IN ART: Somewhere beyond the beautiful
An essay by Robert Enoch, 2001
Joseph Beuys said ‘Everyone should be an artist’. I believe he meant it in the sense that art is simply creative human endeavour and not aestheticism, gallery exhibitions of objects or invention for the sake of invention. Our conception of what “Art” is needs to change before Beuys’ ideal can be reached. Artists are now as much a part of the bourgeois dream as pop stars, film directors and millionaire entrepreneurs. Art has become another profession, like Law, Medicine, Business or Technology rather than an alternative way of life, or an experiment with life. Perhaps Art today has almost lost its meaning in the confusion of its purpose, it seems that the Avant-Guard is dead and the only clarity available is the artist’s desire to obtain bourgeoise-hood and the survival of his body and his ego. Art today decorates a successful economy with little enigmas and petty scandals – even showing a susceptibility to its own fashions. Artists have become celebrities but they are not much more than entertainers or sophisticated interior decorators. Reports of their artworks selling for huge sums of money reach the media, as do those works obviously aimed to poke suburban sensibilities. These popularising forces shape the identity of the “Artist”, influence what he makes and affect his purpose. In terms of its social role Art appears not as a renegade and alternative to middle-class aspirations to educate through example but a part of them. If creativity no longer offers a solution or shows no potential for liberation other than from poverty and a diminished self-image, then what is the point in being an artist?
Consumer culture has a propensity for delusions that Nature could never afford because survival is precarious. But folly and reverie and the forces that perpetuate them appear to suggest that the citizen is satisfied and can afford to indulge himself – at least in the expense of bolstering his daydreams. However, with statistics showing 1 in 4 people suffering from depression in Britain, this hints that not everyone is under the spell of the illusion, and, that many are psychologically dissatisfied. Consumer choice has long been confused with life choice. For real choice and real freedom in life, I believe one needs to develop a sense of self through an openness to experience, to the unknown and to creative motivation. In this sense, Art could be the key.
To achieve a visionary art, an art of life and exploration the artist must avoid the futility of aesthetics and effect and evolve a personal and possibly quasi-religious search for authentic experience. Philosophic motive must use art – symbols and actions – as a means, not as an end in itself; the way a mountaineer uses hooks and ropes to accomplish his climb, or a doctor uses medicine and bandages to heal a patient. I am not only thinking of an art of pursuing desire but a bigger art that reaches beyond the ego and into the lost divine where not only ‘everyone can could be an artist’ but everyone could be their own Messiah.
Duchamp’s “Fountain” threatened the traditional medias of paint and plaster, the traditional subject matter of portrait and landscape and the ready-made artistic motive and in doing so he pushed art to the edge, but it was Joseph Beuys who pushed it over. In the art of Beuys the experience of the creative process becomes the conduit of esoteric experience. In his performances he re-contextualizes religious rituals and transforms them from habitual ceremonies into original experiences. I believe his work is mostly effective by example and not directly meaningful to the spectator – he seemed to suggest that we should all engage in a quest to develop and act out our deepest inclinations. Beuys’ creative drive led him from art as object to art as ‘akt’ and then to a mystical ‘professorship’ through lecturing. Talking to a dead hare about his drawings or living in a room with a coyote for a week was a means to realize the mystical relationship between animals and man that he had felt all his life, but it was only for himself. A spectator can only observe and be affected through empathy; the spectator’s part in an action is at once removed and perhaps this is its central flaw. You cannot taste the fruit I am eating by watching me eat it! The idea for the action and its realization are the authentic elements of the self in creativity – without these there is only reaction. Beuys used the objects: felt, fat, dead animals, honey and various metals as materials but their meanings remain largely in the subjective too – inside Beuys. There is an element of Dada in Beuys when he says that too much reason kills creativity. I think this could be a one-way trip to aestheticism and joke-art unless it is an art without an audience or an art that cannot achieve an audience because it creates no ‘product’ because the product is left in the self. In this case his ideas and his work suggest a leaning towards a process of Individuation and that is where Art finally becomes Life.
The term ‘Individuation’ comes from the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung and refers to the process of self discovery that a patient goes through in psychotherapy whereby he reaches an ever-more idiosyncratic selfhood and distances himself from the social mores, conventions, manners or prejudices of ‘mass man’ that he has unwittingly grown into during his life. Dreams during therapy are thus perceived as the unconscious helping the patient towards his goal – one of individual psychic integration and then social integration. In the same way, artistic products can also be seen as symbols that divulge the unconscious. Jung gives his warnings about the unconscious search and he himself went through hallucinatory madness with his own search. Indeed, there are no guarantees that one’s search will lead one directly to happiness and satisfaction. Art is difficult when something is at stake for those who practice it. It becomes a matter of individual psychological survival rather than an act of showing or the joining of a social club.
The mundane is constricting and small, but can art really offer a “way out” through its potentially transformative powers or are we all destined to remain stuck behind cultural and political advancement? One must beware of artistic ideas for they readily succumb to fantasy and pretence. Texts and pictures are fictions not experiences, but ideas can reflect realities. In this way the difficult and inexpressible contents of the mind can be given form: words to the dumb, images to the blind. Somewhere beyond aesthetics where acts of despair and psychosis, where illegal immigrants trying to walk through the Channel Tunnel become works of Art. “Ladies and Gentlemen, once again I would like to turn your attention towards the wound.”
Outside the desire to make products, the need to find my self and understand my self. Sometimes through sensual passions that tear me apart although I long for an authentic homeostasis, a calm that invigorates. Following vague inclinations, ideas without known outcomes – nothing I could consciously decipher I made notes and photographs and journeys. Beyond taste, beyond likes and dislikes, where the self is clarified as neither good nor bad, just authentic. The act or the recognition of a symbol in an image, defined by its extraction from the natural environment: hooks and buoys, markers, clues and directions. Caught between instinct and civilization, chaos and order, I find I am a mutation of the two. I live in blasted earth where nothing can grow. I am a lost soul, stripped of persona. In our absolutely structured world, humanity has rarely been reconciled to its own instincts. They are driven underground and buried in the illusions of vicarious experience in violent sports and movies, pornography, crime and drugs abuse. Or they find their way to the surface as neuroses or fictions. But there is no way ‘back’ to the instincts, there is only the confused moment, the mutation that becomes inertia and waste.
Life cannot be denied, not even in No Man’s Land, because as long as blood is pumping through one’s veins and however absurdly pointless life seems it is still absolutely undeniable! And from here the penis is finally free (albeit amputated from its owner). Caught between psychological responsibility and physical responsibility can there be Art? Here I arrive at an Art without a gallery where product making and exhibition are no longer required as justification, for it exists beyond the mechanisms of the ego and becomes religion…perhaps. The self finds the ideas and impulses that generate an authentic life experience. If this is not so, then creativity represents nothing but another human game, something to do to give us the impression we exist and help to relieve boredom.