What is Art?

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What is art?

I don’t mean art with a capital “A” or art with a little “a”- that is a rather old and hackneyed debate.

The question of what constitutes art is a rather old debate as well, but I think that it is a more valuable quandary.  How would most define “art”?  What is the best way to describe it?

Aristotle, in his treatise Poetics, considers art to be imitation.  His thoughts on the subject are interesting, and worth considering, and yet when the average person is posed with the question I have posed to you today, I do not think that they would begin with the idea of imitation.  It is true that much of art imitates life, yet how do we then account for abstract art?  For the ethereal?  For surrealism?  How should art be defined?

Most people would start by talking about painting in some fashion.  Though very few of us, if anyone, consider art as belonging exclusively to the world of painting, for some reason it is often the first thing that comes to mind.  We think of the Mona Lisa and The School of Athens and of a beret-wearing Frenchman with a palette of messily mixed paints as he stands before his canvas, considering.

After a brief moment of reflection, most people will mention drawing or movies, or comic books, or writing, or acting, or dancing, or music.  Some of the more creative among us would go on to mention things like fabric work, mosaics, architecture, and on and on.  It seems as though the categories for art are endless, and yet not everything is art.

Once we move past naming examples of art, the question becomes more difficult.  Many will not be able to give much of an intelligible answer.  Many will mumble something about art being expression.  I agree with the mumblers, at least partially.  And yet, their criterion breaks down in incompleteness.  For a crazy man shouting incoherently in the streets is certainly expression.  He is doubtlessly, much to the annoyance of anyone nearby who is trying to concentrate, expressing himself, and loudly.  He is causing others to feel emotions, so that next most common explanation of art also goes out the window.  Expression by itself, is not art.

It is my belief that art, in its most basic essence, is expression inside of restriction.  You can have a car’s engine, but unless there is a body built around it, it’s never going to go anywhere.

I think poetry does a fine job of demonstrating this idea of expression in restriction; allow me to show you what I mean.

There are various forms of poetry: the sonnet, the pantoom, iambic pentameter, heroic couplets, etc.  There are certain tools and characteristics of poetry- namely rhyme, rhythm, alliteration and assonance and consonance (and others).  Certainly every poem need not contain every single element named here in order to be poetry, yet it does need some of them.  The internet (and the notebooks of depressed teenagers everywhere) is full of whiny, streams of consciousness that have no form, no characteristics of poetry, and you may consider yourself extremely fortunate these days if you ever happen to come across a rhyme.  This sort of thing, as learned people will tell us, is not poetry.  It is prose.  Oftentimes it is very bad prose.  Yet the point is that a string of oddly spaced words is not necessarily poetry.  Poetry has a form, and characteristics, and simply vomiting on a page does not produce it.  So with art.

Art has plenty of room for innovation, stretching the limits, and even for creating new forms all together.  And yet, whenever there is no restriction at all, no definite characteristics for the form, the attempted art leaves people scratching their heads.

We, as a society, love the idea of boundlessness, which is why I think we see so much nonsense labeled art.  Yet we need parameters.  A map makes no sense without a reference point.  Language is simply gibberish if words don’t have definitions.  We need an anchor to make sense of anything.  So with art.

Art is expression triumphing, bursting, from within the confines of a form.  Without the form, it isn’t much of anything.

This is what I think, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts as well.  What is art?  How would you define it?  Leave a comment below, and thank you for reading.

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Quiero Recordar

Here is a piece I wrote a while back.  It sounds much better in Spanish, I think, but I’ve translated it into English as well for your convenience.

Quiero Recordar

 

La poesía es olvidada

Quiero recordar

Quizás estoy equivocada

Y sigue endurar

Porque es imposible

Existir sin

Alguno mas profundible

Aunque lo ignoramos hasta fin

Quiero mirar una flor

Y ver

Una historia del amador

Y ser

Afectado por la luna, el viento, y el sol

Imagino una querida debajo del arbol

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I Want to Remember

Poetry is forgotten

I want to remember

Perhaps I’m wrong

And it lives on

Because it is impossible

To exist without

Something deeper

Though we ignore it

I want to look at a flower

And see

A story of lovers

And be

Affected by the moon, the wind, and the sun

I envision my beloved beneath the trees

Interviews and Guest Posts

Hello!

I just wanted to do a quick post and direct your attention to a couple of interviews and whatnot that have been going around the blogosphere lately.  I have had the pleasure of being interviewed by various bloggers lately, and I thought I would share just a couple of them with you.  Check it out:

Reading Away The Days interview

YA Book Seasons interview

Tina’s Book Reviews guest post

Moonlight Gleam guest post

Good things are coming down the pipes- keep checking in!

-W.A.

What it Feels Like

“But haven’t you ever wondered what it feels like?”

Dustin shook his head.  His close cropped hair was mussed slightly in the reflection of the dim, blue light.

“Honestly, no.  I could guess, but I don’t want to.  I don’t really like even seeing people use it, truthfully.”

Raydin’s eyes rolled back in her head involuntarily as she rolled.  Gelatinous, stormy electricity pulsed rhythmically up and down her body.  Her eyes returned to their proper place and she groaned before speaking again, aware of Dustin’s presence once more, from where he stood across the room.

