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Evaluating Value

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Is it fair if we compare? Would a Warhol viewed in Rembrandt’s time be greeted with respect? One can wonder how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would have been received if, instead of that famous text he gave, he used instead the movie speech from Independence Day. Context is essential in these situations.

A work of art is reflective of its age and viewing it outside of or in disregard of these facts fails to consider essential details of the art. A painting is far more than just its ink and canvas. Contained within that painting are the background details of both its own time and ours. View a painting in 2014 and its interpretation is not the same our viewing of it in 2013. Art, just the humans who create it, are constantly in flux.

“We cannot step into the same river twice” is a statement that connects here. Linked to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus it reminds us of the constant flux of life. Wary we must be when considering our own interpretations and the objects of our thinking. Never will we reach a point of certainty.

With every day our experiences and knowledge expand and change and from these “evolutions” come a new and different person. Perhaps our age is less a measure of our time alive and more a measure of the days in which we have been adjusted. Life affects us all, but for those who seek to truly apply their thinking and experience a work of art is a prime tool of consideration.

In a painting we have a constant object on which to ponder. Generation after generation can cast its gaze on the object and engage in the work to draw conclusion. Each individual will conduct this work in different ways and reflect the society from which he or she exists. By the questions we ask and the conclusions we draw much can be learned about the times from which we stem. Art is perfect for these experiments: thinking on our thinking reveals who we are. What can be said for a culture who made popular the work of a man whose sold process was printing soup cans? Does it suggest a commercially obsessed cultural or a culture reveling in a post-war glut of capital and power. All interpretations will vary, but what matters most of all is that work is being done.

The greatest art inspires thinking and while all art makes a statement it is the audience and critic’s job to evaluate the statements. Everyone can make an artistic statement but the value of these statements is a conclusion draw by the culture. These will vary over time and herein lies the glory of great art. Shakespeare persists not because of viral marketing but because his work continues to connect with generations.

Our sense of humor may change but what often remains constant is our sense of sincerity. If the art conveys a truth and speaks to us we continue to preserve it. Passing it on and suggesting others consider it becomes both a benefit for the future audience and the artist who created the work.

Valuable art is never about money: true value lies in immortality. No dollar amount can measure that power and no leader will ever hold the strength of a great painting. Biceps be damned: true power lies in great. Immortality is real: great art will live forever and though the hands and souls who created these works will perish the works themselves continue forward for as long as their message continues to be true. In truth beauty and in beauty truth.

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Staling Aura

November 2, 2013 Leave a comment

Let me play a recording from 1961. Will you know its not from 1991? Assume you do not see me drop the vinyl on the record player or thrust the VHS into the VCR- would you know the era of the work of art? Certain arts are dated by the medium of production. A recording from the 1960s sounds like its from the 1960s. You can see the age of movies in their very nature. Though the story line is common, the date of a production informs our reading of a text, film, or song.

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” considers our relation to art when it can be copied. If the gift shop sells a post card of The Mona Lisa, can we just skip the original and hit the cafe? Benjamin thinks not- he asserts an “aura” surrounds the original. An initial creation exists as something more than just an object. A painting is more than just some paint on canvas or the ideas suggested in the medium’s arrangement. The work is many things: a document of artistic creation? A historical document or record? This list is truly endless: art can be anything and everything.

Despite this ambiguous existence the work of art itself suffers from its means of creation. Media decays and technology evolves to place a work of art in history. As the work ages we gain a sense of how old it is. When the painting falls to shreds does Benjamin’s suggested “aura” become depleted? The Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC displays the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the Star Spangled Banner. The flag is highly tattered from its age and experience but is its aura affected? In the end it is the viewer that invests this flag with meaning. Might our flag, draped carefully from the garage inspire similar feelings from Key? Is it rather the battle or the moment that inspired Key?

Interpretive Aging

August 13, 2013 Leave a comment

When a piece of art is created, it stands as a document of its time. Inside a novel we enter a world constructed by an author. Moral concepts become instilled inside its pages along with details of everyday life: what type pf technology did they use and how did they exist? Seemingly mundane details become a record of “how things were” and function to provide a reader in the future with a sense of history.

