Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Art as hope, art as fear, art as the sharing of perspective

Posted in book recommendations, social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on October 20, 2018

Art holds within it a capacity to open eyes and more. It can amuse, startle, upset and disquiet, please and reaffirm …. It can contain within it a part of the artist and a part of what drives them. And at its best, art can transcend culture and time, touching those who view it, those who experience it with perspectives that they might never have otherwise reached.

Not all art can or does achieve this and not all viewers are open to what it can say and share with them. But great art opens eyes and minds and in ways that can catch the viewer off guard and unprepared, and in what for them are completely unexpected ways. I find myself writing this posting after walking through a veritable lifetime retrospective of one artist: Alberto Giacometti, as he faced seemingly endless challenges to his even having an artistic voice. Its works spanned over 40 years of his artistic output as assembled together from multiple collections: public and private.

On the one hand, and from a perhaps more quick glance, superficial perspective, his human figures do show a continuity of similarity. Similar points could be made when viewing his more abstract works. And that is understandable given the fact that he traced so much of his artistic life pursuing a same small group of models for his representational works, who served as his immediate and ongoing sources of inspiration. But the way he depicted them did change, and in ways that meshed with his own life experiences. There is a gauntness, and an almost fractured incompleteness to his later works, produced when he was already ill from health problems that would eventually kill him, that do not appear in his earlier works. But even his earlier works convey a sense of the challenges he faced in Europe and certainly during World War II, and both from when he lived in Vichy France and under Nazi rule, and from when he was forced into exile in Switzerland, denied reentry into his native land.

My goal here, and my reason for offering this for-me rare addition to my Social Networking and the Arts directory, is not however to offer a review of an art exhibition of some single artist, and certainly not as that would be filtered through the eyes and the understanding of one museum’s curators and the filters of my own more limited experience. I could just as easily be writing about Pablo Picasso here instead, as my opening source of examples, with his seemingly endless and open ended reinventions into new media and materials and artistic styles, as he continuously sought to express his artistic depths in physical form. I could have written about an Asian or African artist or an artist from the Americas: North, Central or South as they seek, or have sought to bring the depths of their inner selves into overly physical form too. And I could just as easily have selected works and artists from an earlier age too. And that perhaps overly drawn out “could have” point strikes closer to the why of my writing this posting and adding it to this blog, than would any intent to share my thoughts on any single artist or any single exhibition of their work.

I find myself thinking back to an earlier entry to this small and sparse directory page, as I write this: In Defense of Art: creative expression and its challenges. And I find myself thinking back to the dichotomy of judgment that I imposed in it, separating art and its expression in terms of whether it reflects a clear vision of an artist, or the image and vision of a societal other.

We all face and we all live in the contexts that we live in. I state that as a veritable syllogism and in a fundamental sense it is and inevitably so. We live in and are at least in part shaped by the contexts that we exist in. Good art, and certainly great art brings us to step outside of our usual contexts and our usual perspectives, where we can view a world around us – and perhaps ourselves as well through new eyes. The understanding that this brings might be light and enlightening, dark and threatening, or any of the none of the aboves that can be encompassed in human experience. But great art moves, and certainly when a viewer allows themselves to be open to that possibility.

And with that noted, I come back to reconsider the art of those who I wrote of in that 2010 posting, as representing a propagandistic vision. Art need not be nice, or easy or comforting to be art. It can jolt and both from what it contains and shows us and from where it is sourced and both from within the artist themselves and from their more outside-shaping sources of inspiration. Art can be disturbing and even threatening. And it can convey messages that we might not wish to see, but that we find ourselves having to acknowledge as part of life too.

I find myself thinking of Giacometti’s later figural sculptures as I write this with their gaunter faces, their more hunched poses, and with what looked to be hunks of their flesh all but torn off of them, with a missing shoulder or other maiming so visible – even as those figures stood as his earlier works did.

And I find myself thinking to the works that I wrote so negatively of in my 2010 posting, feeling the same visceral response that I did then, against the sources of inspiration that drove an artist such as Leni Riefenstahl to create works in support of what most would call evil. Were her films works of art? And were they powerfully moving art that conveyed a measure of the artist and her own vision, and of her understanding and its message, even as they promoted and propagandized for a malignant regime? My only possible answers to those questions have to be yes.

Leni Riefenstahl produced her art in specific, explicit and intentional support of Nazism and all of the worst that it stood for. And what she did in that is worthy of censure, in a very fundamental sense, precisely because it held qualities that can only be considered greatness as far as her artistic skills were concerned; she used her skills and her artistic vision to promote evil, but she did so with artistic genius. If she had been a hack filmmaker and a poor artist who was incapable of moving others with her artistic vision as she brought it into physical, shareable form, I would not write of her. I would most probably never have even heard of her to be able to so do.

I close this posting reflecting on a passage from one of Rilke’s longer poetic works: his Duino Elegies, and more specifically to a set of lines from his first elegy of that set:

“…Beauty’s nothing
but beginning of Terror we’re still just able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us. Each single angel is terrible.”

(You can find a full text, English language translation of the Duino Elegies here in PDF file format.)

Rilke writes of angels in this piece, and of their capacity to overwhelm us. But then again angels always bear more than just one face. Lucifer was called the most beautiful of all angels and his name from then meant bearer of light. The Judeo-Christian tradition is not the only one to find both beatific and horrific visions in its angels; both such visions have their different faith counterparts. And sometimes people – us mortals can and do in fact bring such impact too, that we perhaps more comfortably see as coming from outside of ourselves and from a presumptive angelic presence.

• Art engages, and certainly great art does; it captures and holds and it forces change in perspective. It can and does carry and convey … but what it conveys is not always comforting. It is not always settling. And it can blend beauty and terror and in ways that live up to the full terms of both words. And art need not convey or promote the good, and by any criteria.

I find myself writing this brief thought piece while thinking back to an earlier such note from 2010, as cited here. And I find myself writing this while looking around myself at the coarsening and intolerance of social discourse and of societal norms that has been flowing forth from the alt-right and from the Trump presidency in the United States. And yes, I find myself thinking back to the historical context that Leni Riefenstahl grew and thrived in, that she gladly accepted as her own and at what cost to all. And I write this thinking over the issues of artistic sensibilities and artistic talent, and about the inner truths that artists hold within themselves and that they bring forth in their works.

I seek out more technically framed and definitive approaches to understanding and resolving business and technology issues in my professional life and as a matter of how I think. I would not even know where to begin to untangle and organize the issues that I raise here in anything like a comparable manner. But then again, every artist is unique, and art transcends and stands in large part apart from analytical logic. And certainly every greatly talented artist is unique, and regardless of how they frame their art and regardless of its sources of inspiration. So I find myself writing this note as a matter of acknowledgment and reflection on what for me remains an open but still compelling topic, and an uncertain one even as it is a compelling arena of experience and understanding at that. I will return to this complex of issues in future postings, just as I have here in follow-up to my above cited 2010 posting to this blog.

Sometimes the most we can hope for is good questions, with no real possibility of anything in the way of resolving answers to them. That, at times can make them the good questions that they are.

You can find this and related postings at Social Networking and the Arts.

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