Monday, December 15, 2008

On the Naive View of Artistic Creation

In his response to Frederick Turner's Creating a Culture of Gift, Richard P. Gabriel chastises Turner using what I call the naive view of artistic creation -- a view which I believe to be a barrier to truly understanding art, artistic creation, and perhaps to the healthy creation of art at all.

In the naive view of artistic creation, a work of art comes spontaneously, miraculously, inexplicably -- a gift from the Muses. To propose a theme for art to investigate is heresy in such a view. A theme would provide fetters on art, and we all know art is unfettered. Such is the naive view of artistic creation, where style, not content, is what is relevant.

But style can be taught. I can teach someone to write in iambic pentameter, to rhyme, to develop a work so it has an introduction, thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, to create a sonnet. Milan Kundera identifies the art of the novel as prose-poetry variations on a theme. For him, the theme(s) is/are selected beforehand, and the novel constructed with that idea/theme in mind. Style affects content -- but one must first have content. When I write a play, I have a plot first, then characters and setting, then I flesh it out with poetry. The idea for the work my come from something I hear in a church sermon (as happened this past Sunday) or on the news. I may have a theme I'm concerned with, or a human problem I want to work out. From whence does the art spring forth? In the initial idea? In the conscious planning? In the choice of style? In the word-explosion encased in the engine block of structure to create the work? And the Muse? Those who now invoke the Muses as a "mindless" source of art forget (or never knew) that the Muses' mother's Memory, their father's Zeus, god of wisdom and power. Memory means content -- to remember, there must be something to remember. We must have knowledge to be artists. We must, too, have wisdom, an understanding of the whole. Wisdom and knowledge, the system asa whole and the parts of the system, are the necessary elements of beauty.

The more we know -- the more we have in memory -- the more there is for our minds to work with, assimilate, make connections, re-member, see the system as a whole. Insight or inspiration, that sudden flash, is the coming-to-consciousness of our brain's work. If we give our brains good content, good themes, and good styles, we can then create good works of art. My poetic dreams come to life in iambic pentameter only after I learned how to write in it and internalized it to such a degree that it became a part of the artistic flash that comes to me. Externalities also inform my art. I see my 2-year-old daughter go up to a pansy and say, "Hi flower." and I delight, see what she's done, understand it in light of evolutionary and emergentist psychology, transforming it into iambic lines, and a poem is born. Wisdom in art -- there there is wisdom or else it's not art -- comes about from this kind of deep understanding.

Fetterless art? Art without rules? THere is no art without patterns. There are no patterns without rules. Fetterlessness is randomness, and randomness is patternless -- the opposite of art. No system is random or patternless. If a work of art to be a work of art is wise and born of knowledge, it is a true system, and thus a patterned work. Art, to be art, is complex, emergent, beautiful. If it is not, it is something else. Rhetoric, perhaps, but hardly art. And then, it's probably not even very persuasive rhetoric, either.
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