Art takes time. To spend an hour looking at a painting is difficult. The public gallery experience is one that encourages art at a trot.
The average reader (and we must remember that the average reader does not exist before the late nineteenth century) is a product of modern schooling and conservative taste. T be taught to read is not the same as to be taught how to read. The average reader demands that he find himself and his world in what he reads, in that the writer must be ever up to date, but at the same time, he demands that the writer’s form and style be at least a hundred years out of date.
The modern world is Time’s fool. Art is master of itself.
But, you may say, who has long hours for a book these days? The answer must be whoever wants to read one. A reader must pick up a book, then the reader must pick up the beat. At that moment the clock is stopped.
The twentieth century, in the footsteps of the nineteenth, has difficulty with the notion of art as ecstasy. Yet that is the traditional notion and I believe it is the right one. It is quite easy to live at a low level of sensibility; it is the way of the world. There is no need to ask art to show us how to be less than we are. Art shows us how to be more than we are. It is heightened, grand, an act of effrontery. It is a challenge to the confines of spirit. It is a challenge to the comfortable pleasures of everyday life. There is in art, still, something of the debauch. Art is excess. The fiery furnace, the freezing lake. It summons extremes of feeling, those who denounce it and its makers, do so violently. Those who fall in love, with that picture, that book, do so passionately. Once encountered, art will get a response. My worry is that the media, like some hideous chaperone, shoves its burly form in between the audience and the art and prevents close encounters of the real kind. Turn off the television and slip away…
Do I want an act of clear seeing in a world that keeps its hands over its eyes? Human kind cannot bear very much reality.
The best work speaks intimately to you even though it has been consciously made to speak intimately to thousands of others. The bad writer believes that sincerity of feeling will be enough, and pins her faith on the power of experience. The true writer knows the feeling must give way to form. It is through the form, not in spite of, or accidental to it, that the most powerful emotions are let loose over the greatest number of people.
Learning to read is a skill that marshalls the entire resources of body and mind. I do not mean the endless dross-skimming that passes for literacy, I mean the ability to engage with a text as you would with another human being. To recognize it in its own right, separate, particular, to let is speak in its own voice, not in a ventriloquism of yours.
Art is not amnesia, and the popular idea of books as escapism or diversion, misses altogether what art is. There is plenty of escapism and diversion to be had, but it cannot be had form real books, real pictures, real music, real theatre. Art is the realisation of complex emotion.
The person is thrown out of the normal groove of their life and whilst they stumble, they also have to carry a new weight of feeling, feeling that threatens to overwhelm them. Consequences of misery and breakdown are typical and in a repressive society that pretends to be liberal, misery and breakdown can be used as subtle punishments for what we no longer dare legislate against. Inability to cope is defined as a serious weakness in a macho culture like ours, but what is inability to cope, except a spasmodic, faint and fainter protest against a closed-in drugged-up life where suburban values are touted as the greatest good.
How much can we imagine? The artist is an imaginer. The artist imagines the forbidden because to her it is not forbidden. If she is freer than other people it is the freedom of her single allegiance to her work. Most of us have divided loyalties, most of us have sold ourselves. The artist is not divided and is not for sale. Her clarity of purpose protects her although it is her clarity o purpose that is most likely to irritate most people. We are not happy with obsessives, visionaries, which means, in effect, that we are not happy with artists.
Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it. Those who do not do it, think of it as a cousin of stamp-collecting, a sister of the trophy cabinet, bastard of a sound bank account and a weak mind.
Never lie. Never say that something has moved you if you are still in the same place. You can pick up a book but a book can throw you across the room.
One of the casualties of progress is peace and quiet.
The single-mindedness of those who make rather than fake art is interpreted as diffidence, arrogance, madness, cruelty, remoteness, paranoia.
I do not think of it as inspiration. I think of it as readiness. A writer lives in a constant state of readiness.
A writer should know how to copy. I think that only by knowing how to copy can one avoid copying. It is sometimes very easy to slip into the style of another writer, and occasionally this solves a problem, in which case, borrow and be damned. But know what it is and why.
Books can be bothersome, precisely because they are not light entertainment, and the temptation for the curious but unseasoned reader, is to switch channels. This is what satellite TV depends on. It is what kills books. The writer has to be aware of the problem, and whilst the solution is not to write printed television, one answer is to set a trap for the reader’s attention. To catch it with something that glitters: the lure of a good story.
I’m telling you stories. Trust me.
The buoyancy and exuberance of the Rennaissance comes out of a confidence and a curiosity that we don’t have. We are insecure and cynical and this makes us hostile to experiment.
My review of Art Objects. Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery