Could You Repeat That?

IMG_2560Oscar Wilde said, “All art is quite useless.” And I say, Ozzie, baby, what is “useful”? Art may not mine coal or prevent trouble down t’mill but doesn’t it have a use? Yes, I know, Wilde was responding to Kant’s ideas about the judgment of aesthetics and would say,

Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way…A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower.

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He cut himself off there, adding, “All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.” I’d say it’s an infinite one but let’s just let it rest. The usefulness of art is what came to mind when I saw a tiny little graffiti tag on a water meter cover on a sidewalk. The artist, whose name I think is CONS or maybe COMS, has some larger tags on other things–tagging seems to be a real compulsion for this one since I found almost a dozen separate tags within two blocks. What’s interesting to me about these tags is the bare simplicity which really draws attention to the things that have been tagged. Most of the time when I look at a painting I don’t think about the canvas underneath, and unless it’s really elaborate I usually don’t even notice the frame. Canvases are utilitarian; they merely serve as the background for a work of art and while frames are often custom-made they’re, well, just frames. They’re just there to hold a painting up. Right? But when the paint is added to the canvas and placed within the frame the canvas and frame you could say all elements combine: frame, paint, and canvas are all a unit that we call a work of art.
IMG_3120Andy Warhol famously made a mint by reproducing his own paintings. He wasn’t the first to sell reproductions, but he treated mass production as an art in itself, turning everyday objects into art–and turning art into an everyday object. What graffiti sometimes does, when it’s applied to mass produced objects, is make them unique works of art–even if the tags themselves look alike. It can draw our attention to things we might ignore because we think we’ve seen them before.

Seen any graffiti? Email your pictures to freethinkers@nerosoft.com.

6 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    Love the way you frame things, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And I love the application of your comments to the canvases of my posts.

      Reply
  2. M. Firpi

    I think probably many artists went through an existentialist struggle, and Oscar Wilde was certaintly not as fortunate as others who had emotional and economic support to develop their art. He was scorned and died penniless, yet he became a classic, of course, posthumously.

    “Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way…A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower.” I agree when you say that Wilde was responding to Kant’s ideas about the judgment of aesthetics. He was referring to the sublime, but I also feel he was in despair when he wrote this.

    Sometimes I feel some of the best artists (IMOHO) have had multiple calvaries, and have identified themselves as martyrs. One of the main reasons for despair is the purpose of their art, because, after all, the creative process is a very lonely one, and tortuous, to say the least. They know art does have a purpose, but they also know they are different, and have little time left to express all they need to.

    What I also feel is that art perhaps is more about communication, than about elaboration. When you say “Most of the time when I look at a painting I don’t think about the canvas underneath, and unless it’s really elaborate I usually don’t even notice the frame. Canvases are utilitarian; they merely serve as the background for a work of art and while frames are often custom-made they’re, well, just frames.”, you’ve hit the nail on the head. This is the ‘tenet’ of modern art, that there is really no frame for self-expression. Art ‘should’ not be in a museum, after all. Art perhaps is an experience, a concept that I also learned in a modern art class.

    So why is it then framed? I don’t have the slightest idea. I suppose it’s because there is some intention of recalling ‘moments’ in one’s life. However, don’t think I’m a modernist, because I’m not. I still love traditional arts and crafts, but then, what’s the difference? It’s exactly what Oscar Wilde said, one is useful, and the other is not. The “framed” one is NOT.

    By the way, I saw a video you made in YouTube and I loved it.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      You’ve done a wonderful job here of showing just how vast and philosophically complicated all this is. Interestingly though Wilde was very successful in his lifetime. His plays were enormous blockbusters and he was a tremendously popular guest at parties. He might even be called the original reality star, but he had a secret double life which ultimately resulted in his tragic persecution, but even when he was making people laugh I think he was privately very tortured.

      Reply
  3. educationalmentorship

    My teenage son just wrote a philosophy paper on the premise “Does all knowledge have a purpose?” He argued (and this is a very brief summary of his work) that the purpose of art was to evoke a response. Graffiti certainly does that.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It does provoke a response, and the question of the artist’s intent and whether that should be kept in mind when interpreting a work of art is a thorny question. And then there’s the Aristotelian idea that a work must be cathartic, that it must provoke sadness and terror. I think that’s a little too reductive. I wonder, though, how often graffiti artists think about the anger their work is going to evoke in many people.

      Reply

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