Saturday, April 26, 2008

The "Self" is our Principal Burden

I've been reading Richard Sennett's book, "The Fall of Public Man," (Alfred A Knopf, 1977.) (The book was included in one of the course syllabi of Anthony Raynsford, the architectural historian who will be joining SJSU in the Fall.) This paragraph seemed to address one of the chief problems I have faced for many years as an art professor: the deep-seated belief among students and others that the sole purpose of art is to "express" the "inner psyche" of its maker, rather than to find and interpret interesting relationships among the objects and ideas of the world through which the artist navigates. Sennett writes:

Few people today would claim that their psychic life arises by spontaneous generation, independent of social conditions and environmental influences. Nevertheless, the psyche is treated as though it had an inner life of its own. This psychic life is seen as so precious and so delicate that it will wither if exposed to the harsh realities of the social world, and will flower only to the extent that it is protected and isolated. Each person's self has become his principal burden; to know oneself has become an end, instead of a means through which one knows the world. And precisely because we are so self-absorbed, it is extremely difficult for us to arrive at a private principle, to give any clear account to ourselves or to others of what our personalities are. The reason is that, the more privatized the psyche, the less it is stimulated, and the more difficult it is for us to feel or to express feeling.

And later, he continues:

Masses of people are concerned with their single life-histories and particular emotions as never; this concern has proved to be a trap rather than a liberation.

The search for a new "category" other than "art", from my prior post, could perhaps involve the prerequisite that the new thing not be about "self-expression".

Friday, April 25, 2008

Escaping the Category of "Art"

On the subject of Olafur Eliasson, Peter Schjeldahl says:

"...there should be a nice, clean, special word other than "art" for what he does, to set him apart. There won't be. "Art" has become the promiscuous catchall for anything artificial that meets no practical need but which we like, or are presumed or supposed to like."

-from his review of the Olafur Eliasson retrospective, the New Yorker, April 28, 2008.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Me and Will Oldham!

I got to meet a longtime hero, musician Will Oldham, today. He's doing a residency at Headlands Center for the Arts. He said he's never done this sort of thing before. I asked him to pretend like he was my best buddy long enough to get a picture, so he did:

Me and Bonnie Prince Billy, AKA Will Oldham

He had a brand new rocking chair from Target, and a banana, in preparation for being on display all day at the Headlands Open House. He talked about the elephant seals you could hear from his studio. He said something like, "Imagine the top fifteen most horrible sounds you've ever heard: vomiting, screaming, etc. The cute little baby elephant seal looks up at you with its massive black eyes and then suddenly makes all fifteen of those noises in succession."
I hope he doesn't mind my paraphrasing him.