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Art and Society

Art and Society

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Published by Paul Henrickson

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Published by: Paul Henrickson on Jan 13, 2008
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06/14/2009

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ART AND SOCIETY (
an address delivered to the Southbridge (Massachusetts) Art  Association probably sometime in 1955)
One would be hard-pressed to define art in a way that would be universallysatisfactory. Yet, there seems to be a growing interest among our various societies inan activity we call art. One needs only to witness groups of individuals similar tothis one, which have banded together for the sole purpose of establishing a kinship.These are people of dissimilar backgrounds attempting communication in a mutevocabulary.At present, in the so called “art world” groups such as this one do not, as the sayinggoes “shake a stick”, or, “amount to a row of pins”, yet, I venture to say that out of such sincerely interested groups will rise a painter who though his greater sensitivityto artistic considerations will re-establish a form of aesthetic and intellectualbalance no longer greatly in evidence in the majority of contemporary masters.At present, we painters are an intelligent but confused lot. We experiment withtechniques and discard old values. We are like children throwing ourselves into anemotional frenzy just to discover what it feels like and to see how far we can go.Experimentation is not building, and discovery is of no value unless that discovery isput to use. Although America was discovered before the time of ChristopherColumbus by a man called Leif Ericksson, that discovery was not followed up to anygreat advantage, and therefore the value of that discovery was lost until Columbusput it to work.The genius of da Vinci anticipated the airplane but the Wright brothers broughttheir conception to fruition and others after them contributed their efforts, stillbuilding on the original premise that man could fly, until today, we are able to break what is known as the sound barrier. Still, the Hindenberg was a great, if costly,experiment, a holocaustal failure, but have we not learned something from thatexperiment?So, with art today, with its varied experimental aspects, tangents to the main core of artistic creation, in themselves failures, perhaps. failures because we have beenunable to build upon their results. Yet these failures, these high-flying experimentshave added new blood, as it were, to artistic creation. Unhappily, maybe, this newblood was added by transfusion rather than as a result of natural propagation.These experiments were made in defiance of certain artistic mores, in a kind of adolescent reaction to adult authority. But, in the long run is it not better to
 
experiment if we can eventually make profitable use of those experiments than toremain stagnant and unchanging artistically and intellectually? These experimentshave much to offer us, much to teach us, if we but evaluate them and use themproperly.It sometimes appears that the art worlds of New York and Paris are in a whirl of many-sided experiments, never settling, never in repose, always after the newapproach, in truth, that is not merely the way it “appears”. That is the way it is ,and much to my personal horror and sorrow, dear old conservative Boston has beencaught up in it and I greatly fear that the pace may be too much for her.Creation is accomplished in solitude, in quiet, and after much introspectivereflection. Man, we’ve been told, was the last of God’s creations and we believe himto be the greatest. The bud, the germ of a creation must be first conceived, thenmulled over, a sort of thoughtful gestation period, before it flowers as a trueoffspring of the intellect. “Inspiration” would be a better word. Frenziedexperimentation is not thoughtful, it is not “mulled over”, it, therefore, does notcome to proper fruition, is still born, aborted (normally, but not always), early on.These metaphors apply not only to he individual artist but also to whole eras of artistic activity. For half a century, a conservative estimate, we have been witnessinga hurried and anxious world. Is there any doubt that artists, if they were thesensitive beings they are reputed to be, would reflect the times? Such has been thesituation in art history in relation to political history before now. Most birds finddifficulty in guiding their course in high winds, and, I imagine, that new waterplants would have a great deal of trouble in rooting themselves if they werecontinually being tossed about. But when some succeed they are richer and strongeras a result of this adversity, of this experience. I believe that some of this hecticartistic activity will result in a creative richness beyond our expectations, and thatwe, and those after us, will be stronger for it.But all of this is but the larger view of the situation. It would, for us now, be nothingbut an empty satisfaction to wait for its coming, for it would be another half centurybefore this creative millennium begins to show itself properly. In the meantime,what is to be done?If we re not going to share directly in the coming artistic richness why do we, andthere are many of us, hundreds of thousands of us, persist in any creative effort atall? Perhaps the most potent answer at all would be that it ha taken thousands of years for man to gain control over his environment and to develop his highest andnoblest faculty, the intellect, to the point where it stands today.This intellectual revolution is still going on now, with the promise of atomic power tofurther its aims. The creative revolution is also still in progress, and the poorcreature who is neither artist nor industrialist stands between these giants, unable tograsp the significance of all these changes and developments. An art association such

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