A cohesive unified theory on the purpose of art rendered incoherent by being like really tired of a lot of things.
Here's an opinion that I sort of developed a while ago, and in the intervening years, have found no reason to abandon: the purpose of art is to express some sort of personal experience, and the purpose of consuming art is to try and acquaint ourselves with the perspectives of others—to promote kindness, better social cohesion, the gradual erosion of the self as the ultimate end, that sorta thing.
That's one of the big motivators behind writing, for me—it's why I kept my two blogs while I lived in Japan, and it's one reason that I keep this blog 1. Unfortunately, I've somehow gotten a lot worse at this in the years since getting back from Japan. I'm still trying to figure out why this is.
The most obvious reason is that I just don't write as much. I don't. I'm out of practice. Getting back into a regular rhythm will shepherd the words and images and metaphors back to me. Shepherd? Clearly they're not back with me yet.
I think a second reason is that I'm feeling a sort of... internal malaise, almost? A sort of disassociation with myself. Not a daily bad feeling by any means, just like taking a step back and being like, Right, let's get our bearings. It's been living with me, or I with it, for a little while now, and I don't know what to do about it, and I haven't worked through it, if it's work-through-able. Anyway, it doesn't make for good writing—yuck.
Another big reason is that in the past I was going through a mid-20s David Foster Wallace kick and it was easy to hide behind a sort of faux-rambling DFW schtick and not really have to think about what I was saying. It was certainly easier to write that way, but it feels transparent and hacky when I read that stuff nowadays. Also yuck.
Anyway, that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about art.
Art that resonates
So: some art falls flat with me. Some music, some visual art, some performative art, whatever. Movies. I'll experience the art, and I'll sort of internalise it and digest it and it just comes out the other end of me in a grey lumpen mass and I don't think about it. It's not that it's bad art; it just doesn't resonate with me.
Which is fine—I think that everyone's experience of art is Intensely Personal, so a piece of art that resonates with me might not resonate with you, and that's ok, that's something that we can agree on.
But by resonate, I mean that the art, like, echoes with me, or echoes with you, over some period of time after experiencing the art. I'm sure you know the feeling: you can't stop thinking about it; it builds connections with other pieces of art you've consumed or experiences you've had.
When I was a teenager I read Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl and I just desperately wanted to be different and artsy-fartsy and noticeable and it stuck with me, and resonated powerfully in my teenage shell for like months.
Anyway, I've been thinking about all of this because I watched Bo Burnham's Inside. I don't have anything to say about it that other people haven't said better, or more wryly, or ad nauseam. It's good, and you should watch it.
To be fair, I'm almost certainly his exact target audience: educated, middle-class, white, On The Internet. I can identify intmately with the context of his work. He makes himself, not only understood to me, but powerfully human in a way that I think a lot of people can respond to. Litle cults of personality always grow up around people who achieve fame through an abundance of talent and then pivot to create art about their human reaction to that fame, especially when there's a big anxiety element to that fame.
This, like so many other things, is probably the Internet's fault. Fame Anxiety is just a concentrated form of Social Media Anxiety. The twisting feeling you get in your guts when thousands, millions of eyes are on you all of the time. The only palpable difference between someone like Bo Burnham and someone posting about their anxiety on Twitter is that Burnham is a lot better at expresing what it's like.
If the face of the art coin is Expressing, the obverse is Identifying. Specifically Identifying with other people: seeing some experience or feeling or something in there and latching on to it. That echoing feeling of resonance: that's Identifying. I Express myself; you Identify with me—or more often: you Express yourself, I Identify with you.
Right, I'm done with the capitals now.
You don't need to have a big Netflix budget for me to identify with you. I identify with tweets all the time, and make no mistake: these tweets are, in their unassuming way, capital-A Art. (Ok I wasn't done.) Blog posts are art, if they're made with intent to express; an article in a fancy online magazine is art. Journalism can be art.
Does the intent matter? If I identify with something that wasn't intended for identification, is that art? That's neither here nor there, and I'm not going into it. "What is art?" Get bent.
Anywhere that someone has made themselves clearly understood, or has plucked a string somewhere inside of you, or has allowed you to walk a few steps in someone else's shoes (& it doesn't have to be the artist's shoes, incidentally), is a good high-quality piece of art in my opinion.
And I have massive awe for people who can do this sort of thing at will. I don't know how they do it, but when I see someone do it, my whole body just collapses out from under me in total awe.
Other little thoughts w/ nowhere to put em
Here's a conundrum: what happens when I identify with something not as myself, but like, identifying as some idealised version of myself? When I respond to motivational image macros posted on Reddit? When the art (???) doesn't speak to me, but speaks to the kind of person that I wish I was? Untangle that one.
Here's another: what happens when people identify publically (e.g. in the comments section of a YouTube video, in the lobby of a theatre, crowded shoulder-to-shoulder with iPhone-toting tourists in the Coliseum)? When people respond to art the same way that I do, in some place where I can see them having the same response? Does it disrupt my identification to know that it's some sort of common response among people like me? Does it cheapen my response, if I know that it's normal? And what happens when people publically respond to art differently from me?
I don't know what the point of all this is. Trying something out here. I might not identify at all with this when I come back to it in like 2 months' time. Wish me luck.
Other stuff that happened this week
Sam and I walked the 60-kilometer Esk Valley Walk. It was painful but it gave me a lot of time to clear my head and reset my internal chemistry in some non-negligible way. I'm looking forward to walking St. Cuthbert's Way next weekend.
1. Why I keep this blog: 1) to express myself, somehow, 2) to try and figure out what I think about stuff, helping me work through my opinions, 3) for tech industry clout. ↩︎
I can never remember quite how PGP encrpytion works (mostly because I never use it), so I'm writing it down here to refer back to when someone starts talking wonky crypto stuff at me.
I'm extremely tired of the powerful in tech holding the rest of us hostage in the name of innovation.