6. On Art

The business of a writer (poet, artist) seems to be extremely simple and understandable these days. Artistic creativity is explained with the help of several myths — simple and uncomplicated explanations of rather complicated things. Uncomplicated explanations, as it always happens, enjoy success, but do not help to understand the essence of art, but only darken it.

The most widespread myth is that the artist ‘expresses himself’ in his works. This ‘self-expression’ is a common place in ideas about art. The more intricate its flavours, the more bizarre its forms — the more perfect it is. It is improper to ask about the content of the source of spicy odours… Any objective meaning of art is destroyed by such an understanding.

Another favourite opinion is that art is the higher the more prohibitions, moral or aesthetic, it violates; moreover, the further the ‘self-expressing personality’ is from the norm, the closer it is to genius.

This is an external and superficial view. In reality, the measure of artistic excellence is not here. Art may be bright, sharp, enticing, fascinating, but these are all its external signs. The inner root of artistry is understanding. A certain understanding of man and the world is cast in certain forms, but for the creator these forms are secondary, the public sees only them and is strengthened in the delusion: ‘art is a set of external techniques’, and the more colourful and diverse these techniques, the better for creativity.

It is not so. Not attracting the public, but truth and depth (in fact, a complex, inseparable whole concept) is the goal of art. Where one believes in truth, one does not rejoice in ‘diversity of opinions’. It is ridiculous to imagine ‘tolerant physics’: scientists applaud ‘intellectual diversity’. Tolerant literature, in which truth is sacrificed to ‘diversity’, is also ridiculous.

Art is different from science, but not in everything. Like science, it is orderly, believes in the existence of order in its subject (here: man), and chooses those means that help to find this order, not to obscure it. The aims of artistry are objective, i.e. outside the artist.

Related to the belief that the artist is preoccupied with ‘self-expression’ is another misconception: that talent is ‘inter-national’. This ‘inter-national’, i. e. groundless, talent sits, as if, in the void and generates the artistic cosmos from itself… The picture is majestic but silly; there are no gifts of cosmic magnitude; genius, when it exists, is gratefully nourished by the soil of its national culture, by the air of a certain epoch in people’s life (not necessarily the present one).

The destruction of the cultural soil (Russia owes it to the revolution; the West — to world wars and consistent democratisation) [1] means a decline in personal fitness, since it is not in human power to walk on air. On the contrary: where the soil is at least somewhat intact, there is hope for the growth of personal fitness, even in an unfavourable environment. (By personal fitness I mean here responsibility, capacity for judgement, inner complexity).

I anticipate the question: why does the personality need any other ground, isn’t upbringing, some ‘education’, common sense enough? Unfortunately, no. Soil is, among other things, a stock of understanding, a storehouse of accumulated complex forms of behaviour and thought, because it is necessary, because an individual has neither time, nor outlook, nor experience to come to this understanding and these forms independently. Soil is necessary in order not to remain in eternal childhood, comprehending what has long been comprehended; it shortens the time necessary for the acquisition of experience, because it is formed by the labour of generations.

About another myth — as if the merits of a work are related to the number of prohibitions it has broken — it must be said: this is an adolescent disease of taste. Its roots are deep: the former intelligentsia worshipped ‘courage and honesty’; the Soviet era completed the task. The profound, the serious, the subtle have been banished from culture. Almost all the themes of former art became forbidden. In the old world, both art and philosophy dealt with the relationship of the individual to the world, from love experiences to the mysteries of knowledge. ‘The Party’ left the creator to develop a single theme: service to the state. The human, the personal, the private was tolerated only in the form of a note in the margin.

From the forbiddenness of the profound — by an understandable but inexcusable mistake — an unnatural conclusion was drawn about the depth of the forbidden. It was not without the revolution’s participation (albeit negative) that an understanding of art as a field of perversion was created.

In fact, in the field of art, as well as in ‘exact’ types of cognition, the mind is disposed to deep and correct judgements. And in art it seeks truths — not forms, not feelings, not entertainment as such. Not that work which will only entertain, but that which will teach and make one think, is valued by a somewhat awakened mind. I confess: in saying ‘truths’, I have chosen the wrong word. The mind in art seeks nourishment: both for thought and imagination. Nourishment, richness, depth — mysteriously linked to truth, beyond the will of author and reader.

Art is subjective in its origin, reaches the mind and heart also subjectively, by personal inclination, but objective in its content: these or those truths about man and life. Without the desire to teach and learn, to share and assimilate, there is no art. An artist does not ‘create’ from nothing. He does not “express” some inner ‘secrets’. He sees and tells about what he sees. The reader, the viewer does not just contemplate the cascade of forms and colours with his mouth open, but participates in the creation (or kills it with his indifference, inability to let it in).

Widespread myths about art are convenient in that they free the public from inner labour, and turn the artist from a responsible worker into a curator of a museum. Simplicity is a common feature of false explanations.

[1] The impact of the revolution was democratic, even though the revolutionaries ruled autocratically. Democracy is hostile to complexity of thought, relationships, inner life — as inaccessible to the average person. The consequences of democratisation are devastating: a whole layer of concepts, mental habits, complex forms of thought and speech fall away from under the feet of the individual. The inner life is simplified to primitive forms…. and the victims of this simplification are convinced that they are in every way superior to their ‘dark’ ancestors.

Timofey Sherudilo.
From the book Twilight Time.

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