Ouch!

It started with writing

I found The Norton Sampler (Third Edition) from 1985, a collection of essays about writing, at my local library. It was in the section where they have books for sale. I am interested in improving my writing, so I bought it.

This volume included additional material to explain the different types of writing and featured comments by some of the authors. I read Annie Dillard’s essay, Transformation. Her follow up remarks included a statement about art:

“You may hold the popular view that art is self-expression, or a way of understanding the self – in which case the artist need do nothing more than babble uncontrolledly about the self and then congratulate himself that, in addition to all his other wonderfully interesting attributes, he is also an artist.”

Ouch!

Original blog mission:

My post of the other day brought me full circle to the original mission of my blog: an exploration of my relationship with my older brother who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal. A major focus of my early posts was communication, since my brother was unreachable when we were growing up and is still not reachable today. After my first year of blogging it seemed I exhausted my material (and myself, in a sense). I shifted my blog focus to self expression.

My thought was that if I could unearth my own feelings and “make them visible” (a phrase that I would later learn originated with Paul Klee, noted artist and Bauhaus Master), I might be able to understand others. This was my understanding of art: self exploratory revelation.

Art?

What is art then, if not self expression? Google says: “[art is] the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

OK, I can go with that. Instead of self expression, art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination. ‘Human’, not ‘self’ expression. One ‘self’ is one instance of the human condition. Therefore it makes sense that realization of the imagination of a single human is a contribution to the expression of the human condition.

What can art tell us?

In addition to revealing the imagination of the artist, art can tell us something about the human who created the art. A search of Google reveals one definition of art therapy as “a form of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through painting, drawing, or modeling, used as a remedial activity or an aid to diagnosis.”

Conclusion:

Anne Dillard provides a rather harsh assessment of the view that art consists of self expression. At a basic level, what else could it be? What other ‘self’ could I be expressing if not my own imagination and creativity? On the other hand, I agree that art is not about congratulating one’s self about how clever one is in exposing aspects of one’s self.

To me, art is a way to share (make visible) one’s imagination and by so doing illuminate another wavelength on the spectrum of the human condition.

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