BY SŁAWOMIR BRZOSKA
The knot of all time has turned to dust (Hamlet)
Missionaries reached a certain African village. They were allowed to stay longer and observed the daily rituals and customs of their hosts; in the end persuaded the tribe elder to reorganize the settlement, which was meant to make life easier and more effective for its inhabitants. In their arrogance, ignoring the established order of the sacred space, they have at the same time completely destroyed their initial cosmology. This was in essence for centuries a cultivated model of the village with its subdivisions and respectively placed elements: the boundaries of sacrum and profanum, dwellings, plants, places where animals were kept etc. In effect, the members of this archaic community lost their so-called centre, became lost in the new reality. Then it was a great deal easier to persuade them to cast off their former beliefs and accept an entirely foreign religion.
I am relating this anthropological fact for it reminds us of the situation contemporary art is in. Thus a group of art critics who establish views in the field through their own choices, points the way forward for artists, the direction they should take. In the process they promise them a singular, momentary kingdom of the heavens; success beyond time, fame, so desired in the world of art. That desire for fame probably always accompanied artists. This was in general, however, the result of arduous work, honesty in terms of self-being the norm. Now in contrast to music for example, in the fine arts all manner of charlatanism comes rather easily, so-called tricks of the trade that paper over a lack of mastery. It is therefore difficult to be surprised at this, bearing in mind the civilizational changes arising at a great pace, ones that affect all spheres of human life.
Young apprentices to art have to deal with ubiquitous temptations. People and institutions that are responsible in our age for the image of the arts are no different from pop media devoid of scruples. As if television stations serving up all sorts of quizzes with cheap entertainment, producing illusion, replacing peoples‘ more ambitious forms of recreation, taking away the need to think and persuading that everyone can achieve fame, to be a celebrity of the day. Thus on the overflowing market of riches there still grows a hunger for success and position, while society becomes increasingly one based on consumption.
This occurs at an incredible tempo, which results in effect that everything also that in time past had some value, is being devalued quickly. In this world of speeding works, activities of artists, only a dozen or so years ago raising huge controversy, now has become domesticated, and their energy has evaporated like the proverbial steam from a whistling kettle.
The vogue for success has infected the minds of many young artists. Popularity has become the supreme value. The pop media love those who are brazenly active and thanks to this it is possible quickly to reach the honour of finding oneself, though for moment, on a pedestal. An example can be a young though little talented student of a Polish arts academy, who has suddenly become the flavour of the month – when under the cover of brazenness, he hung his own canvas at the National Museum. On the morrow thanks to the afternoon news on TV, all of Poland came to learn of this hero’s deeds and how this young man had his five minutes. Now there is no information on how his career has progressed, for the media are ruthless in the search for new stars and the unrepeatable.(1)
„Be for a single day unfashionable, and you will see how much eternity you have within you“, wrote 100 years ago; the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke – hermit, friend to artists such as Rodin and Tolstoy. The concept of eternity, however, has ceased to be attractive.
On the loss of the centre, not only art but also the entire world, many thinkers and artists have already had their say. I once had the opportunity to ask Zygmunt Bauman, whether in his opinion time (therefore and history) is linear or circular. These two worldviews concerning time-space have been shaping the culture of the West and the East for hundreds and thousands of years. The philosopher answered according to his notion of reality: „At present, time is pointed in shape. Reminiscent of an impressionist painting“.
In the pointed shaped world there is no centre that creates order, around which everything is constituted. The centre in artistic creation has become lost. A manifold freedom is master, and present trends are dictated by critic-missionaries. The most cunning manage to keep their head above water, being best able to drift, surf in the ‚clickstream‘ world.(2) The increasing poles of relativism of works of art result in increasingly fewer critics able to assess it – remaining at the level of a simple record. Assessment after all would not be verified for the tools for such had long been rejected. In effect all so-called boundaries have become almost completely erased.
The motto-key for the past several decades has been creative freedom, continually being widened and now reaching the absurd. I remember a television discussion from the 1980s (then television still had an educational character) with a historian of art. Stefan Morawski, Mieczysław Porębski were present and maybe someone else as well, I’m no longer sure. Asked about the whole rationale and meaning of freedom in art the historian said that the artist racing at all cost for this freedom reminds one of a dog, who runs and chases a bus. When the bus stops however, the dog stands stupefied, not knowing what to do next.
As a pedagogue the so-called picture of today’s art worries me a great deal. I do not trust many contemporary products of art, particularly those that excessively engage in politics, social matters relating to religion science to idealize or make fun in a banal way. Nor do I believe in pedestals on which art in the past art has been placed. Placing a burden on art with something that does not belong to it by nature is inappropriate.
As an artist therefore the problems of where the boundaries of art and freedom of artists do not greatly concern to me. Artistic provocation is becoming increasingly less of an interest, though I highly value the work of Dadaists and early Happeners, whose actions had an obvious sense in that time, in that socio-political situation.
Gadamer wrote: „The experience of art is an experience of meaning, and as such this experience is something that is brought about by understanding“.(3)
It can be said that hermeneutics was concerned about understanding in the universal sense, as in the ancient Greeks(4) and this simple definition is sufficient. Other, esoteric terms and theories are a form of superstructure that invokes only unnecessary interpretations. It is through art that the cognitive process comes to be in the artist himself – though the work of art as a trace of their understanding is of a met hectic nature in that it involves and activates the audience.
