May 12, 2008
May 11, 2008
As Ellen-Cheri made her rain-soaked way down Seattle's First Avenue, passing bars and pawnshops, she surely passed the Lusty Lady, long said to be woman-owned. The marquis changes often, and always with Robbinsesque style, wit and flair. It's always a little goosepimply to stand with a camera pointed at the establishment, so my pictures are often taken on the run. ;~)
May 10, 2008
I was riding my motorized beer cooler around the NASCAR infield the other day and I thought, since God uses natural disasters to nudge our gay brothers and sisters toward righteousness, they should schedule gay pride marches at mega-churches throughout the country and pray for guidance. Let God cancel the marches for them in His own clever way and they don't have to make the trip.
May 8, 2008
Book-It Repertory Theatre's new-season lineup
"Book-It Repertory Theatre's new-season lineup
Seattle Times Wed, 30 Apr 2008 0:25 AM PDT
'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,' the best-seller by Western Washington-based writer Tom Robbins, will get the Book-It Repertory Theatre treatment..."
May 6, 2008
*What is Art and Does It Have a Purpose?*
The question, "What is art?" is at once confounding, thought-provoking, and quite challenging. For certain, art is ubiquitous. It can be profoundly appealing, sensually, spiritually, and intellectually provocative or simply innocuous. Art can be so beautiful and powerful that it move an observer to tears or render one stunned with silence and awe. It can contain all of these qualities at once in the dynamic interplay of thought, emotion and technique. It is for this reason that the word "art" is seemingly impossible to define. Its infinite facets place it among some of the great mysteries of life. But what is *it*? The Encyclopedia Britannica Dictionary defines "art" as such:
"The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects."
This definition offers no insight as to the quiddity of art. Rather, it explains how one may produce it. This illustrates the problem philosophers and connoisseurs alike have faced in trying to define "art." In this paper I will examine two articles written on the subject: *What is Art?* by Leo Tolstoy and *What is Art, and if We Know What Art is, What is Politics?* by Tom Robbins. After explaining each author's views on the definition and purpose of art I will attempt to show that art is ultimately indefinable, that it paradoxically is fairly easy to discern what is or is not art and that art and aesthetics in general serve no practical purpose on their fundamental level.
Leo Tolstoy, in *What is Art?*, claims that the essence of art is the conveyance of emotion – from the artist to the observer. "Art," he explains, "is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feeling he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them." By this Tolstoy means that art is anything hand-made that expresses the feelings and emotions felt by the artist at the time of the piece's conception and/or production. Furthermore, Tolstoy expounds on his definition by describing the activity of art: "To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling – this is the experience of art." Tolstoy is saying that in order for a piece to be considered art it must communicate the artist's feelings and emotions at the time of the piece's conception and/or production. Therefore a piece is not a *fait accompli* as art until it is perceived by an observer and then ultimately when the observer shares an empathic bond between him/herself and the artist. This is how, Tolstoy explains, it is possible to discern what is or is not art: if the observer of a piece is moved emotionally in the way that was intended by the artist or that is consistent with the artist's emotion then the work may be considered art. If no connection is made then the piece is not art. By this logic, it is fundamentally impossible for most art to introduce us to new ideas, perspectives or phenomena because there is a vast amount of art in which the emotions of the artist are either cryptic or absent altogether. Additionally, his definition leaves out the situations in which an observer of a particular piece of art reacts emotionally in a way that is not consistent with the artist's feelings. Does this mean that the piece is not art if the observer's emotional reaction is different from the artist's emotional reaction? Tolstoy's definition is an extremely limiting one.
Tolstoy additionally theorizes that art in fact does have a purpose, which is to exchange emotions between the artist and the observer. Rather than citing this entirely real phenomenon as merely a byproduct of a piece of art, Tolstoy claims that it is the central, if only, purpose of art. He states, "Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications." Tolstoy goes on to explain how to differentiate good and bad art. One does this by evaluating how effective a particular piece of art is in conveying the emotions of the artist to the onlooker. The stronger the emotional bond, the better the art.
Tom Robbins, in *What is Art, and if We Know What Art is, What is Politics?*, refutes Tolstoy's theory that in order for a piece to be art it must invoke in the observer "a feeling one has *once * (italics mine) experienced" by saying, "…while we are in art's thrall, we're lifted out of mundane contest and granted a temporary visa to a less ordinary dimension, where our existential burden is momentarily lifted and we surf a wave of pure perceptual pleasure." Robbins is stating that art need not invoke within the onlooker a feeling or stimulus previously felt or felt by the artist; rather, good art can transmit ideas, places, perspectives, and even feelings to the observer that he/she has never seen or experienced before. In other words, there is no prerequisite for art. This idea places the defining factor of what makes art *art* in the hands of the artist rather than in the emotional core of the observer.
