Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On Reading Art

There is a vast and inescapable gulf between creators and the folks who enjoy stuff that’s been created. This gulf is inevitable. Art is created to convey messages, from top to bottom. Even art that’s created for the sole purpose of “this thing is aesthetically appealing” is still conveying a message about what “aesthetically appealing” is. Plot that’s merely created as a device to move a storyline is still conveying a message. In our post-post-modern times (this ironicist age) we’re inclined to reject the notion that the author has a message in the first place, that the work’s sole value is in the interpretations derived by the fandom of an object. This attitude is especially appealing in an environment driven by individualistic consumer capitalism, where works of art are ultimately only important inasmuch as they provide some compelling experience for us as individuals and can be later appropriated to build a self-image. If the author is irrelevant and our individual experiences paramount, anything can be perceived as supporting any kind of self-conceptualization we can come up with. The actual narrative or message of a story is ultimately irrelevant compared to our individual experience with a story. This is why we can tell bald morality fables even to folks diametrically opposed to the self-limiting concept of morals. The story doesn’t matter, just that it helped momentarily raise your dopamine levels and distracted you from your own mortality.

This is why Final Fantasy’s clear naturist spiritualism can be utterly 100% ignored in favor of, you know, “Aerith dies! Look how evil/badass Sephiroth is. Yuffie is mai waifu” and so on. The story is a bit standard of a paean to anti-pollution or general gaianism, but it’s literally the last thing you hear about final fantasy seven and the folks way into the game aren’t forming anti-pollution initiatives or standing outside at climate change rallies. The message (respect your planet because it’s the source of all life) doesn’t really matter to the people most invested in the actual work. And it’s endemic to every kind of story. Folks who’re big on neon genesis evangelion don’t come away with an idea that all people are more or less one and the same, that difference is an illusion created by an absolute terror field or psychological damage. The list goes on.

It’s possible to read a narrative and accept and internalize its message over its presentation. It’s not common, but it does happen. My contention is just that perhaps in this modern ironicist age, as we’ve broadly accepted the conclusions of post-modernism (that all meaning is constructed) and taken them to their illogical conclusion (meaning is false and sentimentality is lying), we’re less and less equipped with the ability to read a narrative for what message it’s attempting to convey and consequently modern artists are less and less interested in conveying a message. The very act of working a message into art is inauthentic; the message is assailable, the expression artificial and dishonest and untrue. The art itself of course is unoriginal, everything that can be made has been made already. In a culture where the authentic expression of oneself is a moral imperative, inauthenticity and unoriginality is anathema. This creates a tension within the arts community, whereby artists have to confront the conflict between awareness of a lack of originality/authenticity/honesty in their work and the overarching need to be original/authentic/honest.

Different artists solve this different ways, but I’m more concerned about the legions of folks left in the gutters, creatively paralyzed as a result of failing to meet an unrealistic internalized standard of expression created by the proliferation of mass culture. You may notice parallels between what I just wrote and the creation and sustention of beauty standards that leave millions of folks bodily and personally insecure (not to mention gender standards, wealth standards, ethnicity standards, all kinds of normativity). This is intentional, as all of these processes are the tandem result of mass media. Normativity in artistic presentation/consumption is just as ruinous as any other normativity.

What I’m here to tell you today: don’t be afraid to make any art. It’s easy enough to write out, but much harder to internalize. Don’t be afraid to write whatever ridiculous dreck you want. Don’t let your internal editor endlessly compare your work to anyone else’s. Don’t be afraid to read narratives for what they say. Don’t be afraid to embrace a philosophy or a politic or a position. We’re all going to be dead sooner than later and no one will remember us accurately so there’s really no reason to worry about it. It’s out of your hands.

No comments:

Post a Comment