Art: Between Macro and Micro– Planes of Difference and Choice

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Take a look at this picture.  I thought at first that some brilliant architect had fashioned a room like this.  And then I read that this is a macro-shot of a micro-space.  This is the inside of a violin.

I don’t often bring my work and this blog together, but there are certain events that have taken place in the past weeks which have encouraged me to write out these thoughts if only to see them more clearly.

I am a cultural scholar, and, as such, I examine the workings of art (music primarily, though imagery, the body and other forms of art are also open to me…) upon cultures and their populations.  There are hosts of theories upon the macro-scale—the so-called “mass medial” plane.  There are few if any theories that work at the micro-scale because that is the scale where our lives all diverge from one another into the separate, private worlds of our homes and daily lives.  This is the world of what you listen to in your car, what you read with your coffee or morning tea, what you gaze at on your walls, and it is also the enviable dimension of where you travel to inside the mind when you experience/encounter art.  This is the most private place on Earth and there are no methodologies that can lay hands on it because the art begins in the macro, and though it comes down to the micro through that giant sphere, yet, it interacts with us in a silent space where “I” and not “we” is the reigning pronoun.

This is why all art is a powerful force—not because it can touch so many lives at once, that is what makes technology a powerful force— but because it can travel to the micro plane from a stage, or a radio, or a wall, or even a piece of paper.  The interior world of our minds and imaginings is accessible to art whereas other “things” might not be.  We can deny a human their humanity, and yet we cannot deny art its ability to reach into us and draw forth connections, associations, stir memory, inspire dialogues, and possibly create change.  Art can also reinforce what we think we believe about things.  It can create chains out of song.  It can be used as torture.

Art is:

Political

Social

An Economic Force

Cultural

Plural

Multi-modal

Art generates:

Theories

Claims of Ownership

Ideas of Authenticity

Spaces of Negotiation

Imaginings about the ‘Self’ and ‘Other’

Art is a force within the spheres of human creativity which has neither color nor form until it interacts with thousands upon thousands of microplanes we call humans— which is not the same as interacting with the “mass”.

The point I wish to make today is that right now, the biggest “lie” in the macro space is that we can view with anything like tangibility, the “micro” space of other lives, and that the lessons taught there can also be reapplied to the micro-world.  I have long been suspicious of television programs and, more specifically, of so-called “reality” TV.  Reality TV was always going to happen, and it was a foregone conclusion from the time when sitcoms were invented.  The sitcom takes place (supposedly) inside of a person’s home life and “we” (the audience) are able to see into this private world, hear the thoughts of the characters, and therein come to observe this world and possibly relate to it.  I suppose that one could also make the remark, without stretching the bounds of possibility, that the sitcom was also a foregone conclusion from the time of the first novels.  The novel gives the same illusion— that a person’s entire existence from interior to exterior dress is available to “watch”.  Now, supposedly, we who are viewers are also all “in on” the joke that this is all just acting, this is all merely fake and fictional, but the trajectory of novel to sitcom to reality was always there.  This was always the unspoken wish of the partaker heretofore.  This is why, in English and several other European languages, there is a differentiation between the words “look” and “watch”.  Looking implies a duration whereas “watching” ends with the person inflicting the gaze upon the object.  Looking at a person does not automatically objectify them— but watching them can.  This is different, however, from the difference between “listening” and “hearing”.  Hearing is a strict act of the sense, but listening, while bequeathing a similar intensity as “watching” does not obtain the possibility of objectification because the person you are watching commands your attention as well with their voice if you are also “listening” to them.

These are the lines of power drawn by different forms of mass medial “art” and it is why reality TV is a dangerous form of art.  (I know that I will get extreme criticisms from many quarters for labelling reality TV as art, but I challenge it is no less staged, scripted, and co-produced as anything else on television, and it also has many of the powers and categories that would be ascribed to art.  So I shall limit myself and say that it is a form of mass medial entertainment with the ascriptive powers of art.)

Consider, for a moment, the now viral post by a mother on the “sad” case of Anna Duggar who is married to Josh Duggar.  This mother wants her daughters “to think they can breathe fire”.  She says that she wishes that Anna Duggar believed she had the power to make this man tremble in fear of her.  She and the rest of the opining public have leapt onto the fact that Josh was on Ashley Madison as evidence of the fact that he’s a piece of scum and their marriage should be null and void.