To answer the initial question of "What is art?", Robbins claims that art is ultimately indefinable and purposeless yet we nevertheless have the capacity to identify what constitutes art. Art, Robbins says, is "a vehicle for the transportation of perceptual (i.e. aesthetic) values." This, he says, is the primary purpose of art – "to evaluate the external phenomena registered by our eyes and ears." He further states, "When the composition that delights, thrills, captivates or challenges our sensory receptors has been created for that very purpose, we call it *art*." This means that when a piece is created with its primary purpose being that it stimulates the onlooker's senses (whether it is the artist or the observer) it becomes art. Contrary to Tolstoy, the transmittance of emotions between the artist and the observer is a byproduct of art, rather than the central purpose of art. Although an emotional reaction may enhance the experience of the observer, according to Robbins, that is a result secondary to the appearance of the piece.
Furthermore, Robbins explains, the conveyance of some form of message or ideal as the primary purpose of a piece renders the piece something other than art. The primary purpose of art must be to be purposeless – to serve no practical purpose other than to excite one's sensory perception. "At the heart of any genuine aesthetic response are sensations that have no rational application, material or psychological, yet somehow manage to enrich our lives." If the primary purpose of a piece is something other than that then it is no longer art. However, a piece which expresses a message or has a point can still be art: "This is not to say that a work of art can't convey other, additional values, values with intellectual and/or emotional heft. However, if it's really art, then those values will play a secondary role…we may praise a piece for its cultural insights, for the progressive statement it makes…but to honor it as 'art' when its aesthetic impact is not its dominant feature is to fall into a philistine trap of shoddy semantics and false emphasis." This means that the central focus of a particular piece of art must be the uselessness of its aesthetics but that if the artist conveys a message or allows the piece to have a point then it must be extrapolated from the immediate visual.
According to Robbins, it has been determined that art is ultimately indefinable and entirely purposeless in a pragmatic sense. However, art manages to improve our lives while having no useful application. This is a remarkable feat. Rather paradoxically, Robbins thinks that the apparent superfluity of art is precisely what makes it essential: "The most useful thing about art is its uselessness….there's a place in our all too pragmatic world for the impractical and the nonessential, and art occupies that place…; occupies it with such authority and with such inspirational if quixotic results that we find ourselves in the contradictory position of having to concede that the non-essential can be very essential, indeed, if for no other reason than that an environment reduced to essentials is a subhuman environment in which only drones will thrive." Robbins' point is that if everything that humans do must have a point then we would live in a very limiting world. Art is the champion of purposeless pleasure; a heroine of romanticism and impracticality. There is an immense spectrum of what our intuition tells us is art and I strongly disagree with the notion that art * must* communicate a message to or invoke a feeling in the observer. An artist knows when he/she has created a work of art when it is completed, not when it is received by observers.
In conclusion, Leo Tolstoy's assertion that art is anything that conveys the artist's emotions to the observer is unconvincing because art is a human production that is evaluated at least at first by sensory perception rather than emotional empathy. In addition, Tolstoy is incorrect when he theorizes that the purpose of art is to convey the artist's feelings. By saying this he is taking aesthetic merit out of the picture altogether – art is no longer about the qualities of its aesthetics but about how effectively the piece communicates the artist's feelings. This is an overly limiting way of appreciating art. It closes one's mind off to new experiences and ideas because, according to Tolstoy, one must have a very particularistic reaction to a work of art – any reaction that does not mirror the artist's reaction is not permitted. Contrary to Tolstoy's point of view, there are innumerable pieces of artwork which do not reveal the artist's emotions, or may not contain the artist's emotions at all. Art has no purpose. As Robbins eloquently states, "Art revitalizes precisely because it *has* no purpose except to engage our senses. The emancipating jounce of inspired uselessness."
May 4, 2008
Between Amazon and Google Books you can search inside almost all of Robbins' novels. You usually just get quotes and snippets, but with Amazon (if you're a member) you can read several pages around your search results.
Another Roadside Attraction - Google Book Search
Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas - Google Book Search
Still Life with Woodpecker - Google Book Search
Jitterbug Perfume - Google Book Search
Skinny Legs and All - Google Book Search
Search: Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas: Tom Robbins: Books
Search Even Cowgirls Get the Blues: Tom Robbins: Books
Search: Jitterbug Perfume: Tom Robbins: Books
Search: Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
The Jewelry of Ken Cory: Play Disguised - Google Book Search
Search: Tom Robbins: A Critical Companion (Critical Companion...