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Elatia Harris, commenter extraordinaire, left this as a response to a comment left to the post below. Thank you Elatia for your reliably insightful and sense-making point of view.

Re: Arts funding:

Much depends on whether you think art follows consumer taste or leads it. And on whether you would be happy for art to reflect culture rather than to stimulate it.

You have to consider how much poorer your life would be if an artist were not different from an entertainer. Maybe not poorer at all, if entertainment is the objective. If what you’re seeking is to beguile your hours, get a change of scene and a sense of relaxation, that’s no bad thing. The government funds the gratification of that aim if you can accomplish these things by going for a day in the park, and you fund it if you buy a ticket to the concert of a commercially successful band. (To say a band is commercially successful is not to slight it, only to emphasize that it’s available on the basis of a ticket, as artistically successful bands for which there is less consumer demand are not.)

If what you want is to immerse in a different reality that might or might not be gentle and fun, however, and to confront rather than escape yourself, taking away food for thought for many days or years — all of this in the company of strangers who are doing more or less the same — then you might want art, perhaps without knowing it. My view is that people want art without knowing it all the time, because we seek transformational as well as restorative experiences, and long to be knocked for a loop. This takes vision, however, and while everyone is responsive to vision not everyone has it.

Some artists do have it. Does this mean they function for the public good? If the answer is yes, then you posit one difference between a consumer, who funds her private idea of a good time, and a taxpayer, who needs to be concerned with the public good even when she doesn’t personally respond to certain artists. Art can reset the human imagination, temporarily turning a consumer into a person who strives and is illuminated. Entertainment can’t risk that, although it occasionally accomplishes it anyway.

You have no right to be entertained at the public expense — as we have seen, that results only in pitting lions against Christians, or perhaps in the creation of “The Yellow River Concerto.” But you have a right to art as you have a right to health care. It should be yours for the price of citizenship, yours like a day in the park.

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Elatia Harris left a comment here yesterday that is too apropos to not share. Thank you Elatia.

I do understand what you’re going through. People our age either know what it is to see their friends dying or they don’t yet know but soon will. Looking back on it all — and, alas, living with the certainty that there will be more of it — I believe it’s a real rite of passage, just not the kind one can anticipate without denial or live through without almost desperate grief. It’s better not to carry on as if it weren’t happening. If it is happening, then it’s huge, and bowing down to it is the only thing to do. As badly as you have to get back to work, you don’t have to get back to work as badly as you have to let this happen to you.

Among so many other aspects of grief in this case is the truly uncanny one — that the number of people who knew us well through all our most important earlier passages is diminishing, the witnesses to our own evolution thus falling away, never again to flourish. The past seems so much more gone, so much longer ago. As a friend — an only child — once told me when her mother died, “Now no one remembers when I was born.” It’s too selfish and unbecoming to experience loss this way, but our primal nature doesn’t know that, and it is there that we are struck and threatened in the midst grief for the beloved other.

I keep thinking of the photo of the woman in Indonesia, kneeling beside the sea after the tsunami of December, 2005, waiting for it to throw her children back to her. It’s not clear if she fully understands they have died, only that they will be cast up by the tide. Behind her and outside the camera’s range is the place where her village was. It no longer exists; small wonder that she faces away from it, away not only from the loss of her children but the loss of the people who remembered her children. And yet, there she is — trusting to Providence to bring her back something that matters.

Here is a comment made on yesterday’s post that is too good not to share. Thank you Elatia Harris for this entertaining variation on “accusatory white”:

I had a friend in San Francisco who was committed to this look, but not in white. Her palette was taupe to Rymanesque ecru, this being around 1980, when very pale neutrals were elbowing “gallery white.” Designers then reasoned that absolute white was an effect you could get with paint rather than taste and money, and was therefore too achievable-looking. My friend had the thinking but not the money, so her palazzo of pale neutrals, a converted industrial space, was a project that took many years to complete. For several of those years, she stood up to watch television, because the furniture she needed for living was always just a bridge too far. I particularly recall in the early stages, when there was nothing but sheet-rock and paint, one entered an environment that was a complexity of beiges — an outlaw word, that. It’s easy to conceive of a beige surround that’s boring, but this was somehow edgy, and so thought out it could never be the usual beige that results from capitulation. I dropped in for a look with a printmaker, who told my friend, “I get it. Your house is the color of rich people’s clothing.” Leaving, the printmaker said, “It’s very dry-clean only.”

