Lecture Topic The purpose of art?

Part One

An ambitious presentation...
One potential definition for what art is comes from Russian philosopher Victor Shklovsky: “Art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.” This is potentially a useful quote to learn and slip into paragraphs to show your wide knowledge of the how to book connects to the real world. This is my go-to definition of art as it serves as a pretty useful breaking off point for what, perhaps, art should strive to do. I like that this talks about the way in which art should aim to create an emotive connection between the viewer and the world they exist in. It is about capturing the essence of the world, rather than just re-describing what we readily see around us. For the purposes of our discussions around the novel, I think we can validly work around the idea that one of the major purposes of art is to complexify the world we live in - to enrich it by making it more complex, layered, subjective, etc.

Art as rebellion?
I would argue that almost all modern art (at least when it was at the height of its modernity) can be seen as an act of rebellion. Huxley lived when the following artists were working or were very prominent: Pablo Picasso Rene Magritte Claude Monet Umberto Boccioni Piet Mondrian Marcel Duchamp Wasily Kandinsky While these names make no immediate impression on you, they (and a range of others) changed the shape of the artistic world with their attitudes to what art should be. Some examples...

Considered the father of cubism, Picasso completely revolutionised the idea of perspective with his desire to show multiple perspectives within a single image illustrating the complexity of the subject; a single perspective could never capture the true complexity of the three dimensional world.


“This is not a pipe”
Magritte played with our conception of what art expresses. He talks about the way in which the painting represents the pipe but can never capture the essence of the thing itself. To a extent, art that aims to re-present a thing fails. If we think back to Shklovsky’s definition, this idea connects nicely - art shouldn’t try to present, it should attempt to help the viewer see the world in a different manner. “How can anyone enjoy interpreting symbols? They are 'substitutes' that are only useful to a mind that is incapable of knowing the things themselves. A devotee of interpretation cannot see a bird; he only sees it as a symbol. Although this manner of knowing the 'world' may be useful in treating mental illness, it would be silly to confuse it with a mind that can be applied to any kind of thinking at all."

A hugely important figure in the Impressionist movement. Monet would challenge the idea of pictorial realism. What is more honest, the feel and sensation of Monet’s brushstrokes, or a photographical landscape painting of the same cathedral?

A critical figure in the Futurist movement. His painting explored the vibrancy of new mechanical age.

A key figure in the De Stijl movement. He completely abandoned pictorial representation, for a geometric expression of the modern world. Fitting for a world becoming defined by the hard lines of buildings and highways.

An important Dada artist. He would become renowned for the urinal he presented to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit in 1917 challenging the notion of what can be art.

Straddled many artistic movements. One period devoted to the desire to find a way for painting to be able to represent sound and music. Connections between lines and colours and specific instruments and sounds.

A major challenge
This is only a taste of the huge artistic shift that was happening during the time of Huxley’s life. He would have been aware of a lot of this stuff going on around him, and being based in England, would have had access to a lot of the imagery seen in the previous slides. As a consequence, he was probably fully of aware of the growing power of art to express deeply personal, humane and universal concepts that provided huge insight into the complexity and beauty of the world we live in. And it’s also certain that each of these artists was using their art to challenge what had come before. They were using their art to express other ways in which people might come to terms with the world around them and their own, very personal, inner selves. These paintings helped to challenged the positivity of the growth of industry, it challenged how we see by getting us to see emotively, it expressed what we could even consider art. At the heart of it all is the desire to challenge. To push us to see the world differently. To express the individual point of view. A far cry from the Brave New World.

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