Friday, April 29, 2011

Value and Valuing

I was reading journalist and author Arthur Koestler's 'five' part trilogy again recently. That is The Sleepwalkers (1959), Act of Creation (Book I and II) (1964), The Ghost in the Machine (1967) and Janus: A Summing Up (1978). The work as a whole covers an investigation of immense ground and circles back on itself, yet within it is the story of the how humans discover and how we discover our humanity. The awareness of knowledge hubris is a theme in the conclusion to all these books.

I found last night one section in Act of Creation on the aesthetics of snobbery, that I had not recalled before. Koestler observes how in the act of great creation there is often some divine inspiration, a release of one plane in the conjunction of two to produce surprise novelty, whether in the sciences or the arts. He talks about how even life-time experts in the aesthetics of greatness of an artist cannot recognize a well-executed fake by one from the master. He says:

"Let me repeat: the principal mark of genius is not perfection, but originality, the opening of new frontiers; once this is done, the conquered territory becomes common property. .. Genius consists not in the perfect exercise of a technique, but in its invention."

Koestler then speaks to the affectation of greatness and of great art. We feel that seeing these objects we may be magically imbued with the creators' essences. "It is not the eye that guides the museum visitor, but the magic of the names." (p. 410) And so people view these works appraised as great and project their own likes and dislikes upon them.

It is then Koestler trigger me to an insight into my own concerns in this. He remarks how the snobbery of art appreciation, rather than its genuine effect through appreciation comes from the confusion of two value frames. The true judgment of value and the valuing of value-judgements. Koestler comments:

"Snobbery ... is a hotchpotch of matrices, the application of the rules of one
game to another game. It uses a clock to measure weight, and a thermometer to measure distance. The creative mind perceives things in a new light, the snob in a borrowed light; his pursuits are sterile and his satisfactions of a vicarious nature." (p. 412)

I then asked why does this occur (and why did it bother Koestler so)? In apithology, we know the expression of pathology arises from the doubt of grace. When we feel we are not able to gain an appreciation for something, it being too intricate to know or too distant to discover, we fear we will lose the grace of its expression. Fearing this greatness might be unavailable to us, we grasp to its artifact, and look to others to affirm the value we cannot see for ourselves. Our fear of deficiency is confirmed and so compensated for, the art itself becoming invisible under the introjection of acclaim.

This is why greatness without pretence is the best judge of genius. Being respected by one's peers, and ignored by all around, is a much greater respect than drawing queues of people around a block to glimpse something proximate that is forever distant. In moments like these I give great thanks for the many peers around me, without whom in their greatness, I would have no sure judgement for my own attempts at stumbled origination. To create takes courage and to appreciate takes devotion. Not all of us can feel into this path, to create value so as not to confuse value.

My own response in this area is the distress I feel when in crowds of people who are trying to have an experience of greatness, knowing there is something there to get, and not getting it. In these moments I find the authenticity of non-appreciation much better than the false acclaim without a moments look. One day in Paris' Louvre I saw Leonardo's Mona's smile for the first time - and knew somatically and completely the reason for the reputation. Behind the ten-deep crowd of viewers we shared a smile, and after a moment I left in increased respect and moved on to the much-ignored passions of Christ in Botticelli's creative recall in an empty gallery, which the tours having not the time or cultural interest, had passed by. Art is more than personal, it is a view into the divine.

I have a van Gogh reproduction on my stairs. It is of Starry Night. It was a gift on a birthday many years ago from lover and friend. Like Koestler's portrayal of a friend with a Picasso that became more valued once discovered as an original, it recalls for me each time I see it those faded days. This begs the question of whether the painting is more cherished simply because of the artist's reputation or the givers giving. Compared to the other original art I have, especially those where I knew the artist, it is a but a parchment, yet it holds a symbolic cherished value - in distant appreciation and remembered affection. Within the art is the act of giving, and that is what is mostly valued.

So why create in any form? Because it brings us closer to the appreciation of the works of genius. For in the works of greatness we create for others, we give a bit of ourselves ...

- and shop a little in the gallery-giftshop stocking the grace of all mankind.

Picture: Teddy Royannez

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