Experimentation and the Artistic Impulse

Many have tried to discover from where it is that the artistic impulse finds its birth. Over-abundance of energy, intoxication or delirium itself, night dreams of waking images transcribed through the imagination—perhaps it is all or none of these. We are probably no closer to understanding the mechanics of the artistic impulse than we were four centuries ago. It is merely something that passes through us or which we pass through.

Many thinkers have tried to develop aesthetic theories and trace perimeters around those impulses that are responsible for art. Science has little to say about art, save where it agrees with psychology that art is some sort of post-primordial aberration of sentience.

In their insecurity over their own beliefs or exhaustion with the beliefs of others, many artists have espoused an art-for-art-sake ideal while others have turned art into a holy sanctuary where ‘the story’ or ‘the meaning’ or the ‘moral’ might shine through, progressing the pilgrim of their means to an end which all can understand. Provincial literatures democratically provide us with the opportunity to see what it is about people belonging to specific demographics that make them more interesting than you.

What most art shares in common is the sense of project—that there is a structure with a means and end if not a means to an end.

What is experimental literature, in most cases, but a pastiche of means to one end? Where does the experiment, the formal unfamiliarity, finally grace the reader with familiarity? The experiment, especially in literature, may possess the ability to grant a feeling offamiliarity in a non-literary way, as it is with writers who try to write in ways that more accurately reflect ‘consciousness’ (to say nothing of the great many who have failed).

Most cases of experimental art refuse to let the subject become an instrument of the end, but rather, mix him into the very paint, the very mud of the text in order that the means might come through in a way that, while distorted, is meant to be absorbed in a more ‘lifelike’ way. The bizarre techniques of Joyce, say, better acquaint us with everyday situations by the very fact that they are represented in a totally alien manner.

Art For Art's Sake and Style for God's Sake


Styles cannot be affected where they are not sought in advance. The problem in finding an overarching narrative by which to guide the reader along some path is that, when there arrives a moment when something of distinction might be learned in the fluid music of words, it is already rendered ineffectual by the vehicles through which it was communicated, for the play of concepts and narrative forces all too often speak as a seducer. It is the very nature of seduction which puts the seducee immediately on edge. There is the faith that something good will come out of the seduction while the intentions in delivering it through such non immediate means compromise one’s ability to submit to its integrity. All of ‘art for art’s sake’ is born from this contingency. A highly codified and mostly intuited sense of ‘beauty’ takes both longer to hypostasize and longer to dissolve, in contradistinction to the values being espoused on the entirely discursive narrative path of the work, which is to say, simply, it’s ‘political message.’ ‘Art for art’s sake’ is, as much as anything else, a sense of timidity concerning its own underlying cultural memes, with conscious irony. It is not surprising that novels which have stood up well as ‘art for art’s sake’ have survived in the west and have been adopted not only into the cannon of literature, but into the avaricious hands of particular parties wishing to be validified, somehow, by history. ‘Art for art’s sake’ is a discursive back door. There is also the hidden implication that a desired utopia is given a ‘sneak preview’ when ‘art for art’s sake’ is given free reign with its own set of tools. In such art, the mechanics of politics is completely leapt over in favor of its desired results. One should not be fooled by the artist’s contention that the beautiful hallows the ugly. The ugly subject matter has always hidden within it a germ of the very truth which inspired the whole piece. For instance, a novel in which murder is defined as a ‘liberating’ or ‘Dostoyevskian’ act is often only capable of depicting crime at the hands of a criminal type, for the anomaly of something so removed from polite society gives the reader the freedom to reject that depicted murder on their terms—sometimes on account of its eloquent style! The eloquence of style, where it is attached to bourgeois values, no matter how grotesque the actual ‘content,’ will always yank the reader back into this world despite the intentions of the author. Being yanked into ‘this’ world is the final desire of a much more decadent aim of the writer—to make the grotesque norm of the potential ‘tomorrow’ palpable to the mind of now. Since this is only a subterraneous intention, the writer may not be aware of his doing it. 

The Jeet Kune Do of Art


Use what works for you when creating. You can imitate older forms if you must, but eventually, to make something new, you'll have to appropriate other forms.

Every art form that appears new is an accretion of countless others. Ripping off one person is plagiarism. Ripping off ten people is originality.

