Magic and Realism

Guernica

What do we owe reality?

It’s an interesting question for artists of all sorts: How important is reality to our art, how far can we warp it before we lose relevance and begin to disappear up our own asses? This question tends to define peoples’ and  cultures’ relationship with art, and perhaps has done so for as long as art has existed– and how did art come to exist? Was it invented? I think the history of art has been one of interpretation as much as one of creation. My own personal interpretation of the term prefers the inclusive: Anything that people call art is art, and can be judged as such. It sounds like a wishy-washy-hippie definition, but I don’t think it really is.

The labels that we give things matter– to a degree that is sometimes distressing.

When we label something as art, that is a cue to other people as to how they should interpret that particular bit of communication. Now, whether they’re actually able to parse out and interpret that art in a way that makes sense to them has a lot to do with their personal understanding of what art is, but that’s part of the process.

Imagine our understandings of art, of what art means or can be, as being like codecs. The artist encodes his message, perhaps a message not communicable through other means, into his piece using his personal understanding of the world in general and of art in particular. His audience decodes it with their personal understanding of the world and of art, if they are able to. Occasionally (frequently), members of the audience won’t have the particular cultural or educational background that comprises that ‘codec’, and will reject the piece as ‘not art’.

Which, I guess, is fine. It’s not really a problem being unable to parse certain ideas– some ideas are actually deadly poison, and having a lot of codecs can sometimes be a security flaw. Perhaps I’ve extended this metaphor too far: Let’s regroup.

What do we owe reality?

To some extent we cannot escape it: The art we create emerged from reality’s effect upon us, from our interpretation of the reality in which we live. There’s two important aspects here, neither of which can be ignored: First, the reality, and second, the interpretation. Art cannot exist without either of those two.

There’s a flow here: First, we experience reality; second, we interpret it; third, we encode it into art; fourth, we share it.

Or, from the other side: First, we consume a piece of art; second, we decode it; third, we interpret it; fourth, we apply it to reality.

Often we don’t like what we hear, but it can often be a bit tricky blaming the author for such things. No matter how supposedly overt the message embedded in a work of art is, it’s still the product of at least two people’s understanding of the world, two understandings which might simply be tremendously incompatible.

The message received may bear no resemblance at all to the message sent.

And yet, that’s probably part of why art is so powerful. We embed incommunicable meaning into the things we create and have them parsed by other people in their own unique way to create their own personal and incommunicable meaning. It is an evolutionary idea algorithm, mutating our ideas as we regurgitate them back and forth, and sometimes because of that a new impossible mutant idea takes root, a beautiful and novel idea that perhaps could never have emerged by another process.

If you don’t see something which is called art as artistic, there is an opportunity there, isn’t there? An opportunity to expand the field of ideas you can digest, interpret, engage. An opportunity to explore your own mind, your own imagination, and leave the world behind for maybe just a little bit.

After all, what do we owe reality?

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