One interprets art from this “future looking backwards” perspective. The art exist as a relic of the past, but in our interpretation we apply contemporary perspectives to historical documents. Whether we do so objectively remains unclear, but each reader evaluates the ideas of a novel with his or her perspectives. Standards of morality become tools to evaluate the morality of the characters in this works of art.

In evaluating works of art we garnish value on the basis of an unfair standard. Are the characters interesting to our contemporary ideas? Are their actions ethical or do they disgust us with their ideas. Many works of art fall victim to their contents: characters are racist or sexist or display behaviors that seem downright absurd. Time has the ability of making serious art into farce and farce into profound documents of record.

For some works of art, times functions to nominate material to the canon. What work deserves to be passed on to future generations? What is worth our reading time now in this “busy world of now.” For the great works we find time to give our time and attention. While some work lasts forever, it is a rare gift bestowed on works of art. Often we grow distant from works of old but only on the basis of their ideas. To no fault of their makers, some works of art grow stale with time. All art must evolve with the audience but does so with the curse of textual permanence. The greatest works of generations past often become drivel or, worst of all, documents of shame wherein times of old seem offensive and ignorant.

Tracing the Tree: Historical Family Texts

February 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Limited though we are, our notion of who we are and how we exist is an amalgamation of

memory and history. We do not exist as blank, objectively focused actors in the world. Instead we are the latest models in a long line of family. Defining these roles are the historical documents that link past to present. The family photo album is less record, more instruction manual when the grandson views pictures and considers dress, attitudes and roles.

In these documents we  see social class and history; we view  cultural behaviors and learn who it was that came before. How did they look back then? What did they wear and what did they do? Our historical record answers these questions and suggest identity.

In a world rich with documentation the proverbial apple falling from the tree remains forever in free fall. In our documents we find apple, tree, and branch.

Kicking Cans: Extending Material Through Time

July 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Though inked over five-hundred years ago, the work of William Shakespeare continues to entertain audiences and draw income for those who perform the “ancient texts.” Shakespeare’s work is a masterful body of work but is this the only reason we continue to perform and observe performances of Shakespeare? Why do certain authors and works continue to hold cultural sway from generation to generation?

As all cultures do, our world is undergoing a major shift in human interaction. In our current evolution we are coming to terms with powerful tools that revolutionize the way we interact with each other. Part of this evolution is the transfer of our culture into these new forms. We find the printed work being replaced with digital formats and the complicated adjustments that come from this process. No longer will we utilize a large store to gain access to the written word; instead, great novels will come in the form of digital downloads.

In such states of transition the process of human recommendation takes on a greater power. Just as one human recommending a work to another extends the work from one to two, a culture recommends work that determines our culture’s canon of great work. Shakespeare gained access to the canon simply by the number of human beings who, after experiencing Shakespeare, sought to convince others of the work’s value. Gradually these recommendations expanded and Shakespeare’s power was born. A similar process occurs across all mediums.

How will the new medium of technology alter the way we develop our canon? The technological formats we now utilize are different from the printed form. Likewise, the readers who utilize these tools are different and can utilize the technological devices to advance their interaction with the text. A reader now is not limited to the printed copy of a form. In-device technologies can assist a reader’s understanding, provide access for social interaction with other readers and even create a situation where the reader can access updated or corrected form of a text.

I often wonder if certain forms of art will fail to transfer to the new formats. Is there a reason to worry that poetry will not have a dynamic existence in the digital revolution? Do weakened forms of art eventually die out to be replaced by new, stronger forms? Poetry is not dead of course, but the ancient form of art has a far weaker audience than in previous generations. There are multiple reasons for this and technology is only a minor part but as we move into a world where a new class of readers take control will we discard this ancient art? At what point does a form of art become too complicated or simply ill-suited to a new form.

All art depends on human recommendation to exist. From the single work to the entire form of art, it is the individual’s suggestion of a title that forms the life blood of an art. As technology continues to expand and alter the ways readers interact with text we may find that some forms of art are ill-suited for these new forms. These transitions may have profound effects on our culture but we have little control over what occurs. Fearing the disappearance of a certain work or even type of art is a frivolous activity. After all, all art is a reflection of the culture from which it stems and the death of an art form reveals that the culture does not need it and the art has in some way failed to establish itself as a tool for the generation.

