“I think the weird is present in all great artworks, if by that we mean works that lays reality bare instead of placating us with illusions.” – J.F. Martel
(From the publisher)
“Part treatise, part critique, part call to action, RECLAIMING ART IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICE is a journey into the uncanny realities revealed to us in the great works of art of the past and present.”
“Received opinion holds that art is culturally-determined and relative. We are told that whether a picture, a movement, a text, or sound qualifies as a “work of art” largely depends on social attitudes and convention. Drawing on examples ranging from Paleolithic cave paintings to modern pop music and building on the ideas of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Gilles Deleuze, Carl Jung, and others, J.F. Martel argues that art is an inborn human phenomenon that precedes the formation of culture and even society. Art is free of politics and ideology. Paradoxically, that is what makes it a force of liberation wherever it breaks through the trance of humdrum existence. Like the act of dreaming, artistic creation is fundamentally mysterious. It is a gift from beyond the field of the human, and it connects us with realities that, though normally unseen, are crucial components of a living world.”
“While holding this to be true of authentic art, the author acknowledges the presence—overwhelming in our media-saturated age—of a false art that seeks not to liberate but to manipulate and control. Against this anti-artistic aesthetic force, which finds some of its most virulent manifestations in modern advertising, propaganda, and pornography, true art represents an effective line of defense. Martel argues that preserving artistic expression in the face of our contemporary hyper-aestheticism is essential to our own survival.”
“Art is more than mere ornament or entertainment; it is a way, one leading to what is most profound in us. RECLAIMING ART IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICE places art alongside languages and the biosphere as a thing endangered by the onslaught of predatory capitalism, spectacle culture, and myopic technological progress. The book is essential reading for visual artists, musicians, writers, actors, dancers, filmmakers, and poets. It will also interest anyone who has ever been deeply moved by a work of art, and for all who seek a way out of the web of deception and vampiric diversion that the current world order has woven around us.”
I have just ordered this book, ‘Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice -A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action‘ after reading the interview (which I highly recommend) with the author J.F. Martell on The Teeming Brain website with Matt Cardin. Martel describes the book as
“an attempt to defend art against the onslaught of the cultural industries, which today seek to reduce art to a mindless form of entertainment or, at best, a communication tool. In Reclaiming Art I argue that great works of art constitute an expressive response to the radical mystery of existence. They are therefore inherently strange, troubling, and impossible to reduce to a single meaning or message. Much of contemporary culture is organized in such a way as to push this kind of art to the margins while celebrating works that reaffirm prevailing ideologies. In contrast, real works of art are machines for destroying ideologies, first and foremost the ideologies in which they were created.“
Martel, in an article exploring some of these themes before the publication of his book, explains how mass media seeks to control and limit how we perceive what our horizons actually look like.
“In so-called open societies, ideology is propagated using the techniques of art. That is to say that the aesthetic realm—the domain of feeling—is the locus where the potentialities of the social system are actualized or condemned. Freedom of thought finds its counterweight today in the systematic control of feeling. One of the primary functions of the mediasphere is to concoct moods, which then become determining factors as to what is deemed possible or impossible for society as a whole.”
“…in a very real sense, mass media is a spiritual machine for colonizing the psyche. It establishes an emotional climate favoring the replacement of living thought by the memes of the market. Achieving this has less to do with outright censorship than with aesthetic framing. It isn’t the content of what is presented that matters, but how that content is portrayed. The secret lies in the theatre that encodes an event, the smoke and mirrors that are used in framing it, the implicit judgments it can be made to serve and the poetics that narrate it. In the course of the last several decades, modern media has woven around us a tangled web of clamorous illusions and dancing lights whose function is to divert, confound, and bewitch an increasingly anxious populace while inuring it to the realities of life outside the “green zones” of Western privilege.”
“Authoritarian societies recognize the power of art, which is why they so brutally censor their best artists. Free market societies, on the other hand, adopt a strategy of suppression by appropriation. We tolerate artists so far as they make themselves useful as purveyors of distraction or producers of luxury commodities to be hawked in staid galleries and concert halls. Artworks that criticize the tenets of the system are accepted precisely because by their very powerlessness, they implicitly condone the practices they outwardly condemn. The fight is fixed: you can say anything because whatever you say won’t make a difference.”
“Art is neither a system for transmitting information nor a mode of self-expression. It does these things no better than any number of activities. Art is the seizure of a vision that exceeds language. It captures a slice of the Real and preserves it in an artifact. The work of art is fractal and open—an inexhaustible well of meaning and image overflowing the limits of the communicable. It is a way to the wilderness of the unconscious, the land of spirits and the dead. If great works of art are prophetic, it is because they disclose the forces that seethe behind the easy façade of ordinary time. I am not just thinking of the plays of Shakespeare and Sophocles here, but also of the poems of Emily Dickinson, the songs of Bob Dylan, the choreographies of Pina Bausch, the films of David Lynch. All of them are oracles.”
