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January 18, 1947 - Image 5

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1947-01-18

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PERSPECTIVE S

Page Five

THE NATURE OF THE ARTIST
.. Jue Friedlen berg

ACCORDING to Aldous Huxley, the
artist can be understood if his activ-
ity is considered as fundamentally the
performance of a 'maker.' "... Like all
makers, he requires a stock of raw ma-
terials, in his case experience."
Is there a distinction between the
artist, the maker; and the artist, the
creator? If the artist is a maker, he
is the chapter closer of civilization. By
rearranging experiences, he translates
it into communicable understanding;
and he punctuates history, for the pecu-
liar gift of the artist is that of selection,
If it is a glass house we are looking
into, the artist chisels the bricks; re-
fines the corners, and arranges its
structural parts in harmony with the
forms his generation supplies. But the
artist who forms his house merely from
the immediate apprehension of his own
experience is limited by this self-im-
posed boundary and remains 'a maker'
-for man, by nature, ,cannot be the
sponge of all emotional and physical
sensation. It is the expansion of one's
own experiences into the collective ex-
perience of mankind that distinguishes
the artist, a creator, from the artist, a
maker; for the creator is the receptacle
of the manifold, and does not have to
know personallyathe sufferings and de-
pravements of all men in order to intuit
the essences of universal experiences.
Adding to the confusion of the mean-
ing of experience, Huxley postulates a
further definition--a matter of sensi-
bility and intuition', and categorizes ex-
perience into the mental, the physical,
and the spiritual. It would be difficult
to question the inclusion of spiritual
experience, for one who would doubt
the reliability of such experience, finds
himself confronted with a rich history
of mysticism, which Huxley himself
samples in his "Perennial Philosophy."
If William James asserts that God is
real because God produces real effects,
then spiritual experience can be declar-
ed authentic-its effects are indubit-
ably real. But for the artist, this ac-
ceptance of the tri-partite division of
reality is dangerous, because it gives an
equal footing to a branch of experience
which is not nearly equal in scope, or
in frequency of occurrence to the usual,
universal forms of experience. Huxley
has elevated, as do all mystics, the spir-
itual to the realm of the concrete and
the knowable. Granting the spiritual
experience a place irthe multiplicity of
the conscious se'.f, it is, a misrepresen-
tation to call it a universal constant,,
What Huxley in his whole-hearted
adoption of mysticism does, is to inspire
the most phenomenal aspect of the self
with superior vision. The artist dis-
turbs his art under those conditions;-
the part, a very small part, is allowed
to blot out the whole and to transfigure
a totality in shades of a particular
color. If a man's insight is blocked by
atrophied perspective, the creative force
of the artist will inevitably be shunted
into the emotional and dogmatic areas
of self-revelation. No artist can main-
tain coherence and have meaning if he
negates the universal order of experi-
ence.
Physical and mental experiences re-
main, then, as the chief sources of the
artist. Where do they react and when
do they overlap? The artist may be
distinctly apart from physical experi-
ence, yet it can be significant for him.
The artist may or may not resolve his'
physical experiences immediately, but
they become the undisputed nucleii for
all his future physical and emotional
experience. It has been stated that art
must pass through a period of gesta-
tion. The raw unfinished product of
physical experience might move and
touch us at the moment when we are
attuned to the same frequency of the
subject matter; but as man's tempera-
mnent does not carry the higher pitches

of emotion for a long period of time-
the fragments that caught our senses
pass into the body of obsolete and im-
potent verbiage. As the boy ripens to
the man with a heightening of aesthetic
experience. and a sublimation of under-
standing, so the embryo of an artistic
idea must develop and mature, until it
is nutritively self-sufficient to break in-
to the common exchange of expression.
Whether the expression is immediate or
delayed, with slight exception, the phy-
sical experience is important only in its
intimate connection with the emotional
and intellectual experience it stimu-
lates.
Mental experience can, however. be
acquired in more than one way, through
the artist's own direct physical experi-
ence and through those of the people
within his horizon. Directly or indirect-
ly, the artist abstracts from the particu-
lar to the universal. In a Platonic sense,
the real world for the artist is the realm

ritory of art. If the writer or the paint-
er or the composer lacks this he de-
scends to the level of a reporter, a
maker rather than a creator. .An artist
can never melt into a mirror-like Pro-
tean; the whole cultural milieu of his
time must form his amniotic sac and
feed this sensibility. 'The artist may be
living hundreds of miles from the near-
est human being: he may never have
seen blood shed, but he is saturated
with the innocents' blood. The form of
art can be taught; it is of an acquisitive
nature. But it is an intrinsic property
of art to be unique; it cannot be other
than this, because .it derives its inspira-
tion from an unknown element that
pops up under any set of conditions, in
any environment. There cannot be a
formula for art, either in the way of
prediction, or more important, in the
way of evaluation. It is one of the geat
variables of life, and upon refiectign-
could it satisfy us otherwise? An active

