I have been contemplating Camus’ idea about art for decades. This week it is a reoccurring theme as I engage with art, literature and other media content. One question the Approaches to Text unit asks is if tools of literary criticism are useful when discussing art and expression which is not text. I’ve been thinking about that for three years now.
Thinking about these two concepts and engaging with art and literature was inspiring; it was startling to realize how they illuminate interpretation and my role as a reader. As Frank Kermode points out analysis and discussion of text should move from observation to comment on effects. Georgia O’Keefe said something very similar about producing art; she said it ‘requires a kind of nerve to observe and directly render’ one’s interpretation of scenes, events or ideas. The ‘Examiners’ Report’ published yearly by The University of London also stresses the need for analysis to include discussion about the presence and effects of literary devices. For me there is engagement on many levels; these ideas support Camus’ argument that art is not a monologue.
Camus was quoted by Edwinge Danticat in an interview on the PBS News Hour. Danticat is a Haitian American writer who explores the emotional and cultural bonds of an émigré. These ideas are extremely interesting to me because they fall outside convenient theoretical compartmentalization and analysis. It prompted me to scrutinize my role as a reader and how it influences interpretation. For me, these ideas also inform the role of art in society and how we engage with it. Danticat writes about feelings of alienation and belonging like Rushdie, Darwish, Dante, Woolf, C. Bronte and a long list of other authors. Doug Fogel curated ‘Life on Mars,’ the 2008 Carnegie International, around the topic of alienation and integration in contemporary society; the Economist Magazine describes John Baldesari’s contemporary work as ‘not intended to alienate;’ Baldesari says he wants the audience to ‘feel intelligent’ as he challenges artistic conventions.
For me artistic conventions, like literary devices, exist both to be challenged and to provide boundaries. To borrow words from William Nicholson and Michael Hirst, they are expectations and opportunities allowing us to ‘bear this mighty freedom’ of our intellect and imagination; conventions and devices provide the tools to create and interpret human expression.
Interpretation is a great skill of Dr. Anne Bromberg, Emeritus Scholar in Residence at the Dallas Museum of Art; she stresses the importance of cross referencing works of art and social experience. Dr. Bromberg places masterpieces of art and literature at both the apices and crossroads of human experience. For me, art expresses exhilarating joie de’ vivre and depths of despair; it opens or closes minds and hearts and is fundamentally social. Art is a metaphor allowing motives on the fringe of understanding to be articulated. For me, art is anything but a monologue; having the tools of literary analysis in such a profound conversation is empowering and very inspiring.