“Content is a glimpse”, Willem de Kooning said in one of his interviews. “It is very tiny, very very small”.

Suzanne Sontag refers to Kooning in her famous essay titled ‘Against Interpretation’, where she proposes that art shall never regain the innocence it had before the time of making great theories, when it did not have to explain anything, being part of rituals and rites. Delving under the text and the gesture of interpretation, in a form where content is set aside in favour of covert contents, Sontag recognises as pointless and suffocating.

Sontag considers these as revenge of the intellect on art. The excessive expansion of theory takes place in this context at the expense of the new and ability to emote. One can take delight in the work of art even when it is not possible to decipher its hidden meanings. Content is but a glimpse that appears in the work only for a moment, shyly, partially – a caprice. This process takes place every time both on the part of the viewer and the artist.

”Look, did you not see that X in effect means Y”, with these words Susan Sontag diagnoses our rational approach to art, coming closer in white gloves, with the surgical precision of specialised research instruments, with whose aid its seems it is possible to take apart every work into its primary elements.

Art that is intensely interpreted, nailed to a theory, is reminiscent of a package. We do not know what hides inside. The only way to find the contents is to undo the knots – that is, a decision to break in. Are we ready every time to see what may spill out? One of the most draconian punishments known in history or culture is after all, being skinned alive. A person stripped of the final layer appears like a piece of meat, a pulsating network of muscles and tendons and fat. Is stripped of honour. Without a skin that holds together the described body as a whole, does not have room for spirit. The overwhelming desire to discover is equal in this context to the act of skinning alive and that of consumption.

According to Susan Sontag, through interpretation, art becomes subjective and tame. Thus to interpret is to make poor and exhaust the work, helping to rise the ghostly world of meanings, domesticated and groomed. Real art according to Sontag makes us anxious, unsure and afraid.

The first performance is taking place in the Palaeolithic cave. The Shaman leaves a hand print coated in ochre on the wall 160 times. As a result, out of the cracks and curves of the wall there arise various animals. In the suggestion of light the un-evenness of walls means that the animals appear to be alive: the painted bodies quiver, eat grass, run and fight each other. Eating hallucinogenic substances the artist-Shaman enters into a trance that allows him to dwell on the border between the world of people and animals, ones that are to be appeased and tamed.

He cannot act with premeditation, he is but a window onto the world outside in which to hunt and kill prey means to survive. In creating he is at the mercy of unknown, threatening powers. Allowing them to do as they please. Control and a foreseen result are foreign to him. The cave and wall paintings mean that in the end he enters a complex relationship with them, building a world dreamt of, in which there exist peacefully in common animals, people, gods and spirits.

It is here in fact that intuition and courage ascribed to the figure of the artist becomes clear, so as to follow this intuition. Traits that regardless of epoch place the shaman in the role of madmen, demiurge and one who is possessed. One who makes contact with the threatening space of taboo.

Such an understanding of the artist as an archetype trickster functions beyond the accepted system, does not recognise the authority and set social norms. In many mythologies this ambivalent failure is responsible for the nature of the world of a given community, one that lives on the boundary between the real world and the ideal, causing a transgression between the world of nature and that of culture. In a perfidious way playing with reality, freely vaulting the boundaries between fiction and truth, desire and taboo. It is like a virus that is unpredictable and guileful, always though giving the opportunity for confrontation with its own weakness, with the under-skin, the unknown.

Art is therefore a dark sphere in the social structure, a place of neglect, emptiness and indifference, which becomes noticed by artists and accordingly exploited and transformed. It is a necessary recess for mistakes, hysteria and madness. Artur Żmijewski in ‘Drżących ciałach’ [Quivering Bodies] calls artists pickpockets – people that are particularly watchful, seeing more quickly and much more than others. [1]

The artist prepares for the reviewer a change in the point of view, a peeping behind the edifice, the added details on the background of which daily rituals take place. It proposes turning the world’s order inside out onto the left side. The essence of art therefore is its unfinishedness. In fact it would be possible to prevent it according to the thesis not to multiply unnecessary entities. Are in fact however, its lightness and unforced nature fascinating and like a lazy picnic in the shade of an expansive tree? Like a dance? Like laughter?

In the novel ‘In The Name Of The Rose‘ does in fact laughter pose a danger to the system – one prohibited because it carries a certain perfidious element, lack of respect and as a result anarchy, inability to control and lack of any form of control, predictability. The monks that are created by Umberto Eco know this – forbidding the reading of Aristotle’s ‘Poetics’. Laughter kills fear and without fear there is no faith. There is instead freedom and chaos, into which every artist bravely sinks into.

Does art, one that speaks in defined contexts, provide pleasure and liberation from any type of system? What is the measure of its dangerous approximation and fawning towards politics, religion and the sciences and arts, which are appropriated through various forms of discourse? A question that is worth asking, one that should be asked time and time again. Art, however, appears to escape from such clear contrasts. Its strength lies in the inability to build one definition that would embrace all of its forms.

In conclusion I would like to cite the words of the 26-year-old Michelangelo, contracted to make a sculpture of the biblical David, who upon seeing the great slab of marble said: “I see the slab of marble, now I only have to dispense with what I don’t need”. Perhaps in searching for the wellspring out of which art grows, it is necessary in fact to reach for this orderly as it were sphere, where side-by-side there jostle feelings and the first still shaky, unclear thoughts. From art we can expect the fulfilment of many so-called designs. It would appear that one thing that should not be forced upon art in this context is responsibility for content.

[1]     A. Żmijewski, Drążące ciała. Rozmowy z artystami. Kraków 2006, p.12.