“The aim of art, the aim of a life can only be to increase the sum of freedom & responsibility to be found in every man and in the world. It cannot under any circumstances, be to reduce or suppress that freedom, even temporarily.”
Camus expresses this aim in an interview, found in the book Resistance, Rebellion & Death a collection of Camus’s articles, speeches & interviews. It is clear Camus is not just talking about art, we could (regarding our current era) go into duty, eco-responsibility, politics, psychology, or any of the subjects that affect us, but i would like to concentrate on a few points about art; not just art in the narrow parameters of painting, sculpture & design but the broad coverage of all creative mediums.
The duty of the artist is to increase the sum of freedom; i’d say, the new millennium bears witness to the sum of freedom creating artists. The freedom to art is the art to freedom, you might say.
You only have to type ‘art’ or any word related to creativity into WordPress & there are exorbitant amounts of creatives at various levels of proficiency, each with their own space to freely exhibit ideas. A tipping point has taken place, whereby artists no longer need to focus their art on increasing freedom, their art can be based upon principles of design & yet, the act of doing art is self-perpetuating freedom, an unstoppable nodding bird. Freedom is buoyed simply by the conscious choice to create something, regardless what it is, or its quality. What does this reflect about our natural inclinations? We might follow Bohm & suggest “in a deep enough view, we in our act of observation are like that which we observe: relatively constant patterns abstracted from the universal field movement, and thus merging ultimately with all other patterns that can be abstracted from this movement.” And i trust Bohm is not being swayed entirely by pseudoscience or overt spiritual leanings.
Generations before us may be said to have moved with the times, now moving with our times is a chaos trying to establish order ever more apperceptively— & so much flipped on its head. The spectrum of meaning quantum ideas bring to the table make this ever more complex. But for now we really only need to borrow observation being like that which we observe. For this is essentially how freedom has contributed artists rather than artists directly contributing freedom— we follow the patterns of progression, available to us from the co-operation of a generation working together on different levels of attention; now we know the range of those levels oscillate from the microscopic to the infinitely large, we are more open than ever.
The artist no longer has to be concerned with the necessity of their art for it to contribute to freedom. Therefore, any form of censorship inevitably leads to chipping away at our freedoms. Whatever the reason to censor or negatively critique, whether it be for reasons of taste, political polarity, or ethical reasons, all are brought under the umbrella of the right of free expression.
This to me, becomes problematic “In the face of so much suffering, if art insists on being a luxury, it will also be a lie.” (Camus) i am uncertain if lie is best word, perhaps insensitive is better. Despite the abundant freedom for large populations around the world, there are still enough people subjected to intellectual constriction, to justify the necessity of art (generally) to focus on increasing the sum of freedom. Is this an impossible oxymoron to navigate around? i suspect it is. The sheer volume allows for both freedom to perpetually create art & simultaneously, due to the law of averages, for a quantity of those artists to take up the duty of freedom created through art, directly.
There is a presence of vapidity, of essential meaninglessness in art, a felt absence, which creates resistance to it, in the form of general passivity to the importance & enjoyment of the arts in their present form; but which also has its root in people’s pre-conceived ideas of what constitutes art.
Take my father as an example: art impresses him, but only classical works, or art that reproduces reality with exactitude; he is John Public (this is not a criticism). He can become emotionally affected by a fresco of Biblical proportion despite not being deeply religious or a canvas bulging with nature’s splendours pouring out fantastic displays of umbrage mottling a terrific landscape (affected language for sake of hyperbole); he is lured into a Wordsworth lyric due to the natural imagery appealing to his simple taste— they’re concluded as irrefutable standards of good taste. What he has never been taught is the efficacy of these standards of art to stand up to the scrutiny of a more diverse yet divisive world, in the context of which, they don’t always appear useful guides. Perhaps Wordsworth isn’t the best example, as we can approach him from two periods in his career: admittedly, he did develop a rural idiom, which at least attempted to sympathize through a Romantic lens (which is problematic in itself), the trials of life for common folk; but then i’d contest that his acceptance of the Poet Laureateship as evidence of the betrayal of his earlier principles, on which he found favour with the public.
