Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Death of Art - Hegel and Picasso

"In art the mass of people no longer seeks consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessence’s, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which passed through my head, and the less they understand me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortunes, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere." Pablo Picasso (Interview with Giovanni Papini in Libro Nero, 1952)

It is maybe not Picasso’s fault...higher forces are at play...Hegel had already proclaimed the death of art one hundred years before... Art, for Hegel, had reached its expressive limit, its “spirit” or Geist, had been exhausted. Art’s expressive form had achieved all that it could (i.e. Romanticism). In Hegel’s scheme of things, art had reached full-circle in the complete self-awareness of itself as art...in other words, art becomes self-conscious. What is more Self-conscious than the “art” of Warhol, Joyce, Pound, Schonberg and Picasso?

As soon as a particular expression of Geist starts becoming self-conscious, it multiplies itself; art is everywhere, there has never been so much “art” in the world than today...and yet, what is “art”?

The very asking of the question amongst the proliferation of “arts”, is for Hegel, the Zeitgeist, or the “signs of the times”, that art is dead. Art becomes self-conscious, as it starts theorizing about itself in an interminable questioning of itself. How many artists think and breathe theory, how many discourses on art...but where is the inspiration, as opposed to the derision, where are the muses?, “the faces that would launch a thousand ships”? ...the life and beauty of Helen of Troy, swapped for...the Pamela Andersons of this profane world, selling burgers and optical devices for clear cut enemas...

....Art and beauty are not fresh anymore; canned, like Warhol’s Campbell soup tins, or Marilyn’s simulated beauty. How different, to take Picasso’s examples, the beauty and art of, Giotto, Titian and Rembrandt. Great painters, because they still had everything to paint, all the beauty in the heavens was still awaiting to be captured in art’s luminous form; they had spirit, as opposed to Picasso‘s “shock of the new” vanity games…the mere matter of “the strange, original, extravagant, and scandalous”….

When a spiritual or “Geist” expression (art, religion, ethics etc.) achieves complete self-awareness of itself, it is “dead”, it becomes equal to itself, the circle circled, and all dynamics (i.e. dialectics) is lost...of course, nothing is really lost for Hegel, all is incorporated in Geist’s dialectics towards the absolute, to full self-consciousness of itself, as itself, oops... getting a bit too Hegelian here...Hegel is hard to resist...

As is often the case, Hegel’s announcement of death, could be in Mark Twain's famous words, an “exaggeration”. Yes, an exaggeration, the spirit of Art, continued after Hegel’s own death. Hegel was wrong, art did not die…it merely survived. The nineteen century of Mahler, Flaubert, Mallarm√©, Baudelaire and impressionism, still had something to prove, it pushed art’s spiritual form to the limits. Every crevice and crack of art’s expressive form was explored and exploded…but, however much art’s spirit was pushed to the limit, it did not break the beautiful form (no Finnegans wake of the text or Schonberg’s “amusic” here..)…art was just at the limits of complete self-consciousness, just before the flat-liner of self-consciousness...art’s life machine was still beeping singular tones…

But…in the twentieth century, Hegel may have been right after all. Art’s spirit had been completely exploded, every form, law, and composition transgressed. Where could art go, if not into self-oblivion, collapsing under the weight of its own self-consciousness….Art will be buried in the cemetery of human delusions, with all the other dead illusions putrefying in sunken graves: God (Nietzsche) Man (Foucault) the author (Barthes) reality (Baudrillard) etc…However, just before death, on the edge of oblivion and destruction, a distinct phase operates, which Hegel’s dialectics completely misses: just before the twilight of death and self-oblivion, self-consciousness breads derision and parody. Before dying, art, like most things in life, becomes ironic. Picasso knew that art was dying, he could smell arts putrefying bodies in the galleries and museums, the cemeteries and prisons of art …Picasso was self-conscious of art’s exhausted forms; thus in twentieth century, he could only be a public entertainer (like Dali and Warhol)…but, also at the same time, a wavering beckon in the desolate night of art…a beckon of all that has been lost, that is still, incredibly enough, sparkling through the materialistic veneer of the “games, absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques” of so called “art”…

What about the twenty-first century? Is there a life after death? Or is it a mere survival? Are the arts and artists in limbo? mere ironic pantomimes of past glories...all the more ironic, in that, there has never been so many techniques available, for artistic expression...Just imagine, what a Mozart could do, for the spirit of music, with the latest synthesizers and computer-tech...what viral soundscapes, what spiraling melodies...what infinity a Mozart could draw, from a mere binary machine. Unfortunately, we have the synthesizers and tech, but we do not have the Mozarts... Techno...Techno...Techno...but no requiem...

...Hegel talked about the dialectical ruses of History, (it all works for the “best” in the end) but isn’t History ironic? If as Marx said, History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as comedy, surely you need a third repetition to complete the triad, and irony will do just fine...the only entertainment there is, for a Godless God who is bored by all perfection and imperfection...irony with its bitter sweet symphonies, could even entertain a Godless God
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