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Thursday 3 February 2011

Reply to the argument #1 - "Timeless experience is not experience"

[Before reading this, please read yesterday's piece here]

Although it is argued that the timeless experience is not "merely a gesture", but that it is indeed a "fuller experience",  it is the intent of this response to show that this is all it is and could ever be under the framework of description offered.

Rather than offer one way in which we might define art (as historical) instead we are given another definition as the one correct manner (or, at any rate, the ‘best’). Indeed, it becomes obvious by the end that this definition of experience is nothing so solid, but is rather merely a vague gesture towards what an artistic experience might comprise of. Hence, the acknowledgement of our own ‘historicity’ and the odd image of the historical and the timeless ‘mixing’ in some part, greater the amount of timelessness the greater the art work, or the experience possible from the art work. However, here is clear point, where is the timelessness to found? By this description it would seem that it is a ‘thing’ that a good artist can implant within a work and thus stimulating a greater or fuller aesthetic experience in us the viewer. This seems misplaced although it is an understandable mistake if we follow the standard trail of aesthetic reasoning as it has developed from the enlightenment until present day. This trail and the misplaced route I place at the door of ‘aesthetic concepts’ as defined most elegantly by Frank Sibley in his same titled work of 1959.

Let me just define where I see the problem before I go on to attack it. Firstly, the placing of the aesthetic concept ‘timelessness’ in the object is problematic itself even before we consider how it is placed there by the supposedly historical being of the artist. Next, having placed this experience as reliant on an external quality of an object, the question of interpretation of art objects is merely dismissed as being an unknowable. Thus, what we are left with is merely a gesture towards some sort of ‘mystical’ experience. An experience that we might conclude is certainly capable of being totally subjective, but not problematic for all this. “Well, it’s MY experience of the object that is of importance and anyway if it’s a timeless experience then can’t we all be said to be experiencing the same sort of thing, in a round-about manner?” Well, perhaps, but then perhaps this timely experience of the timeless aspect of art is rather a sort of mental confusion. The sort of paradox suggested by Zen masters to lead the thinker towards enlightenment, however, this particular koan is an empty gesture, although if the intended outcome what seeing ‘this’ then its complexity was rich indeed. And this then is my main worry, that what we really want when we experience art is some sort of mysterious feeling, as if the point of art is not to feel connected with something but to feel bewildered by the inability to say anything at all. That it is this that is the connecting feeling we must be aiming for. We are all one in the World means we are all so absolutely confused that we accept this all together.

If this were the point of art then surely the majority of films, music, paintings, sculptures, and so forth would instead be a chaotic mass of swirling sound, colour, form, and motion with the strict intent of inducing this kind of pseudo-mystical rapture. I say pseudo here because this sort of conception is exactly that, a sort of ‘quick fix’ mysticism for the pretentious. The mystic, if they are to be a mystic in my understanding, does not engage in something so quick and easy, but neither are they engaged in something solvable by a great deal of hard thinking. Ultimately they might seek refuge in the realm of the beyond (as I would see it) but I would suggest this communion comes about from an acceptance within one’s whole life and is not a simply transportable experience available to all (or, rather, available to all without much effort).

Although an effort is made to suggest that art should be without the evidence of history, it is admitted that this cannot be so, for then it would be outside of human agency, instead we are offered the image of an art work created with intent of it being communicable to all humanity ever. A bold claim. Although the basis of this perspective was to avoid the levelling down of the institutional art experience (that we must know the historical context to understand or to even experience the art object) the outcome has ended the same. An art experience must be an experience that communicates some vague abstract of human experience for it to be an art experience that is worth having, but why must it be an experience of a certain type?

We cannot get round the fact that we are historical beings and that the things we create (be they art objects or not) necessarily ‘live’ with us in time as well as being solid formations of a certain cultural time. It is also true to describe the process of art as an attempt at expressing something fundamental about human experience, that it is an articulation of that experience of the artist. Well, why not just acknowledge these facts? What is challenging about art is not to be found in how we define art, but in how (and WHY) we approach it at all.