Engaging art

September 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of M’s arguments why we should correspond is that we have a lot in common — a lot which distinguishes us from others and which should make us natural intellectual partners:  we are both educated, multilingual, cultured, well-traveled, and well-read.

It is true:  M is well educated (two master’s degrees) and cultured (competent amateur pianist, draftswoman, and painter of water-colors) and well-traveled (she’s certainly familiar first hand with a lot of Europe’s best architecture and museums).  Like me, she’s multilingual in a truly cross-cultural way (Arabic and Armenian in addition to English, Spanish, and French), though this cross-culturality does not seem in her case philosophically fecund.  I am not impressed with her reading — but give the girl a break, who else reads 2500 pages a week?

So, yes, she is cultivated, yet — I don’t find her companionship interesting.  And it comes down to this: her observations on art and culture are wholly conventional:  things read in textbooks, learned attitudes, borrowed opinions; automatic repetitions of established views.  The world of art and culture isn’t her world — it is a world she aspires to in a star-pupil-like manner:  by memorizing and reciting her lessons. It does not seem authentically hers.

In this, she is like most people pretending to art and culture whom I have met, who often exhibit impressive fluency with established theories and canon — but hardly any personal response to specific works.  Perhaps not everyone has the rebellious intellectual attitude which makes me question every sentence I read (and therefore deride every art theory I read); but, for crying out-loud, what makes art interesting?  Surely, it must be the fact that it inspires in us our own response, that it means something to us personally.  I am too deeply moved by the incredibly tactile texture of the dead swan’s down in Weenix still-life not to disagree with Philostratus, let alone repeat his dicta; what I read in The Magic Mountain wakes in me powerful reflections on life, and love, and sea, which cast into utter and complete irrelevance any regurgitated observations that the novel is, in some way, about passage of time.  I don’t get any of this out of M.

Perhaps the point I am trying to make is the one already made to me many years ago: that intelligent people are plentiful; but what is lacking are people with a spark.  And it is precisely that:  M lacks the spark.  All that culture and education and experience — and… nothing.

Can one say about M — and people like M — that she lives a cultured life?  That she experiences art and literature?  Is there really something going on in there in response to these things and is she merely failing to understand it sufficiently to put it in words; or — is there nothing, just a kind of blind ambition for the higher things because they are said to be higher?

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