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I Believe in Art,
Or more formally-inclusive, in aesthetics.
Truth and Beauty are not absolutes. They are quests, and the best human beings are remarkable questers.
I am pretty certain I would not have liked Richard Wagner. There is ample documentation of his difficult, prejudicial personality and knowledge of that ruins "Die Meistersinger" for many people. Not for me. I think of Wagner as an analog for the species. Most of him is petty, vain and pompous; some of him is downright despicable. The best of him is glorious!
At the moment I am listening to Bellini's "La Sonnambula". It's wonderful stuff; bel canto, not very subtle; just pure aural beauty; the perfect thing to listen to when one is (intermittently) doing something else.
I have no idea what kind of person Vincenzo Bellini was. All I know is that I have the best of him in the room with me.
(But I readily admit that knowing Giuseppi Verdi was a passionate democrat does a bit enhance my appreciation of his operas.)
As a repository of my faith, I find aesthetics infinitely superior to any religion I have ever heard of, including my own Rational one.
Art is by definition individualistic; anything deserving of the title is in some important way unique. It is capable of producing powerful emotions and extraordinary effects upon the human spirit. One might be tempted to use the verb-adjectives "inspiring" and "uplifting," except that trying to tack down an aesthetic experience with mere words is a bit of a profanation; rather like pinning butterflies.
When aesthetics has a lasting effect upon the individual, it is also profoundly educational, tutoring not only the mind but the entire extra-physical organism; the soul, if you will.
Metaphysical religionists will nod at this point, thinking they recognize the symptoms as akin to their own theological experience.
I submit that they are responding only to the aesthetic elements of their faith. The rest of it is likely to be exclusive, discriminatory, and loaded with shibboleths and "thou-shalt-nots;" crawling with superstition and opportunities for guilt.
The best of most religions has been responsible for art; sometimes great art which communicates across the ages. This is not the part of the religion which celebrates in-group social relationships and seeks to make the faithful negotiate a complicated network of intellectual-emotional hurdles to qualify for membership in the fold; and makes not-just-occasional war against selected out-groups.
It's not even the part which admonishes them to "be good."
Aesthetics is hard to define, rooted as much in our endocrine secretions as it is in our central nervous system. It is easier to say what it is not, as in the three paragraphs immediately preceding.
Suffice it so say that it tends to broaden, rather than narrow, our intellectual-emotional focus. It lifts and frees us, as opposed to the binding and depressing effects of most of the rest of our endeavors.
By these criteria, it is easy to see that aesthetics can exist on many levels, from the experience of watching our own inexpert children performing in a school recital to the bravura brilliance of Pavarotti pouring from my stereo speakers.
A corollary of my Decalogue #7 is that "Truth and Beauty are matters of opinion."
If it moves you spiritually it's possibly art. But be aware! Aesthetics is truly addictive, in that you build up tolerances. You will need more and more of it; and better and better. It is perhaps the most benign human dependency, since it builds one up in the most significant areas of one's existence.
(One of my quarrels with Rock and Roll, as an art form, is that it tends to be intolerantly self-inclusive. This tends to make it cultish and in-expandable; not for the musicians, necessarily. True musicians cross stylistic lines much more easily than their average fans.
I recall an extremely intelligent friend, a lifelong jazz enthusiast, admitting at age 38 that he found himself listening more and more to Bach and Beethoven than to Bird and Bix. I don't think he was comparing or quantifying his experience; just remarking that he had expanded it into areas he had previously given short shrift.)
Aesthetics celebrates the imagination, but it also implies discipline. In order to wield that axe, whether it is a keyboard, brush or stone chisel, one must submit oneself to training; and get out of bed nearly every day to organize one's inspiration and impulses, squeezing them through the narrow, constricting aperture of one's chosen medium.
It is a costly, wasteful process, producing an infinitesimal percentage of "keepers" among any lifetime body of work.
What makes it worthwhile is the fact that it is the most satisfying thing any artist can imagine doing. This sustains us, even in the face of the indifference of a philistine public. And for most of us the public remains stubbornly philistine, because we don't happen to be saying anything that appeals to their aesthetic senses. We live and die "unrecognized," and whether we were "good" or not is irrelevant.
...To Departed Us, not necessarily to the public.
The artist become famous only from the grave is a cliche because it has happened so often. Wretched van Gogh, dying young in insane poverty, has created several fortunes and - more to his own point - buoyed countless spirits. And both of these posthumous effects will continue probably as long as what we call "Western Civilization" is extant in the Universe.
An artist must learn to create without the spur of approbation. Approbation can be a snare, distracting the creator from creation as he basks in the public appreciation of past efforts.
Or it can seem an impossible impediment; early success, especially. How can one possibly top one's last triumph, especially as - thinking about it - one truly has no idea exactly how one did it.
Creation is a process. It doesn't do to think about it too much. One's own frail humanity looks insuperable. Just do it.
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