Monday, June 25, 2012

Blown Away By Art

Sometimes I think its wrong, the way we go about consuming media. Mainly in the sense that it is even possible to say that we consume it. The sheer quantity of art, literature, and theater is ridiculous, like the world has never seen.

And this is alright, I'm not against art or the making of it; indeed, I think there should be more, that everyone should be creating art of some kind. But if I think about it, I can't name a single painting that has ever moved me to a state of rapture, nor a poem that has given me more than a moment of total sublimity. Oh, don't be mislead, I'm not totally insensitive; there are countless paintings that have held my eye for a good while, and many more poems that I have loved. And of course, songs that truly take me away; Ode To Joy always works for me, but music is a little unique in this, somehow it has more power even given the musical over-saturation we live in, so there are innumerable others I could list.

I wonder sometimes what it would have been like to have lived in the middle ages, when people very rarely saw any art at all. I mean, when they did encounter a fresco or mural or something like that, probably at a church or cathedral, they were shocked. Scared senseless by an image depicting the torments of hell, or carried away by a work showing the celestial bliss of heaven. Speechless and in awe.

I can't imagine getting anything even like that from a painting. We moderns are so saturated by the various media around us, that such an experience is hard to even understand. We're almost numb to it. We have hundreds of channels for today's "theater," libraries and bookstores overflowing with books, museums for art of many kinds... How perfectly ordinary it is for us to pick up a book, or jump online to explore, among other things, the creative works of the world.

Typically, as soon as I finish a book, I pick up another (actually, I usually have 2 or 3 books going at once). I don't give myself any time to digest on it and truly reflect upon it, I just jump to another. It's not to say I don't think about what I read. I do, usually while reading it, pausing to ponder this or that; but as a whole, I don't finish a book in its entirity and then think about it for a while. Part of this serial reading is the need for escape, for entertainment and distraction, but also because there are more books that I want to read than I ever probably will. There's always more.

And even most people, who aren't weirdo serial book readers, are serial TV watchers, or movie watchers, or internet users, or likely all of the above in some mix. So there's never any real break (add to this the way texting, smartphones, and the like fill in every "blank" moment, completely obliterating any chance for personal reflection... but that's a whole other post). But what would our lives be like if we did pause to let a book or painting or whatever-it-is sink in. I think again of the middle ages, really all times before the printing press (and for most people, a good while after). I don't envy that life, which was one of labor and drudgery, with long days and little time off to make or enjoy artistic things. But consider the case of religious belief itself.

In my example of medival Europe, there was the Church, or the stake. Few people could read and books were rare; by and large there was little option other than the Bible. The monestary libraries had other books, even pagan works, that they copied and preserved, but clearly the Catholic religion was monumental. People were given the one teaching, and most people knew nothing else. Maybe they knew of Islam as some distant, shadowy evil to be crusaded against (that is, they had a concept of Islam only a little less vague than we Westerners do today).

So imagine the shock of someone back then coming across an alternative view! Assuming he was open-minded enough to really appreciate it. Well, he wouldn't be racing on to the next book, because there wasn't any next book. He just had to sit with these powerful new ideas, would have to be floored by them, and live with that flooring for a while. His largely virgin mind would not only be more sensitive to the power of an idea, he would have no further distraction (aside from daily life) to drown out the message.

See, ideas today hold exactly as much power as they did back then, only, now there are just far more of them vying in the mental space, so we grow accoustomed to them, treat them as trivial. In fact, we come to crave it, consuming art like a drug; it's almost monstrous. I picture in my mind some horrible demonic skeleton swallowing books and paintings, never satiated, because they just fall out the bottom. We chase sensation, blind to the power of even one of those sensations.

So it's not that I wish for a dearth of art or ideas. What I want is that level of sensitivity. I wish I could know what it was like to look at a painting of some demons, which looks slightly silly to me, a modern, and see naked terror laid out before me. I wish hearing a poem could change my life.

1 comment:

  1. I think by writing your poems (or when I paint) you change your life.