The Disconnect Between Art and Life
I've never considered myself an escapist, but I have realized that I've limited my outrage about how screwed up things are at the moment to certain contexts (like blogs, or debates over margaritas, or studio visits). The rest of the time, I've simply gotten on with things. (UPDATE: OK, so I've gone on marches, and worked to get out the vote, and voted myself, but I mean really put my money and effort where my rage is...it's not proportionate at all).
Perhaps suggesting only synchronicity (but I suspect suggesting an open dialog on the topic) critics Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz have both recently commented on the link (or lack there of) between art and life.
The link between art and life is a given, but its configuration can vary. TheSaltz:
connection may be roundabout and hidden, or direct and fully exposed — like a live wire. That’s when things start to sizzle.
There’s a new psycho-social space, mainly American, that increasing numbers of artists are probing. Painter Charlene von Heyl has put it this way: "While almost everything in the outer world feels messed-up our inner lives aren’t altogether messed-up." This paradoxical disconnect is neither a state of denial nor one of enlightenment. It is extremely palpable, however, and may help explain why so many Americans are taking prescribed psychoactive drugs when, really, they’re only having reasonable reactions to the echo chamber of information and images that reduces everything to a squalid pseudo-narrative of garbage. Whatever’s happened, Robert Rauschenberg’s famous "gap between art and life" has turned into a new vividly dissonant gap between inner and outer life.Peter Sloterdijk offered an exhaustive (and exhausting) examination of why this disconnect exists in his 1983 tome "Critique of Cynical Reason." Focused on what he calls "enlightened false consciousness," Sloterdijk explained how sensibilities changed after the 1960-70's (when the collective belief had been "you can change the world"). His argument (grossly paraphrased) is that some point after the 70's, it sank in that knowing things are screwed up isn't the same as being able to fix them, that it's impossible to continue to fight the good fight endlessly. Life itself interupts such efforts (bills must be paid, children must be raised, sleep must be had).
Sloterdijk asserted that we settled for a sensibility in which we're “well off and miserable at the same time,” able to function in the workaday world even though we're still aware that so much of what's going on is wrong. We have comfortable SUVs that carry us to comfortable homes with a whole arsenal of comfortable distractions. If we stop to think about the civil war in Iraq or the genocide in Dafur or global warming, we're enlighted just enough to know what stand to take, but we're simply not able (willing?) to devote our entire lives to changing them.
But that enlightened arena...that's where Art is supposed to thrive (because that's where the "truth" lies). This disconnect is actually more problematic to my mind than escapism, which at least admits it's given up the fight. I'd argue more strongly that it's wrong, but, you see, I have a million things to get done today.
UPDATE: Hmmm...amazing what a jolt of java will do to help one realize you're not making sense. Re-reading this, I see that I've equated making art with activism. Not my intended message. Perhaps what I meant (who knows if I don't, eh?) is that maybe art (the art Saltz is critiquing) actually IS reflecting life, in that we're very much living in that state of enlightened false consciousness it seems to be exploring. Whether that's good or not may be beside the point.