It Is In Love

“And Oh, My Darling, be not afraid,
We are so lightly here
It is in love that we are made
In love we disappear.” Leonard Cohen

So yesterday I was listening to this song, which I haven’t listened to in a long time but which used to be a favorite growing up.

And I started thinking about what they mean by “love.”

You know I don’t call myself an “artist” mostly for the same reason older son doesn’t call himself “someone who wants to help people.”  It’s not that at some level we don’t know we are precisely those things, it’s that so many people claim to be one or both things while what they really want to do is tear down, destroy and force others to do stuff they construe as “helping.”  Both in the helping professions and in the arts, the mentality of “tear down so we can build utopia” has done a great deal of harm.

And in a way, that’s what got me thinking about this song, and Vincent Van Gogh (who apropos nothing, except that’s why I was looking yesterday, is son’s favorite painter.)  Vincent has a unique and individual style, of course, one that is rather in vogue or was, for a while, with the left.  It was a style that overturned the previous “realistic” style and so people on the left tend to look at it as “tearing down.”  However, no one — and I mean that — NO ONE can be exposed to the man’s paintings en-masse, particularly in a comprehensive (from earliest to latest) sort of exhibition like we had here three years ago, without realizing he wasn’t about tearing down but about building.

Sure, the style he used was a complete denial of the style that went before.  I don’t know if that’s why he THOUGHT he used it, though I doubt it.  He seemed to be experimenting with all sorts of styles, trying to appease the internal hunger for expression, until he found what satisfied it.

However, it’s impossible to look at the later styles and not realize what he was doing was not tearing down, but building.

Art, as such, is a way to remove the habit-goggles through which we gaze at reality.  In a test in Portugal, because I was out of time and frankly peevish I had been asked the question (and also because I assumed I would fail and have to retake) I answered the question with “What is the difference between literature and life?” with “To understand the difference, one must go to Plato’s cave metaphor.  The reality most of us see, day to day is filtered through what we’re used to seeing and what we’re used to believing, so that we don’t really see it.  Literature is that real reality outside the cave, and the accomplished artist gets you to turn around for just a moment and glimpse the truth.”

The weird thing is that I still stand by that answer.  And if you’re going to say, “But Sarah, you say no one can judge whether what they’re doing is art, because art is that which causes an intense emotion in the reader/viewer/listener.”  Well, yeah.  And the intense reaction is because of catharsis, the reaching into something true and fundamental that takes you out of yourself, your habits, your routine.  Which is the PURPOSE of art.

Look, I’m a libertarian, so I’m not going to say that’s what artists should aspire to doing.  HOWEVER for me, as a decent craftsman, that’s the next level I aspire to, the level that peels back the layers of habit and culture and the way you learned to look at things, to show the truth beneath it.

Now, no one can fully escape the culture they were raised in (or acculturated to — in my case by choice — or a combination thereto.)  This is why we don’t really understand past eras and other civilizations.  (I’m running into this with, of all things, Portuguese politics, which is why I haven’t written about it.  Portuguese don’t understand how different their system is from the rest of the world, and Americans REALLY don’t understand how different the Portuguese system is. Even I having been away 30 years miss some nuances, which is the other reason I haven’t written about it. And remember Portugal is at least technically a WESTERN country.)  Going through an exhibit on Rome, it was amazing both the commonalities, particularly for someone like me who grew up in a descended-from-Rome culture, and the bizarre shocks.  (Like, for instance, pictures of monkeys screwing people?  TOTALLY appropriate for a living room painting.  Monkeys with huge erections?  Totally okay for children’s toys.  And let’s not go into their weird relationship with defecation and such, which were very much PUBLIC matters.)

However, good art can for a moment remove the blinders, which is why I made a point of mentioning that it was a glimpse (over the shoulder) at reality.

Now the reason this is important is that the closer you come to reality, the better your ability to make decisions that are relevant and improve things, be they aesthetic or social or purely personal things.

And right now you guys are staring at this and wondering when Sarah got taken over by the dark side.

I haven’t been.  It’s just that we (by which I mean myself and the followers of cultural progressivism, who view it as necessary to dismantle western culture in order to build utopia) disagree on what is art, what is revealing the real truth.  I think, for instance, that Heinlein books do a fantastic job of both telling a great story and removing cultural blinds.  (Though to me, as a foreign-born person, it is fascinating to see how many blinders he also retained, like believing the rest of the world was to a great extent, the US written large.)  So does Shakespeare, and to an extent even Jane Austen (who made romance comprehensible to me for the first time in my life.  A very practical and level headed Romance but there it is.)

