The Freedom to Art is the Art to Freedom

I

“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.

II

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.

III

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.

IV

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.

V

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.

VI

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.

VII

“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?

23 Comments Add yours

  1. kvennarad says:

    I think this is a pretty-well-thought-out piece, but not without problems.

    “People need to abandon the habit of using language & approaching problems from a binary standpoint.”

    Agreed. But that’s a trap you fall into from time to time. For example:
    “… schools were in fact built, but only so the Empire’s subjects could be taught English & their own language eradicated…”
    I’m afraid this is a binary view and simplistic. In fact policies about English and native languages changed radically at various times throughout the colonial and imperial periods; sometimes English was imposed, sometimes offered, and sometimes native languages were preserved, sometimes the position was unclear and the motives for any of these policies uncertain. A closer study of the history of the spread of English as an internationally-used language reveals a history that is not black-and-white, not binary. One important and neglected aspect is the localisation of English, its redefinition and appropriation by people(s) worldwide to their own culture and context [and by this I do not mean, or do not only mean, the development of pidgins and patois, but the wholesale takeover of English].

    These days we look beyond the whole ‘dead white guys’ thing. We realise, as a friend of mine says, that a lot of people are white, half the world is male, and everybody dies. The ‘canon’ is an important cultural idea, but these days whilst we acknowledge its historicity, we read beyond it. We don’t dump Wordsworth and Shakespeare, we don’t hack away Beethoven, we don’t strike our matches on Caravaggio, we become more aware of their context, how they fitted into their time and into our developing modern psyche; at the same time we become more aware of other things – comic book art, the sophistication of the Benin Bronzes, the value of oral tradition, and so on.

    When I studied history, I didn’t just study kings and battles. I didn’t just study how ordinary people lived. I studied kings & battles AND how ordinary people lived. I studied how things developed, how they influenced each other, how sometimes lives could hardly change over centuries and how that sociology affected the people at the top, and alternatively how the culture of a whole area could be altered by a random happening, by a battle, by the whim of a king. Warp and weft. Art is dead white* guys and living white* guys and dead black* women and living yellow* women and coffee-coloured* transgendered people and anything else you can think of.

    Anyhow, keep it up, keep writing this stuff – I’ve gone past my breakfast time!

    *These categories are, of course, arbitrary and pseudoscientific anyway.

    1. & this is why the comment section is so important, as i said, i cannot get everything right. You are quite right & i do know this & i suppose i speak with certainty because an essay doesn’t look very good if you keep saying perhaps & maybe over & over.
      My historical criticisms mainly come from my conversations with people who lived under British rule rather than particular knowledge from a text. Some Irish people i have spoke with would not disagree. They have told me how Irish was beaten out of the Irish.
      Yes we should see artists within the context of their period. i perhaps went a step too far with this. Again. certain marginal groups i have been listening in on have expressed these stances & i have found myself agreeing with them. i also studied literature & looking back it wasn’t a very balanced syllabus. You are quite right that some do read beyond it, but i as an example to myself, didn’t for a long time. It took sometime to admit this folly to myself but i did eventually realize i didn’t read authors who weren’t dead & white. Yet, when i did start reading women authors & poets & poets from other cultures other than Western ones, i started to not only see their value but how neglected they were. There are exceptions, Derek Walcott may be one.
      From my own experience the world beyond dead, white males is still in its infancy. This has subjectively influenced the tone of the essay overall.
      Thanks for confronting me on some issues. i will hopefully keep writing these, but they don’t come to me easily & they take time plot out. i want them to be informed, but then the length of them has to be determined, as going on for too long i think doesn’t really draw in the average reader. Maybe doing them in more than one post i suppose. Something to think about.

      1. kvennarad says:

        “Some Irish people i have spoke with would not disagree. They have told me how Irish was beaten out of the Irish.”

