Friday, September 29, 2017

Novelty and Repetition

Mulling over my previous remarks, I find myself considering the questions of repetition and of novelty. Also, I hate myself for saying "narrative" over and over but dammit, it's the word that works.

It's tempting to think equate opening a new Narrative with a piece of art with novelty and in a sense it's true. It's literally true, but the word novelty comes freighted with connotations. To my eye, something is novel if you note it first, or primarily, because of its newness. If the first thing you notice about a photograph is how new it is, then the art-like experience of learning and growing is already compromised.

My sense is that really good work does not strike one first as new but as interesting, and that it is only after a while you realize that this is something new, these are thoughts, ideas, viewpoints that you have not had previously. This does not prevent many an artist from aggressively pursing the novel, it's much easier than the interesting.

Which brings us around to repetition. What if I have had these thoughts, these ideas, these views previously? Is there no art-like experience here?

I think the answer is that it depends.

Suppose I saw some gallery show or book 10 years ago that blew my mind. It was wonderful, amazing, so very very art-like. Consider two possibilities:

In the first scenario, these ideas and experiences blew up. They're dominated part of my world, they've become thoroughly embedded in my consciousness, they've become integral in some sense. Seeing a new show that covers the same ground in the present day could well be tedious. "But that's the dominant narrative now, you're just repeating what we all know!"

You might say that in this case the starling murmuration turned, at least my part of it and the new show is simply flying in obedient formation.

In the second scenario, the ideas do not take over. My mind, expanded ten years ago, contracts. Those doors gradually close through disuse. Now the same new show reopens them, and I remember, "Oh my god, yes. Where did this stuff go? Why isn't it everywhere?!!"

In this scenario, the murmuration did not turn, and this lone bird finds itself (again) trying to fly in a new direction.

Note that I am conflating the individual experience with the collective one. So it goes with Art, all our experiences are individual, but when things are working well we're having similar enough experiences to make the group's experience more or less shared.

But then I ask myself, is that all? Is there not some room for flying with the murmuration, but nonetheless making something art-like? Certainly almost all of the photographs and other art produced are doing exactly this, and it is surely unfair of me to dismiss the lot as Not Art. I've had it somewhat forcefully proposed to me that Art might be large enough to contain things which are simply beautiful, which have aesthetic value regardless of starlings and their flight paths.

I don't know. That last bit sounds right, but I cannot quite buy it as is. It remains on the shelf, tempting me, but I haven't yet but it in my cart.

1 comment:

  1. True Wit is Nature to advantage dress'd
    What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd;
    Something whose truth convinced at sight we find,
    That gives us back the image of our mind.

    Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1711)