Thursday, February 11, 2010

a conceptual reverie

Wanting to understand art is an admirable thing to want. Failing to do so exemplarily has no bearing on the value of seeking to understand.

Idealizing that value is a good thing, even if the diversity of arts inhibits a generalizable understanding of art “as such.” If no generally valid sense of art is possible, due to the individualizing nature of art, then understanding that—the individualizing nature—may be possible in a general way, except inasmuch as the individualizing pertains to a specific art’s nature, i.e., the art individuates itself as such (a self-formativity of the art—or self-reconstitutive capacity of the art), such that various individualizing natures become evident, to the implausible limit point of each given work of art implying a genre all to itself (like highly-individuated persons, where a proper name becomes generic) in a garden of as many kinds of art as there are works (implausible because the talent required for such diversity of distinguished works is scarce).

Such recursiveness suggests nothing to me from the history of art, though art has evolved its basic character; but not at the level of the singular work becoming a genre.

Yet, in that limit case (of my reverie, as a matter of conceptual recreation), understanding art can generally be only something like understanding a dynamic of diversification or individuation (like: how children may grow into truly unique persons, each child growing into no merely-idiosyncratic-assemblage of widely-shared traits, may be theorized in terms of some culturally-independent or multicultural individuation-as-such).

But that limit case is implausible (my conceptual recreation). Memic resources provided by genres and history and craft give arts likely participation in legacies of accomplishment that notable works build on, imply, mirror, echo, educe, promote. A common ground of legacy and genre gives an art a potential in cultural evolving that otherwise likely makes the “art” idiosyncratic.

A practical point I take from this is that pursuit of idealized understanding can be very fruitful or generative, even though the road of travel sees the horizon ever receding. Also, there’s the Odysseyian point reiterated by T.S. Eliot that one comes back to know one’s home for the first time (at least as a place in the round that’s not the center of the world).

Understanding art, at its limit point, is like understanding individuality in a world where human development is commonly high, where so much diversity is less idiosyncratic and more expressive of human potential for distinguished individuation. To seek to understand this is to seek to understand the nature of our humanity like understanding all art, which belongs to our humanity, along with every other area of humanities and sciences and professions that evolve through higher education and cultural devotions.

Seeking idealized understanding is a conceptual art whose value is—it seems to me—worth as much as any reason to live. It seems to me exemplary of human flourishing and a fine excursion into living time.