        I’m going to have to ask you to think critically again about this statement. Now, I’m no apologist for the presence, historical or modern, of the English Crown in Ireland – or anywhere, for that matter – but I do know that it is a long and complicated history, and, well, ‘it is what it is’, as much as I dislike that phrase. Maybe if an Irish petty chieftain in the early Middle Ages had not invited a bunch of Norman mercenaries over to help him in a feud, and they hadn’t liked what they saw so much that they stayed, we would not be having this conversation. Please bear with me…

        Your Irish friends would not have had direct experience of having Irish beaten out of them; the knowledge that they have will be anecdotal. I will readily grant that the tales that have come down to them are based on fact. However, any tales of ‘gentle’ teachers of English will have not descended in the same way, and the whole ‘beating Irish out of them’ issue will have been magnified by political sensibilities and resentments since then. That is inevitable.

        Yet looking back at the interface of English with the native languages of these islands, we do not find a black-and-white situation. Many policy-makers and educators in the 19c, for example, would have seen the teaching of English throughout the British Isles as a matter of egalitarianism*; though by the time that had filtered down via petty bureaucrats to martinets in remote schoolrooms, a whole range of attitudes would have been run through. In the Hebrides, in the first half of the 20c, older generations of Gaelic-speakers saw the only opportunities for their children as learning English and moving to the mainland cities. Thus elsewhere on the fringes of Britain a Gaelic language was committing suicide. Thank heaven it is now taught in schools and spoken in homes again.

        But such things should not be seen as ‘righting wrongs’ so much as unpredictable changes in cultural attitudes and sensibilities. Fifty years from now there will be attitudes etc. you and I would be unable to recognise.

        The tales handed down in Wales are of children at school having placards hung around their necks saying “Welsh Not” if they persisted in speaking their home language. Tales handed down, as I said. I heard from a friend of how in a modern secondary school in Wales, where Welsh is the official language, if the head teacher hears a child in a corridor speaking English, she stops the child and suggests politely that maybe that this school isn’t for them. My friend describes that as the modern equivalent of a sign saying “Dim Sasnaeg” only, as he puts it, “nicely made and in beautiful handwriting.”

        There is a wonderful stage play by Brian Friel called ‘Translations’. It is only a stage play, not a representation of history, but it deals with the Anglicisation of place-names in Ireland. It’s a beautiful play, in a way, and unusual inasmuch as it asks us to imagine that the characters on stage who are speaking English are actually speaking Irish, except for the young English Officer who can’t, beyond attempting a couple of words. In a nutshell, it’s about the English-Irish love-hate relationship with each other’s language**, and has such a gentle touch. To my mind it beats his ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’ into a cocked hat. The text is available in a very slim volume – please do read it.

        __________

        *As a separate issue, the ‘gentlemen’ of 18c ‘Enlightenment’ Edinburgh – the ‘Athens of the North’ – deliberately taught themselves and each other to speak the English of London gentlemen, so that they could not be distinguished from them. Just one of the many examples of the influences of (some sort of standard) English upon the Scots tongue(s). This is another subject I could go into at length.

        **Oh my! Where would the likes of James Joyce be without native English – which he made spin on its head – and a love of it! There’s a wonderful passage in the first chapter of ‘Ulysses’ where the only character attempting to speak the Irish is an Englishman, and where a working-class Dublin woman assumes he’s French. Unless I misremember.

      2. This is very much appreciated. I don’t wish to add anything, merely absorb what you have said. I don’t have my own position on this i can only listen & take on board what others say, because i am English & feel responsible to just listen. I hope you understand this bind i am in.

      3. kvennarad says:

        Typo correction: “… she stops the child and suggests politely that maybe this school isn’t for them…”

      4. kvennarad says:

        Indeed I do. I guess being Anglo-Scottish, with a dash of French somewhere (I’m told) I’m slightly let off the hook; but I don’t let myself off the hook – I feel I have a duty to probe into popular history. The more I do, the more I am surprised by what I find.

      5. & your probing is always welcome. Thanks again.

  2. Pablo Cuzco says:

    You’ve touched on some dynamic issues here, especially in II where you emphasize the atrocities of Age of Empire. Though I acknowledge the validity of Kvennarad’s debate, there is much to be said of the dark side of the global march of civilization. Infrastructure is great and has brought us to a point of no return, but the forced labor that built these structures leaves a mark that may never go away. It creates a dichotomy of culture. On the one hand the elite, who enjoy the labor of past slaves, and the poor who live off the labor they perform to keep up the very constructions that enslave them.
    Consumerism has hit the arts, for sure. Maybe it started with Andy Warhol and his Pop Art revolution. Or maybe it goes back to Picasso and the sale of art as possessions rather than inspiration. The hyper-selling of music is probably the worst offender, because it is consumed by the masses and is extravagant consumption on public display, as you perfectly describe, via ‘flat screen TV adverts’ wherever you go.

