Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All Hands/Return of the Aesthetic

As a logophile, I am fascinated with words- where they come from, what they really mean when you look them up, what people commonly think they mean these days.. so we just had an "All Hands" meeting this morning, a term I'm pretty sure comes from "All Hands on Deck!". As in, there's some sort of sea-faring emergency that requires everyone's assistance. However, if an anthropologist were to drop in on our "all hands", I'm pretty sure they would determine that it's some kind of corporate news meeting composed of 90% ego-stroking, akin to the harrowed "mission accomplished" debacle. Of course, it included the fact that we need to keep working hard to ensure the shareholders stay happy and rich. I kept listening for something that might actually apply to our division, or to me, yet nothing manifested and I found my mind wandering to the fact that I only have one pair of walking shoes and that my account is overdrawn.

This morning, on the drive in to work, while I watched planes draw gridlines of dubious particles across the sky and the resulting smoggy haze, I thought about the state that art is in today. You can rarely pin down a "movement" like impressionism or cubism until some time after the trend has come and gone and you can see where it came from and where it ended up. And so I thought of the art history classes I had loved so much and the recent periods- the bay area figurative movement in the 70's, the photorealism period of that same decade.. and the pieces I'd seen in the MOMA from the 80's and it occurred to me that nothing stands out so much anymore, and hasn't for growing on 3 decades now. I could be completely wrong, of course- perhaps there's something like Steampunk or the Arts & Crafts movement 2.0 that's brewing these days that will actually be defined as an important, influential period. But it seems to me that it's the return of Art as the Aesthetic.

Granted, people are still making things they are passionate about, that might say something important. But fine art tends to be expensive. And art isn't necessary, the way that a mortgage payment or food is. So clearly it's fallen off. Galleries have closed. Art programs in school went the way of the DoDo awhile ago. And with the patriot acts and the constant increase of things that threaten free speech (they're out there), Art for Art's sake seems to be waning.

Art for Beauty's sake is fine and always will be- making things that are bright or happy or pretty has never seemed to be threatened and is a natural part of humanity. Our appreciation of beauty is hardwired- a symmetrical face in a person tends to make them "prettier" to us because our genetic hard drive tells us it means they are probably healthier, DNA-wise, than the unsymmetrical (Thanks, Discovery Channel!). And when you look at the artist's ability to make art- especially in America- it often comes second to the day job. There isn't time to fully explore a deep, sociopolitical issue in one's art if one only has a few hours a week to make art. And I wonder if it were possible for me to do art full-time.. what wonders would I create? What concepts might I delve into in a way that informed me and others? What impact might I truly have.. if. Only if.

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