Links: Art & doubt

An interesting post in the NYTimes asserting that Andy Warhol’s conception of art, which included art attributed to Warhol that he didn’t actually construct but was merely aware of, questioned the modernist view of art:

whole generations of art lovers have been trained in modernist dogma, and arts institutions’ access to various forms of state or foundation support depend on it completely. One goes to the museum to gasp at stunning works of incomparable, super-human genius by beings who are infinitely more exalted and important than the mere humans staring at their paintings. That’s why ordinary people staring at a Picasso (allegedly) experience a kind of transcendence or re-articulation of their lives and world.

This view of art, writer Crispin Sartwell says, promotes the “aura” of the original work of art, which, being one of a kind, can then be given one-of-a-kind prices, and this serves economic interests of many in the professional art world.

But Warhol was representing a different concept of art:

It is quite plausible to assert that, unlike most modernist masterpieces, a decent reproduction of a Warhol is as a good as an “original,” or for that matter is just as original. In virtue of what, precisely, would you distinguish them aesthetically? Is it that the original was brushed at a distance of some miles by Andy Warhol’s awareness?

Warhols are, to put it in Walter Benjamin’s terms, “works of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.” Benjamin famously asserted that, in a situation in which images could be copied cheaply and en masse, works of art were losing their “aura”: the sense of mystery and transcendent value that attended them. But aura is associated with rarity and preciousness: it limits supply and hence enhances or exponentially increases price. So, for those who stand to profit from postmodern art, the aura has to be imposed, invented, or (dis)simulated.

I would like to add here that this “aura” is something that I, in becoming an artist myself, have questioned.  In order for me to become an artist, I needed to define for myself what “artist” meant. Those great artists revered by experts are unassailable, and I needed to take them down from their pedestal–in my own mind–in order for me to have a place for myself, to be able to be bold enough to attempt to create.

Making art is the process of asking questions. If certain artists and artworks are revered, questioning them seems rude. We need to be able to forget all that has come before (an impossible task, of course) in order to create anew today — which new creating is of course never completely original, is indebted to previous works — but the mind engaged in creating is in a perpetual present-moment.

And a recent article in the New Yorker describes doubt in the thinking of Albert Hirschman:

doubt was creative because it allowed for alternative ways to see the world, and seeing alternatives could steer people out of intractable circles and self-feeding despondency. Doubt, in fact, could motivate: freedom from ideological constraints opened up political strategies, and accepting the limits of what one could know liberated agents from their dependence on the belief that one had to know everything before acting, that conviction was a precondition for action.

Also,

The phrase that Hirschman and Colorni would repeat to each other was that they hoped to “prove Hamlet wrong.” Hamlet shouldn’t have been frozen by his doubts; he should have been freed by them. Hamlet took himself too seriously. He thought he needed to be perfect. Colorni and Hirschman didn’t. Courage, Colorni wrote, required the willingness “to always be on guard against oneself.”

And:

Hirschman would come to recognize that action fuelled by doubt allows for failures to be left behind. [The Spanish Civil War] was a tragedy, but it was also, for him, an experiment, and experiments go awry. Hirschman liked to say that he had “a propensity to self-subversion.” He even gave one of his books that title. He qualified and questioned and hedged as a matter of habit. He never trusted himself enough to indulge in grand theorizing. He pursued the “petite idée,” the attempt, as he said, “to come to an understanding of reality in portions, admitting that the angle may be subjective.”

And:

Writing to her parents about the family’s decision to move to Colombia, which was then in the midst of a civil war, Sarah [Hirschman’s wife]explained, “We both realize that you should think of the future—make plans for the children etc. But I think we both somehow feel that it is impossible to know what is best and that the present is so much more important—because if the present is solid and good it will be a surer basis for a good future than any plans that you can make.” Most people would not have left a home in Chevy Chase and the security of a job in Washington to go to a Third World country where armed gangsters roamed the streets, because they would feel certain that Colombia was a mistake. Hirschman believed, as a matter of principle, that it was impossible to know whether Colombia would be a mistake. As it happened, the four years the family spent in Bogotá were among its happiest. Hirschman returned to Latin America again and again during his career, and what he learned there provided the raw material for his most brilliant work. His doubt was a gift, not a curse.

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