no one goes about making art. one creates something, a vase, a dance, a film, a house, a musical score, an environment, which may or not be perceived as art by others.
why is there something rather than nothing? heidegger once asked. a similar question could be asked of art. true, art doesn’t start from nothing. there are always precedents, anterior models, not just in other art works, but also in the world (the landscape painted by the artist). so why would someone work painstakingly to produce a new configuration out of an already existing entity? maybe something about it challenges the artist, as mont sainte victoire did for cézanne. but what that is exactly remains vague. furthermore it is equally unclear that the goal is ever achieved. again and again cézanne went back to his favorite spot attempting ever new versions of the mountain ridge. even in retrospect, the artist is unlikely to know for sure why certain avenues were chosen rather than others.
to some extent then, what happens during the artistic process is not unlike the dreamwork when the conscious self is no longer in charge, leaving the rest of the mind free to meander. although the dream content is impacted by recent events, cast with familiar figures, etc., the material is rearranged through unexpected combinations and startling cuts. all art then (not just surrealism) involves a free association process whereby what is known is reshaped into a novel figure that makes us pose.
the creative process takes a lot out of the artist. the labor that led from the vague concept to the finished piece is exhausting. every step, move, or advance on one side requires a quid pro quo from the artist in return. in the end, the creation forged out of the artist’s limbs stands there, full-blown, independent of its drained procreator. at the same time, something of the artist is now alive in the entity.
even when an artist portrays his/her subject as faithfully as possible, the depiction is necessarily disunited from the model. the dual presence literally opens a space of unfinishedness in the world. this is so because the duplicate introduces a choice: which version do i prefer, the original or the new rendition? the world is now more complex than before. the more adventurous the art, the more room there is for questioning our assumptions about the original in view of the novel interpretation just encountered.
to put it differently, one could say that art is fundamentally at odds with reality. by bringing alternatives to us, it suggests that the collective construction we call reality is provisional at best. certainly, art doesn’t have the immediate impact of earthquakes or revolutions. its significance may in fact not be noticed at first. nonetheless, its ramifications can be far reaching down the road, not unlike what happens when the weather in one part of the world alters the climate elsewhere months later.
art does not exist for its own sake. it doesn’t stand alone, aloof, incommunicado, as was at times asserted. often enough, art changes those it comes in contact with. this does not depend on some didactic or utilitarian intention on the part of the artist. instead, very much like a scientific discovery or a philosophical breakthrough, an art work can open up new ways of apprehending the world. beyond this, the proposition that things do not have to be the way they presently are makes it possible for us to demand more from society as well as from life in general.
the number of people interested in the arts unfortunately remains limited. most regard art as some kind of highfalutin malarkey that concerns only the elite. adding fuel to the fire, we have witnessed during the last few decades a relentless attack by those who control the economy against the areas of society (the arts, higher education, mental health, etc.) that were still resisting the commercial imperative. one repercussion in our field: independent filmmakers have been pressured to adopt a more business-friendly attitude in their work. the penalty for those who refuse to do so is that their movies end up marginalized. this means we are left with hardly any film daring to challenge the banalization of art and life that is our lot today.