Tim Jackson, M.F.A., Ph.D.
Director, Synth/Ops Research Group
and Professor of New Media
Department of Art History
Savannah College of Art and Design
The Projects Workspace promotes the development of online collaborations by MARCEL members and others. The following is an essay by the manager of this area to introduce some generative thoughts and to serve as a catalyst for member participation.
Art as a Verb
The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see - it is, rather, a light by which we may see - and what we see is life.
– Robert Penn Warren
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.
- Arthur Schopenhauer
I knew 'art' was a verb, in "Our Father, who art in heaven", but I understood it as some verbal counterpart of the noun 'art'… 'To art' in this sense would mean something like, 'to work (magic)'... It wasn't until much later that it occurred to me that this was in fact just an arcane, mysterious form of the verb 'to be'.
– Heidi Harley, from “On art, arts, arting, arted.”
We art. Art as a commodity market based upon the exchange of objects is indeed idolatrous. What is the value of a work of art? Art cannot be possessed any more than the wind or a thought. We cannot confuse the meaning of the message with the messenger by placing emphasis upon the objective evidence of arting. Art objects are artifacts that carry the viral codes of meaning. Arting produces the artifacts and systems that are the encoding and decoding mirrors of our age. The lack of analysis and interpretation of the objects produced by arting reduces the activity to mere style and the whims of fashion.
The fetishization of art as artifact itself is the mirror reflection of a world governed by greed. Our politics and economics therefore art us as well. The artifacts of our sentience do have value, but this value is best expressed by the term priceless. The perceived quality of the artifacts of arting tell us a great deal about dominant human values. The current boom in the art market is the result of the sublimation of our desire for meaning with the idols of arting.
This is not a new process, but rather a variation of similar past practices. Within the canonical representation of mainstream education, Art History may be viewed as a celebration of Empires, a cascading rise and fall of power and plunder which leaves the detritus of the ruling class avarice in the form of the artifacts of domination and pandering. This act of “collecting” artifacts is based upon the notion that somehow if you possess a fetish object called art, you also possess something intangible that is embodied in its materiality and thus may be transubstantiated. Such a process lives is the realm of magic as well as delusion.
Our choices in life are indeed aesthetic and explicit in meaning as manifest through our actions. Unfortunately, like Narcissus and Echo, the object of our aesthetic desire remains elusive as we are punished because of the pathos of our pride. Materialists sometimes attempt to own meaning through purchasing things, but all they buy is an object or other performative forms of a reflection of their desire - an echo of their cry for sentience. While we are indeed defined in this manner through the objects of our desire, illumination is required to art and to pursue sentience. We paint a self-portrait through our acts of collecting and worship. We organize the sacred and profane deities through the material culture residue of our actions.
What we call art is the practice of arting, of encoding human sentience in signals, codes, symbols and signs. This process requires metaphoric translation through analysis and interpretation. Metaphors are vehicles that take us to destinations of meaning. Art works as evidence of our dreams, our fears, our hopes, our desires, our memories, and our aspirations. We art in search of ourselves as in Gauguin’s “Who are we, where do we come from, where are we going.”
There are arting systems and systems of arting, some known as art forms and others as propaganda. The practices of arting can produce good or evil outcomes. When we art we engage is actions of meaning. The question to pose is whether this potentially rich experience of meaning is being transferred through the object or system messenger or whether we merely worship the golden calf of our age. In Jeffrey Shaw’s 1995 work The Golden Calf, an empty pedestal becomes the location and ground for a synthetic sculptural object in virtual space. The Golden Calf as our contemporary idol is presented to us as a 3-D virtual object with which we can physically interact in the round. Therefore, the objects of our desire and worship need not be real. Matter is not a prerequisite characteristic of the fetish and indicates an even more chilling effect upon our soul.
We can more clearly perceive art as a verb related to the practice of magic. This should be distinguished from the works of all of the Illusionist, as Plato so vehemently warned us of their trickery as liars who can manipulate the simple-minded. Although sometimes, as the various Tricksters of mythology show us, one sometimes must lie to convey the truth in a form it may be understood. Magic is the art of influencing events and producing marvels that are real. The activity of arting may change the world or may simply perpetuate existing conditions of our understanding of the real. Art as an arcane form of the verb “to be” also reminds of Shakespeare’s admonishment through the voice of Hamlet “[t]o be or not to be: that is the question.” Yet he goes on to say “[t]hus conscience does make cowards of us all; … [a]nd lose the name of action.” The name of action is indeed the rub. To make magic is to influence events and produce marvels.
Go forth and art a better world and never lose the name of action.