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On the function of art

On the function of art
March 22, 2014, 10:58:09 PM
... we find (among others) the Academics, like William-Adolphe Bouguereau. This is from the wow-I-can-definitely-see-what-it-depicts-but-itís-boring-me-to-tears school of art. It has no urgency. Great art is almost by necessity always inspired by personal experience in the world and time we live in. Trying to remove yourself from it will turn the art into stories about virtually nothing. And thatís what we see in Bouguereau. An artist trained in the old school, with all the craft of tradition but none of the spirit gained from experience. That experience doesnít need to be one of terror, but giving an artwork weight demands an ability to pick up what is going on around you and inside you. And we are not talking socio-political particularities here, but an existential understanding. What does it mean to be human during this time and this place?


When I was younger, I agreed with this article. I thought Bouguereau was a very talented picture maker, but ultimately a boring, pointless artist. (I also thought that Bach was boring music.)

Now that I'm older, and by that I don't mean softer, but on the contrary, harder, more disciplined, more perceptive, and more experienced, I have changed my mind.

Now I find Bouguereau one of my favorite painters (and Bach one of my favorite composers) and can't help but find this old DLA/DMU article a rather naive, superficial view of the function of art in general and the nature of Bouguereau's paintings in particular.

Again, I definitely personally understand where the author was coming from though, and no disrespect is intended toward him, merely disagreement.

In my opinion, Bouguereau was neither purely-mechanical-photorealism nor was he Thomas Kinkade-esque pretty stories.

His paintings do in fact carry a lot of urgency, and on two levels:

(1) When nearly everyone was being hip and rebelling against traditional drawing and painting methods, Bouguereau, Ingres, and a rare few others were maintaining them

(2) When nearly everyone was being hip and rebelling against traditional painting subjects, Bouguereau and a rare few others were upholding them

The author of the article correctly notes that great art should not be (or at least, need not be) mere sociopolitical commentary (as even the least propaganda-like of it is transient and vain), but then makes the error that Bouguereau has no personal, subjective, existential import in the here and now.

This is a gross ignorance of the power of metaphor and myth. Bouguereau paintings are laden with metaphysical and psychological symbolic and allegoric power, and these principles most definitely apply to the existential experience of the individual by their nature of being eternal verities. What could be of more weight than that which is everywhere and everywhen true?

But coming down from the clouds, even those of you readers skeptical of perennial "Truths" cannot deny the romanticist themes in Bouguereau, in his treatment of nature, youth, senses, and emotions. And yet even in this more down-to-earthiness, Bouguereau does not fall into the egodrama of self-expression or of merely illustrating "what is going on around you and inside you". Instead, he shows patterns of life and experience which any intelligent and noble soul can relate to: the loss of virginity and virtue, the longing for a better world, the joy of friendship and kinship, the mystery of the past, the complexities of love, the majestic yet simple beauty of nature, and much more.

I can never be sure whether I am merely projecting qualities onto Bouguereau that aren't there. That possibility aside, what I can be sure of is that, as I have aged (only 26 years old, but nonetheless), I have found that we too often over complicate things in life, perhaps as a nervous distraction, a way to entertain ourselves, a way to escape and avoid facing the fact that maybe, just maybe, the answers to the deep questions of life are a lot more simple than we think, and that we merely have not yet found the courage to face them and accept their implications, for it would mean an end to nearly all of our thought and activity, as nearly all of it is in vain (not merely in the sense of never comparing to the Eternal and Infinite, but also in the simple sense of never even living up to our own highest personal visions and values for ourself).

Now, when viewing art, whether it be a Bouguereau painting, a Bach concerto, a Sacramentum album, or an Incantation album, I simply ask myself: is it beautiful, and does it make me want to live a beautiful life?

Re: On the function of art
March 22, 2014, 11:04:33 PM
You find things more engaging, more beautiful, more full, when you stop intellectually analyzing them?

Re: On the function of art
March 22, 2014, 11:15:04 PM
You find things more engaging, more beautiful, more full, when you stop intellectually analyzing them?

That depends.

I don't think it is possible to overestimate the importance of the intellect.

