The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2013

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SEPT 2013 Issue
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lines circling a definition of art (on my birthday, for W.H.A.)

Art is about living as variously as possible.

If art is, categorically, nothing more specific than whatever an artist does, the question is then “what is an artist?”

Artists are people trying to understand themselves in the world, as most people are in their way.

What separates “artists” is an understanding that ideas do not enter the world cleanly on beams of heavenly light, but are messily born into it as forms.

One way of thinking about “aesthetics” is: all the possible choices made in communicating—what does it look or feel like, what histories or associations does it mobilize?

All artists are all formalists to this extent (!)

Because an idea doesn’t find its form, the idea is formed.

Close formal analysis of “what is actually there” in an art experience is vital: each choice carries content.

Conceptual art was an expansion of our aesthetic and formal vocabulary, and not the abdication of it as some people believe.

Obviously anything can be art, because art is about everything.

Some things are more interesting than others, and so are some artists.

“Art is divided not between the good and the bad, but between the interesting and the boring,” said W. H. Auden in a lecture on Romeo and Juliet, but we should keep in mind that some interesting people find things boring that immensely interest boring people.

I do believe there are certain works of art you can’t appreciate unless you’ve had very good sex.

Thomas Hess once said it was the moral obligation of art critics to have as many friends who are artists as possible.

I’d say that it’s the moral obligation of anyone who makes or talks about art to go live as richly, adventurously, and unusually as they can imagine.

Declaring something “not art” is only an attempt to end a conversation with someone you don’t feel like talking with.

When Auden, discussing Bruegel, says, “about suffering they were never wrong, the old Masters: how well they knew its human position,” he is talking about how everything happens at once, all the time, and our experience depends on how we are paying attention.

By naming something “art” you take it out of the naturalized world of the everyday, and direct a special type of attention to it with a different set of associations and ascribed intentions.

Auden also said, when talking about Oscar Wilde, that the artist wants recognition for their work “to reassure them that the sense they believe they have made of experience is indeed sense and not self-delusion.”

Making anything prefigures a social context, and thus the artist occupies a social position, responsible for making things without practical use.

“For poetry makes nothing happen,” said Auden memorializing Yeats, “ survives, a way of happening, a mouth.”

The capacity of art to open space of uselessness in a capitalist society is then profoundly political.


Jarrett Earnest

Jarrett Earnest is an artist and writer living in New York City. He is currently at work on a book on aesthetics and intimacy.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2013

All Issues