    1. Yes, Marie makes some very good points. i can’t really counter them, except with the guilt i feel for my country having been too influential. i don’t doubt the sincerity of the British Empire for thinking it wasn’t doing right by bringing “civilization” to the “savage”, but it was nevertheless done through force, which is like a religious person beating the sin out of people: do the bruises & bleeding really feel like atonement?
      Using art to sell is a sort of emotional blackmail, it is to take someone’s identity & hold a mirror up to it, for a profit. It is to assume that we are all dumb & that if i hear Nick Drake played on an advert i will think that product is legit & buy it. Couldn’t be further from what i am thinking. Rather i am thinking, Nick Drake would be rolling in his grave.
      Music as a mass consumption is a difficult one. The Beatles sold a lot & wrote original music, i have no quarrel. They broke out of the pop-conformist music, the easy token rhythms to sell & made interesting music, which still sold. Same with Radiohead, they have consistently made challenging music that sells, i have no quarrrel. It is the formulaic music of big producers which i have a problem with. It is a form of manipulation because it is proven (i’ve read some theses on this) that certain structures, melodies & beats provoke a response in a large majority of people. That is why i use Psy as an example. That guy knows how to manipulate the ears of the young & he churns out the same structure in every song & everytime it is a hit. Nobody questions that they are pretty much listening to the same song over an over againannagain. i just don’t think it needs to be like that.

      1. Pablo Cuzco says:

        We struggled with that in the sixties. Where the underground sound got its start, I think. The Beatles were able to transcend that, true artists. Sadly the seventies introduced the commercialization of even that sound with a myriad of studio musicians and music school educated experts churning out pseudo-underground—Kiss, Styx, Journey, Toto, Steely Dan, even the Eagles. Today it’s U2 and Bono, Bruce Springsteen (though he’s a bit borderline). But you mention Radiohead. A few of the alternative bands have been genuine, but in my opinion, too primitive in their range and talent. I think it was caused by the reactionary return to the punk-garage band form. What they don’t understand is that though the Beatles and much of the British Invasion were self-taught, they worked for years in pubs and foreign venues like Hamburg (Beatles) where they perfected their craft. Even more important, they had producers like George Martin, the classical and Baroque music director at Parlophone at the time. There’s a reason why he was known as the Fifth Beatle. It shows in the quality of their music recorded before, then after they signed up with him. These bands didn’t go it alone from their basements. They had direction from people who were able to help them polish their acts. So there’s a trade off: Music that’s too much engineered hype, or songs that are missing the all important ‘second opinion’ we discussed previously. I tend to listen to Bebop. It was a time when Jazz musicians were seasoned and matured playing almost exclusively for live audiences. Raw, but still disciplined.

      2. Lot of good points Pablo. You know your music.

      3. kvennarad says:

        I don’t for one moment deny the baleful nature of the march of ‘civilisation’, nor of the dichotomy of rich and poor. In fact you’ll probably never come across a more ardent anti-capitalist then me. The selling of what I call ‘neat stuff’ – art included – is part of a con-job that goes back much further than TV adverts, Warhol, and Picasso. It was there in the Roman saying ‘panem et circenses’, the implication being keep the masses fed and entertained and there’ll be no revolution.

        The idea of the British Empire bringing civilisation to the savage was only a superficial one, the equivalent of a Facebook meme or a slogan on the side of a bus. The British Empire (only really a 19c coining, that word) was about the accumulation of wealth and power; and if I want to fix on a starting point, I look at the Renaissance and Early Modern (15c, 16c) rivalries between European kingdoms, which, along with religious differences and the rise of navigation, brought about a scramble for the world outwith those countries’ borders. The concept of ‘Empire’ was, of course, much older, and handed down via classical texts.

        Anyhow, you’ve both moved the discussion forward onto music. I’ll leave that to you, although I will ask two questions:
        Why did Nina Simone throw a drink over Dusty Springfield, and why was that totally the wrong person to throw a drink over?

