Monday, October 18, 2010

Why art?

Language is everything; everything is language. People communicate through intrinsically meaningless symbols that are attached to objectively meaningless “noises” that create letters such as A-B-C-D-etc., and letters, eventually, form an entire alphabet. Then, among the range of letters from the alphabet is formed words, such as d-o-g, which ends up being the word “dog” that we call some four legged, tailed, barking, and honest (yes, I am biased; I love dogs!) creatures. Eventually, combination of words leads into forming sentences, statements, and an entire language like the one called “English” that I am using right now as I am typing in order to communicate with you.

Same creature is called "dog" in English,
"hund" in German, "chien" in French, etc.
Ok, assuming that we have an entire language such as “English” with which we point at tangible objects like dogs and call them as “dogs” in order to communicate with each other, do you think it would that be enough to communicate all your ideas, thoughts, and emotions clearly with another fellow human being that you most probably call “friend”? Well, you may all agree in material “things” that you could exemplify with your senses such as "seeing" this creature on the picture and identifying it as "dog", but how about intangible “things” such as "hate" and "love"? How could you define the experience of such emotions that are so subjective and so relative for each person?

Nowadays, the phrase I love you is being used so often that there is I love you inflation happening. You see newly met people say I love you to each other after two lines of conversation in a bar ambiance (imagine how deep such conversation could be and so much it could reveal about the person!?) or even comment under their friends pictures’ in social networking websites, “I love you X! You are gorgeous!” in order to help her friend boost her ego out of nowhere, who in turn would reply in a few days with a similarly flattering line, accomplishing the joint psychological masturbation by elevating each others self-confidences that fataly require flatterers to continue its "existence". In such a contemporary society, how would/could one expose his/her true thoughts/feelings while using the same language as the exemplified people in the former sentence use? How could one “transfer” the way he/she perceives an inexplicable concept such as beauty/love/hate/justice/nostalgia/absurd/sublime to another person?

Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917.
Thus, words, at least in the classical sense that is used in any particular verbal language in everyday language, are insufficient in expressing certain “meanings”. This is where art comes forth.
Just as verbal languages are formed through the complex construction of letters, words, and sentences, art, too, is formed via simpler materials. In film, it is the moving pictures that carry certain meanings with their contents; in music, it is the melodies, the tonal differences, and, in certain occasions, the vocals (how it is performed is as important, if not more, as what is sung) are the words and sentences of the language of sounds. It is because of this, Marcel Duchamp’s famous Fountain is considered as a piece of art despite the contemporary critique it receives from those who neglect “why” the piece is built, and shallowly focus on the superficial level by claiming that it is just a piece of toilet! It is, again, the same reason why Surrealist films of 1920s are regarded as "stupid" even at the "best" universities around the world for lacking clarity; but it is exactly the reason why it is so important, because it attempts to demonstrate subconsciousness via camera! Why search rationality when the goal itself is complete irrationality? Here is Man Ray's 1926 film Emak-Bakia in two parts, which is valued for its courageous attempt to depict subconsciousness and for being among the first surrealist films to whom many of the contemporary films owe a lot.

It is this almost-unbearable-tormenting attitude of contemporary culture that leads one into being “lost in translation”; because exchanging certain noises or symbols that are called “English” or Spanish, French, etc. don’t necessarily mean communication, and certainly don't mean successful communication.

Jim Morrison; after showing his male
sexual organ to the audience in his concert,
and being condemned by the state courts.
Despite this seemingly inescapable conflict, there exists art, which would at least reach further than verbal languages as a form of communication with its capability to “define” certain concepts clearer, if not clearly. It is this power of self-expression that art provides appeals millions and millions who identify themselves with their favorite films, characters, or musicians. Truly, who, better than Jim Morrison and The Doors, could express ideas such as “rebellion”, “anarchistic freedom” or “Dionysian ecstasy”? Aren’t Ingmar Bergman’s films depict “the silence of God” and existentialism almost as powerful as Jean Paul Sartre himself? Is there a better way of communicating depersonalization and unexplainable anxiety than Edvard Munch's Expressionistic masterpiece The Scream (1893)? Or, for those who have seen it, isn’t Sergio Leone’s portrayal of “love” in Once Upon a Time in America (1984) is the profoundest depiction of a human being’s larger-than-life feelings for another human being?

The Scream, Edvard Munch,

Noodles (Robert De Niro) and Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern) at the beginning
of the legendary sequence in Leone's Once Upon a Time in America,
for which words are insuffiecient to explain its profundity.

Language is everything; everything is language. Yet, with the verbal languages losing all their meanings, art remains as “the” shore to approach for keen individualists who value their self-expression above all. It is through art one could express one the most sincerely and could expect to be understood by a broader range of community as a “human being” with both his/her rationality and irrationality escaping the extremes of both science and religion, thus, creating one’s reality the way one desires it to be. Therefore, art is language as well, and the most universal of all.

Ignoring all the conventional limitations of thought and language, I say, Albert Einstein was a great artist for broadening “our” imaginations, and Salvador Dali was an incredible scientist for constructing “his” surreal reality.