There is a funeral march in Beethoven’s Eroica for a reason, and it isn’t Napoleon.
March 30, 2012 § Leave a comment
I have thought my entire life that my happiness was dependent on my making things. That somehow if I could make the right thing, I could be forgiven. That if I could make the right thing I could be loved. That if I could make the right thing I could feel content. That if I could make the right thing I could let out a long and satisfied sigh and hug the ones I wanted to love me and enjoy for once the quiet of an inartistic afternoon.
And I have made many things. I cannot help it. I make things; it is what I do. Not all good things, some okay things, but made things, still. But the more things I make the more I realize that this right thing I keep trying to make, this redeeming thing, will never, could never exist. Or if it did, it would be but for a brief moment, then forgotten, and I would be left to try and make a better thing. And then soon it’s turtles all the way down, at least until the stones in the pockets or the head in the oven or the noose on the porch or the poison apple. And I have been thinking that perhaps the reason I am so unhappy in this way of going about things is because it is such a selfish way to look for happiness. And I have been thinking that perhaps instead of making I should try more giving. Maybe that sounds trite and precious and like something out of a magazine you might find in the checkout line at Whole Foods. But there it is.
I used to think there was something noble in being an artist, that you were giving something to the world that it needed, that art making was better than any other thing because you were healing people’s souls or even just giving them a reprieve from the horrors of daily life or some such elitist bohemian bullshit. I could not feel more the opposite now. Art is worthless, terrible, narcissistic, the activity of the self-deluded and over-privileged. Art is not a need. The only people who think they need art are artists, and they would do well, probably better, without. Art doesn’t help anyone. Not really. The most that can be said of it is that it passes the time, which is just as easily and more productively done fishing or farming or fucking or by a myriad of more worthy pursuits.
I cannot help but feel bit George Maciunas in this, not a character I particularly want to be aligned with, but there it is.
People think that art is this age-old thing that has been integral to the human race since civilization began. But it is not so. Art in the way we think of it, pour l’art, is only about 200 years old. Beethoven invented the idea, really, when he wrote music for no purpose outside of itself. All of the “art” from antiquity was purpose-serving, making it very much not-art, in the Kantian sense of things, in the way we think about art these days sense of things. Statues and pots and frescos embodied ways of life, systems of beliefs, orders for going about things. Sometimes I think that if we looked about the world today a bit more like the Greeks did, perhaps the Hubble Telescope or the MRI or Fermilab might be closer in meaning and value to the statue of Athena in the Parthenon than the works of Damien Hirst. And I think that might not be such an awful thing.
I wish I would have never chosen to make things, or I at least wish I had never thought it important. I would not wish such a burden or a fucked-up way of thinking on anyone.