Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Art, It's So Bloody Big

I managed to read Jonathan Culler's Introduction To Literary Theory, and even understood some parts of it, although I have to admit I'm having a hard time getting my head around some of the more abstract schools of literary analysis, but having finished that one, it's on to art.

In the same Oxford University Press series I have Cynthia Freeland's Introduction To Art Theory.  I am hoping that Freeland is just as knowledgeable about art as Culler was about his field, but very early on she has made rather a simple error that leads me to question the scale of her knowledge about the arts.

On page 3 of the book, Freeland writes "If artists just want to shock the bourgeoisie, it becomes pretty hard to distinguish the latest kind of art that gets written up in Artforum from a Marilyn Manson performance that includes Satanic rituals of animal sacrifice on stage."

Art is of course a vast subject, and you cannot be expected to know everything, but if you are going to use the performance of an artist to make a point then surely you must know something about him.  To the best of my knowledge Marilyn Manson has never sacrificed animals on stage, and as opposed to being Satanic in origin, his whole public persona and live appearance is based on a twisted blend of American icons, a big streak of nihilism, and his despair at his own inadequacies and those of the media, government and, in his view, the unthinking unaware majority.  Satanist though ? No, he rejects God and religion in his lyrics, but he doesn't praise Satan, there are some images in the cover art for Holywood that depict the devil, but that is in the context of a warped Tarot deck.

Manson's speciality is taking cultural icons and viewing them through a darker mirror, thus his use of Mickey Mouse with teeth that are reminiscent of Hannibal Lector's mask, and his frequent use of almost Nazi style military uniform. His stage name takes the first name of Marilyn Monroe, the beautiful but doomed love of Hollywood, and Charles Manson, the insane cultist and killer.  Rejection of his mixed Catholic/Episcopalian upbringing is one of the strands of his lyrical work, but there is much more introspection based on his own confused sexuality, his drug use, his inability to find a stable and loving relationship, in all his lyrics, Manson's nihilism is apparent.

It isn't often that I am going to be correcting of the Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy (with tenure) University of Houston, but Freeland has strayed into my area of specialist knowledge.  Yorkshiresoul, Chair of Heavy Metal Studies, University of Rock.

Anyway, before I got distrcted into a discourse on Mazza, I was being dazzled by the sheer size of Art.  I know a little bit about art, and I know what I like being a big fan of digital sci-fi art and anything gothic, but I had not considered the trye breadth of areas that are included in Art before.  Pictorial art, film and sculpture, music and costume I understood would be part of the subject, but gardening, flower arranging, bonsai and the tea ceremony are also art, as are swords and armour, a crucifix floating in a glass of urine (Andres Serrano) and a mad Austrian bloke doing things to cows with a chainsaw ( Hermann Nitsch).

What is art then ? After skimming through a paper by Arthur Danto I think the answer might be, art is anything that the artist proclaims to be art and is understood by people viewing the piece to be art.

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