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Quoted from the blog Sex Drugs and Post-Structuralism (unfortunately no longer active, it seems):

… “when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere.” Pablo Picasso (Interview with Giovanni Papini in Libro Nero, 1952)

It is maybe not Picasso’s fault, higher forces are at play. Hegel had already proclaimed the death of art one hundred years before. Art, for Hegel, had reached its expressive limit, its “spirit” or Geist, had been exhausted. Art’s expressive form had achieved all that it could. In Hegel’s scheme of things, art had reached full-circle in the complete self-awareness of itself as art… in other words, art becomes self-conscious.

As soon as a particular expression of Geist starts becoming self-conscious, it multiplies itself; art is everywhere, there has never been so much “art” in the world than today…and yet, what is “art”?

The very asking of the question amongst the proliferation of “arts”, is for Hegel, the Zeitgeist, or the “signs of the times”, that art is dead. Art becomes self-conscious, as it starts theorizing about itself in an interminable questioning of itself.

Do I agree? Well, yes and no… Sadly, I do think that the author of the post above knows precisely what she is talking about.

But then again, I still see the real thing on rare occasions as well? Works of art, in other words? That do not theorize about themselves? Tough to pinpoint, tough to define, tough to categorize and to label. And thus, unforgettable. Admittedly, few and far between. If anything, I seem to encounter them years apart. Certainly not an everyday occurrence. Buried amongst a pervasive avalanche of verbose iniquity, gasping for breath. But nonetheless – there!

Continued on the following morning:

This shook me up. I have to be totally honest and own up to the fact that I was only vaguely aware of Hegel’s proclamations (*ouch*), until an article sent to the journal which I am editing made me encounter them head-on yesterday. Needless to say, I have been reading up feverishly since then. I have felt the Zeitgeist which Hegel points at. And for a long time too. But obviously my feeling something, no matter for how long and however strongly, and Hegel articulating it are two different things entirely. When the man, whose thought processes have helped shape two centuries of subsequent intellectual activity, says that “a (social) need for art is obsolete” it is of momentous impact. For me it is so anyway: Can a calling which attempts to exist with no underlying societal purpose achieve this exalted state at all? Well… Yes, it seems that it can. Can it do so and still bring fulfillment to its possessor? Very seriously doubt it…

I do not call myself an artist, so this does not shake up the foundations of my existence on an immediately personal, first person singular sort of a level. I just carry on doing what I have been doing all along – which is making stuff that I know to be design output. But nonetheless, it is still important, even on a personal level, in the sense that I am also an art educator sometimes. Not always, thank God. I am a design instructor most of the time. However, I do have students that have artistic aspirations as well, particularly on the graduate level. So, what do I say? What do I do? Because I do know that Hegel is correct. A visionary, given that his thoughts do not really apply to the works of his contemporaries, as Chaosmose very accurately points out in her post, but to what came about long after his death.

Hegel argues that art, in concert with religion and philosophy, is an activity of the mind whose task is to reveal spirit, in sensuous form. And as such, it would inevitably have completed its intrinsic life cycle with the advent of materialism as the founding principle of the post-romantic/modernist social mindset coming to the fore during Hegel’s own lifetime. I have previously tried to define an artist as someone who has a fundamental question that they are trying to articulate, a question that has no answer but the answer to which is haunting them nonetheless (by which I suppose I was groping for that very Hegelian definition). Today, for the largest part, individuals with such an obsession would have a horrifyingly difficult time getting across their query, given that they are totally obliterated by a maelstrom of non-art to begin with. And then – even more importantly, the religious/cultural infrastructure that would have provided a socioeconomic milieu of “genuine need” to aid Bruegel in his quest – where is that now? How do things work in it’s demise? What is there for a “real” artist to do today? In the year 2010?

The malady would also manifest in the proliferation of art, which Hegel seems to define as one of the symptoms of its decadence, apparently already somewhat in evidence towards the end of the Romantic era (all this as far as I can make out from my survey reading since yesterday – believe me, I will be reading more deeply – ordering the books even as I write…). So, how many artists are there now? I mean how many human beings are there in the world today that define their output as “art”? Thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Hundreds of millions? 1% of the world’s population? 5? 10? I have no clear idea, but a huge number, of that I am certain… And so, what would have been this same percentage until the advent of modernism? 0.001%? 0.0001%? 0.00001%? I think that whatever that tiny percentage may have been back then, it would probably still be the same today. In other words, a handful of individuals, in societies comprised of tens of millions of people are artists today also – very much as was the case during the Renaissance or whenever.

So, I could well encounter one of them or maybe two of them in my classrooms in all the decades that I teach. How do I know that they are the genuine article? And again, what do I tell them even if I do manage to somehow distinguish them from the fray? And then, what does one tell all the others? How does one differentiate even? Does one simply shut up? Probably… I am certain that shutting up and pretending that all is hunky dory is what is expected of the likes of me. Our employers, our peers, our students – no one wants the apple cart to be upset, do they?


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