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Just a poet in words, images and objects.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is art?

Be relieved, dear reader, I have no intention of writing a discursive essay on the definitions of art, only to conclude it's anything and everything.

I am rather taken, though, by the breadth of things and experiences that the term now covers, even if we exclude art as skill plus something else, as in the art of cooking.

This train of thought was started by the show at MONA by Marina Abramović (Private Archaelogy), which
involves the use of objects and simple rituals - either by the audience or the artist herself - to transport us to full consciousness of the present moment.
In particular, I was taken by the reports of Counting the Rice , where you count grains of rice as a process of developing mindfulness.

As someone who has undertaken a number of mindfulness exercises and meditations over the years, I think I get the value and potential depth of this experience. It closes down the I-mind (the ego-based, rational, logical mind) and allows the holistic mind (the intuitive and integrative mind) to be consciousness (See Iain McGilchrist's ground-breaking book The Master and His Emissary). Or, if you like, it appeals to the human spirit as soul.

But, the classificatory brain had to object that this is not art. After musing for some time on this, I realised that, for me, art makes the same appealas a gateway to a more integrative consciousness but it does so through different means. I am thinking primarily about visual art, although I think the same applies to music and dance.

The mindfulness experience uses repetitive physical actions coupled with focus on the actions themselves, thereby boring the rational purposive mind to sleep.  Non-artistic artists also use other means to break the dominance of the logical controlling mind, such as sensory deprivation or enhancement, emotional tension, shock, paradox and moral confrontation, (Zen Buddhists will go Aha! at this point).

What I see as art uses a different strategy and that is to appeal through the senses and the emotions to an element of integrated consciousness that I can only term beauty. I use the term beauty not to mean prettinessindeed, beauty may be terrifying, horrible or ugly but rather in the same sense as John Keats
I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination - What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth - whether it existed before or not - for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty. Letter to John Bailey
 And no, I can't define Beauty, any more than I can define Art, but I know it when I see it. The rational mind is stunned into the silence of the Imaginationsoul or integrative consciousness.