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Roots and Branches

As long ago as an entire decade I began an wholly self created blog courtesy of the means that then existed for a DIY creative act in the world.

The blog's title The Moderate Contrarian was chosen with some care.

My political and philosophical orientation was always what gets called - by others more than me, and more often pejoratively I might add - as both moderate and contrarian. As we start a new decade my orientation is not different to any great extent. 

The roots of that blog, which was mainly a blog of criticism and thus, nonfiction of many kinds, could be found still further back - in a strange awakening I had shortly after 9/11.

Until now I have never written or spoken publicly about this, not out of any coyness or need for privacy, but mainly for the reason that I have never felt that I had very good articulation for it. i won't say much more on that now.  

As I write this initial blog for our podcast it occurs to me to note the connections among all of these things I mention.

That awakening concerned the arts, specifically their importance.

I realized that the arts were far more important than (any) society had up to them realize. I was toying with a new definition of the arts, something I make more explicit (if hopefully not more tendentious or pedantic) in another project I am currently writing.  But for the purposes of this blog post I will offer the definition here, both because it has implications for this podcast itself as well as the tone and structure of the conversations that take hold with the guests. I see all art as a kind of record of, or report on the contents of human consciousness, broadly construed. If  that is so, then it will be a representation of theses largely internal or interior states. It is not the direct actions of people in what we call real life, but the collections, retroactively, of the goings on in human consciousness.

Now it just so happens that the results of these "reports"/"records" take many forms, from abstract and nonrepresentational art that would seem to, on the surface, not be a report of anything personal at all, or at least to not possess "story" or 'likeness" to narrative drama that seems to be wholly concerned with the stuff of "real" life and is most personal. If we take my definition seriously we also have to include all of the world religions under the category of art, (If this is inconvenient for some or many believers there is nothing that can be done about that), at least the texts, whether spoken or written, that constitute those religions.

My definition would also include many political treatises and tracts, works of psychology, history and much more. In this sense my vision of what art is is quite broad.  It is not so broad as to include everything humans do, of course, but if it is representative in any way then it will be tied to human consciousness and be a form of art.   For example a public building is the expression of inner ideas of how people in a society want to have a roof over their heads when they are not outside. It is not merely the function of shelter or dwelling.

To change subjects greatly, a stand-up comedy routine is a kind of report of what is on the mind, or has been on the mind, of the comic. But both a building and comedy routine can be seen as representations of parts of human consciousness, and as can be seen from those two examples the reach is wide.  And the art/non art distinction for me is a real consequence of whether with what we are dealing is some kind of record or capture of human consciousness or simply people going on about their lives without any such record.

Although all art has its social and relational dimension it cannot be reduced to these alone.

The decisive factor is this inwardness or interiority.

One of the reasons the photographic arts of all kinds were tragically slow to be regarded as one of the arts is that definitions of art at that time in the 20th century were not concerned with this question of human consciousness as such but were overly concerned with the conventions required for something to be constituted as art, the question of reception alone as in the popularity or not of an object, and the dogmas of the various established mediums.

Often these were seen not as conventions, of course, but simply as what art "is". When people began using these mechanical devices to photograph themselves, others, and the environment around them, if the results weren't records of human consciousness then nothing was, or is. All of this brings me to my Kaleidoscope episode as one important example of what I mean.

In this episode all seven participants are recorded reporting on how they are making art or the art of living itself during a most unusual time of the Spring of 2020.

If we listen to the podcast we are giving a hearing to what is going on in the participants themselves as well as getting knowledge that we simply would not have without the opportunity and the space - in this case the podcast "form" itself - for the guests to speak.  Now what is interesting is that an enormous amount of possibility and potential follows from this podcast form.

One of the guests could have sung as well as spoken sentences; still further they could have performed or recited their consciousness as prose or as a poem, in the manner of what we call a performance aimed at moving audience. These are just a few of the many possibilities art can take. People used to talk about the art of conversation; one of the contributions of the podcast is to make conversation itself into an art.

I should add in conclusion that this episode seemed to me rather arduous. It wasn't so much the gathering of people, all but one whom I have had the privilege to know personally, still less is it technical matters of editing (though these are not without certain challenges).

The main thing, of course is the subject matter.

But the thing about art is that art can take absolutely any subject matter and shape into some kind of representation. I think it might be hardest for art to have as its subject something totally topical, a subject while it is being experienced, above all when the subject matter is one with such overwhelming negativity involved. The difficulty is the extreme closeness of the artist to the material as well as the emotional intensity.

Yet I realize that for some, maybe even many, this very closeness to the material, that it happen "live", might be their raison d'être for being artists at all: there are so many perspectives on what art is for and thank goodness for this. And we all know that some of the supreme works of art have had as their subjects illness and death as well as other subjects considered negative. All of this brings me to my decision in  having guests express their perspectives directly on the podcast, if at all possible without intermediaries. (Hosting is different).

D H Lawrence said  "Never trust the teller; trust the tale. The proper function of the critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it."  

What is most interesting about Lawrence is that he excelled both  in the arts of criticism as well as fiction. That is, his understanding of art was as completely from the inside as anybody could get. His Studies In Classic American Literature is frankly more accurate and lasting - about the literature in question -  than most that has been written about such literature by Americans, though Lawrence was English.

I like to think that on my podcast the tale and the teller are unified; that tale and teller are one. What is important in this podcast is the artist's account of how they came to be who they are and make whatever it is that they have made.

I could never accept that this is or should be the final word on the made work.

But I want to emphasize that a lot of damage has been done by critics who seem to distort the meaning of the objects of their criticism. I take it as an uncontroversial truth that artists will get something right when they speak about their work and what is gotten right will matter and possibly matter more than the speech of people who had no hand in all the toil, energy, the blood, sweets and tears (okay I went there) that went into the making of a thing. In a world that seems to be increasingly censorious (as has happened many times before)

I think the least I could do is give the artist their due and their say.

One thing such an affair will never be, you can be sure, is uninteresting.

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