But this is the mistake that the macro world leads the micro worlds into.  When we write opinions on these macro-engineered situations meting out ideology on how we think we want these people to behave we often forget how we would behave in our own lives.  This is the great deception of the macro-space.  The counter-alliances, the messy incongruities of being human in our own lives disappear and we opine to the macro with all the wounded indignation of people who believe we know best because all the media in the macro space says that we’re RIGHT to think and believe this way. While I say, very candidly, that some far off day in the future when this woman’s daughter might be faced with her husband’s infidelity the daughter herself might not want to breathe fire.  She might want to cry.  She might want to lock the man out of her life, but she also might love him and want to fight to save her marriage.  She might hate him for a time.  She might wash dishes breathing fire, or go to work sobbing, or sit staring at a sunset wondering how the hell this could be her story… I tell you that breathing fire is only one phase of dealing with the grief of having someone betray you, and power lines in marriage are not straight lines, nor do they lead only one direction.  The great lie of media and publicity is that we do not know at all that this is not what is happening right now to Anna Duggar.  We do not know if she breathes fire because we have forgotten, or rather want to believe that we can actually see into these lives.  The viewing public forgets that this is all still a sitcom, and we’re on the outside looking in.  We get to watch only what we are actually permitted to see.  To pretend that these humans are only human when we are looking is foolish, to think that we know the entirety of the picture is to forget that there is always someone standing behind the camera taking the shot.

To forget that… To really believe that the story does not go on when the camera man is not there is monstrous.  It is the great prank that art plays upon the senses of all, but it leads us to macro conclusions that fall apart in the micro-world of messy interpersonal relationships where our decisions are not easy to make, nor cut-and-dried.  It leads us to judge falsely and with great zeal the people in the line of that lens when, if that situation were visited upon us, there is no knowing how we would act or what we would do or even think until we are, ourselves, faced with the same reality.

What I miss in Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin’s writings on Art and its role in the modern time is a discussion of how art has altered in terms of the macro and micro worlds of imagination.  Over the past year or so I have been writing a thesis and their material, ideas, and general theories have been of great help to me, and yet this is the piece of the puzzle that is no where present in their theories.  Art in the time of ancestral man, the time when people lived in communities only for survival and who subsisted in tribal communities served a different purpose and that purpose was determined because of the potential size of the viewing public.  They painted caves, they made music and they had decorative objects that betokened more than status.  But though this was art, it was not in a space seeking to commune with many thousands.  It was art engineered for a smaller space and a smaller need.  Art in the modern time that hangs in galleries and museums, art that is displayed in festivals the size of the Venice Biennale, or that is performed and broadcast world-wide is art composed in a modern time with a scope built into the art of its potential to become viral: art with a self-sense of its own potential importance.  Art, now, attempts to capture memetically that which can be most easily condensed of human experience, and replicates that in order to flourish as art, and this has never been what art was meant to do.  Art born of this type of awareness can only show us the middle ground of humanity, whereas art prior to this, art that supposedly captures the sublime was about transportation—about gaining insight into a sphere beyond the human.  Both Benjamin and Adorno were concerned with whether or not art would retain this power of transportation/transcendence in order to continue being a force within humanity for change rather than a path to appeasement and stasis.

Art from the macro to the micro still obtains the power to reach into us, but the air is clogged now, thick with messages about how to read it, how to let yourself be read.  The how of life presses against us because there must be a formula through it all, and there must be some magic way of being both an individualized self and perfect to the “other”.  Or if not perfect then let it go because who needs the other… Negotiation shuts down, the art cannot speak because there is no longer an interior silence.  When our daughters breathe fire, and our men tremble, and when we’ve decided that political correctness (just plain politeness) is what makes us losers in the world, and when all music is either music to dance to or music to watch films to I become afraid for the cause of art in humanity.  The macro-space is not real, and the micro— where we live every second of every day of our lives—has become insufficient unless it is filled with the macro-messages of how to conform, how to stand out, how to be strong, how to be a servant, how to love God, how to throw down Gods and let morality be a human construct, how to be mindful…

The space of the lives around us in a place where we have forgotten to ask for the names of our neighbours, how to have arguments and conversations with breath instead of periods or ellipses, and how to speak from an enclosed space without apologizing for the fact that our realities don’t quite meet at their boundaries because our experiences are always unique.  I do not know the role of art in that world where we have forgotten that the still and silent interior is the silence before the song, the canvas before its paint…

The macro-turned-mobilizer of the micro-plane is what both Adorno and Benjamin feared.  It is the canvas demanding its paint external to the human— the post-anthropocene in arts has arrived because we are not driven from within but beaten to create from without.  And somewhere in that beating we lose difference, choice, ramifications of actions, attention to detail, and the complexity of our lives.  I think that going forward from that, I have to spend time seeking the between-world because the world of my self cannot be reconciled with the worlds of other selves entirely through that macro-space, but it cannot hope to reconcile without some measure of it.

There must be a space between the media and the mind, and there must be courage to live with that space, the differences I’ll encounter there, the sameness I might find, the incongruities and the messy irregularity of human nature, and perhaps there is art there too.

Who knows?

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~ by Rebecca Erickson on August 28, 2015.

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