All art must function as a tool for a generation. Tools vary just as generations and with each new dawning the process of tool acceptance or rejection creates a system where some tools remain and some disappear. We may find that just as our retail, social and political worlds are altered the world of art will be dramatically different as our culture evolves. Such is the nature of social evolution, though one must feel anxious that with such alterations come great loss.

Wikipedia: The Latest Great Human Creation

December 22, 2010 1 comment

Wikipedia is a remarkable piece of work. Since its creation on January 15, 2001, the online encyclopedia has blossomed into a power house of over thirteen-million members maintaining over three-million pages of content. Beyond its depth the site also has broken a number of news stories, most notably the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, reflected on this development on NPR in 2007.

And yet despite the sheer size of the resource and the fact that each of its three-million pages are the creation of a voluntary group, the site is considered low-grade and is frequently frowned upon as less a viable resource and more an extensive wall of graffiti and system where bad info prevail. Critics cite a lack of editorial oversight (untrue) or a skepticism about the general public’s ability to craft a legitimate educational resource. Some, it seems, are doubtful that non-experts are capable of creating legitimate info.

Of course any user of Wikipedia will recognize the error of these perspectives. The gradual evolution of the site has been a response to the growing body of users and now includes features that preserve and protect pages from rapid or irrational changes. Users who aim to damage the legitimacy of Wikipedia face hurdles in doing so and every set of eyes who utilize Wikipedia possess the ability to improve or correct material on the site. It is the a constantly expanding resource just like the human race and the collective knowledge we possess.In some ways Wikipedia is an abstract representation of our minds, an artificial symbol that reflects our progress, foibles and pitfalls as intelligent creatures.

Wikipedia is a jewel of human creation. It is the single greatest human creation in the last one-hundred years and perhaps, the greatest and only thing that collective human beings have ever created. Never in our history have we worked together to create something like Wikipedia. Some pose the question of what material would be best to showcase Earth to a visiting group of aliens. What piece of art? What film or piece of music could serve to represent our many cultures and ideas. The answer now is simple: the provision of access to Wikipedia will suffice to reveal just who we were, are and continue to be. We’re an imperfect bunch, ever growing and learning and just like all of our creations are reflections of their creator, Wikipedia reveals just how strong and weak we are.

Keen on Quality

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment

The awareness of true skill or the activity that one does most efficiently or which produces the highest quality product is a crucial awareness that individuals should seek to develop. In a recent article on Life Hacker, This American Life‘s Ira Glass was presented as an example of someone who considers the quality of the product during the creative process. We must sacrifice creations that are sub-par, effectively considering each creation for its value and slaughtering any low-grade creations as soon as possible. Glass, the article suggests, is a single example of successful creators whose skill to discarding low-quality products allow for greater artistic evolution.

Too often we fall victim to the limited perspective provided to an audience. As receivers of the end-product, the audience is not aware of the creative process. Whether the creation before us was an instantaneous creation gifted from the heavens is unknown to us. Did the work come only after hours, days or weeks of toil? We cannot know and often assume the artist’s work is an automatic process wherein high quality work is gifted from the heavens. Artists work to support this divine notion as well, quotations from Michael Jackson and Keith Richards document a belief that artistic musings come from a source beyond the artist and, as Jackson suggests, are better left alone and avoided in lieu of blocking the artistic gift.

We only see the great performances. When we read the novel it has been edited by numerous minds, corrected and revised countless times so that the printed paper copy in our hand is a high-quality final product. Likewise the performance in the film is the result of hours of practice and, if presented in recorded form, likely cleaned and edited in order to create a product as closely tied to the creator’s ideal form as possible. Technology only complicates this.

The consequences of this disconnect is a danger of assumption. Removed from the creative process, the audience may fall victim to assuming artistic creation is automatic and free from hard labor. Under such a notion, the audience may pursue artistic creation with an unrealistic expectation, expecting that a work of great genius will be delivered automatically. The danger comes in the denial of this provision and in the reaction of the desiring creator comes a significant adjustment either the interested creator gives up or decides they are “ungifted” and not capable of creating something unique.

There is not remedy for this situation beyond an increased awareness. We need to recognize the hard work that creative production entails and avoid the assumption that great work comes automatically. Any job that produces high quality material often requires a significant effort. It is too true that “effort in equals product out.” It’s the elbow grease we need and, blessed with a reasonable provision of patience, we might just find a product worthy of our desperate need and effort.

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