Fallacy Assumed

The French philosopher Levinas stated that an epiphany brings a disclosure from a deity to the common man. Others may say that it provides a grand revelation giving the individual an additional outlook on life. Whatever the case may be, it never leaves the individual static. Epiphanies do not seem to come expectedly, they are difficult to plan, and they usually leave individuals feeling somewhat humbled. The particular experience I have in mind caught me in a rude sort of way—quite recently, actually. I was going through my daily routine, and I had just finished an hour or two of practicing saxophone in Timko-Barton. As I rushed through the main hall of the building to catch my next class, I saw a couple. They were standing there holding each other and the guy had a very serious look on his face, as if his whole future as a man was teetering on the forefront of his mind, about to spill out of all over the floor in one giant sentimental puddle. Now, many couples attend ORU. Many couples meet at ORU. Most significantly, many couples marry after meeting at ORU. I find nothing inherently wrong with this fact. I am sure marriage is a wonderful thing and I myself would like to be married someday. However, I have heard too many times about the success rates of students who blissfully meet at Oral Roberts Univ., haphazardly fall in love, and impetuously support the careers of aspiring divorce lawyers around the world. So when I saw this impervious island couple standing there, (it was obvious at the time that they were dealing with something) my thoughts ran something in the line of “go away PDA” and “get real.” Their sentimental soppiness was thoroughly irritating. Nevertheless, I continued on my way, trying not to smirk as best as I could. As soon as I got out the door, the epiphany hit me like a jolt of morphine flowing to my mind. Thoughts like, “why do you think that you know so much more about love than them,” and “do you even have a clue what they are going through,” recall especially strongly from that cold Tulsa morning. The more I thought about the couple, the more certain I became, one could feel it radiating it from them like some sort of proud and private aura they held up together: trust—ever elusive, yet priceless in light of so many distractions in this busy world. Earn it, embody it, esteem it.

Art-in-an-ugly-box

You are in Vineland, Ontario at a fruit farm in late August. Summer is in full swing. The birds are out. The fragrant smell of peaches is in the air. These are yellow-flesh peaches with more of a tang of the clingstone variety, perfect for jams and pastries. Nearby, you see apples flying into a large bin in the back of a pickup for processing. Harvest season has fully arrived. There is the sound of machinery in the distance at the barn cleaning and preparing the produce for the market. On the radio you can hear St. Catharine’s Newstalk CKTB 610 AM. Today is a break from the daily news for a poutpourri of Glenn Gould, Justin Bieber, Bill Street, and Celine Dion. Today, it is your job to pick the peaches. You have to take care not to pick unripe peaches because they only get soft—unlike bananas, they never ripen with time. Most importantly of course, you learn to trust your nose and not your eyes. If it is fragrant, it will be ready. You have to work smart and fast because you’re on the clock while make sure you don’t damage the tender flesh; peaches dent quite easily and your boss is watching.

When you finish your day, you take your pay and say goodbye to your coworkers. You also took something a little extra: 4 ripe peaches. When you get home, you promptly deliver them to your mother. The next day when you get home from work there is nothing less than a rich, succulent, steaming peach pie cooling off on the window pane. It’s enormous. The crust has that golden brown color between too much and too little with criss-cross layers just like the italian artisan chefs would bake a pie. There’s enough butter to show on your teeth. The kitchen smell of cinnamon and peaches is overwhelming.

The word is synthesis: the combination of ingredients to form a creation or system that could not exist without each individual component. Noone would, under normal circumstances, eat a stick of butter or snort cinnamon together on a plate. In like kind, eating a peach is wonderful, but the experience of eating peach pie with vanilla ice cream is completely distinct. A baking transformation, thanks to each individual ingredient, has occurred. It’s unique in its own right, but still follows basic human taste preferences.

The world of the arts is quite similar. The individual, whether that be the painter, composer, or performer, is the oven. It is their job to observe and process all these sensory inputs we have in life and generate something that synthesizes, or creates a reflection of those moments. The result, much like a peach pie, is complex and requires practice to perfect. It cannot be separated back into its original components but stands on its own. Sometimes, highly talented people come together to work and perform. They are from different backgrounds, but most importantly they have different aesthetics. They perform on a straightforward level, and each does what they excel at to wildly popular acclaim. The public oohs and ahs about the exotic multi-cultural affect of these cosmopolitan geniuses.

They’re completely wrong.

I will not argue that they have no human or emotional appeal. To the contrary, this is often their strongest suit. Their simplistic use of various art forms is easy to recognize and even easier to appreciate. It’s fun and obvious. What I would argue, however, is that such artists do a disservice to the general public by taking advantage of clichés and jamming them together into the limelight as if they are creating something new and elaborate. Before anything else, art must have an aesthetic. A Bach courante needs a strong downbeat so people can dance to it. Ellington absolutely must swing. Being new and inventive is overrated.