      4. My assumption is always that you want to bring as much to the table as possible. I never assumed you were letting the Empire off the hook.
        I’d hazard that the Simone & Springfield showdown had something to do with the Civil Rights Movement & Springfield being a Southerner perhaps didn’t take kindly to a popular black woman, an extremely talented popular black woman having her say. I am assuming here.

      5. kvennarad says:

        Simone/Springfield:

        Nina Simone was an African-American singer, Dusty Springfield was White-British.

        Springfield was highly influenced, at one time in her career, by the music of Tamla Motown and Stax, and recorded a whole album of ‘Memphis Sound’ music, including her hit single ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. She was honoured to be described as a ‘Soul Singer’.

        Simone was once in her company. Enraged by a long history in America of white appropriation of and exploitation of black musical material, hearing Springfield describe herself as a ‘Soul Singer’, threw a drink over her in protest.

        The irony was that Dusty Springfield was the UK’s great champion of black American acts, and almost single-handedly arranged for Motown artists to tour the UK and get the recognition they deserved. There was a vast number of American entrepreneurs and musicians more deserving of having a drink chucked over them by Nina Simone.

      6. kvennarad says:

        It can happen to the best of us!

  3. Tim Miller says:

    All solid stuff. I’d only add a few thoughts to the mix: freedom *from* art is just as prevalent–people know that pop music or certain novels or movies are escapist, & that’s it, & so what; many of them may find meaning elsewhere. Rather than being Camus’s luxury, art is so common & our days so distracted it’s almost as if it’s a matter of, “I can do this or that, what can art offer me?” or “I’m tired at the end of the day, I’m binging a dumb show, don’t judge me.” We all need to realize that for most of human history before, during & after whatever our favorite books or pieces of music were created, most humanity got along without them, & will continue to do so.

    …..on the other side, those who are passionate are, as you say, pretty binary, their opinions & preferences & forms of criticism can only be expressed as if with ultimate authority, which is mistaken & a terrible turn-off; there really are only preferences, only many ways of doing things…. Some people might even still bristle out there just at your mentioning of Camus, since they don’t like the stance he took on Communism, or France/Algeria. We are all so ruined by how solid we think our opinions are. I realize I despise manifestos just because I wrote bad ones in my 20s, but that’s no reason not to write good ones now.

    You’ve gotten me thinking with the recent poems & posts, & I realize that I’m contra the “difficult” these days because of the situation art is in, & seem to think (perhaps erroneously) that a kind of poetry that’s generally “accessible” may succeed in better in breaking through. But we may well be passed the kind of Shakespeare moment where popular art is also immensely rich.

    I could respond to so much more here, but on the binary thing again, I’ve written before on Camus’s contemporary Simone de Beauvoir, being deflated about the USSR when she said: “We had never imagined the USSR to be a paradise, but we had also never seriously questioned the construction of socialism. It was inconvenient to be required to do so at the very moment that we felt disgusted by the policies of the democracies. Was there nowhere on earth where we could cling to hope?” ………we’ve all got to never put ourselves in a situation where our intellectual or other allegiances actually makes it “inconvenient” to imagine the other side, or to be challenged. Because how much can you know about the other side if you haven’t even questioned what makes up your own side?

    1. Some good points Tim, some i don’t know how to expand on, so i want to zero in on a couple.
      i think ‘escapism’ could fall into the broad category i want for art. i quote Bohm’s translation of art from the Greek as ‘to fit’ & say “make of that what you will.” i wouldn’t call into question really the freedom having advanced so far as to be passivity, something taken for granted & it still applies that to take that right from people is to stop the sum of freedom creating art. Thanks for going there though, as i didn’t take it that far, perhaps the furthest point you can go with this.

      i don’t know as your thinking of difficult & easy should be “contra” it doesn’t really need to be. They can exist side by side, & the sheer complexity of opinion & favoritism, can give them in equal measure their value. i don’t think “breaking through” matters, it probably already has, & has done for a long time, just look at how popular the Waste Land was & is, & Ulysses too. i am holding out hope that Will Self’s Phone is going to win some serious awards when the season arrives, because it is a stunner & after the other two in his trilogy, it seems only right he should be anticipating something for writing some of the best work of the Millennium. & they are not easy books. i think if anything, as people’s education & exposure to more complexity increases, people may be more likely to test the waters of difficult art. Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks rallied a lot of support & was really popular, & that was not an easy show to watch. But it just kept on harvesting positive reviews. So i think the difficult & easy just might coexist in harmony, maybe. Always maybe.

