Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Synthesis of the Synthetic

There is an unspoken foundational rule that most artists are put under in their training. This rule is sometimes never made explicit, but frequently reveals its shadowy presence over the critique wall like those clouds in cartoons that persecute a cursed individual, soaking them in misery. The rule goes something like this: “You are not what you create”, or during the analysis of art: “leave your personal baggage at the door”. I doubt such statements as these had any relevance to ancient or medieval craftsmen. Such a bifurcation can only colonize an ideology that elevates ego.

The premoderns understood that they were working for a greater good; the struggle to create had a transcendent end. We are now told that there is no greater good than than to magnify our fragmented selves.
It seems that it is of paramount importance today to teach art students to keep a cool detachment from their work like the misogynist Hollywood action hero who lets nothing and no one affect their overdeveloped masculinity. We are taught to ‘toughen up’ and ‘take a critique like a man’ (the actual gender of the student notwithstanding).

There is truth to the idea that the attempt to justify a truncated or insincere practice inhibits development. And since our thoughts could dwell on a perceived failure, fear might also prohibit growth (as an educator in the arts I have seen my fair share of ego). But these types of defenses are the result of leaning too heavily on our art as a determining factor of our identity. They are not a part of a balanced process. It is not a determining factor for the artist who fully understands that their value lies elsewhere, outside of themselves and their work.The problem fractures relationship because modern culture searches for truth through individualized, subjective experience. The experiences of humanity are to be felt in empathetic responses to the expressions of an individual. Viewers are expected to read visual cues with their internal self as much as with their eyes. Artists are expected to convey content that infuses itself directly into the viewers subconscious.

This expected content is tied closely with identity. Artists are to be not only craftsmen, but seekers of truth at the expense of their person-hood. They are to be existential heroes, finding some formulation of truth within themselves and thereby attaining a type of perfection at the end of their artistic career. The world is to witness this struggle and garner hope from its successful resolution.


The whole modernist conception seems contradictory. How is an artist supposed to maintain a distanced position from their work (to avoid feelings of despondency or trust in the natural self) and yet be able to invest their person-hood into the objects pouring forth from their hands? Even if there is to be a ‘training period’, what good comes from the imprisonment of the idiosyncratic ego? Such attempts to do so are impossible, and perhaps should be abandoned.


Fear and anxiety are brought back into the studio by the very attitude that is supposed to keep such thoughts at bay. The new fear is for relevance and authenticity. There is a struggle for originality. Artists must recreate themselves in order to recreate the world.


Mozart once made the comment that his originality was due to the same cause that made his nose aquiline. I think he was onto something there. As a modern he saw the struggle of many composers of his day to find their way. But a belief in a benevolent Creator afforded him the ability to understand that originality is the province of the God who made him. We are given our authenticity and originality as part of our nature, it is up to us to use our gifts rightly. The proper stewardship of our gifts is what authenticity is all about. We do not need to worry nor do we need to manufacture a persona to deal with social perceptions.



Perhaps a better approach is to inspire our fellows to greater heights. To teach each other to transcend the limitations of our processes, whatever they may be, while bringing each other up in love and unity respects the whole person and the collective.


We truly are not what we create, yet our creations contain a piece of ourselves; it is unavoidable that we invest part of our person-hood in what we do. We need to be aware that if we stifle the natural development of the artist we also give the viewer a simulacrum of art. We would lose ourselves only to lose our audience.

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