All Art Is Quite Useless

Monday, October 4, 2010 Leave a Comment

"All art is quite useless"
-Oscar Wilde, preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray

"a play may be the hardest cognitive workout... The best way to prepare the mind for the 21st century might be to see a 16th-century play."
-Jonah Lehrer, keynote at the 2010 TCG National Conference

A Reconsideration Of The Preface To The Picture of Dorian Gray

The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
Beauty is the revelation of a pattern of meaning from the mess of experience.
This hunger for pattern is primal.
If you hear a rattle in the grass, be ready for the snake.
This recognition of pattern was the difference between life and death.
Evolution hard wired a hunger for pattern in us from thousands of years of rattles in the grass.
The mind invented memory to separate the rattle from the snake.
Memory invented language to walk outside.
Language invented consciousness to lock the door behind it.
Consciousness invented story so the patterns could live after the pattern-maker died.
And the stories grew more complex, taking in more than a single rattle and bite, taking in the patterns of love, power, death, and life.
God is the rattle in the grass of death.
Beauty is the rattle in the grass of life.
And some stories proved useful, like a stone arrow; some stories became essential, like fire.
We set the rhythm of our choices to the pattern of these stories.
Some stories we need to hear over and over again, because their usefulness never alters, and these stories are called entertainment.
But patterns change, and new stories are called for, and because they are new, they prove difficult to tell; and these stories are called art.
There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book.
There are people who do violent things and call them necessity because their books are full of violent necessity.
There are people who do compassionate things and call them justice because their books are full of compassionate justice.
Sometimes a story that was necessary to survival becomes dangerous, but nostalgia perpetuates it.
Nostalgia is the momentum of memory mistaken for the present moment; art must free us of that.
Art is the evolution of the pattern of life.
All art is quite essential.