Worthwhile Art

what is worthwhile art?

–The tragic emotion, in fact, is a face looking two ways, towards terror and towards pity, both of which are phases of it. You see I use the word ARREST. I mean that the tragic emotion is static. Or rather the dramatic emotion is. The feelings excited by improper art are kinetic, desire or loathing. Desire urges us to possess, to go to something; loathing urges us to abandon, to go from something. The arts which excite them, pornographical or didactic, are therefore improper arts. The esthetic emotion (I used the general term) is therefore static. The mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing.
A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, James Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Dedalus

There exist any number of worthwhile occupations with which to while away the time awaiting death.  I have no intention of challenging these occupations or their worth. However my experience has led to me regard them all as pointless exercises. Whistling through the graveyard.

The only true worth at this moment (I may change my mind after lunch) is the undoing of binding beliefs. The narrowing adoptions of a lifetime in fear.  Each learned action reaction pairing which cumulatively crushes the imagination. The goal of such an undertaking is beyond the scope of my imagination or expressive abilities but the achievement of that release is not.  it is so simple and ordinary it is easy to miss.  It is the moments spent engaged beyond thought.  As Joyce put it “raised above desire and loathing”.

Anyone can find themselves in this position. Cleaning the brasses, adding the numbers, inventorying the stock.  When the artist loses himself in the creation of an artifact the resulting art can be considered worthwhile.

who makes it?

Everyone is an artist but the ones who continue to make art for arts sake stand the best chance of finding themselves lost in the moment with sufficient practice to leave a trace of that transcendence in the form.  Practice and challenging ones ability allows the creative process to slip its reins and find its own way past the constricting thought processes.

how can we tell it’s worthwhile?

The encounter with such a piece of worthwhile art has the ability to arrest the thought process of the viewer.  Startled, confused, neither repelled or drawn toward the piece the viewer is uneasy. Generally speaking we like to be able to put things in boxes, to regulate and register our findings as soon as possible to avoid the feeling of doubt.  Worthwhile art doesn’t make us feel peaceful or point out some glaring injustice.  What kind of transcendence is there in the justification of long held beliefs and well worn platitudes? Worthwhile art is unsettling and foreign.  It won’t work with your decor unless you live in someplace we have never imagined.

give me some examples

various more or less intelligible performances by old brilliant people, whether artists, scientists, or intellectuals, where the bare outlines of a creative idiom seem finally to emerge from what had been the obscuring puppy fat of personableness, timeliness, or sometimes even of coherent sense.
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick,  “Touching Feeling” (2003)

After the composition of Shakespeare’s last tragedies—the opulent, spacious “Antony and Cleopatra” (1606-1607), the cold, rhetorically contorted “Coriolanus” (1607-08), and the rough-hewn, one-note “Timon of Athens” (1607-08)—there is a slackening, as if something had snapped. “Timon of Athens,” apparently unfinished and unproduced, has been thought by some speculative scholars to mark a personal crisis for the writer; no less measured a source than the Encyclopædia Britannica perceived “a clear gulf” between it and the four plays that follow.
Edward W. Said. “On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain”

“Indeed, the idea that doubt can be heroic, if it is locked into a structure as grand as that of the paintings of Cezanne’s old age, is one of the keys to our century. A touchstone of modernity itself.”
― Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New

Man Wearing a Straw Hat Paul Cezanne 1906

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