Saturday, 21 January 2012

Great Works Wait

Bad faith, Sartre tells us, is a choice not to choose. It is negative freedom, freedom that denies, checks and represses itself. To exercise freedom negatively is to adopt what Nietzsche calls the ascetic ideal. The ascetic ideal values self-repression and self denial above all else and for their own sake. A person who adopts the ascetic ideal does not, for example, value celibacy for the sexual health and peace of mind it brings, but only for the self-denial it involves.1

This example could be said to reflect the idea of authenticity within art, when an artist finds themselves stuck due to an unfamiliar brief, or because they are pandering to the needs of others rather than being true to themselves.  This often hinders the quality of work produced. It could also be said that the negative freedom portrayed by the media tends to influence naive or young artists more than those already successful or comfortable with their practise. For example, artists targeted to create a certain style of work because the media tells them it will make them more appealing to the ‘right people’ or the ‘right crowd’. Rather than the media accepting that sometimes people just want to feel positive about themselves as artists and should be allowed to express themselves in any means possible in order to stay true to who they are. The diversity amongst art displayed in the media tends to depend on which magazine or newspaper you’re reading or the kind of websites you’re visiting.

The existentialist position sees ‘the man who makes art as one who offers a challenge to the rest of society and at the same time accepts a kind of bet with existence.’2 This idea promoted a general feeling of isolation, a detachment from belief systems, and the creator must reinvent art from the very beginning as he is to find salvation in nothing but art. Due to this there was a somewhat tendentious emphasis on the idea of ‘originality’ – the artist was willing to have descendants, but not ancestors, and was, to that extent at least, as subjective as Sartre could have wished.

In Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: ‘important art works constantly divulge new layers; they age, grow cold and die’.4 Their critical relationship to society must also be variable. Indeed, Adorno suggests that great art works might come in and go out of phase with society: at points their critical potential with be stilled; at others it will be alive and vivid. There will always remain something critical in the art work:‘Authentic art of the past that for the time being must remain veiled is not thereby sentenced. Great works wait… something of their truth content, however little it can be pinned down, does not: it is that whereby they remain eloquent.’6

1. Cox, Gary, How to be an Existentialist: or How to Get Real, Get a Grip and Stop Making Excuses (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009) 98.
2. Lucie-Smith, Edward, Movements in art since 1945, New Revised Edition (London: Thames and Hudson, 1984) 9.
3. Lucie-Smith, Edward, Movements in art since 1945, New Revised Edition (London: Thames and Hudson, 1984)10.
4. Hullot-Kentor, Robert, Aesthetic Theory trans. (London: Athlone, 1992) 4.
5. Thomson, A. J. P. (Alexander John Peter) ADORNO: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2006) 64.
6. Hullot-Kentor, Robert, Aesthetic Theory trans. (London: Athlone, 1992) 40.