November 19, 2009

Spinning Above Flatland

Some interactions or conversations between people are not what they seem to be, but are instead art acts. You may not even be aware when this happens, and you may actually never have consented to being part of the art piece, but you are in it nonetheless. I have this experience fairly often and by now have learned to read the cues and ready myself, to some degree. I just had it again about 2 weeks back. And here is the story:

The setting is a local pub, the artmakers were myself and an acquaintance, and the subject of the conversation/art piece was his recent engagement in two simultaneous pursuits: Bible study, specifically the Book(s) of Samuel, and close reading of everything by Ayn Rand. Really. It was surreal.

The transporter of conversation was used to beam me into his internal sphere of self-justification (where all art is made) and simply by being responsive (or sentient) at all, I was part of his process. The product of the activity was not a painting, or a song, or photograph. The product of the activity was an emotional state, a very well-crafted one.

He first determined that I knew something about both Samuel and Rand. (He primed the canvas, loaded the film, readied the recording devices.) He then described to me the experience of talking in his group about the leadership qualities of Samuel, and then, after a very long meander, connected this to Rand's ideas about individualism vs. over-reliance on leaders. (Paint on canvas, a shutter clicking, tape rolling.) And finally he tied this all back to his own rather unnerving experience of being a parent to a little girl. (The last stroke. Now he was just ready to varnish.)

The process he was engaged in was not about grappling with the ideas of Christianity or Objectivism, but rather with seeking and finding justification for his own leadership role in his own family. The emotional state he had sought to craft for himself through this interaction was sureness, a solid, analyzed, and perfected sureness. And I guess my part in the piece was as the dark and unmoving background that cast that product/feeling into high relief, an aid in making his subjectivity as vivid (in his own mind) as a Bible story or Rand's philosophy of self-interest.

I am never surprised that the need to make this type of art exists, or that the need is so strong, particularly in people who feel otherwise constrained by their own lack of creativity.

But I tend to find that people who are not constrained just don't do this kind of artmaking in public, with unwitting conspirators as foils. And I would guess they don't need to, as they make something subjectively "perfect" out of their own vivid imaginations each time they paint, or print an image, or capture sound.

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