “When have you ever seen any evidence that I had a problem with self-esteem?” She laughed and admitted that stock cliché clearly didn’t apply to me. I would argue that it never applies to the true artist---whether you do engineering, surgery, graphic arts, literature, music, what have you---if you use the gifts you are given, honing them, finding a peak experience of sublime joy in their expression---that is its own reward. It is not to magnify one’s self image (though a man can only be humble to the extent he is respected). And that is art.

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