(Furthermore, the very idea that one should enter into immediacy, simplicity, initiative, and spontaneity only ever comes as a effect or product of disengaged, intellectual analysis and reflection. This is what separates the creative adult from the child: neither are the average adult, but the child's playfulness is subconscious and instinctual, whereas the creative adult's is more conscious and deliberate, a courageous stand and statement that life, even with its "evils", is good. In this way, great art is a kind of universal spiritual language which warns "Appearances are deceiving" "Society is more often destructive, parasitical, and predatory than creative and helpful" "You will have to exert yourself, become responsible for your own destiny, and pay attention to results -- intentions and self-righteousness mean nothing" and yet which emboldens "Enjoy this life!" "Be of good cheer!" "Stand up and fight!")

I do, however, think that the ego can use the intellect as yet another one of its hiding places.

But eventually, of course, Truth/death finds it. :)

Re: On the function of art
March 22, 2014, 11:45:37 PM
I often downplay the value of intellect.
I suppose I do that because I have it to downplay.
I don't seem to need it. Then again, that may be because I can use it or not use it, at will.
It is probably impossible to imagine not having it, or for those who don't, to imagine what it would be like if they did.

Your post made me wonder if you had seen this art you mention in a different way to the way you first saw it, because then you could do nothing else but judge intellectually. And now that you have a choice, you prefer the spontaneous enjoyment that can be the result of not-judging.

I see art like that. It is too often contrived, and unnatural. So when you see something that doesn't appear to be, it seems almost naive, and poorly imagined.

Re: On the function of art
March 22, 2014, 11:58:15 PM
We seem to have slightly different temperaments then, crow. My mind is rather judgmental and decisive.

I really like your last statement there though. Good art is hard to find, and even when we do find it, we often let it slip past us because we are not attuned to it or are not yet at an appropriate level / in a proper mindset.

Re: On the function of art
March 23, 2014, 09:33:08 AM
I agree fully with your last statement. The most profound art is something Ive felt, matter of the heart, not a matter of the mind. Cheers!

Re: On the function of art
March 24, 2014, 10:06:42 AM
The power of art certainly isn't in meta-data.

Re: On the function of art
March 24, 2014, 01:24:34 PM
I've found a useful way to think about art is whether or not it get as some sort of "Ideal Form" (or however Plato would put it).  If it evokes some underlying universal concept in me, I usually think of it as fairly good.  Maybe that is the point of art.  After all, would there be any purpose to art if everyone thought poorly of it?

Re: On the function of art
March 24, 2014, 03:27:11 PM
Genuine art is created because the creator must create it.
What anyone else may make of it is incidental.
After that comes art that wins general acclaim.
Which has less to do with the art, than with what people find to be great.

Re: On the function of art
March 24, 2014, 05:27:21 PM
As is my custom, I totally agree with crow.

Re: On the function of art
March 24, 2014, 05:29:24 PM
Not a wise course. People have been murdered in their sleep, for less.

Re: On the function of art
March 25, 2014, 12:09:20 AM
LOL "copycrow"! I can only hope that will become the first board-specific meme since I've joined in as an active poster. (On another note; if that is really "not funny", then please let me know! The last thing I would want to do is "ruffle some feathers!

Oh, me!)

A friend of mine (who is fun to talk to because his viewpoints are only half-the-time in opposition to mine, and if you don't have at least one friend like this, then you are missing out on a most constructive and entertaining relationship) had a discussion about what art really "is" recently. We came to the agreement that art is defined in the context of utility.

First, we drew a distinction between art and tools. Things get kind of sloppy here but do try to follow if you are that curious. We decided that tools are inventions that exist in the outside world (outside of our minds, wishes, and fantasies), put together by humans for other humans to use, with the express purpose of physically altering the reality acted upon by that tool.

In contrast, art is something that has little (or zero, or negative) practical utility for directly altering the configuration of the physical world. Instead, art is indended to interact most directly with the human psyche, exploiting its reliance on symbols and genetic memory. In this sense, art has utility, because it can indirectly alter the physical constructs outside of mental reality, even though the changes begin in mental constructs, thanks to the art for providing initial blueprins ts for such a construct.

Anyway, whether emotion or feeling has much to do with separating art from tools in the context I've established is an awesome question to think about. Great posts, all.

Re: On the function of art
March 25, 2014, 08:03:51 AM
A child will often see how far it can go, even when it knows what might happen.

Re: On the function of art
March 25, 2014, 10:38:54 AM