Justin R. Erenkrantz Where do you want to go today?

Untitled Snapshot #1

One definition of art is that it is the human manipulation of space and time that results in an aesthetically communicative experience. This is wrong. It is too stuffy. Art can be defined in a single word: passion. When art is created with a passion, only then can great works be brought to life. Anyone can point to an object and say, "This is art." If a piece of art does not pass this test of creating a passion in me, I do not consider it art. Others may call it art, but I do not, and that is all that matters for my purposes. Now, this particular type of passion is the passion of the audience. For the discussion of passion and art to be complete, we must also consider the passion of the creator of art. Yet, this is the lesser of the two passions because the creator will eventually become a part of the audience. While the work is being created, he has a special link to the art because he can manipulate it in any way he desires. Once the work is complete, however, his link is severed. The creator must now become just another face in the crowd. One face in the crowd is just as important as any other because the only thing that matters when discussing art is the individual.

There are circumstances in which people will not trust their own judgment as to what is art. They believe people whose job is to criticize art in all of its forms. These critics tell you when a work of art is good, when it is bad, and when it is mediocre. If you were to pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times, you will find a section called the New York Times Book Review. Many people determine whether a book is good or not only by what the New York Times Book Review says. If the critic says the book is bad, then it has to be a bad book because the critic knows everything about books. The readers will not even make an attempt to judge the book for themselves. This is where the whole domain of art criticism fails - art is too individualistic to rely solely on another person´s judgement. One must experience art first hand, not solely through the point of view of someone else.

Yet, it is possible to convey particulars and information about a work of art. This explanation may help to enlighten you to the passion of a work of art. For instance, if you did not know French and you saw Magritte´s Treachery of Pictures, you would probably not call a painting of a pipe and some strange words underneath it art. However, if you were to learn that the strange words meant, "This is not a pipe," you might suddenly get the little inside joke and feel passion for Magritte´s painting. The second that anyone criticizes or places a strict definition on art, art itself is destroyed. However, this must be distinguished from pointing out particulars of a work because this is not defining what art is, but quite possibly helping others to understand the work.

I recall a famous scene from the movie Dead Poet´s Society when the English teacher tells the class to rip out pages from their textbook because it strictly defines what poetry is. The text tells the reader to look for rhyming patterns, rhythms, and word use among other things. Once they have this necessary information, they can graph the greatness of the poetry. The teacher tells his stunned class that this definition is inaccurate. But, how can this be - it says so right there in the text? There is no other answer than that the book is inaccurate. Whoever wrote the book failed to grasp the real beauty in poetry. They reduced poetry to rhyme, meter and word use. When it is reduced to these base forms, poetry dies. In the end, the teacher passes on to his students the ability to recognize and cherish passion. They learn that when they truly feel a passion for something, nothing can ever take it away. However, they must find passion in their own way, in their own time, in their own manner. Passion is the definition of poetry. It is also the definition of art as well.

Yet, there is no firm definition for passion. For when someone says, "This is art" they are only really saying, "I believe this is art. I have no evidence to prove that it is, but it evokes passion in me." Passion is something that must be felt from within. The opposite is also true - when you look at "art," and you do not feel passion, it is not art. Others may feel passion when they experience the particular piece of "art," but in your own mind, you can not justify calling it a work of art. When you finish a book and you tell yourself "Wow," this is art. When you hear a piece of music and you tell yourself "Wow," this is art. When you experience art, no one needs to tell you that you are experiencing it. You feel it with every bone in your body. In this way, art is like love.

When people feel love, they know something incredible has happened to them. And, in this way, art and love are very similar. Once you start to feel love, you start to examine the particulars of your muse. You try to notice what attracted you to this person - was it her hair, her smile, her intelligence or some other factor? Yet, all of this examination lies in the realm of the futile. It is ludicrous to try to place a finger on a formula for love. For if one tries to determine what love is, you lose sight of the simple fact that you are in love. In fact, it is possible that you might think that you are in love, but in reality you are not. I am reminded of a quote by the highly eccentric American author Truman Capote:

People who are having a love-sex relationship are continuously lying to each other because the very nature of the relationship demands that they do, because you have to make a love object of this person, which means that you editorialize about them. . . . You cut out what you don´t want to see, you add this if it isn´t there. And so therefore you´re building a lie.

Capote´s point is that when we start to try to love a person, we change our perception of the person to try to fit our desired mate. Real love and art do not need to be manipulated. Yet, we constantly manipulate art itself to represent our desired perceptions. We ask ourselves what attracted us to this particular artwork - was it the form, the style, or the sheer ingenuity of it? By the time we are asking ourselves these questions, we should already know whether or not it is art. These questions that we ask of ourselves will merely help us to understand ourselves better rather than the artwork we are examining. If the passion is there, no perception needs to be altered.

Now, let´s shift our focus from the audience to the creator of the art. As I mentioned before, the creator will eventually become a part of the audience, but while he is creating the art, his passion is of a different kind. If the creator does not feel a passion for his works, that fact will usually be apparent. Yet, it is not always necessary to feel passion to convey passion. Some artists are only driven by the commercial aspects of art as well as the fame brought by commercial success. This lack of true passion only makes it that much harder to convey passion, but it is still possible to succeed. The converse argument can also be made: an artist might have passion, but the passion does not get conveyed to the audience. Most unknown artists and hobbyists fall into this category. Because they can not translate their passion, they will not be successful in their work. It is also possible to have passion one day and lose it the next. If we were to examine some of Andy Warhol´s later paintings, a sharp distinction appears between these works and his earlier works that were so crucial in defining an era. There is obviously something missing from these works - passion. The same could be said for Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and even F. Scott Fitzgerald - they all achieved fame and fortune early in life because of their passion, but in the end they succumbed to the tremendous pressures placed upon them. Devoted fans of each of these artists will cherish their lesser-quality works, but in reality they are only clinging to the past instead of judging each individual work on its own merits.

However, the rare artist is the one who has a passion for art as well as the capacity to convey this passion to the audience on a consistent basis. When people hear a work by Miles Davis, they immediately understand the connection between Davis and his trumpet. There is no doubt that they are one. This passion is transferred to the audience in a breathtaking fashion. However, Davis himself feels that he has not adequately communicated the passion that he felt when he first heard Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie "Bird" Parker:

I´ve come close to matching the feeling of that night in 1944 in music, when I first heard Diz and Bird, but I´ve never got there. . . . I´m always looking for it, listening and feeling for it, though, trying to always feel it in and through the music I play everyday.

It is absolutely incredible to me that an artist of Davis´s caliber would feel that he has not properly conveyed the passion he felt at that precise moment. Listening to Diz and Bird, Davis must have felt an incredible passion for the art of jazz. It inspired him to passion as both a creator of art as well as one who experiences art.

In the end, art is simply a part of passion. Since we can not define what passion is, we can not define what art is. Art may have different forms, shapes, and techniques. But, these lie outside the realm of our discussion - for these are particulars that relate only to a particular piece rather than art as a whole. Art is simply something that we intuitively know when we come across it. No two people will feel the same way about art. In this aspect, this is one of art´s greatest gifts to humanity: it inspires constant debate. Art has the unparalleled ability to inspire and provoke the human imagination. For some, it may serve as a catalyst to creating even greater art, or it may even inspire passion in their every day lives. For the passion that can be conveyed through art can truly change the laws of nature.


Last Modified Friday, 20-Aug-2010 02:50:28 EDT These pages were made by Justin R. Erenkrantz unless otherwise stated. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. These pages will look best in an XHTML 1.0 compliant browser.

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