Now if you believe you know the real truth, which is in general a problem of people who think history comes with an arrow and that it moves, inevitably, to the grand vision of a nineteenth century neurotic and bookish white male, then  you are impaired, a priori in creating great art.  Because you are not trying to glimpse reality.  You are trying to superimpose a revealed and external vision on your vision.  This revelation might be different from the cultural filters used by those around you, but it is no less artificial.

This is the blight of so much of medieval art, which imposed extra Christian/Catholic filters on their cultural filters.  This wasn’t arrived at by each individual artist, but what was expected.  In the same way the pseudo realist art of the Soviet union largely sucks for the same reasons. Because the artist is not making an effort to reach the truth, he/she is just conforming to another set of social filters.

And this is what is wrong with so much of the grey goo that passes for writing in genre since it has become infected by litchrature.  Instead of using a minimal set of parameters to “conform” to the expected experience of the genre, and then infusing the content with your own vision and passion, you are conforming to a group-think kind of vision (and in the case of our own annoyances, submitting to group criticism, ala Maoist cultural revolution.)  When that group vision requires the tearing down of the existing vision, then it becomes even crazier, because you’re trying to create while actively hating the genre, its parameters and to an extent the people who want to read it because they love the genre.

And that by itself is enough to cripple you.  Whatever art is, it is born of a restless desire to create, an infatuation with your chosen mode of expression and field that forces you to search for continuous improvement.  It is that “love” that creates real art.

No one sane would work in any artistic field and suffer both to create and to make a living.  No, it is a restless desire that causes us to try to do that.  And it’s probably why so many of us are slightly unbalanced and desperate even when we DO make a living.  Because we have to work outside the consensus, we have to reach ever farther and try to peel more of the habitual matrix, in order to see what is real and convey it to others, even in a fictional package.

Any system that has a code of rules for what you can “create” as “art” which includes respecting certain politics, certain ways of seeing the world, is not only useless but detrimental, be it the French Academy or the “Code of Progressivism.”

Art is fear and longing, it’s going out on a limb, and it’s love.  Without love there is no creation.  There is only grey goo and mannerly imitation.

Love and create and be not afraid.

100 responses to “It Is In Love

  1. c4c

  2. Thanks – you’ve also explained why so much “Christian” art is trite mediocrity.

    And why truly Christian Art (I’m looking at you Mr. Tolkein, and you Johnny Sebastian) elevates so well and reveals new depths with every tour through it.

    There is never any need to “tear down” the Art which has preceded — nothing van Gogh did repudiated Reubens, Titian or Nicky Rembrandt. But after a while humans tend to stop seeing what is presented and instead see what they expect to, and so artists must find new ways of hacking through the foliage of custom overgrown.

    • “The Arts exist, as we should put it in our primeval fashion, to show forth the glory of God; or, to translate the same thing in terms of our psychology, to awaken and keep alive the sense of wonder in man. The success of any work of art is achieved when we say of any subject, a tree or a cloud or a human character, “I have seen that a thousand times and I never saw it before.” Now for this purpose a certain variation of venue is natural and even necessary. Artists change what they call their attack; for it is to some extent their business to make it a surprise attack. They have to throw a new light on things; and it is not surprising if it is sometimes an invisible ultra-violet ray or one rather resembling a black ray of madness or death.”

      Chesterton

      • “For now we see through a glass, darkly” – presumes the desire to see truth, though it be obscure and difficult. I do not presume to know truth in this life, though parts and indications of it may become visible; but I shall persist in trying.

  3. Aristotle observed that art was attempt to work backwards from real, earthly things to the archetypes on which they are based — and so was more philosophical than history, what with removing the accidents.

  4. The thing to remember is that unless change utterly replaces that which went before, it’s not destructive. All it does is create choice. In the case of Van Gogh, his expressionistic style didn’t replace Realism — the latter continued, and even flourished — but it gave people an alternative to Realism.

    I have to admit to not being a fan of much of Van Gogh — his style is a little primitive for my taste, especially when compared with, say, that of Monet’s “Sunrise” — but I have to acknowledge his genius, especially when compared to the “paint by numbers” style of the Academy.