Here are three examples of cheap commercialized art.

1. Pub Citroën DS5 2011-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVEirvEH-w4

This is a French car commercial promoting Citroën’s latest model, the half hybrid, half diesel DS5. The ad consists of the famous Marilyn Manson song from his 2003 album, “The Age of the Grotesque,” played against images of a classical orchestra concert. The conductor jumps around, the cellists are lively. Duo persona, duo car, duo bologna.

2. Spike Jonze Presents Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzT_-kkCjOk

Here we have the Saint-Saens cello solo, Le Cygne (the swan), from the 13th movement of the Carnival of the Animals played by one of the legendary cellists of our time, Yo-Yo Ma. His music is interpreted by Memphis-born hipster Charles Riley A.K.A Lil Buck. Each are incredible, together quite forgettable.

3. Ping pong pour piano et koto-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwBaI4744PU

Exhibit C: 21st-century composer François Rossé plays newage tearjerker with Mieko Miyazaki. When I listen to this video, I find myself transported to a different time when life made simple sense. Then I open my eyes and realize a traditional Japanese music medium is being manipulated into the service of a contemporary art snobfest. There is no coherence here, only forced originality and a stillborn respect for the arts.

When I was in college in Tulsa, Okla., my favorite (non-alcoholic) drink was the Naked fruit juice. Their slogan was too long to remember—”We only add the best, all-natural ingredients to our juice. Oh, and a label.” Nevertheless, it’s a healthy breakfast for people on the go (or late to class) and costs about $5 a bottle. With a peach pie, the cost is more significant. A legitimate slice at any decent restaurant could run you $8. Why is it that the cost of synthesis can be more easily recognized in our cuisine than our cultural taste?

Art-in-a-box

What is Art?

Here’s my fast definition: art is an artificial act of creation that seeks to communicate subtle concepts to a given public.

Defining art is one of those obnoxious questions that can be so easily over-analyzed that it leaves no semblance of reasonable cognition. You had might as well go try and catch the wind in a basket before you capture a satisfying universal definition for the word. Go ask an Australian. They may talk about the Aussie golden age at the end of the 19th century with painters like Arthur Streeton and William Piguenit—men whose works were inspired by the open air of the great outback. The royal courts of Versailles, home to the great Sun King Louis XIV, point to a most important example of the great and diverse French artistic tradition. The Argentine has a rich independent film background perpetuated today in such films as The Motorcycle Diaries and The Secret in their Eyes. Kansans prefer C. M. Coolidge’s Dogs Playing Poker paintings. The point is that each people group carry their own customs for interaction and self-expression, shaped by their family, faith, and government. What’s the point? Aesthetics are relative. Absolutes are elusive. The arts are tricky to define. Nevertheless, I have decided upon a set of absolute rules (if such a thing exists) for defining what makes a work of art.

First, we must always remember the medium is the message. As you dress, smile, and smell, you will be perceived, onstage or on the street. This does not necessarily qualify the validity of your art, but positions the lens through which the work will be perceived. The polish of your shoes, the grade of paints you use, the size and quality of your television, all are important when presenting works of art. The frame around the painting will say as much about the work as the work itself.

Secondly, art is a willing suspension of disbelief. The public must have some sort of intuition that the work at hand does not readily exist in everyday moments. This inverse relationship between reality and presentation heightens the effectiveness of the said medium.

Daily we wake up, shower, eat, work, break, eat some more, maybe break again, go to sleep. This kind of routine surmises 2/3 of our day. Art must break from this sphere of everyday life to give people a taste of class, diversion, identity, and controversy. The best artists will carry an element of each. In my post about Kenny Garrett and Christian Lauba from 20-11-10, I talked about the refinement, invention, and popularity of a given art as the scientific method for determining its cultural impact. Follow the rules, do the math, embrace the system to beat the system.

Nevertheless, up to this point, I have effectively turned the path of an artist into a dictionary-defined, knowledge-based, research-oriented pile of sanitary hogwash.

If someone wants to be an artist, there is really only one rule to follow: be yourself. Find something you are passionate about and do it—really, really well. Understand yourself. Invest time in figuring out what makes you you and what makes you tick. Finally, seek to understand the world around you. It will guide your expressions and add rich sediments of erudition through your chosen medium. For all the analysis, people really don’t care so much about your thick layered paints and virtuosic technique. Hang out your humanity for them to see; the rest will speak for itself.