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Continued from the other day

I am still wondering here. The previous post, where this bit belongs to as well, is already way too long. So, I am starting a new one.

First, why was I only vaguely aware that Hegel had a gripe with art? Could it be because it is an uncomfortable truth (uttered by Hegel, no less!) which goes against the grain of the prevalent art system? In other words, it is not in the best interest of persons seeking a place within that system, be it as critics, theoreticians, curators or artists, to be quoting him. You do not saw off the tree branch on which you are perching, we say in Turkish. Must be similar proverbs in all languages. So, the word does not get too widely disseminated, or whenever it does it gets buried under mountains of doublespeak. Which could possibly account for how I missed it. Not that I am trying to justify my ignorance or anything. If anything, I am totally appalled by it: There are 448,000 page results for a query for “Hegel+art+death” on google. Which is certainly more than enough for me to have been fully aware. A lot of these lead to Arthur Danto who seems to have applied the Hegelian principle to post 1970’s art. Which, would be the period to scrutinize very closely indeed. The book is already on its way from Amazon.

Second, I said that a true artistic calling would be unlikely to bring fulfillment to its possessor. I am sticking to my guns with this one. Unless the person in question is introverted to the point of autism, that is.

I have this idea that artwork which posits the “deeper question”, in the Hegelian sense, has an overall tendency to go over like a lead balloon in contemporary art circles. Will probably not even get shown. If for no other reason than the one that dictates that artwork needs to be of a nature that will enable its “consumption” within 18 seconds. In other words, the amount of time that a spectator spends in front of an artwork is no more than 18 seconds on an average. Anything that takes longer “to get” is not likely to get viewed. This, I am told, is a curatorial/museological maxim which the organizers of art events stick to world wide.

But 18 seconds would be the least of the worries of the folk that decide upon what gets shown and what does not. The real issue would be the “Zeitgeist” and to what an extent work shown is in tune to it. The Zeitgeist of our time is materialistic. And by Hegel’s definition art work cannot be so. It is intrinsically spiritual.

A person may be a devout believer and still be deeply materialistic. Or an atheist and deeply spiritual. As far as I can see, the two things have nothing to do with one another. Certain people have questions which relate to what lies beyond the material while most others do not.

I am a child of my times. Thus, unfortunately, I am not at all spiritually inclined. I have a deep admiration for people who are, like my PhD professor Roy Ascott. Who are grappling with issues such as “consciousness”. What “being” may be all about. I also know that these are questions that are best left unasked if you want to get funded in science. That the scientist who starts to wonder about why and how we are “conscious” tends to get kicked out of funding schemes. Is considered to be unworthy of further serious attention from the scientific community. Art is not science, but… When I look at the evidence around me I somehow end up becoming fairly certain that the exact same principles which are applied to one are also applied to the other when it comes to the funding of art work, the showing of art work, obtaining a place in good artist’s residencies and so forth. It is the Zeitgeist at work. In the case of science, some harm done I am sure, but by and large science may well be benefiting from this. Become more accurate, more deterministic, obtain better results. For art however, the effects are devastating. It is the era of non-art. Material object devoid of spirit. Or at times, even worse: Material object as a representation of “fake” spirit. “Social awareness” it is called? The artwork as sociocultural/political propaganda board.

And then also – and no matter how admirable the initial intentions may have been in most of these cases – the many uneasy marriages between art and science which, more often than not, yield offspring who not only seem to fall short of satisfying the innate requirements expected of either parent, but also of engendering their own novel discourse.

One seeming exception? A lot of personal soul searching abounds in contemporary body art and this could very easily be confused with the term “spiritual”. Body art may be (in fact, almost always seems to be) deeply personal. The person embroiled within the process often grappling with formidable personal demons. Is that a spiritual quest though? Given how all the demons would be flesh-bound to begin with? And then, even more importantly: Is a spiritual quest something personal? Or does it transcend the personal? Does it only become spiritual when it leaves the realm of the  personal “I” and enters the realm of collective consciousness? Are there works of contemporary body art that do attain this state? Possibly so, yes. I need to think more about this one. A lot more, in fact. And then New Age manifestations: Do they go against the spirit of the materialistic Zeitgeist? Can they be seen as evidence of a mass spiritual quest? Maybe the start of a new religion even? Humm… Maybe back in the 1960’s and early 70s they might have been indicative of some sort of a search. But today? Isn’t the bulk of it all about “what’s in it for me”? How can I use age old spiritual techniques to extend my income, become a more successful person, attain a better love life, lose weight and maybe stop smoking even? Sure, there are bound to be persons out there who pursue a deeper calling. Enough for a critical mass to come about? Enough to shift the Zeitgeist, in other words? No evidence whatsoever for that, as far as I can see.

So, getting back to my question from before: What do I tell the rare oddball “true” artist who may wander into my class in pursuit of a deeper quest? A student who has entrusted him/herself into my tutelage? Do I tell them that a lifetime of frustration; of very often, if not indeed inevitably, being overlooked awaits them? That they are proposing to enter a Quixotic state of existence which goes against the very grain of the prevalent Zeitgeist? Tell them to forget it, in other words? And could they “forget it” even if they wished to do so? So, do I stand by, helplessly wringing my hands, as I watch them head off to emotional perdition?


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