    Destruction is what happens when change is enforced at the expense of what it has changed, and it doesn’t just happen in art, by the way. (I was and am incensed by Porsche’s decision to cease offering manual gearboxes in their future cars, simply because the new automatics are “more efficient” — as though driving is only about efficiency and not about enjoyment and control.)

    Even worse is when (as in the case of the Post-Modernists) change is regarded as not only better, but that their replacement was vital to destroy the “evil” predecessor. In other words, it’s not enough to change something; one must also demonize it.

    A pox on all of them.

  5. And I started thinking about what they mean by “love.”

    Which sent my thoughts off on a tangent.

    ’cause I’m working with a character named Loveday. Good, solid, Anglosaxon name, given to children born on a Loveday — that is, a day where feuding families, or parties to a lawsuit, would meet in hopes of coming to terms.

  6. Music, I think, is in both worse shape and is more dangerous. It is everywhere, inescapable, pouring from speakers in every public venue and most private. If it is the sort with lyrics, they often manage to be both trite and obscene. The tune is unsingable by the average person, if there even is one (by which I do not refer to rap). If it is what passes for modern classical music, it is probably just noise, and I say this as someone who really does like Glass.
    And it seems like most creators of other Art, at least from the set who like to talk about creation, like to listen to music while creating, so the influence of music is proportionately greater.
    There are exceptions, of course, but they are neither taught in music schools nor highly regarded by those who teach. Though I think the pendulum has started to swing back now. My facebook feed has been filling up with discussion about music, specifically worship music, the last couple of weeks.

    • Music has the capacity, virtually unique among the Arts, to impose itself upon you, to force your pulse to beat to its rhythms. In an era when most of our interaction with music is via recordings it can be easily overlooked how a marching band can viscerally affect.

      I find myself often incapable of listening to most song’s lyrics — they so often lack any substance with which to clasp, they flow in one ear and out the other like so much advertising puffery. (When I have occasion to sit and read the lyrics I’ve been ignoring I generally conclude that ignoring them is still paying undue attention.) For this reason I find I often prefer performances in languages other than English, in which the words are merely another instrument of the tune.

      • RES, then let me recommend to you Faure’s Pavane:

        Exquisite, it is.

        • Ah, indeed – an old friend. Equally blissful, I think, is this piece by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

          Now I fancy looking up some Smetana. I haven’t listened to Ma Vlast in too long.

      • Insty linked to a discussion of the death of classical music the other day and quoted a sarcastic comment to the effect that what classical music really needs to regain mass popularity is more obscenity, screaming and crotch-grabbing.

        • So, another Franz Liszt then?

          ESR made an interesting point along the lines this conversation has taken in his Deadly Genius and the Back-To-Zero Problem:

          A deadly genius is a talent so impressive that he can break and remake all the rules of the form, and seduce others into trying to emulate his disruptive brilliance — even when those followers lack the raw ability or grounding to make art in the new idiom the the genius has defined.

      • Music has pretty much hit the wall in the last few decades. Contrast to the almost explosive evolution in Rock from 1955’s “Rock around the Clock” to 1973’s “Dark Side of the Moon”.
        Since then, it’s been pretty much down hill.

        • There was a study some years ago – I can’t find it now, although I found some other fascinating things while looking for it – that showed that popular music was becoming simpler over the course of several decades, as measured by complexity of chord progressions, rhyming schemes, and so on.

    • And Holly, allow me to recommend to YOU Faure’s Requiem:

      I prefer it to Mozart’s, which should mean something.

      • Kim, I’m a classically trained ‘cellist. I’m fond of Faure–I think most ‘cellists are. Do you know his Pappilon? But he’s not really a current composer, having been dead ninety years.
        I should make a youtube or whatever it is one does to share music: I do compose a little. Recording is the challenge.

        • Holly, and I’m a classically-trained tenor. I don’t only know Faure’s entire oeuvre, I’ve sung most of it, either solo or as part of a choir.

          Sorry, when it comes to “modern” classical music, it pretty much died at the hands of John Cage — noise masquerading as music. But then again, I’ve just been listening to incomparable Marthe Argerich performing Rachmaninoff Piano #3, so you’ll forgive me if I’m a little cranky. (Comment for the ages: “She’s attempting Rachmaninoff #3? Is she MAD?”)

