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In consideration of aesthetics (1996).

Before a work of art people who feel little or no emotion for pure form find themselves at a loss. They are deaf men at a concert. They know that they are in the presence of something great, but they lack the power of apprehending it. They know that they ought to feel for it a tremendous emotion, but it happens that the particular kind of emotion it can raise is one that they can feel hardly or not at all. And so they read into the forms of the works those facts and ideas for which they are capable of feeling emotion, and feel for them the emotions that they can feel--the ordinary emotions of life. When confronted by a picture, instinctively they refer its forms back to the world from which they came. They treat created form as though it were imitated form, a picture as though it were a photograph. Instead of going out on the stream of art into a new world of aesthetic experience, they turn a sharp corner and come straight home to the world of human interests. For them the significance of the work of art depe nds on what they bring to it; no new thing is added to their lives, only the old material is stirred. A good work of visual art carries a person who is capable of appreciating it out of life into ecstasy: to use art as a means to the emotion of life is to use a telescope for reading the news. You will notice that people who cannot feel pure aesthetic emotions remember pictures by their subjects; whereas people who can, as often as not, have no idea what the subject of a picture is. They have never noticed the representative element, and so when they discuss pictures they talk about the shapes and forms and the relations and quantities of colors. Often they can tell by the quality of a single line whether or not a man is a good artist. They are concerned only with lines and colors, their relations and quantities and qualities; but only from these will they win an emotion more profound and far more sublime than that can be given by the description of facts and ideas.

Clive Bell, from his book Art (Capricorn Books, 1958)

The artist bending to the necessities of his/her creative process ought, for aesthetics' sake, eschew the strengths of the given medium.

Every craft is best qualified to achieve a particular affect. Music most ordinarily presents human inward noises--the heart-at-beat, the nerves strumming-in-ear, the breath and all attendant throat-flute, glottal mucus slippage...the seepage of blood's pitch in veins, or breath's tone-cross-tongue and reverberations 'gainst dome of mouth, the inner snare-drum/trombone of yawn jaw's cartilage, the castanets of teeth, nasal wind hiss and moan, so forth (all noise approximate to the hairs of ear and inner ear's solitude). Painting presents perhaps a window, a cupboard of gathered flattened objects which one might (but cannot) touch, perhaps a likeness of ancestral ghost, a sign of what might have been, might be. Sculpture presents the very (coldly) touchable thing as object itself--a stand-in which might be mistaken on sight as such, for animal being (Pygmalion). Architecture, then, that which surrounds the living being and all such objectification as it has gathered--presents a womb, as it were, as well as tomb of the mind's mathematics...externalizing numbers into space, numb thought's otherwise endless flights of fancy. And Poetry?--the very exteriorization of thought process, both halves of the brain (the right, rhythmed, musically wired, and the compartment left) at one in ordering the chamber-music-muscularity of throat apparatus, tongue, teeth, to exquisite grunts of meat-thought-staccatos. Dance, similarly, best organizes the exterior body to mimic its innards, most usually prompted by Music's rhythm-mimesis of same.

And Drama?--Drama, that least evolutionary of all the Arts, deserves our special study. Drama is, as everyone knows, that form of Human expression which most times presents our everyday-and-nightmare-night's imagined outer world (the "mirror held up to nature," as it were, is, and ever shall be). The right of ritual is its actuality as immediate event--that, perhaps, is why it cannot evolve--also that it most depends upon topically gathered audience, entertainment ambiance, to exist.

Once Music centers itself in other-than-rhythm-number, to the extent of imagined spatial, and centers as subtly as to accommodate articulately the pulse of sounded textures (vibratory wave-lengths in juxtaposition as space, an invented space, i.e., neither seen nor sensorially heard), once a grid-of-habit has suggested an extra-intellectual experiencing of it (of a spiritual inventory, so to speak) it, then thoroughly composed, can engender an aesthetic experience, i.e., a conceptual equivalent of sense input. To be blunt, once sounds are no longer speech-in-audio-hyperbole and/or the rhythmic tutor of dance, nor the occasion of any other social usage, Music can so tickle the brain as to engender a feeling of rightness (and of no other meaning whatsoever) sufficient to be that "legal" variability of Known (tone-row, metronome/whatever) which constitutes delightful synaptic surprise to the mind. By "legal" I mean that those "aberrations" of new musical order must conform to the known as surely as the surprisin g variations of glass in rippling water conform to the known glass under water (to borrow an Ezra Pound metaphor): variables, each rip and twist of glass-form must seem inevitable in the beseeming infinity of torqued rippling.

Now, I think it is clear that while Music maintains audible corollary of nerves-as-roots in the physiology of the artist, the aesthetic of organized sound is, most naturally, an inspiration dedicated to such freedom-of-expression as prompts thought's sense of rightness...i.e., sense of finite variation within the humanly comprehensible ("...the outside limits of being human" as poet Charles Olson put it). Music, which very easily tickles music into dance, and/or extends the tonal range of language into song, does rather tend (at center of its historical evolution) to eschew these virtues (or to subsume them into) a presentation of pitched spatial and rhythm temporal comprehensions (for aesthetic experiencing).

