Monday, 26 July 2010

The Deity of Artists

This deity of all artists sits in quiet judgement expecting no less than our very best efforts and exerting an irrepressible influence over all of our thoughts and ambitions. It is felt as a profound but invisible presence by every artist in every facet of human creation. We offer up prayers to this being in the form of sketchbooks, maquettes and rehearsals and we maintain a habit of daily practice which, when neglected, we feel a crippling guilt and anxiety for our lack of constant vigilance and commitment.

We make regular pilgrimages to cathedral-like edifices to admire the many offerings and sacrifices made to this god, and special ceremonies are regularly held in these buildings where a select congregation are administered wine in a ritual of celebration and respect.

Children are inculcated into the rituals of this religion from an early age but significantly we spare them from any mention of its god. Perhaps like the Jewish god Yahweh, this deity is simply too sacred to be spoken of in anything but the most solemn and serious of terms.

When a select few of these more adept devotee's choose to embark upon the higher study of the faith there is a unexpected change. No longer is the real emphasis on practicing the rituals (although many backward clergymen continue to teach in this mode) but suddenly these novices are expected to interpret and speak the language of this god, a god they’ve barely seen and only vaguely recognise.

Art is clearly the religion, but what name do we give to this sacred being which strikes fear, guilt and confusion into so many? The deity of all artists is Meaning.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps with "meaning" you've stopped short at the son of the Deity, rather than the Deity itself.

Some may argue that the highest aim of all art is pure perception of the Platonic Ideas; to be transported, in other words, to a realm beyond reason (and thus beyond "meaning", inasmuch as meaning is related to reason).

"Art", then, is the creed; the structure that keeps man safe from the elements. But perhaps out there, amongst the wind and rain, is where God is truly to be found.

J. Hamlyn said...

The high-energy particle physicist turned Anglican priest John Pilkinghorn said: “those who are seeking understanding through and through - a natural instinct for the scientist - are seeking God, whether they name him or not.”

I guess it's a question of interpretation and, as with so many things that concern interpretation, people often argue vehemently about the ‘truth” at it’s heart. Fortunately the “church” of art leaves space for many truths.

The other - perhaps main - point of my post (which may have been concealed by the rather purple prose) was to draw attention to the contrast between students’ common expectation of artschool as a place for studying the practice (rituals) of art and the fact that when they actually get to artschool (if it’s half decent anyway) the emphasis shifts to “Meaning” and relatively little attention is paid to technique. I should have known that religious metaphors are all too easy to misinterpret!

Tamsin said...

Indeed - I was off on some thought about the problem being the sense that the deity in both cases was outside, waiting to be placated, offered up to etc. The difference, perhaps, between religion and religious experience? Artists working always with an eye to fashion and approval, rather than as a means of digging deeper into their own experience of the world....

If the sacred being of Meaning strikes fear, guilt and confusion in so many, perhaps the inside/outside distinction is relevant (bear with my simple binary for now...). If an artist is busy trying to work out how to get the judgements they want from the outside, how to do the rituals right etc. in relation to some hazy notion of externally-defined meaning, then it looks to me as if they're stuffed.

And the problem isn't particularly confined to making art. Isn't it related to the bigger issue of what on earth a person can find inside themself that they will accept as Meaning?

J. Hamlyn said...

That's the “Overjustification Effect” you're talking about if I understand you correctly (the idea that rewards can actually diminish intrinsic motivation). If the motivation isn’t intrinsic you’re probably right – they’re (we’re) stuffed. Perhaps the same goes for Meaning (or meaning) too.

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