The usefulness of Art (A question that cannot be answered?)

Looking at art is in itself problematic. “What is it?” Is a question that often comes to mind and most often, at least in the past 20 to 30 years, i.e., from the middle of the 1970s, it has been replaced or followed by “what is it for?”


The artist is then supposed to justify the work with the theory although both are fundamentally different mediums addressing different areas of inquiry…more different than the pacing of a horse’s gallop is from the combustion of fuel in an engine. The theoretical body is as strange to the artist as a photograph is to the indigenous tribe. Yet the members of this tribe also make art, and would never see this as a futile pursuit. Their art has a purpose. It does not require theory to be explained. It is a question that answers itself yet retains the mystery around which this tribe will elaborate a sacred ritual.


But I wonder about the value of this justification and how much it takes away from the comprehension of a piece compared to how much it adds to it.


I wonder about what constitutes a justification for leaving billions of cubic meters of pneumonic  space, air, unfilled by recognizable and useful agents, i.e. every molecule of air filled up with tools, utilities, applications, commodities and services, which would surely enhance the efficiency and speed of our super developing infrastructure.  The justification for not going ahead with this spatial annexation, this conversion of vital space into marketable property is the essential side effect produced: immediate asphyxiation of every life form on the planet for the exception of a few bacteria. The reason behind this ridiculous proposition and obvious consequences sits in the equally absurd question: “What is it for?”


What would happen if art was suddenly deleted, what would be left in its place, what would the absence of art engender? Would it be some sort of suffocation of the psyche? In which case, would we even be aware of it?


What would result from the total replacement of art by unadulterated perfectly contained functionality, culturally ergonomic, turning the object, human or inanimate, into social furniture?


We hypothesize on the role of Andy Warhol in the death of art, and the subsequent flock of postmodernist entrepreneurs embracing his influence by denigrating the value of the past of which he had after all become a resounding part. We are submerged by a continuous shower of half baked grand ideas repeated ad infinitum and appropriated rejects, a fall out from the cultural luxury satellites hogging the stratosphere of the art market. But even in the time of Albrecht Dürer, a pioneer self publicist, art re-production via printmaking was thriving. Yet, these hundreds of duplicates did not clog up history; they expanded its field of cultural magnitude.


I do not see art as taking or filling space. I see art as the very stuff that makes space possible and without which the mind would become blank, suffocated in staleness, in stagnancy.


So the utilization of breathing space is not viable. It is counter productive. Yet we expect this from art. This theorization of art was never really a basis for understanding. It was a way of justifying its presence in our ever sub-devising social structure, in the manner the tourist industry will justify the continuing survival of a village otherwise superfluous, having fallen out of the global economic contract. Art has now reached the status of the tourist attraction. But this is only its social characteristic and its institutionalized manifestation.


Art is complex, like a natural phenomenon, like a human being out of whom it emerges and whom it reflects. Were we to cut through it, we would find an irregular concentric pattern similar to that of a tree; the crystallized maelstrom of spiritual evolution. It is an organism in itself, its layers spreading outward and inward simultaneously, a metamorphic Russian doll within which each crossing of a threshold triggers a butterfly effect. And this happened even when “Art” as a terminology did not exist.


Art is non utilized liminal space to borrow the term from a contemporary art group (Meanwhile Project…), a mental space on the edge of consciousness. An art object cannot be born outside of this space because there is no space for it to be born. What resides outside this art space is the void devoid of space. This vacuum is so because every atom has become a carrier of utilization, utilization we call information as McLuhan suggested in his visionary philosophy in the 1950’s. Therefore the art object in its true sense stands in fundamental opposition to this utilized void, where theory reigns. Art is the enemy of information. And one could then venture the message can only contradict the art that gives rise to it, and that art as a medium becomes outstripped by the imposition of this message (to continue my reference to McLuhan’s ”the medium is the message”’, his famous phrase.) Hostage of an effect, the cause loses meaning. Art, if it is also a medium, is not passive but rendered passive by definition. This definition lay in the interpretation of the medium superseding our perception of the content.


An art object born out of the liminal inter-zone will therefore also not only contain liminal quality but generate it. It possesses a spatial field a little like that of the luminosity of a glow worm seen at night. Removing or disregarding it is to remove the potential of experiencing the liminal space of our mind.


We do not become enlightened or lucid gazing at an art object. Another process takes place, the first characteristic of which is that we are not aware of it…intellectually. A connection occurs between the viewer and the object, between their respective liminal wavelengths. The unconscious part of the viewer is activated, it becomes an additional or more so, an extensional dimension of the art object. They resonate at this point as if the gaze of the onlooker was a hand hitting the tight skin of a drum, or throwing a pebble ricocheting on the flexible surface of the water, then sinking sending out the concentric signal of its passage that will outlast its loss. The sound emerging encapsulates the art space, the liminal manifestation of the art object in the mind of the witness. They catalyze, in this conjunction, the conception of a mercurial element we call ART. Not the object, not the theory, not the audience or the history. We come back to the question “What is art?” Art is what answers this question by another question. Some would say, then Socrates is art, and in a sense, he was.


Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2011