      1. Tim Miller says:

        Daniel, I didn’t mean to suggest that they could coexist, since they clearly do. Case in point being yr difficult poems, which in your creative life exist beside non-difficult ones yr writing at the same time, & for a reader like me exist alongside all the poems of yrs I’ve read already. It really is coexistence, I shd have been more clear. It’s true that right now I’d reread the nondifficult ones more often, but there always seems to be a bias towards the first work you come across by somebody. ….nice to bring up Lynch, how the hell he slipped the grid & made it into US network TV with the first Twin Peaks I’ll never know. Sort of like seeing old Steve Allen clips & Kerouac reading to late night tv America. There’s hope.

      2. Glad you cleared that up because i was close to hating you, haha. i mean, i knew, but this internet communique makes it difficult sometimes. It is interesting, that i knew from our conversations that you couldn’t possibly think that, yet what is given, i react to & don’t go outside of it, yet i have a wealth of other knowledge about you i can draw from. Funny that.
        But Lynch, yeah, i mean, that was a feat. He got that funding & delivered something utterly unexpected. The ending left me cold. That scream & the reality of it was so immediate & just brilliant. It was like the snapping of the fingers to bring you out a daydream. Hope i can get around to watching it again, with someone though. i’d like to feed off another’s reaction. i think that would work for me.

      3. kvennarad says:

        “… but there always seems to be a bias towards the first work you come across by somebody…”

        Actually, that’s very perspicacious.

        I suppose I’m responsible for this whole debate, because if I hadn’t posted something begging people to ‘own’ difficult poetry/art because it’s NOT the property of some intellectual elite, we wouldn’t be here having this round-the-table conversation.

        I’ve been a feminist (small ‘f’ – it’s not a political party) for many decades. I became one in the 1970s, as a teenager, and immediately fell out with all the other feminists, because it was a hell of a time to be one. It was a very dogmatic period, and if you didn’t toe the line you were all kinds of traitor.

        When my fellow feminists and I discussed patriarchy and how to use art to demolish it, their answer was, in short, “Just tell ’em it’s wrong.” To that I said that if all you do is tell ’em it’s wrong, then you will end up with some kind of feminist version of Stalinist ‘Socialist Realism’, which will be pure polemic with f*ck-all artistic value. My view was that we should use art to change people’s experience of life, because only by changing that experience could we convince them that other changes were possible. Their view was that mine was bourgeois and self-indulgent. But that didn’t stop me, didn’t shut me up, didn’t stop me wearing what I wanted to on marches instead of an identikit boiler suit. I was only a kid, but what the hell!

        God knows I’m no intellectual, but I still feel the same way. We accept things because we’re so used to them they seem part of nature. They’re just “how things are.” Actually we so used to them we can’t even see them. It’s a man’s world because we don’t even realise it is; it’s the capitalists’ world because we’re so used to equating freedom with the availability of neat stuff in the shops that we don’t stop to think about it. Art that depicts the predictable is part of that. How much part of it is art that ‘breaks through’ into what we already understand? That’s a valid question, and one we ought to think about – do we need an ‘in’ to art?. How can we produce art that changes the life-experience of whoever witnesses it? Now THERE’s a question!

        Which is why I go back to my statement that difficulty isn’t for an elite, it’s there for everyone and everyone ought to embrace it, even if it doesn’t immediately ‘break through’.
        __________

        Having said that, I am currently resting from writing my ‘Language poetry’ influenced material. I don’t really know where to go from here. I have written a hell of a lot of stuff since 2004, and a lot of it is out there – some of it even being read. Hell – I had one collection nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize! Maybe I’ve done everything. I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, Daniel, let this roll on.

      4. This is one of the best comments ever, haha.
        i don’t have an answer for how we can “produce art that changes the life-experience of whoever witnesses it” but a concerted effort to produce something unique, to see & speak against the grain i hope counts for something, i hope.

a penny for your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s