Inconceivable dimension

Last week I had an unusual number of conversations with artists about the nature of art. I want to try to summarize what I understand about the being of a (romantic) artist, based on what I took from these conversations.

For a variety of reason, artists today are necessarily romantic artists. Romantic artists attempt to create outside of what already is, as opposed to affirming or revitalizing the culture to which they belong as members. There is no vital high culture left to preserve in our time. Even so-called conservatives invent by reanimating formal corpses with newish notions through the black magic of revisionism.There is just flat, sea-level philistinism: discrete, mutually exclusive working hard and playing hard. Nobody’s going to exert for anything that won’t earn him a dollar.

Romantic artists are cultural mutants. They have mutated individuality; they developed differently as individuals and have a different conception of what individuality is. They do individualism differently. Certainly this mutated individuality/individualism can give them a conspicuously different appearance (which is all most people perceive) but the more essential difference is imperceptible: Artists inhabit mutated worlds. And they inhabit these worlds partially or entirely alone.

So far, what I’ve described includes romantic artists, but it also includes visionaries of all kinds. A romantic artist is a visionary who responds to his vision by creating cultural artifacts that affirm and reinforce his vision. This occurs both through the practice of creative activity (by which he lives differently), and through the artifact (by which he establishes a more meaningfully-orienting environment). What is lacking at the start, — with genuine romantic artists, invariably — which philistines are incapable of imagining, is what it is like to be the solitary member of a culture. Cultures are shared. An unshared culture is a psychic vacuum, and that vacuum is the profoundest loneliness, which crushes proportionally to its difference, and threatens the survival of the mutant. Very, very few cultural mutants survive, much less reproduce their vision, much less change the nature of human-being.

Regarding mere survival: everything that threatens the continuous activity of the artist (that is imposes displacing, depressing and exhausting alien tasks) or imposes environmental disorientation on the artist threatens his particular cultural existence, if not his biological existence. And since an artist identifies more with his particular cultural existence than even with his biological being, this threat reaches beyond individual death to the extinction of one’s own species.

I am assuming what I mean by “inhabiting a world” (as opposed to perceiving the world) is pretty obvious to anyone for whom this line of thought is relevant. In case it isn’t, here is a mythical evolutionary analogy. Imagine the first appearance of eyes in an eyeless species. That first eyed mutant probably looked pretty strange, not that anything else was around to see it. But what was much stranger was what happened to its existence as a result of the acquisition of the faculty of sight. This organism lived a visual existence in a visible world unlike that of anything that preceded it. Its world deepened in an extra inconceivable dimension.

* Adolescent rant…

A philistine with an ambition to possess the status of an artist sees only the unusual attributes artists appear to have and tries to acquire some of these attributes for himself. He’ll adopt a unique style and maybe dye his hair and become the guy with pink hair or green hair or blue hair or yellow hair. He’ll collect and love some personal menagerie of influences, adopt some pattern of quirks and enthusiasms as “his”, and perhaps go through the trouble of developing some technical skill in some art. He will see no difference at all between his “differentness” and the differentness of the artists he emulates. It is even possible that the one he emulates is himself an emulation, perhaps of emulations of other emulations. Nobody else will see any difference either, because they all live together in a cozy shared reality of scintillating attributes of real things.

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