The Art Section

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In Philip Roth’s novella Goodbye, Columbus, a boy walks into the library where Neil Klugman works and asks him, “Where’s the heart section?” Neil doesn’t understand at first, but he eventually realizes that the boy is asking for the art section. Neil asks the boy which artist he’s interested in and the boy responds, “All of them.”

amazing grace

Credit: Ed Schipul (2006) [CC BY]

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Sometimes, in an academic environment, it is hard to believe in something bigger than yourself. All of the possibilities of the world are laid bare, and consequently, the world seems smaller. Humanity loses its attraction: behavior reducible to inculturation, psychology, or cold chemical causes. You are persuaded by subjectivism because it gives you a sense of the sovereignty of your own experience. And this preserves you from one evil at least: Inferiority Complex.

One thing you know is that you have been on a steady diet of words since the day you were born. They inform you, you form them, they reform you.

Eventually, you realize that words are merely names for things. When you learn a word, you learn a thing. You can use the word to call up the thing in your own mind, and in this way, you can, in some sense, have the thing. And so you want it all, you want to know everything.

Later on you will recognize you had it backwards all along. You longed to be taken up into something and you thought that if you only took in enough words, you would become them, and in this way you could know – if only! – yourself.

But you remain a mystery. Introspection fails expectation: the more you focus inwards, the more you notice everything about you tends outwards. You are frustrated as you reach out to an undisclosed horizon.

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The problem with explaining the human experience in theoretical terms is that along the way we lose what is most genuinely human. Strangely enough, we lose the subjective. Even more strangely, the subjective is what points us beyond itself.

When we participate in art, we celebrate our subjectivity. Yet art never stays within us, it is never limited by us. Art is communicative, only achieving its purpose once it has been received. But in the receiving it is translated into something that has meaning to others – meaning that we may or may not have intended ourselves – but that is there nonetheless.

Art imitates life. 

When we see that the world of subjectivism is a world too small for art, then we can mend the broken compasses of our hearts and find that they always pointed in the right direction.

Thus the horizon is revealed –

And it is a Word.

Copyright 2015 Sarah Blake
Image: Amazing Grace, Ed Schipul, December 3, 2006, CC.

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