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Peeks and Piques!

Art as Communication

By Raymond J. Steiner
ART TIMES Jan/ Feb 2011

RECENTLY, I READ a paper on the “uselessness” of Art — an old argument that actually arises from the premise that postulates its aesthetic inutility in practical life — ergo, “fine” art as ‘opposed’ to “crafts” which, in theory, are ‘utile’. In modern times, definitions of art have become blurred past all ordinary understanding, with some critics denying the possibility of calling anything “art” at all, so it has become somewhat difficult to speak or write about it in any coherent manner. Having said that, I am still laboring under the benighted belief that whatever art “is” (that Clinton “is” thing again), it remains a form of communication. Like Music and Speech, Art has been a means of expression (therefore a way of “communicating” to others) since time immemorial. It has long been recognized that the separate arts are three different ways to communicate, each with a specific organ of man to stimulate: music=ear, art=eye, and speech=intellect. It is my further benighted belief that the first two speak more directly to the soul — (I know — “soul” is as slippery to define as “art”, but I assume my readers know what I am attempting to say here) — while speech, even at its best, obfuscates more often than not (consider man’s illustrious U.N.). We’ve long learned that eloquence in speech does not indicate or imply substance — something the politician has learned since governments depended on orators to deliver their “messages”. Speech, then, depends upon a ‘rational’ interpretation and interpretation depends upon one’s native intelligence — also long known for its “iffy” dependability. In other words, a citizen can be “persuaded” that their leaders mean “this” or “that” — and that they ought to behave accordingly. On the other hand, a bit of music or a piece of art ‘speaks’ to one’s ‘emotions’ (as opposed to reason)— or it does not. (Sure, sure, critics and reviewers and art salesmen abound telling you that you cannot fully depend upon your own senses of hearing and seeing, but in the end people really know when they’ve been flimflammed — even if they can’t differentiate between a glib politician and an honest one ((if that last phrase is not actually an oxymoron)). The point is, people can tell when a work of art commands their attention even if they do not at first — if ever — completely understand the “message”. They are moved if not always enlightened with new ‘rational’ information. Through time and practice their receptors (ears/eyes) may be educated toward deeper penetration and understanding — or, of course, discern whether a work of “art” is indeed a true communication of “meaning” and not simply just one more decorative artifact unworthy of the title of “fine art”. The true artist has a gift and does not use it to pass along clichés, inanity, the latest hot topic or piece of news. Not all viewers are particularly interested in your personal angst, political hobbyhorse or favorite color schemes. Fine art has its own purpose, its own message, its own special focus — and its own audience. It ought not be used as a ‘stand-in’ for politics, propaganda, nonsense,  — of any sort. Though I return to him time and again, I agree with Bernard Berenson that art ought to “life enhancing”. Art is a language — has been since before cave painting — so communicate something important with it.

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