Friday, August 04, 2006

light falling on a naked body

Today I will write about art and therapy. Let's look at the Bateson quote that Berman pulls describing the visit of a mother to her hospitalized son who was recovering from a recent episode of acute schizophrenia:

He was glad to see her [writes Bateson] and impulsively put his arm around her shoulders, whereupon she stiffened. He withdrew his arm and she asked, "Don't you love me any more?" He then blushed, and she said, "Dear, you must not be so easily embarassed and afraid of your feelings." The patient was able to stay with her only a few minutes more and following her departure he assaulted an orderly and was put in the tubs.
This is the position where the student of the arts finds herself. The tubs. The mother is of course, Yale, or pick-your-artschool. All of them stiffen at our feelings, but I think it important to emphasize that in most cases our common and lesser schizophrenia is merely cynicism. That must be it. Cynicism is the lesser confusion and conflation of message and meta-message. I love art, but I don't believe art can work for me. I believe in art, but I can't possibly believe in talking about it in a real way.

And so a lot of times this question will come up; when is it therapy and not art? I am not interested really in addressing psychological problems greater nor graver than cynicism. I believe those larger problems may very well start with cynicism, but cynicism is the one that bites every artist and every experience of art in the ass.

Perhaps I blame the schools and the system too much. Let me list some common cynicisms from every day life:

1. People are too stupid to appreciate the nuances of things that don't plug into the wall.

2. People are too alienated from one another to understand the communicative nature of art; it's just entertainment for otherwise subjugated pawns. I, however, will offer commentary on this, without intruding on the comfort of anyone else's alienation.

3. I want to make art to get famous and rich, after that maybe I will get into how the art makes me more human.

4. All of life is subject to pressures of external reality that render us powerless. This externality defines the contours of my art and life experience.

5. Artists should concentrate on making clean, exhibition-ready pictures in series. The art-world hasn't got time to understand "process."

6. The Art-World is "professional" so whether you're going in as an admin assist or an artist, you are subject to the CEOs all-seeing wisdom. Shut up and play your role. It's too big to be crushed now.

7. I'm this kind of artist, not that kind. I would just never do something like that.

8. Art allows me total freedom, but not the freedom to figure out why I am chained to this dichotomy of otherwise pointless servitude and resentment.
All of these are examples of the kinds of cynicism that afflict everyday life and necessitate the continual therapy of the artists' thinking. There are probably other, better examples, but the conflation of "I love art but I am a victim of the art world" is schizophrenic, to say the least, and also BORING. One must submerse oneself totally in art or one is stuck contending with the uninteresting conflations of artist vs. artworld. It is a false dichotomy. I ran across something yesterday that reminded me of the classic "artist as superhero/socialworker" where they have to create some sort of character that is depicted in some kind of framed "art-scenario," and then tackle some fake problems. I always think about what Robert Hughes wrote about Lucian Freud, something to the effect that no one else wanted to deal with the problem of a light falling on a naked body.

Because I happen to be deeply involved in Tolstoy's Resurrection at the moment, I am dedicating the rest of the day to Katusha running down the platform while 2nd and 3rd class speed away from her. Later, her author friend told her plainly that this, which he called poetical and aesthetic enjoyment, constituted all the happiness of life, and all thoughts of goodness and god were but fraud.


  1. I love this: Art allows me total freedom, but not the freedom to figure out why I am chained to this dichotomy of otherwise pointless servitude and resentment.

  2. wow, did you ever just drop some bombs in my skull. That was stunning. I'm still staring at the screen. When i was at a very pivotal point in my start with painting, my teacher used Lucien Freud to show me the idea of "painterly". I felt it rewire me. As many later paintings offered at just the right times would, something passed into me without my thoughts mediating. The artist passed that light on the naked body to me. And i shared the experience. A different kind of realism. Later on i would be able to get that from a wider variety of painting, but at 19 when i was still essentially into graffiti and cartoons, LF was just the key. Your inclusion of that bit in this post even worked to lift me, for a moment, above the voices in my head that repeat that cynicism on a record with one groove.
    great stuff...

  3. Nice post. I'll have to read it again tomorrow. I can't add to it (except for "I knew I should have been a social worker) or even ask questions (except "how do you know these cycicisms so well?").

  4. thanks to all you guys. But Steven, no doubt, a huge chunk of my making art at all is as therapy for these kinds of cynicicms. There is no question in my mind, and I believe at some earlier times, the process felt a lot more like therapy proper. No question about that.

  5. I needed this. Especially #'s 6 and 8.

    Thanks, Ashes, for letting me check myself before I wreck myself.