Since Gadamer wrote these words, however, the perceptive abilities in society have changed considerably. Together with the growth of technology and foremost through the impact of the Internet, a longer concentration on the one object can be said to constitute many difficulties. The media theoretician Peter Matussek has proposed an interesting theory:
The lifestyle in the age of information technology has been responsible for the establishment of a new version of hunter-gatherer culture, which demands skills such as watchfulness. This is the ability of the fastest possible transfer of attention from one object to another. This quality was one prehistoric people had to have leading a nomadic life. From the point of view of ’settlement‘, the concentration of attention belongs to a pre-digital age.(5) This may explain the greater popularity of such works that do not demand contemplation or greater intellectual effort.
I on the other hand, trust ‚unfashionable‘ artists, ones whose work is born in isolation. Keeping far from the hustle and bustle of a speeding world, such artists are not tempted by the easy made and the shallow. „When one writes it is necessary to do so as to be alone in the world, a part of the absolute. Otherwise – why do it?“ (6) Thus wrote Emil Cioran in a conversation with a journalist. Rilke on the other hand claimed: „Art moves from the lonely to the lonely, in a high arch crossing over people. The people are only a certain stage of immaturity (…)“.(7)
The loneliness mentioned here does not signify an artist’s introversion removed from reality, one that has difficulties making contact with the immediate environment. This is not isolation from the world but the opposite: an optimal opening. In this condition it is possible to hear true sounds, see true shapes and correctly interpret these experiences. In Taoism the metaphor: ‘Five colors make people blind, five sounds make people deaf‘,(8) relates in fact to this so-called gluttony. (…)
I believe in the authenticity of artists, who have shifted accent into the direction of the creative process itself. At the same time instead of receiving subsequent creative elements making up the arts dimension, they have tried – each according to their own – towards reducing it. The most consistent, both in practice and theories proposed was perhaps Ad Reinhardt. Here I sense a certain relief reading it again, like a mantra, the 12 technical principles to be followed, dedicated to painters:
„No Texture, no trace of the brush, now drafting, no drawing, no form, no model, locale, no light, no time, no dimension, no motion, no object“.(9)
In rejecting subsequent elements that throughout the ages have as it were, glued themselves to the notion of art, Ad Reinhardt acted as a Buddhist monk, stripping his contemplative mind of illusions and cleansing it of a false image of reality.(10)
A false image of reality.
In today’s world it is difficult now to differentiate delusion from fact. Cioran in one of his interviews said, “Simple people often have an intuition inaccessible to philosophers“. (11) The point here it will be seen is that man forced to lead life here-and-now, is less inclined to sophisticated enquiry. Prehistoric peoples possessed these traits in a truly distant past that allowed them to survive in the world, preserving amongst them a sense of the centre. Longing for this lost paradise I escape to the regions of the world, to people who still do well in their primal sense of time, and therefore have not undergone the pointed-shape loss, and their sense of infinity has not devalued.
From the Bedouin tent, the Papua honai, Indian mud hut or Mongol yurta cosmos and all the remainder from which the artist draws their world, together with their own viscera, they arise in all their natural purity and constellation. Perhaps this is another illusion, though it is one that I need.
It is difficult for me to explain these words but after journeying from the real, I always feel an authentic desire to create.
(1) The painting was removed, but the director of this esteemed institution ordered that just in case, the ‚work‘ be catalogued in the collection and placed it in the archive.
(2) This concept was introduced by the American Internet researcher John Battelle, attempting t to define the communication dimension that arises when clicking on references.
(3) Hans Georg Gadamer, Prawda i metoda [Truth and Method], p. 118
(4) Heidegger reminds that for the Greeks before Arystoteles art was a type of poiesis, one experienced as raising something to the surface. The Greeks experienced thisprocess as a type of formulation – a thesis whose zenith was the growth of nature. The creative process therefore was experienced as an organic one and nature’s growth as a process of creation (Grzegorz Szulczewski, Heidegger o sztuce w epoce techniki [Heidegger on Art in the Epoch of Technique (in:) Studia filozoficzne nr 10, 1986, Wrocław, p. 22
(5) Eduard Kaeser, Co klik, to myk [Click Go The Years], article from Neue Zürcher Zeitung 27.08.2012 (in) tygodnik Forum nr 40 (1-7.10.2012)
(6) Rozmowy z Cioranem, Warszawa 1999, p. 171
(7) See Rainer Maria Rilke, Listy do młodego poety [Letters to a Young Poet], Izabelin 1996. (quotation from memory, which may differ somewhat from the original, but retains the meaning). Of possible interest here is the comparison of the Rilke and statement invoking Plotinus: phyge monou prous monon (Escape of the Hermit to the Hermit), which has in mind contact with the Demiurge. (Plotyn, Enneady VI [Plotinus, Enneads], t. II, p. 696) Similarly to Rilke this constitutes a higher plane of existence, a true awakening.
(8) Lao Tsy, Tao te King, chapter 12
(9) Dwanaście Zasad Technicznych do przestrzegania [Twelve Techinical Principles to be Observed] a part of Dwanaście Zasad Technicznych dla Nowej Akademii was placed in the New York Art News (May 1957). The Zasady presented in this text are abbreviated; in the original each features an additional, broader description. (see Leszek Brogowski, Ad Reinhardt, Gdańsk 1984, p. 44-47)
(10) In the Polish context, much earlier than Ad Reinhardt, Władysław Strzemiński formulated a similar radicalism in relation to his own creativity, writing that painting does not relate anything, does not express, does not reveal- it simply is, it exists (Władysław Strzemiński (in) Andrzej Turowski, Konstruktywizm polski, Wrocław 1981, P. 181)
(11) Rozmowy z Cioranem [Conversations with Cioran], Warszawa 1999, s. 139