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In responding to my previous post about theory and art making, Elatia Harris left a comment that is so full of potent issues I felt it needed to be brought forward, into the headlights. She touches on issues that many visual artists (including myself) mull over, struggle with and voice frustration about. I don’t necessarily agree with Elatia’s conclusion, but I also don’t have a hard and fast answer that satisfies me.

So much has been written about authenticity in aesthetic philosophy in all its various meanings, but here I am referring specifically to the use of the term that speaks to Peter Kivy’s definition of authenticity–faithfulness to the artist’s own self, original, not derivative or aping of someone else’s way of working. In this definition, authenticity is being committed to personal expression, being true to one’s artistic self rather than to the precepts of a particular tradition or -ism.

With as open-ended a definition as that, it is still fair to ask, What IS authenticity? How do you know when you have it and when you do not? There’s no answer that satisfies that question for me. I put it in the same category as a question that is often asked of painters and poets and that cannot be languaged: How do you know when a work of art finished? (Well, it feels balanced. It stops complaining. It hums. It radiates. What can I say?)

Similarly, authenticity in all its inchoate splendor is as close to a religious creed as I have when I’m in my studio. Like a lot of things in life–love, grief, ecstasy–we keep being tempted to define these powerful experiences in language, but they will not abide.

Here’s Elatia’s comment:

For my painting career, I tried to remain outside theory while including it in my awareness. I didn’t want the pigeon-holes for myself, and wondered why anyone would tolerate them. This is quite different from failing to value consistency or vision, and it also never left me feeling at an emotional disadvantage when I painted or thought about painting. After all, if you cannot or will not say what you are as a painter or how you are affiliated with other painters doing work like yours, then you are trusting your instincts, and instincts tend to be rather unfriendly to theory.

But I have to look at where all this got me — all this rejecting of -isms and refusing to be an -ist. I created a great deal of confusion in the minds of viewers — critics and other intellectuals, friends, gallerists, potential clients. I seemed never to represent any “flavor of the month” they could believe in, or to be a part of what they could understand as the coming thing. And I misunderstood how much the classification mania of the art establishment drove the career progress an artist could make. Perhaps one can’t ever truly be outside the system — only irrelevant to it. Post-modernism engineered a slow breakdown of these taxonomies, but then became, itself, theory-ridden.

I saw the way I negotiated all that as the price of being authentic, and even from this distance I still see it that way. Authentic, yes. Intelligent, no.

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Moroccan calligraphy, 19th century (courtesy of BibliOdyssey)

I know many of you are regular readers of 3 Quarks Daily and the fascinating posts by Elatia Harris. But for anyone who may be a newcomer here, run, don’t walk your way to her latest foray into the extraordinary blog, BibliOdyssey.

In her words: “One of my guilty pleasures is visiting BibliOdyssey — there’s a gorgeous new post almost every other night — a site devoted to visual Materia Obscura. Be it 12th century sky maps, illuminated manuscripts, or the drawings of a ship’s artist on a voyage to the South Pacific in the early 1800’s, you can trust BibliOdyssey to yield up something fantastic that you haven’t already seen.”

When Elatia first told me about this site I was enchanted. How fitting to now find out that the very cool English design group Fuel has published a book based on these breathlessly beautiful images assembled by the mysterious blogmaster, Paul K. The introduction is by Dinos Chapman, one half of the Chapmans, art brothers extraordinaire. For those of you in Europe, you can buy the book right now through Fuel. According to Amazon, it will be a few more weeks before it is available in the US. You heard it here: It will be everybody’s favorite holiday gift, to get or to give.

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Georg von Welling, 1719 (courtesy of BibliOdyssey)

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