Friday, May 04, 2007

Beauty Ain't Truth

The Chrysler Building transforms each time I see it. Sometimes its reflected light-weave is as bold as the sculptures on Rockefeller Center – here is the fulcrum of the country's industry, the aspirations of an age. Later, from a different angle, it's dystopian, Big Brother vs. Batman. Sometimes it's cheesy as a mood ring. In the snow, steam will sneak from its windows.
At some point in your life, a work of art has floored you. For me it was coming around a corner at the Museum of Modern Art and seeing "Guernica." Or saving up pennies to see "The Magic Flute" at the Vienna Opera, it was as if music were champagne, Papagena meeting Papageno was me meeting Mozart. Or reading Romeo and Juliet and realizing that the lines when Romeo and Juliet meet ("If I profane with my unworthiest hand") were a sonnet, as was Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo." That last poem stuck with me a long time, for it was itself about art, what it means" "You must change your life."

It's like cardiac arrest. Sometimes I'm giddy after, as if I were walking around Paris, wine drunk and wild. I'd always thought it was something like transcendence, this encounter with timelessness. Art was a stand in for permanence. I think for a lot of people, it has an almost religious truth. I know plenty of atheists who worship Rembrandt, or who feel that art gives meaning where God offers none.

So here they are, these monuments of civilization, fixed in their museums, sometimes peeking out and undoing us. Maybe we want to make a little ourselves – write a poem, blog, sculpt a block of marble, anything for a touch of immortality.

But the thing is, art changes. For one thing, it gets reproduced, so that soon everybody gets a copy. At the end of his career Picasso ran these enormous workshops, churning out bowls and things. Or, you know, what I wouldn't give for a really good end table. Beauty doesn't have to be unique. Take the Chrysler Building, more mutable than not.

At the 4:30 mark in this blogginghead diavlog, Mickey Kaus mentions that blogging and the internet might encourage a new way of looking at art. Why shouldn't art change? Why should we think of beauty as timeless (when so much experience suggests otherwise?) And what might this new art look like?

Well, it might look like a very good blog. Or it might have the effect of another Mozart tour-de-force. Mozart speaks of an artistic feat in which a solo becomes a duet, a duet a quartet, and so one up to an entire chorus. The idea being that music can handle these additional layers, in part because it takes place in time. But what I've been realizing lately (what the Chysler Building has been telling me) – all art takes place in time. If you want transcendence, look elsewhere.