Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why does Art have to "Say Something?"

I think there's a pretty wide-spread misconception about Art and how it communicates. Either that, or I labor under the opposite misconception. In any case, one of the common refrains from people who fancy themselves too down to earth to put up with that Artsy Fartsy Crap is "why must art Say Something" or "what is this about Meaning" and so on. A common theme in these complaints appears to be the notion that meaning, saying something, speaking to me, are more or less literal.

Successful Art does not encode small chunks of text. When I say that a piece "speaks to me" I do not mean that I can summarize what the piece says in a paragraph, it does not mean that I hear a tiny voice whispering in my ear. The "message" of a piece does not take the form of a telegram. Indeed, any piece that can be summarized on a slip of paper is arguably a failure. If that's all the artist has to say, why didn't he or she simply write it on the aforementioned slip of paper?

When the down to earth no-nonsense gentleman says "this message business is crap! it should be enough that the piece makes me feel something", people like me can only gape, slack-jawed. That's what the "message business" is, it's the part where it makes you feel something, or think something, or desire something.

The language is confusing, I will grant you. We speak, almost always, as if Art is supposed to be communicating telegram style, but that's simply not what we mean.

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