And, if it be true that "All arts aspire to Music," need I write more?...

Paint's styles of surface fret (the hand-writ of the painter) or invented depth (ever more and more elaborate in varieties of historical--i.e., emblematic--trickery) or symbolic color, assignment of form (as representational signifier...the very signature of the artist up-front, a warning' gainst "window shopping"), all such, and many other artist tactics, counteract Painting's easiest illusion meanings. Sculptors ever more and more adamantly, and again and against, center their Art in the revelation of stone, wood, metal... (when Michaelangelo's "Pieta" began to be worshipped he carved "Made by Michaelangelo" across the breast band of the Virgin).

"Architecture is frozen music," says Goethe--i.e., what he honors of it is art.

Poetry is enabled to make new grounds for interpretive sense precisely because at scratch it eschews any such usage as currently common sense of the language, opts rather for right brain's neuron song...rummaging the left hemisphere for only that language which will suffice rhythmically/texturally in orchestral support of the song schema.

Dance stances, creates the great defiance of gravity illusion: and when that petrifies into tutus so forth, Isadora Duncan takes her prime inspiration from Greek friezes.

Only the theatre of Gertrude Stein's "closet drama" (in the tradition of Strindberg, Wedekind, Buchner, Yeats) can perhaps evolve Drama itself out of the soup of Polis, "the soaps," the soap-box.

Which brings us to consideration of Motion Pictures--ninety-nine and forty-four one hundredths per cent Theatrical, not essentially different from the fast-changing sets of Max Rheinhardt and Co., essentially still an experience akin to watching a stage-play thru a variety of opera-glasses controlled by the director-editor of the movie being passively watched.

When I was young, we used to make a distinction between stagy "escape" entertainment (most often called Photo-plays) and the possibilities of a moving picture Art (which we called Films).

The Chinese have a beautiful glyph for their movie-designation: "Electric Shadows." But it hasn't seemed to help them make anything of lasting visual value in their whole known filmic history.

The French term "cinematographer" means "writer of movement" and, indeed, most of their motion-picture making (past George Melies) stays stuck to Literature, theatrical or otherwise.

The most aesthetically hopeful definition of Film I've found is Bill Wees' "Light Moving in Time"--as is the title of his book on the subject (published by University of California Press, Berkeley).

Note that it is not ordinarily any semblance of moving light which we witness watching movies. Rather we see silhouettes flickering various characters of motion within transparent back sets or foreground blockages, all back-lit by a rectangle of projected illumination. Light, steadily contained in its flattened box of screen is most usually interfered with, smudged and dyed, by photographic spectrum and shadows representative of nameable forms. The staggered (frame-by-frame) movement of these forms is only a very subtly visible (twenty-four frames per second) metronome reference to clockwork, thus obliquely to mechanical Time.

Why, then, do I find "Light Moving in Time" to be the best definition of Film? Because I am primarily interested in the aesthetic possibilities of the medium, and these are those which promote mental reflection (rather than reflective recollection).

The brain IS light (wave/particle) in electric (synaptic) movement: the movements (electrical investments) are as infinite as the possible neural connections, but its lightning-like activity is specifically paced (by the ABC's of its waves and the outside limits of its variable seizures) and thus Timed, finite!

Each brain's main job is reference (thus re-presentational) but its life unto itself is that of Timed Light. Its electric moves react to input: thus the senses impose wavery particulars upon the contained free-play of illumination. Its physiology (and that of the whole nervous system) composes, the very shapes of cells being something of a fret pattern to contain this all-sensory storm of sparks, to impose, for example, visual form.

Visual Forms, reinforced by similarity of eye input (into content), interplay with the prime cognition that "All that is is light" (Dun Scotus Erigena). This interplay is the balance/counter-balance of any brain's genetic cultural individual "dance," and this, therefore, stance-dance would seem to be the only fully meaningful (i.e., means-less-usage) entertainment available of cognition (as distinct from re-cognition).

Film ought aesthetically to exist flickering electric and free of photographic animation, free of the mechanical trickery of, the outright fakery of the illusion of movie pictures. All interferences with The Light (all shaped tones and formal silhouettes) ought to be an illumination of source-as-light (or at least be subservient, as symbol, say, representatives of Time, to Light's is, to be sure, the almost equal space of Black in the projection of every split second of lighted frame). The light, then, would be seen to move because of the light-signifying shapes and tones in their signatory continuities (especially if these were tones in visual chromatic harmony, and shapes in evolutionary form at one with illumination). This anyway, is the aspiration of artists whose Art aspires to Music, and "Art is art-as-art. And everything else is everything else" (Barnett Newman, painter, sculpture).
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Author:Brakhage, Marilyn
Publication:Chicago Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2001
Previous Article:Having declared a belief in God... (1995).
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