          My idea of a modern classical piece is Grieg performed by Leif Ove Andsnes… which is about as modern as I wish to get.

          • We’re doing Grieg’s Peer Gynt- Morningtime, Anitra’s Dance, and In the Hall of the Mountain King; Saturday, for the annual Children’s Concert, along with Holtz’ Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, and Uranus; Saint-Saens’ Danse Bacchanale, and a John Williams’ Star Wars suite. Personally, I’d put Williams up against the greats of other eras without hesitation.
            I like the Holtz best of that list, but that’s because Jupiter has the best ‘cello parts.
            Too bad we can’t get a Hun jam party together. That would be fun!

            • There’s some really great music being written for the movies today. Composers write what pays the bills, and always have. For Mozart it was operas; for John Williams it’s Star Wars and Jurassic Park and Harry Potter.

              • Even the aforementioned Glass (of whom I am also a fan) wrote the music for the recent Fantastic Four. It was far and away the best part of the movie. In fact, let me put it on.

                However, I agree a lot sounds like noise…my flute (and composition) instructor is a huge fan of “extended techniques” which just annoy the hell out of me.

              • Free-range Oyster

                I’ve always been fond of good soundtracks, but a few years back Borepatch* pointed out that most of the good orchestral music being composed was in the service of game soundtracks. That’s led me in a roundabout way to listening right this minute to a compilation of so-called “epic music” – dramatic, soundtrack-style orchestral and synthetic pieces created for their own sake – which suits me to the bones. Music hasn’t truly stagnated, you just have to know where to look. Amusingly, a video service has been one of my primary channels for music discovery.

                * He’s also the one that introduced me to the concept of middlebrow culture, which I’ve slowly been finding ways to piece back together for myself.

                • “Epic music”—you mean remixes of Carl Orff’s melody to O Fortuna? 😉

                  • Free-range Oyster

                    Nah. I’m not much of a fan of Carmina Burana, myself. It’s an important cultural touchstone, but not really my thing. Aaaand now my stupid muse is trying to suggest an energetic rearrangement of some Palestrina. Gag must have slipped again… *grabs mallet and trudges toward closet*

                    • *giggle” In my current WIP (To be released sometime next month! Attend ye, all ye Hoydens!) one of the running gags is the local high school marching band, whose signature performance piece is ‘O Fortuna’ … yes, this has been arranged for marching band… although at least three-quarters of the band ensemble are convinced that the piece is actually titled “Gopher Tuna…”

                    • A quick search turns up several bands playing the piece fairly straight, and also this snippet:

              • Agreed – grand symphonic music now is written for movie scores. Raising the Barn from Witness, any of the John Williams scores, and my fav – the music Morricone wrote for The Mission. Sublime.

    • Holly, have you listened to Morten Lauredsen’s work? If not, you might hunt up his “Magnum Mysterium” and “O Nata Lux.” Ola Gjello is another rising modern classical composer I enjoy a great deal. Granted they are primarily choral composers. There’s always Alan Hovhannes (although he’s deceased). He strikes me as a modern Romantic along the lines of Brahms or possibly Kodaly.

  7. “c4c”???? Is this No-Speaking-English Day? Or did I just miss the memo?

  8. One author I follow occasionally expressed dilemma imposed by fannish requests: “We want something new and different! Just like the last one!”
    You can have one or the other….take your pick.

    • My favorite is the meme with a picture of George R.R. Martin where he says, “Every time someone asks me when the next book is coming out, I kill another Stark.”

      • Yeah, but Martin is stark raving bonkers.

        • The sci-fi nerd-type students have a betting pool as to whether he’ll die before the series comes to a conclusion.

          • Well, he didn’t make it through Sharknado 3 so it ain’t looking good.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            If the Republicans win in 2016, he may throw another hissy fit sabbatical. If it is 2025 before we have another Democratic President, Martin may run out the clock grandstanding.

          • <i…. a betting pool as to whether he’ll die before the series comes to a conclusion

            Perhaps, like Agatha Christie he has already written that final volume, in which everyone dies.

          • That’s what I’m guessing will happen. And I don’t think Brandon Sanderson would be up for finishing ASOIAF if GRRM does die first.

            • BobtheRegisterredFool

              The fix is in.

              President Paul’s thirty fourth act on taking office will be nullifying the Pure Food and Drug Act by executive order.

