Losing My Assumptions
Taken to its logical extremes in our debate, however, this assumption has led me to conclude that the work of Henry Darger, for example, is not "Art" because (or so it's been reported) he had no intention of ever showing it to anyone, meaning it was not created with the intent of communicating anything with anyone, and that then made it something other than "Art."
Now I can look at Darger's work and feel my jaw involuntarily drop. I can marvel at the vision. I can delight at the composition and especially the color. But because I know (or think I know) these works were the result of a masturbatory effort, they don't meet my own definition of fine art, which goes beyond just intent to communicate to include what bnon called, in the thread on child prodigies yesterday, the act of "submerging [one]self in art history as well as surveying the contemporary field and carving out a niche."
I can hear your gasps and "hmpffs" from here...stay with me though.
Roberta Smith opens her review of "outsider" artist Martín Ramírez's exhibition in The New York Times today with a rather bold declaration:
The American Folk Art Museum’s transporting exhibition of the scroll-like drawings of the Mexican artist Martín Ramírez (1895-1963) should render null and void the insider-outsider distinction. [...] Whatever ideas about art you hold dear, expect them to be healthily destabilized here.On the heels of my debate with Max, I took this challenge personally when reading the paper today (see note above re: stubborn loggerhead). Immediately I wanted to draw a distinction. If Ramírez hadn't intended to communicate (given he made this work in a mental institution, it's difficult to say whether he did so in the fine art tradition sense) and if he hadn't submerged himself in art history (again, considering his biography, that doesn't seem probable), then he doesn't meet the central assumption I've used to define fine art, my reasoning went.
But then I looked at the images: Holy-freakin-moley, was he something. Where his gift came from is obviously irrelevant. The proof is there...he was a genius. But I'm still not ready to drop my assertion about communication.
Andrew Sullivan linked to this amazing video yesterday, in which A.M. Baggs, a brilliantly insightful thinker who happens to have autism [UPDATE: see this differing opinion here], demonstrated and then translated her own private language and discussed its relevance to notions of personhood. Like the Jonathen Lethem article in Harpers I read earlier this week, this video has radically altered how I'm looking at the world lately:
Combining the quote Lethem uses to open his Harper's Article:
with this real eye-opening statement in Bagg's video essay:
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated....
Far from being purposeless, the way that I move is an ongoing response to what is around me. Ironically, the way that I move when responding to everything around me is described as "being in a world of my own" whereas if I interact with a much more limited set of responses and only react to a much more limited part of my surroundings people claim that I am "opening up to true interaction with the world."I started to wonder whether or not artists who limit their exploration to submerging themseselves in art history as well as surveying the contemporary field and carving out a niche aren't missing a big chunk of the world. It did eventually dawn on me that the two are not mutually exclusive...that artists can do both (submerge themselves in art history via a process that opens up their senses to this wider world that Baggs and Donne argue is out there), but thinking of the world (as seen by mankind) as having one author and of revealing itself through all the senses if one is simply open to it goes a long way toward explaining how certain artists, living in mental institutions or keeping to themselves in their garrets, can still perceive enough to make our jaws drop without having to study the art history that the rest of us use as a sort of cultural Cliff Notes to "get it."
That's enough of my rambling for now (this has made my head hurt)...your turn.