This problem of efficacy, is an absence of diversity in our education programs, finally being addressed by Cambridge University students from ethnic backgrounds, who do not feel it correct to fill literature syllabuses with fusty, white males from the days of Empire, when pressing problems of the current era need to be addressed & confronted by the educated people who are a result of Empire. This can clearly only occur with a switch in the education system, which introduces young people to liberal ideas. But it should really start much younger, to sow a more accurate narrative of history in hope of severing any ties to misconceptions about white privilege. How can people be expected to debate problems when the problems are failing to be accurately represented in full and information is withheld? An extreme case being the Korean school system under Park Geun-hye, who had history books revised to omit her father’s involvement with the Japanese during the Occupation. In Britain, we are all taught how the British Empire brought infrastructure to the Colonies & thus Civilization. But what we are never told to question is why & who really built them. Never, are we taught to consider that Britain built railways, so they could themselves better navigate & thus rule their subjects, & that schools were in fact built, but only so the Empire’s subjects could be taught English & their own language eradicated. We are not taught about the famines in India that killed millions because the English raised the taxes despite there being no food; nor asked to question why, when Ireland had a potato famine did they not eat other food, well that’s because we took all the other food.
Freedom, craved by Palestinian’s, or wrongly interred Guantanamo inmates, Syrians arrested by war & their president or North Koreans in reeducation camps, put meaningless art into a context that begs for it to be questioned & consulted— it is a pressing matter. But how? As outlined, to censor at this point in history is to counteract the progress made by art in the amphitheater of freedom.
We should consider this from Camus:
“Any publication is an act, and that act exposed one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing. Hence the question is not to find out if this is, or is not prejudicial to art. The question, for all those who cannot live without art and what it signifies, is merely to find out how, among the police forces of her many ideologies (how many churches, what solitude!), the strange liberty of creation is possible.”
First we need to accept that we expose ourselves when we create, we must be prepared to face criticism, & meaning is going to be an inevitable matter for debate; if we take all aforementioned into consideration. Criticism, to be valid, must be informed through study and collaboration, or else curiosity must guide the critic in the manner of Socrates, a question & response, which means the co-operation of the artist.
i don’t know if forgiving nothing is a purposeful way forward, it leads to bellicose positions & when coupled with a barrier, or veil, which the internet provides, leads to societal phenomena such as Internet Trolls. Instead, a mitigated, judicial art, essential to criticism should be carried out, intellectually informed by close reading & focus on the produced thing itself. In general, criticism is misunderstood. Criticism isn’t about binary positions, it is about getting to the heart of a matter.
Nobody wants to be the bad guy, a charge i at least have gathered from people’s reaction to criticism; this is a problem of labelling. People with a critical eye, do not accept the status quo because, for them, after close inspection, something doesn’t add up. Rather than cast in a negative light or sighed at for once again objecting, they should be engaged with. People need to abandon the habit of using language & approaching problems from a binary standpoint. The media & our education has fed this to us. There needs to be a developed trust established over time, rather than anticipated; but people also need to respect the difference between being informed & being emotionally inclined. People have to build a profile & work in tandem with a community. This is a positive aspect of blogging. It creates a stable environment for show casing work & trusting it to deliberate critique. This is not the case with a more ubiquitous social platform such a Facebook or Twitter, where Joe Public doesn’t expend as much consideration on how they react, which is usually emotional, with unreliable sources or with barefaced lies & a bruised ego. If we are to serve our cliques, be a part of communities, we must be open to correction. Algorithms are not helping this, neither is the burying of heads in the sand when anything challenges emotionally charged ideologies. This is happening, you can see it in action on Facebook & the feeds of Youtube videos, in the comments sections of online newspapers, in hashtags.
i don’t agree with Camus when he says that the art of cliques or the purely formal fed on affectations and abstractions ends with the destruction of all reality. The process to greater understanding starts informally, with people forming alliances through vested interests. More collaboration, tends to wend toward more inclusive sets of ideas.