“But don’t you wonder what it feels like?”

“I already told you no.”

Raydin laughed in a whimsical, childish manner as she rolled over her head.  The motion scraped her up a little, but she didn’t mind.

“You’re always such a go-getter.  You always ramble on and on about firsthand experience and how you want to do this, and you want to try that.  So why not this?  A description just won’t do it justice.”

Dustin kept his calm resolutely, but he was starting to sweat.  He tried the door handle again, but it wouldn’t budge.  He sighed and turned around, facing his longtime friend.  Friend from long ago, rather.  He sighed.

“A description would do it perfect justice.  Seeing its effects right now does it perfect justice.”

Raydin’s head slipped forward suddenly and her feet began to walk around in a circle, pulling her as she lay sprawled on the hard ground.  Her hair was tied in knots.

“But why won’t you just try it?” she asked in a breathy, childish way.  Her head flopped to one side so her vacuous eyes now stared up into Dustin’s.  There was more pain on the surface of Dustin’s face, but the pain deep behind Raydin’s cloudy eyes put them both to shame.  It made Dustin shake his head, and he breathed out with a somber expression.

“Because there are a few things, only a very few, that a person understands better before they do them.  I mean, Raydin, could you even get up off the floor right now if you wanted to?”

“But I don’t want to,” she said in a sing-songy voice as her head twirled around.

“But suppose you did,” Dustin said earnestly, and then he sighed, shaking his head.  “No one ever does, once they start on it.  I’d bet that abominable stuff has been running its fingers over you since the last time we saw each other.”

Raydin’s eyes rolled back in her head and she didn’t respond.  Dustin heard an audible pop as her shoulder contorted out of the range of normal human movement.  Raydin seemed blissfully unaware.

Dustin tried the door handle again.  It was still locked.

Changes

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A pen in my hand, I can’t understand

How the world doesn’t form like my words

See, I can write all night, and even be right

But the changes, they come in slow

 

To write and alter, instantly falter

The things that I wish would go away

Or to speak and say, and it would be that way

But that only happened once.

A Brave New Something

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

-Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

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I read Huxley’s masterpiece, A Brave New World, for the first time a few months ago.  Though prediction is always a dubious affair, I think that I can say with reasonable certainty that it will stand the test of time, more so than it already has.  Many of you will have read this book, I’m sure, some of you will have not, but I think that the topics raised in the novel are valuable for discussion either way.  This was a book that made me think, and before I get into some of what it made me think about, let me just say that I recommend you read it, if you have not already.

Ever since Aristotle, and perhaps (and probably) farther back, a prevailing sentiment among mankind has been that happiness is the goal of life.  Happiness is the greatest good; it is the thing we should strive after.  Man, however, oftentimes says or believes things that don’t make a terrible lot of sense.  In Brave New World, I see Aldous Huxley looking at this worldview and saying, “Very well, let us put it to the test.”

Huxley’s world is one in which just about everyone is happy, in some sense of the word.  They have wealth, youth, instant gratification of all of their desires, good health, and instant access to drugs with no adverse physical side effects whenever they need some chemical euphoria.  The happiness in this world comes at a cost, of course, needing to be stringently controlled, so humans are all formed in the lab, some being designated as Alphas, others Betas, and so on and so forth.  The lower ranked human embryos are shaken and given alcohol in vitro so that they develop birth defects.  From the youngest possible age, conditioning is used to tell people that they are happy, that their society is good, etc.

Huxley’s world of ubiquitous happiness is a nightmare.  In fact, it’s an asylum, for everyone who participates in it has substituted reality for a lie, and they go about in one great delusion every day.  Happiness, we realize, can be faked.  It can be artificial, it can be empty.  A society that pursues happiness above all else is horrific abomination, and Huxley shows this masterfully.

It is my belief that our society is becoming increasingly similar to Huxley’s own.  I feel like everyone should read his book because of how pertinent it is, and yet I feel that many will not understand what he was trying to say; our mindsets having already warped to the particular lie he tries to expose.  In our society we value instant gratification, we value appearance over substance, the increasing march of the sexual revolution has exchanged slow, beautiful love for quick, selfish lust, and on and on.

Happiness is great, but what about honor?  What about courage?  What about love?  And when I say love, I don’t simply mean that your eyes met hers across a room and you have butterflies in your belly, though this can be a wonderful thing.  I mean love that puts another’s needs before his own.  I mean love that sacrifices, that allows itself to be ignored so that another can be lifted up.  What about goodness, in total?  Is not goodness a better goal than happiness?

You see, the problem with seeking happiness first is that it can be most easily found in some dark places.  If you chuck your morals, your God-given sense of decency, and any other inconvenient sort of ethics or empathy- happiness is quite easy.  An alcoholic is happy when drowning in his drink, but this is not good.  Sick, twisted people do criminal acts that make them happy, but I will not endorse their pursuits.  “Whatever makes you happy,” is a phrase of selfish resignation, many times, not one of love.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, dear reader.  Please comment below on what you think the goal of life is: is it happiness, or is it something else entirely?

 

 

“…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”

– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World