When is art art? Art is art when it is everywhere art. That is to say rain. Snow. Mud. Movement. The grace inherent in things. The violence of things, violence of the air, volume in thunder, lightning, fire on the prairie. Smoke in the eyes. Experience. When experience is augmented by thought, by stone, by paint, by dance, by words, experience becomes art. It’s a translation of a language hidden in stones. Sermons in stone, books in brooks. Antlers on a shaman’s head. A man gazing at a lamp in an igloo and seeing visions of ancestors in snow, later to become a history engraved in bone.
Art is transformation. Existence is raw without it. Art lifts, elevates, alters, inspires, fills the brain with swimming images, fires like lightning in the neurons, eyes flashing like opals in the midnight solitude of Kansas. Art has the smell of wood and turpentine, the glop and dribble and smoothness of paint, the frolic and athletic power of dance, the canvas of air when words leave the mouth and enter other ears, other brains, changing like clouds in the thoughts of others.
The commodification of art does serious damage to the spirit and intellect. Art requires risk, the dare to say or represent something disastrous, threatening, and ugly. It has to have this possibility. It has to be a dragon of fierce autonomy. It has to threaten. It has to be dangerous. But not dangerous like money, which is polluting like cholera and typhus. Dangerous like the gleam of metal in a sword, the jewels of its hilt.
Art resists integration. It resists industrialization, purpose, utility. A hammer, a car, a radio, a smartphone can be a beautiful object and can have aesthetic qualities. But it will not be art. It will not have that quality of transcendent force about it, that aura of glorious purposeful purposelessness, of which Kant identified, and will feel dead as a faucet, banal as a doorknob or gym locker. A computer has no more allure than a refrigerator. But the poetry that gets preserved among its pixels has the aura of non-integrative beauty.
Art is the metaphoric counterpart of exploration. It’s synonymous with experiment. It stimulates dalliance. It parachutes through the nebulae of theory like a reverie of space. It amuses. It kills. It gleans. It multiplies ideas. It needs form because - existing in and of itself - the processes of its development involve static elements. Words, paint, marble, clay. Melody, rhythm, timbre, texture. The work remains still. The premises immediately posited by the work are fulfilled as its result. The work is permeated with its own essence. Garlic holds space in a trance of envelopment. A curve emancipates a feather. Colors arc into the embroidery of a thought.
Art is art when it opens a door in the head and a universe walks out.