It is ignorant to think that our actions do not create ripples. Did you use the oil in your paint effectively? Was the wood used to make your instrument worth the sacrifice? The energy you spent to produce anything, was it worth it? i try to settle this score with myself all the time & admittedly i am a hypocrite. i know that a majority of the things i do are of little value to making the world a better place. But i try. i have taken my head out the sand & it may take my entire life to think of an answer, but if i can pass on some small benefit, if i can make even the most minor dimple, then i have spent the energy productively. i suppose this goes beyond art to moral action. But then the original meaning of art from the Greek according to David Bohm, is ‘to fit.’ Make of that what you will, considerately.
How important is art to you? Should be the question on every creative’s lips. How many ask this of themselves? Art cannot be for the sake of it, reality becomes insignificant without it; it must have substance— art is produced with(in) reality.
Only after many years of production for production sake & only because a friend confronted me about the meaning of my writing did i consider the importance. For some time i didn’t write, until i had something meaningful to write about. i had never chewed over why.
i realized we are that which we observe. So i looked to my environment. i began to see that the ambivalence & the abstract chaos of our art is a reflection of our quantum ordering. Perhaps our resistance to meaning is a form of freedom, our most sensitive instrument for revealing the state of our time. There is no clarity to be found, there is only honesty, the effort to be as honest as we can. We are regulated by symbols & our manipulation of them in different periods expresses something about us, so it goes back to the job of investigative criticism to guide us in understanding ourselves. We cannot blindly negate something based on our taste.
Some music makes me want to tear my ears off, & i find it difficult to constructively critique it, because people are so defensive of their taste. In that case, i have to step back & evaluate it in my own space & utilize that space to further explain what causes this.
Most pop music if you know a little about music, employs certain devices that have been studied to stimulate a positive reaction. This has been in the news & is attested by the success of such songs as Gangnam Style; in fact Psy has made himself very rich with a formula that he just keeps on churning out. A simple beat provokes movement, a certain arrangement of chords creates a certain pleasure for the untrained ear. A hook, with a wormy chorus on the end will get a bite. This is a form of manipulation. Now my constructive reasoning for not appreciating popular music these days, is that it is a cheap form of manipulation, which makes people a lot of money— there is no honesty in this production & all it does is buoy an entertainment industry that recklessly wastes resources & feeds us a value it perpetuates through setting standards that have no reality for the average person.
The same reason i don’t like devotional art of the Renaissance, it is designed to provoke awe in people who had no access to colour, no access to an education; so long as they were ignorant it worked. The choice of attire for a monarch confounds me, as it was designed to bolster their power, it is abhorrent to me. Business has taken liberal arts & used them to make money, Nick Drake’s From the Morning was used in a popular butter commercial in England & Hamlet’s famous soliloquy beginning “To be or not to be” has been used in a flat screen TV advert in Korea. Why is this acceptable? It isn’t. There is no humility, it is morally bankrupt to emotionally blackmail us with art that is high brow, for personal gain. The art must guide us toward understanding & though i don’t disagree an artist should profit from a living for their endeavours, to become excessively wealthy, makes little sense to me, especially when the wealth comes from trying to blanket the market by appealling to a market sector of creatives.
“Art in a sense, is a revolt against everything fleeting and unfinished in the world.” (Camus) & we might extend that the artist should not assume that on completion of a work, it is finished, for its release to the world opens the door to new opportunities of insight— the dialogue continues as individuals who engage it bring their cards to the table.
This essay for example, to be accurate, to be complete, would need to have perfect knowledge of art, freedom, politics, philosophy, Camus, literature & more, meaning the essay would tediously drag out to meticulous volumes of hermeneutics, perhaps an entire library, which would then no longer be accessible to a majority, but an interested collective who would need to devote a career to its study (not that i am actually capable of such a feat, if you’ll excuse the logical conclusion). Accepting my limitations i can write with the anticipation of a dialogue, because i have accepted brevity as an inevitable outcome of time & intellectual capacity. As a practicing Absurd Man, i can take comfort in my limitations & extend my artistic efforts to a public sphere, where i can hope to learn as i bring to light what people may not have noted.
Freedom is creating art. But this isn’t something to be concerned about, it means we have to stay vigilant & not be afraid to confront each other, to debate with each other, so that we all improve our reasoning faculties, our understanding of art, our abilities to instill our creations with as much value & meaning as we can muster— what can be negative in such a proposal?