“The shaman enters the priestly society of the ancient world and is called a prophet. She enters modern industrial society and is called an artist. From the shape-shifting sorcerer painted on the cavern wall to Mr. Tambourine Man jangling in the junk-sick morning, a single tradition flows—backwards, like an undertow beneath the tidal thrust of history. This tradition tears us out of the system of codified language and returns us to the dreaming depths where language first rose as the idiot stammerings of poetry. The shaman, the prophet, the artist: each knows the way lies not in the dry processes of logic but in the snaking courses of the heart. If art makes use of ideas, concepts, and opinions, it is only to subsume them in the realm of the senses, to push them to the knife-edge of lunacy where the primal chaos shows through the skin of objects, where all judgments are silenced and beauty, naked and terrible, is revealed.”
“Art doesn’t begin when you realize that you have something to say. It begins at the hour when there is nothing left to say, when everything has been said, when what must be said is unspeakable. Deleuze described the artist as a shapeshifter and a seer. He or she “has seen something in life that is too great, too unbearable also, and the mutual embrace of life with what threatens it.”* Art, in other words, is a way to the sacred. It places the aesthetic in the service of something that transcends instrumental reason.”
At the end of the end of the interview with Cardin, the author is asked what advice he has for those who are moved and inspired by his writing. He responds,
“…all I can manage is an appeal to the individual reader to look at art again. We need to let go of our cynicism and disenchantment and recover our capacity to believe, our power to affect and be affected. Beyond this, there is one quite concrete action I think every new monk should take, and that’s to keep a dream journal. Recording our dreams awaken us to the imaginal, even as it awakens the imaginal to us. The result is always an abundance of vision.”
My friend Lee introduced me to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds awhile back. I didn’t pay much attention to them until Matt Cardin mentioned him in his ‘A Course in Demonic Creativity’ (which I will be referring to more as these posts continue) and in particular this episode.
Once upon a time Nick was nominated for an MTV music award and his response continues to inspire me and make me sit up and pay attention. I was reminded of this again today when I discovered this clip of a mesmerizing performance at this years Glastonbury festival.
Here is his letter to MTV with regards to the nomination,
“TO ALL THOSE AT MTV,
I WOULD LIKE TO START BY THANKING YOU ALL FOR THE SUPPORT YOU HAVE GIVEN ME OVER RECENT YEARS AND I AM BOTH GRATEFUL AND FLATTERED BY THE NOMINATIONS THAT I HAVE RECEIVED FOR BEST MALE ARTIST. THE AIR PLAY GIVEN TO BOTH THE KYLIE MINOGUE AND P. J. HARVEY DUETS FROM MY LATEST ALBUM MURDER BALLADS HAS NOT GONE UNNOTICED AND HAS BEEN GREATLY APPRECIATED. SO AGAIN MY SINCERE THANKS.
HAVING SAID THAT, I FEEL THAT IT’S NECESSARY FOR ME TO REQUEST THAT MY NOMINATION FOR BEST MALE ARTIST BE WITHDRAWN AND FURTHERMORE ANY AWARDS OR NOMINATIONS FOR SUCH AWARDS THAT MAY ARISE IN LATER YEARS BE PRESENTED TO THOSE WHO FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE WITH THE COMPETITIVE NATURE OF THESE AWARD CEREMONIES. I MYSELF, DO NOT. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN OF THE OPINION THAT MY MUSIC IS UNIQUE AND INDIVIDUAL AND EXISTS BEYOND THE REALMS INHABITED BY THOSE WHO WOULD REDUCE THINGS TO MERE MEASURING. I AM IN COMPETITION WITH NO-ONE.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY MUSE IS A DELICATE ONE AT THE BEST OF TIMES AND I FEEL THAT IT IS MY DUTY TO PROTECT HER FROM INFLUENCES THAT MAY OFFEND HER FRAGILE NATURE.
SHE COMES TO ME WITH THE GIFT OF SONG AND IN RETURN I TREAT HER WITH THE RESPECT I FEEL SHE DESERVES – IN THIS CASE THIS MEANS NOT SUBJECTING HER TO THE INDIGNITIES OF JUDGEMENT AND COMPETITION. MY MUSE IS NOT A HORSE AND I AM IN NO HORSE RACE AND IF INDEED SHE WAS, STILL I WOULD NOT HARNESS HER TO THIS TUMBREL – THIS BLOODY CART OF SEVERED HEADS AND GLITTERING PRIZES. MY MUSE MAY SPOOK! MAY BOLT! MAY ABANDON ME COMPLETELY!
SO ONCE AGAIN, TO THE PEOPLE AT MTV, I APPRECIATE THE ZEAL AND ENERGY THAT WAS PUT BEHIND MY LAST RECORD, I TRULY DO AND SAY THANK YOU AND AGAIN I SAY THANK YOU BUT NO…NO THANK YOU.
YOURS SINCERELY, NICK CAVE 21 OCT 96.”
“I’m transforming, I’m vibrating, I’m glowing
I’m flying, look at me
I’m flying, look at me now”