Monday, February 25, 2013

81. Serenity or excitement?

According to Schopenhauer artistic genius is exceptional in its capability to escape from the drive of the will towards ever new unsatisfiable desires, into the serene contemplation of platonic, pure, eternal ideas. It is an escape from the emotional into the intellectual. For Nietzsche, by contrast, artistic genius is a manifestation of the will to power, in creative destruction. Schopenhauer lauded asceticism, breakdown of the will, Nietzsche abhorred it. Schopenhauer sought serenity, Nietzsche sought Dionysian exuberance.

So, is art serene contemplation of order, harmony? Or is it excitement in transcending order, breaking harmony? Nietzsche made the distinction between on the one hand the Apollonian, representing the harmonious, the static, the eternal, and on the other hand the Dionysian, representing the disharmony, intoxication, the dynamic, creative destruction.

According to Schopenhauer a work of art is the perfect representation of a universal, or constitutes a new universal by itself. But perhaps it is the opposite: a denial of the universal, the triumph of the individual, something in its own that does not fit any universal. A declaration of independence.

If the intellectual is the contemplation of the universal, then the rebellion of the individual is the emotional, romantic, and art is emotion, not an escape from the will but a celebration of it, but the Nietzschean, not the Schopenhauerian will.

But I don’t agree that the intellectual is just serene contemplation of the universal, the eternal, the harmony. I think it also includes the exhilaration of the novel connection, the shift, the breakthrough, the discovery. 

And yet, I admit, serenity also is part of artistic experience. It can be contemplation in a feeling of time standing still, of a balance, a harmony achieved.

My panel of artists rejects the separation of harmony and destruction. It is both, they say. Can art be both Apollo and Dionysus, serenity and excitement, enjoying and breaking balance? How, then, would the two combine or connect?

As follows, perhaps. The excitement lies in having an idea, a hunch, but then it needs to be realized, be ‘made to work’. In scientific discovery also, a famous scientist once said ‘I have got an idea but I don’t yet know how to get it’. When is a work of art finished? When the artist has the feeling that it is, when there is nothing to be added or subtracted, when ‘it is just right’. A mathematical theorem has beauty in that way: just right, incontrovertible, nothing too much nor too little. That, perhaps, is where the harmony lies.       

Perhaps here again, as in the discussion of invention (in item 31 of this blog), and in the discussion of the change of meaning (in item 37), the cycle of change discussed there applies. From the carriage of existing harmony into novel contexts, the material and inspiration for change arise, in novel combinations that break through limits, to achieve an emergent novelty that is next ordered, reduced and polished into a new harmony.

Beyond the level of the individual piece of art, on the level of culture, evidence for this is found in the fact that new artistic and intellectual impulses have typically arisen at the crossroads of cultures, as the Renaissance in northern Italy. The novel enters from the periphery to create a new centre, where the novelty becomes the mainstream and may then consolidate into a new orthodoxy. 

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