Monday, 20 September 2010

In Defense of Re-infatuation

I was fascinated by Maja Djikic's recent post In Defense of Torment, and the idea she probes of the work involved in creative reinvention. Pop culture representations of creativity embrace a strikingly opposed (and perhaps equally off-base) pair of ideas about what it means to be creative: on one hand, the tormented artist is chained to her desk, suffering through a frenzy of productivity like what all good workers are supposed to produce, but inspired and irresistible; on the other hand, creative arts are the domain of relaxation and renewal through a sort of surrender to the pleasure of the sensual. The bad attitude of art students (I discovered when I was one) has a lot to do with the resulting two tone look so often sent their way: wary concern about people driven too close to the edge and fawning envy over the supposed life of Riley lived by those who could afford to while away their days in the leisurely pursuit of the muse.

What seems so obviously off about these widely reproduced ideas about creativity is their assumption of an abdication of agency -- the idea of the artist as either possessed or leisurely does not capture any of the process of work that goes into the production of creative endeavors. In a recent commentary on this summer's art reality TV show, Work of Art, Karen Haselmann pointed out that the spectacularization of making art (in which we see artists scrambling to assemble materials to hasty deadlines) leaves out what is, in fact, the most important part of most creative endeavors: the effortful and often agonizing staring into the unknown, in which we wrest patterns of meaning out of the stuff around us.

As Maja so eloquently pointed out, being able to approach this task does not merely mean being chained to our desks. (Although producing a lot does seem to help.) In addition, as she points out:
It means probing, and sometimes destroying, the inner landscape that has grown insensitive to the elusive caress of art.
It seems worth underlining this sentiment because our habituation to the stimuli and motives around us is so powerful, and the arrangement of our inner landscapes is not something we necessarily consider reorganizing. Especially in the mechanized but oh-so-customizable matrix of our social media devices (who has not learned the palpitations of a lover's text message or an interesting email's arrival in a dull moment?), our receptivities are rapidly reorganized without necessary attention -- and the things that provoke us to meaningful (if sometimes tormented) effort are often all too easy to fail to adequately prioritize. I have an inordinate fondness for a billboard near my house that is much like the one illustrating this essay: the purple rectangle is simultaneously painfully mundane and also dramatically pointing out the novelty of the giant images that insert themselves into our consciousness. Some deserve our infatuation more than others, and we should engage in the repeated effort to sensitize ourselves in ways that satisfy our desires for creative exploration.

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2 comments:

Jan B. said...

Yes.

Do we make our best art from the entrails of others or from our own?

I say, It doesn't really count if what we make is once removed; we must eviscerate ourselves first. Those who don't I will call "critic," not "artist."

Jan B. said...

But oh, the mirrors.

Perhaps the critics are those will not gaze and reflect but merely observe.

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