Category Archives: fine arts

The only mystery allowed is the mystery that can be explained

Within the lesson emerges an analogy:

‘In the act of writing about art, then, you press language to the point of fracture and try to do what writing cannot do: account for the experience. Otherwise, you elide the essential mystery, which is the reason for writing anything at all. The easy alternative is just to circumnavigate the occasion of seeing something—to “professionalize” art criticism into a branch of academic art history—to presume that works of art are already utterances in art-language that need only to be translated into a better language to achieve perfect transparency. In this way, the practice of criticism is transformed into a kind of Protestant civil service dedicated to translating art-language into a word-language that neutralizes its power in the interest of public order. The writer’s pathological need to control and reconstitute the fluid universe of not-writing is fortuitously disguised by this strategem—since in a truly “professional” discourse, no more intimate engagement with the “needy” object is required than that of a doctor with a patient, and no more stress need be placed upon the language than that required by the clinical assignment of names to symptoms.’ (boldface added) — Dave Hickey, from his essay “Air Guitar,” from Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy

Engineering reliable serfs for a stable economy: diminishing the fine arts and humanities in education

Darcy Wells Ward wrote a fantastic post entitled “The Great Humanities Crisis.”

Ward writes, and quotes an unidentified Nussbaum:

…policy makers want to create a generation of workers, not thinkers. “The student’s freedom of mind is dangerous if what is wanted is a group of technically trained, obedient workers to carry out the plans of the elites who are aiming at foreign investment and technology investment.” (Nussbaum, 21)

The most powerful people can use their influence to create systems that engineer more serfs.

However, not all of the most powerful people always want to engineer serfs for themselves. Good intentions might guide efforts to engineer new policies.

Still, sometimes, the most difficult message to communicate is a message that says the present, current good intentions are not going to bring good outcomes.

Fear of poverty and fear of low status spur anxious parents and practical politicians and school districts to emphasize reductive skills that secure good salaries — and emphasize those salaries more than humane sensitivities and understandings born from the civilizing influence of well-taught and well-presented arts and literature.

Ward again:

…it is only a matter of time before the lack of interpersonal skills, as well as personal growth, created by inquiries into history, philosophy, art, music, and language will catch up with us.

Moving a society forward, like becoming an educated person, requires a balance of appreciation for traditions and appreciation for new research and theories.

Confucius once said, “Enliven the ancient and also know what is new, and then you will be a teacher.” And, you will be a citizen. And, you will be fully human.

Note: This balanced perspective won’t be accepted by certain threads of cultural conservatives, by certain threads of progressives, or by Serf Engineers.

In film and fiction, the truest characters show both the Image of God and fallenness

I’m using Francis Schaeffer’s phrase glorious ruins as a way to talk about characterization in my creative writing classes. Schaeffer used that phrase to describe the human condition: some part of us is made in the Image of God, so we are Image bearers, yet we are fallen, warped by the selfishness of our primordial ancestors.

A glorious ruin is the best type of character in film and fiction. The characters that ring truest are the ones who have wonderful qualities and deep flaws. They seem to be the most convincing characters. That’s because we know ourselves to be similar: each person knows his or her own gifts and potential, and each person knows his or her flaws and failings.

Or, each person eventually learns his or her own flaws and failings, as well as gifts and potential. Learning such things requires time and circumstances, among other things, as revelators. Some stories will show us a person confronted with previously overlooked failings; others will show us someone growing into a knowledge of gifts and talents and an understanding of how to use them.

Another key component of a good character: desire. Kurt Vonnegut once said a writer should have his or her character desire something immediately, right at the beginning, even if it is just a glass of water. Something about us identifies with desire.