Take the novel, for instance. It started out in an awkward narrative mode because its only example was epic poetry. It was comprised of letters, diaries from characters, and first hand news reports. The novel leveled out and soon a common standard was imposed on narrative. After a while, these same older methods were introduced back into the novel as means of experimentation.

Use everything that works and throw the rest out. If you try to be too conventional or go out of your way to be unlike anything anyone has seen, you may miss the potential of what can be accomplished with balance.

Don't worry about the style beforehand. The style will take care of itself when you focus on delivering what you have to communicate in the clearest way you can

Politics In Art

It's hard not to put politics in art. One could say this is the case especially today, but it's always been that way. 

The question is, what is its place in art and does it have a role? I've experienced many pieces of art which seemed to have only the thinnest film separating the viewer from the underlying political message. This is merely propoganda.  

Does that mean one rules politics out completely? Politics is something we are always engaged with in our lives every single day, even if we're not thinking about it. It's going to come out in what we do. The question is, do we want it to drive us or do we want to drive it?

Politics are merely an extension of a value system. Most people only see themselves as political insofar as they follow the tenents of a particular party line. Politics change when value systems change. This is why art that goes out of its way to make a political statement usually doesn't date well.  

If you want to create a piece of art that's going to get people excited and stir lots of controversy, you'll probably focus on a political message. There's nothing wrong with this in itself. you'll get your likes on Facebook and Instagram, but you'll be quickly forgotten.  

Spend some time thinking about the values which drive politics. Create something out of that. Values die harder. Art can be your laboratory to test certain ideas. Dostoyevsky did this. Shakespeare did this. Many artists have a political dimension to their work which simply adds coloring to what is, otherwise, a rich, three dimensional work.  

Create art that explores and which can't be pinned down or hijacked by a particular political narrative.  





Would You Pay to Create?

It is an encouraging time to be an artist. Social media has provided artists with many tools to promote themselves without the help of agents, publishers, stores and sales.

However, all of these things are fleeting and contingent. There are waves of these good times that come in different forms. At one point, mass-market paperbacks were a revolutionary way for publishers to save money. After a while, the trend shifted away from buying them and, for various other reasons, mass-market paperbacks were only a priority for certain kinds of books.

It's all in flux. Right now, things like Instagram are good for pictures, Smashwords and Amazon are good for ebooks and facebook seems to be beneficial to pretty much every kind of art.

The only problem is that these forms of media come with an ever-changing, strict set of rules which more favor art that is easily digestible. You might find yourself compromising your art in order to fit it into the package favored by a particular medium. After a while, these forms of media will fade away as things do. Maybe it'll take a while, but they won't be around forever.

I say this not to alarm you, but to encourage you to question what it is that causes you to create what you create. Do you create it because you think it is easy and will make you money, or do you create it because you love it? If you just want to make money, that's fine, but don't be surprised when you no longer can. Nothing lasts forever.

However, I would put this question to you. If you absolutely had to, would you pay money to create what you love creating? If the answer is yes, you're probably in the best position. That is not to say you should pay, but it gives you an idea of where you're heart is at. What length are you willing to go to do what you love? Would you create it even if there was a possibility no one would see it?

I don't say this in an attempt to make you isolate yourself from the world, but to keep you from getting discouraged. If anything, having an attitude of creation that comes from a love of the work will keep you coming back to the world even after what would be considered worldly ‘failure.'

Remember, even though these forms of media are contingent, you can adapt. Walt Whitman went door to door selling printed copies of Leaves of Grass. Instagram is great, but what if it's not around forever? Get a website and put up flyers for it where people can see your work. As a matter of fact, your website won't be around forever either. Set up a booth. Put out business cards. The only person who is going to stop you is yourself.

Smashwords and Amazon work great for getting digital copies of your book out, but what if they go bankrupt someday? You can weep, or you can take action. Get a website where you have your own digitally formatted copies of your work available. It will take more work, but it's what you love. Learn how to make books from the bottom up and try making a few of your own. Use a room in your house as an art gallery for your paintings. Have concerts in your back yard or someone else's.

These are all means of making your work available. Most artists would love to have major promotion for their work and that's wonderful. However, just be aware of the fact that all the avenues you could go through have a beginning and will also have an end. All those beginnings happened because someone decided to start out small and put the work in. Always remember that you can do the same. Artists always have many options. If you feel like options are few, create some new ones. Creating things is what artists do.