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Don't Let Art Kill You!
There is a famous English phrase about death by a thousand small cuts.
That phrase exists because human beings are intuitively sensitive to the danger of leakage — multiple tiny losses adding up to a big problem. Analogies to this situation exist in many areas of life. We know, for example, that a few intense short-duration stresses (as in exercise) can be very good for our health, whereas the ongoing routine of small, daily distresses can progressively wear out our souls and bodies down to the raw nub.
Could the same is true of “art” ?
An occasional painting, sculpture or film can be a very beautiful practice of whim fulfillment & expressive interpersonal communication. Terrific. But what about engaging in thousands of tiny little bits of pseudo-art? Could that have the opposite of the desired effect?
Consider photography. It has a rich cultural legacy that extends into all the many fun or pragmatic image-exchanges that are afforded to us by our digital cameras. Each person can, at any moment, decide to capture a look, object or situation for future social transmission. Look what I saw…
Yet we almost never contemplate (with any seriousness) the potential effects of constant small acts of artistry. Are we all becoming better photographer-artists or are we all becoming that irritating relative at holiday dinner who haphazardly insists upon a group photo, seemingly indifferent to its quality, so that she can presumably “remember” or “share” the very experience that she is currently failing to experience with any depth?
What is Aunt Edna missing in that moment?
What might have happened had she, instead, spent a few seconds longer with whatever quality of appreciation led her to reach automatically for the camera?
I do not want to simply join the chorus of grumps who complain about the lack of present engagement by people looking through lenses. There’s something more interesting at work than merely the critique of mediation. I would like to read the situation in conjunction with the legacy of esoteric teachings concerning the nourishing quality of vivid & subtle perceptions.
Just as “obese and malnourished” often occur together in our physical bodies, I am attentive to the possibility that we may make a great deal of casual art in response to our perceptions — while spiritually suffering from a dangerous lack of perceptual nutrients.
Imagine how perverse it would be for a thirsty, parched person in the hot desert to come upon a cool glass of water and then (instead of drinking the liquid) photographing it, cropping it, adding a filter and putting it online or perhaps just showing it to a friend.
A nourishing opportunity was missed?
DARSHAN is a cute, old Sanskrit word that implies the blessing influence associated with proximity to a holy person, place or thing. That could be the archaic temple or luminous saint but it might equally be an orca whale, glowing volcano or uniquely sublime sunset. Human beings share a common tendency to detect and draw near to a sense of abstract superlative value involved in certain of our intriguing perceptions. And that tendency has long been pointed toward by various “contemplative sages” who argue that we can receive something meaningful by bringing more intentional, steadier & more curious attention to bear upon the element of perceptual intrigue.
Yet obviously we do not typically do this.
Typically we engage in a trivializing digital or social capture of the perception — rushing away from our initial impulse and into a complex routine of simulating and “proving” the event. Deeper assimilation, if possible, may be excluded by this habit.
We should not be surprised therefore to discover a contemporary Meaning Crisis. What else would we expect if meaningful experiences are not being personally chewed up and digested but, instead, are being technologically captured or converted into social signaling?
Here are a few more questions:
What would your world be like if, instead of taking the next picture, you spend 30 more seconds simply looking at it more closely and feeling it more deeply?
How would the sense of yourself change if, instead of reading the “next” book or article, you carefully re-read a classic?
It may be abnormal to intentionally “stay with” the impression that is intriguing us but, on the other hand, where is a million mediocre photographs or stories getting us? At any rate, the trivial capture of perceptual intrigue is not often remarked upon but I worry about it a great deal.
If any of this is true then a great deal more staying & deliberateness may be needed in response to things that catch our eye…