              Frito-Lay will bring the new poison flavored Doritos to market on March 14th, 2017. Their marketing slogan will be: First your hand tingles/then your mouth tingles/then they stop.

              First on the shortlist will be a committee of Vox Day, Kratman, and Michael Stackpole. The first manuscript will be turned on on September 18th, 2017.

              I’ve seen the four manuscripts that the triumvirate wrote to finish the song. I’m not sure if we will develop the technology in time to mass print the special materials.

              If we can’t, the fastest and easiest thing to do would be publishing the outlines Drake wrote to be finished by a dozen and a half different authors. Those should fit in two or three volumes.

        • When you systematically kill off everyone who starts looking like a good guy, you’re going to turn off readers who like good guys. If I wanted to read amoral politicking, I’d read the Congressional Record. If I wanted to read realistic medieval history, I’d read medieval history. I don’t find beatdowns among rival gangsters particularly entertaining, no thank you.

          • What turned me off, actually, was a solid book where virtually nothing happened.

            • A solid book?

              More like 800 pages of accumulated scenes. A book has beginning, middle and end, often in that order. Martin’s last published collection of anecdotes was all middle without end or beginning.

              He seems to have succumbed to Philip Jose Farmer Syndrome, writing long after forgetting what story he was telling and desperately hoping to find one if he keeps shoveling the stable.

          • It’s like reading history with the hopefulness taken out. Heck, GOT makes actual 14th century history look like “the feel good book of the year”.

    • Well, yeah. It’s like going to a Shakespeare play. You want something new and different that is still Shakespeare.

  9. And here endeth my comments.

  10. Sarah, you remind me of Barbara Tuchman’s comment about the prevalence of images of Death in so much of 14th Century art, which arose from the overwhelming cultural consciousness of the Black Death in that period.

  11. BobtheRegisterredFool

    HOWEVER for me, as a decent craftsman, that’s the next level I aspire to, the level that peels back the layers of habit and culture and the way you learned to look at things, to show the truth beneath it.

    I’m a lousy craftsman, but this, stupid jokes, malice, and cussedness are what keep me trying.

    And let’s not go into their weird relationship with defecation and such, which were very much PUBLIC matters.

    This is where I find out again that despite the success of my ‘Rome on the Modern Man’, I am still essentially ignorant.

    • I am incurably ignorant. Everything I learn exposes so much more I don’t know. Between that, forgetting, and finding out that what I thought I knew isn’t quite so, it gets worse every day.

  12. Just found at Instapundit, 90-minute documentary on historical European martial arts:
    http://nerdist.com/documentary-proves-sword-fights-look-nothing-like-hollywood/

    • NOTE: The Youtube video linked at the top of the Nerdist article is the “old version”, whose video comments say “Please watch this other one instead, it fixes a video screwup in the old version”. The Youtube video that the documentary makers want you to watch is this one:

      So if you tried to watch the video at the top of the Nerdist article and found it screwing up in some way, try the one I just posted instead.

  13. Reality Observer

    Completely off topic here. Can someone with direct contact to Cedar Sanderson let her know that her blog has somehow reset back to August 5?

    • She knows. She’s been fighting software.

      • Government Drone

        Our ancestors fought dragons.
        We fight software.
        “Bring me my broadsword!”

        • I believe Dr Pournelle used to carry a double bladed axe to Worldcon aka “double-sided double density hacker’s tool.”

          • Free-range Oyster

            For my brother’s birthday this year we gave him a mallet with “Tech Support, Tier II” on the handle. It was well received.

      • Reality Observer

        Figured she would, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure. I’ve known too many software packages that lie to the boss (administrator).

        Hope she can whip it back into line soon; I don’t do NaNoWriMo, but I do observe NaCoBakMo – and hadn’t snagged that recipe yet…

  14. Look, I’m a libertarian, so I’m not going to say that’s what artists should aspire to doing. HOWEVER for me, as a decent craftsman, that’s the next level I aspire to, the level that peels back the layers of habit and culture and the way you learned to look at things, to show the truth beneath it.

    I don’t see how it’s inconsistent with libertarian beliefs to tell people “you SHOULD strive to meet this standard,” as long as you’re not FORCING them to meet it. Libertarianism doesn’t mean you don’t try to persuade people to change their opinions or actions, it just means that you refrain from using force (including the force of government) to MAKE them change.