Thursday, March 06, 2008

Art as catharsis

Catharsis literally means a vomiting out, a freeing of what's on the inside and bringing it out to the surface. The Greeks thought that this was the essence of art. For a long time this didn't make sense to me because I'd witnessed many a performance and read many a poem that was just effusive sharing that had little value. But on a deeper level I think that it's true now.

When you read something that engages you, when you go to a concert or even listen to music, go to a play, go to a movie, see a work of art, what you're listening to and viewing is not something that you come across in your daily life. Art engages people on a different level than they're used to thinking about things, making a connection between feelings and thoughts felt inwardly and the outward manifestation of them in the piece being looked at, heard.

what people, some people at least, get from art is a mutual understanding and weaving of concepts and ideas shared between the artist, the viewer, and the viewers themselves, who even if they don't share and talk about the art with each other are bound by an intersubjective sense of recognition of the concepts put out by the artist. The Republic of books, the Republic of letters, the Republic of visual and performative art, of music, is a reality of shared experience that the allows the participants to interpret their daily lives through the lens of experience and thought that they'd never in their normal course of life have access to. What they do with their interpretation is almost beside the point since their vocabulary of expression and comprehension of humanistic subjects has been expanded by the experience.

We experience art, we experience someone's catharsis, and then we go back to our daily lives, which don't have catharsis as a regular part of them, unless we're fortunate enough to have jobs and lives that allow creative expression of one sort or another, whether that means working in a job not normally associated with creativity in its pure sense or not.

Catharsis affords us something different, something where the categories of our mind and of our daily life can be challenged and altered. We can also decide to participate in it more directly by making the products that other people see and respond to as well, making the participant at the same time the creator and the creator at the same time a participant in that it's impossible to purely create without being an observer of some phenomenon in some way.

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