Reflections
On A Dead Cat
Its ninth life gone, the last begun again
but this time real, the long forever lain
across the fur-thin breast, i look among
the harsh familiar passages of time
and find i have not many hours when
to breathe, nor many yet to run or climb
between the open fences of intrigue;
i fancy that the rotten scent hung
upon the catcold limbs will always leak
in torturing drip upon my sense of days,
and in my last encounter i may see
my own rejected body lying in
the blatant streets, decomposing, equally
fetid, spat upon by frightened boys.
-Cid Cormall

the confused mass of sensibilia - to
evolve a scholarly analysis of either
what his predecessors have done or what
he, himself, is trying to do. The con-
troversies of the present demand too
much of his attention to lose his ident-
ity in the rehashing of the struggles of
what men like him have undergone be-
fore his time. This is not to say that
an artist can not be scholarly-he may
be-and often is. The essential point is
that the past only interests him in how
it can relate to his own day, to his own
conflicts, and how it can indicate cer-
tain directions by speculation that
would help synthesize his own data. The
art that Le Douanier evolved, uncon-
sciously activated by the Rembrandts'
and the Poussins', became part of the
tradition of great painting; it was a
refreshed and ievitalized addition be-
cause Rousseau brought directly to his
work not only his own personality, but
the personality of the economic strata
and social class of which he was a part.
If the man is virile, and strongly im-
pregnated with the intimacies of his
life, his art will be individual and yet
characteristic of a whole era. The art-
ist elaborates the tempo of his environ-
ment, but he is more than a back-seat
reflector. Be is at once the interpreter
and conscience of his age. What is dis-
couraging for us is the cry that there
is a need for 'popular art'. Art that is
not merely reflective can never be popu-
lar, because it is ahead of the normal
perception of man. It takes time for
the artist's generation to catch up with
esthetics. This is not to say that his
art is prophetic. It only succeeds in
giving permanence, in a temporal sense,
to the present. The nature of art is
revolutionary, not in a violent, amoral
sense, but in its outdistancing of the
cultural plane of the day. We hear of
a cultural lag in the relation of social
progress to technical advances. But by
far, the most potent and influential lag
of modern times is the sluggishness of
man's mind in apprehending the as-
pects of his immediate experience. It
is this vestigial perception that has
forced art to the edge of. life-and
makes it appear extra, unessential. The
position of the artist as apart from
society is the outgrowth of this schism
between the popular picture. of life as
it is, and artist's refined images. The
result has been an increasing difficulty
in recognizing original creative work.
For the critical mind is rooted in the
accepted order of that moment, which
is partially derivative, and patially
imitative. Since the artist is in sym-
pathetic resonance with all the har-
monious and inharmonious forces of
reality-his meaning, of necessity, seems
to be obscure to immediate apprehen-
sion.
It is cot only in ideas and nuances of
feeling that art outdistances the con-
temporary world. The form and struc-
ture, the very language of artistic ex-
pression is always in flux, constantly
subject to innovation. Since form is of
plastic consistency in its earliest stages,
it can be melded and pressed with ease.
But with the passage of time, the plastic
form sets and acquires a cast-iron rigid-
ity that imprisons the mind of the art-
ist, threatens his originality, and in the
end condones banality. It is as much
the artist's task to experiment in form
as to exercise his faculty of under-
standing. The external aspects of civil-
ization have changed as much in this
age of science as the religious attitude
has since the Middle Ages, Likewise
the forms of our art must be expected
to change; literature and painting and
music must continue to seek new forms
of expression, until they are appropri-
ately fitted to the matter of the chang-
ing world The creative artist then, is
more than a maker-he is, a forger, a
rebel, and a fire-cater.

of ideas. If we allow the imagination
further freedom; we may conceive of
the artist as the unifying force in
nature-the intermediary, between the
imperfect world of being and the elusive
perfection of the world of ideas. But
speculation, in Platonic terms or other-
wise, as to the function of art in the
world, actually, can only be indulgence
in fancy. The origins of art are too
abstruse for symbolic representation.
Plato, himself, banned the poet from his
ideal state. Our understanding, then,
forbids further enlightenment, for we
find that we must use poetry to inter-
pret poetry; for science cannot enter
into the relations of the mind swhere
controls are impossible and observation,
gross. And so, our interest in the nature
of art is only valid through the wealth
of suggestibility it affords. Similar to
the character of Socrates, mid-wife to
the birth of men's ideas, the artist in
his creativeness only pricks and rouses
the human consciousness which is preg-
nant with the purport of the senses.
The important principle we realize
then, is that the artist acquires cogni-
tion through othgrs. Mere contact with
men and events is sufficient to evoke
understanding of the whole pattern.
That particular sensibility which is
peculiar to the artist carries mere tech-
nical skill of expression into the ter-

sensitivity is the core of artistic en-
deavor. The artist is the nervous center
of society and he is the accumulative
charge of the conflicts of man.
The traditions of the past should be
understocd by the artist. It was Walter
Pater who found the term 'classical'
misused and misrepresented by crit-
ics, men who he was sure "would
never have been made glad by any
Venus fresh-risen from the Sea, and
who praise the ienus of Old Greece
and Rome, only because they fancy her
grown staid and tame" There can be
no doubt as to the value of the cultural
heritage for the artist. But it is one
thing to absorb these traditions, and
another to become absorbed by them.
When Le Douanier Rousseau first show-
ed his paintings to the struggling group
of Post-Impressionists, he was amazed
to find his work accepted by his wor-
shipped gods. Yos are one of us, they
told him, yet Rousseau' could not be-
lieve them; he was only a Sunday paint-
er, a self-taught dilletaste. What Le
Douanier did not appreciate was the
fact that he had absorbed the history of
painting during the many hours he had
wandered through the Louvre. The pro-
cess of knowledge never has to be for-
mal to be potent. An artist is usually
too concerned with distilling the mani-
fold impression, the complex concepts,

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