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ku # 505 ~ the reenchantment of art

Winter ferry ride on Lake Champlainclick to embiggen
I've found some more buried treasure during my move, a few way-back issues - from the late 80s when I was a contributing photography critic - of the New Art Examiner. The magazine ceased publishing in 2002 after a 30 year run. It was Chicago based and initially focused on the Chicago and midwestern art scene (considered an 'art backwater' at the time) - one which was all but ignored by the 'established' East/West coast art mags.

In the cache was my rather scathing critique - rarely have the words poured from my penny pencil with such feverish acerbic fluidity - of a landmark photography exhibition at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Art. The review opened with; "Either the art of photography as practiced in western Pennsylvania is generally unfocused, uninventive, and imitative in nature, or the curators of this landmark exhibition - John Caldwell (the Curator of Contemporary Art) and Annegreth Nill - are non conversant in the vernacular of contemporary photography." It got even better after that.

But the real treasure of the cache was an issue with an article, The Reenchantment of Art, by Suzi Gablik. The piece was an excerpt from the then so-to-be published book of the same title. I googled Gablik and found that she is still quite active and championing the basic tenets of the book - "the remythologizing of consciousness and the question of mythic thinking - whether it is possible at all today, and if so, in what way given the inevitable stream of cybernetic simulacra that is given and now accepted as social reality."

translation - cybernetic simulacra: the mechanical and electronic communication of a vague, unreal, or superficial semblance - in this case, of social reality.

Gablik goes on to say, "My present concerns have to do with how to give our culture back its sense of aliveness, possibility, and magic. It is an issue that I believe will find resonance in many minds, among all those who are similarly convinced that, in losing the ability to perceive the grand harmonies of the cosmos, our Western civilization has been thrown seriously out of equilibrium ... (having lost) a living cosmology to enable us to hold the spiritual dimension of existence in mind, the individual fails to establish a relationship with a larger context of meaning and purpose, or to keep a chronic sense of emptiness at bay."

Gablik wrote this in 1988 - a time that could now be considered to be the infancy of the age of cybernetic simulacra. If she thought that our civilization was 'seriously out of equilibrium' then, I can only imagine what she thinks it is now.

In addition to the then prevailing cultural paradigm, Gablik was also responding to the Post Modernist world of Art. In her opinion, it is no coincidence that a culture, which has lost "a living cosmology to enable us to hold the spiritual dimension of existence in mind", creates Art that is "cynical, selfish, and (has) a pessimistic view of existence." rather than Art "that speaks to the human need for meaning rather than to metaphysical despair."

It should go without saying that Gablik is suggesting that Artists, or a significant segment thereof, devote themselves to the reenchantment of Art. Art that "help(s) to expand our 'model' of reality and that challenge(s) these obsolete and constricting images of the self" - a sentiment that dovetails quite nicely with Hockney's statement "If we are to change our world view, images have to change. The artist now has a very important job to do. He's not a little peripheral figure entertaining rich people, he's really needed."

I would really like to know if you guys 'n girls have any thoughts on this matter. Can Art help change a culture? Can artists help reshape thinking without becoming didactic propagandists? Is work created for such a purpose Art?

Do you even care? Or, are you under the thrall of 'metaphysical emptiness'?

Reader Comments (5)

This won't answer your questions (I'll need to go think about that awhile), I'm going to comment on Gablik's point on "metaphysical despair".

In this modern world of cybernetic simulacra I think we are too busy avoiding drowning in our lives that there is little enough time to contemplate the metaphysical, let alone suffer some sort of emptiness or despair. It a constantly connected world we know there is more out there beyond our 4 walls and spend a dwindling amount of time sat in contemplative thought.
Somewhat related, I saw an interesting presentation a while back (originally from Microsoft) about change. One point that struck me was that the modern Sunday Times contains more information than the average 17th century man would encounter in a lifetime. The metaphysical space has been flooded.

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Doonan

I'd be curious to know exactly which "living cosmology" it is that we've lost. Christianity? Buddhism? The Navajo cosmology? Ancient Egyptian? Aztec?

And what's meant by the "enchantment of art"? I find lots of contemporary art perfectly enchanting. Am I reading more into it than is actually there?

Or is Ms. Gablik, forgetting for a moment that she's sitting on a tiny little planet circling a tiny little star circling at the far edge of a tiny galaxy and therefore in no position at all to "perceive the grand harmonies of the cosmos", simply waxing overly-poetic while saying nothing particularly interesting or useful?

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterstephen connor

The way I read this, is to find the soulful/spiritual connectedness between all things (not a specific religion per se) and the magic to be found everywhere if you just look (or know how to look). We may be connected through the world wide web, but there is still a lot of "emptiness". Science and our current culture of "me" has left us with no "magic" and there is a coldness to it that leaves my soul feeling barren, sterile, empty, and unconnected in a deep, meaningful way.

I feel that in the past, Artists truly did influence culture. Especially when an artist was the only person who could put paint or other media on paper (or canvas/wood, etc.) and "capture life" while the majority of the population could not do so. These artists in the past where also very connected to their religion, where very few today seem to lack a deep spiritual connection to something greater than themselves. I am not trying to be judgmental, so I hope I am not coming across that way, but the majority of work I see (on the web) seems to lack that type of connection. It all seems very empty to me (and very much it is all starting to look the same too). In some ways, I think the web has hurt art a lot. It has homogenized the different styles to such a degree, that it has become very sterile to me. If everyone would stop trying to emulate everyone else and look deep within, there may be some incredible work created. Connected via the web is not connected via the soul, in my opinion and this makes a difference on the quality of work created. If more quality work is created, I do believe it can influence culture.

I know this is a bit of a ramble, but it something I feel strongly about, as I am trying to steer my own work in a deeper, more soulful connection. I want to find the "magic" in all around me.

February 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Parent

I think I've got my thoughts together now. I was very interested in Michelle's comments, especially as I'm of a scientific bent. Why should I need spirituality or metaphysics to find the magic in all around me? As one who deals with physics and chemistry every day, with an understanding of the processes at work in nature, I am constantly amazed by the subtlety, beauty, power of natural phenomenon. It makes everything we try seem clumsy and awkward by comparison. For me, the leaden thinking of the "spiritual" thinkers never gets close to grasping the true wonderment of the world around us.

As to Art changing culture, I think it might do but maybe not in the way you formulated the question. I believe, over time, human culture has moved from trying to give meaning to nature to be able to survive towards changing the world around us to suit our needs. We are, I think, moving in a direction where we try to make the changes in a way that complements nature. In this cultural change, I believe that the art forms that are causing the shift come from Architecture - the way that our living spaces are designed is causing shifts in our cultural identity and relationship to nature. As to Visual Arts, I think I would agree with Hockney - a change to showing what might be, what should be plays the part in informing the debate on how we make that cultural shift.

February 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Doonan

I just make images of things as I see them

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered Commenters2art

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