Monday, May 23, 2005

Crazy Monday thoughts on art and music and stuff

When it comes to appreciating art--I was talking about music earlier, which led me to these further ventures onto the thin ice--it occurs to me that there's this giant first-time factor. Far more than with sex. You know? You have only one chance at a good first time for a poem or a novel. I mean, you can read it again but the likelihood of epiphany is diminished, if not gone. There are exceptions to the diminishing returns to re-reading. I have mentioned Dickens, for me, but there would be limits even there. So--you have to be careful when and where you first open a novel.

Likewise with movies. After the first time the experience goes downhill. You usually can't recapture it. People try. Cinema buffs will see a movie lots of times--imagine it, Citizen Kane ten times, Casablanca maybe even more, and who knows what, multiple arthouse or dvd viewings of Alexander Nevsky, all the Godfathers, maybe, in a lifetime, maybe in the spirit of attending mass, but like attending mass, if something does happen it is probably because of the religiosity brought in the door. The nice thing about the growing obscurity of the growing great-movie canon is that there is at least a chance that, with a _really_ obscure classic great movie, that you may have never seen it before when you pop it into your dvd player.

Visual art is little different, at least the art on people's walls. For me. Even though I stop seeing what is on my walls, most of the time, there is a kind of atmosphere still there that I like. It is similar to how I feel about several large plants in my living room, which I like even though I don't spend a lot of time being conscious of them. Likewise, what I have hung on the walls. The experience of this is ongoing, and good, and maybe has something to do with art. But nevertheless, I hardly ever actually see it. Maybe this is what is going on when people listen to music as background or mood in their lives--which, for music at least, is hard for me to do.

But then there's this other thing, when you actually look at something and you are moved by it. I think _that_ diminishes if you try to repeat it. I am saying all of this tentatively--I am not all that sure about it.

I prefer small art museums, because you don't use up too many objects of art at once. I went once the the Uffizi gallery in Florence, and then the Pitti, and then some other famous art museum all in the same day, man, and I got just art-galleried out, I saw hundreds of great paintings, the original stuff, and so did all these people all double-timing through there at the same time, and it was just a total brain-fry, trying to fucking absorb this stuff, somehow just suck it in and make it part of you, and really now I don't remember a single painting I saw. Not one. I bet nobody else did either, the day I was there, unless they took notes, and some of them did.

And two or three days later, I don't remember, I was in Rome and I saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel--this was before it was restored, so it was still dark--with maybe a thousand people in there shoulder to shoulder staring straight up at this high dim ceiling in this cavernous room, like I said it was before they took all the dark varnish off, and everyone's neck hurt and it was hot in there and the air smelled like garlic and cabbage farts with with all those people, ten different European cuisines plus Japanese, and everyone had a brochure and guides were shouting in pidgin in many languages, and I had this _great_ experience, man, of something that may be totally the opposite of art, it was exhilarating, actually. This tremendous feeling of exaltation, watching the tops of people's heads, the bottom of their chins, heads craned and necks twisted and faces contorted with their eyes bugged out trying to take in the almost-black ceiling and their brochures at the same time, all staring at this faintly visible steroid God on high in the gloomy light at the top of the room, the whole thing was a kind of Dante-esque, Disneyland version of the Renaissance.

I actually liked it. Kay and I laughed all the way back to the hotel. I don't think that's what art appreciation is supposed to be.

To get back to music, I think music is the most emotional and mysterious of the arts, and is for me the most repeatable, but even with a song I still can't hear a song a second time, really hear it, the way I heard it originally.

Of course repetition _can_ be esthetically powerful, I mean, like people getting high through prolonged bongo drumming or Nazi mass rallies or dancing in voodoo ceremonies and slitting the throats of chickens and hallucinating in the Amazon jungle under the influence of banisteriopsis. Perhaps it is our good fortune that epiphany happens only once most of the time, if at all, and by accident.

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