Water and Fire


There’s a disease artists seem to catch as they become more experienced. They begin to see art entirely in terms of its creation, in terms of the simple components that go into making it. As artists become more skillful, the truth is revealed, and that truth is that art is simultaneously trivially easy and impossibly difficult. Easy, in that human expression of all sorts is inseparable from aesthetic, that anything which is made or done has a sense of art to it. Impossible in that the aims of a creator, no matter how humble or aspirant, will never be perfectly served by their creation being, as it is, a mere physical object.

As we get more experienced in our medium, we see the shallow tricks and emotional manipulations that go into creating something. We can recognize that this next part is just the previous part transposed slightly, or that this game is much like another game with some slight formula changes – not an incorrect perception, but a way of viewing art that is both useful and toxic. Useful because art is difficult, and by seeing how someone used a simple trick and observing the emotional effect it has on its audience, including us, we can improve our own work and make it more apt to achieve similar effects. Toxic because art is easy, and we end up blinding ourselves with the simplicity of the trick and ignoring the impact of that specific usage, can end up dismissing its emotional impact as shallow when the magic trick is revealed, can end up assuming that just because there is artifice there is no art.

The artist is she who was dying of thirst in the desert and found a glass of water; who then spends the rest of her life pouring glass after glass of water. Every once in a while someone dying of thirst finds one of the glasses she poured, and comes to the artist and tells them of how their work saved a life, but the artist knows not to believe them, because every time she pours she takes a sip and never, not once, has it tasted as sweet as that first glass.

The most dangerous moment comes when we begin to see the art we love, the art that saved us when we were stranded and dying of thirst, in terms of its simple tricks, begin to see it as easy and trivial. Of course, it was that, since all art is to some degree, but it was also what we needed. There comes a moment where, if we remember only the simple tricks and manipulation but forget the deep hunger it served, the hurt it saved us from, the new life it brought us, we end up regarding the art that made us artists with contempt. We are cut loose from everything that matters, seeing only technique in ignorance of purpose, looking in vain for some art that can’t be broken into artifice.

This elides the truth. That which makes a piece of art amazing only lies partially within the work itself. It’s not a property, it’s a process, a reaction, between art and person and place of time. Fuel, heat, and oxygen coming together to light the fire. You can make better fuel, which lights more easily or burns hotter, but nothing you can do will ensure it finds its way to heat and oxygen, or to a person who needs the heat and light to thrive.

1 comment
  1. I always believe that reaching the top is not the most difficult step of the ascent. It could be the process of maintaining your position on top which is the most significant of all. Good article!

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