I was out to dinner with friends the other night when my girlfriend made a statement about something that we were talking about. Although I don’t remember what we were discussing, I do remember her statement. She said, “But you have to share to give to others. Everything can’t be just about money and what we are going to get out of something.” She went on to say that the world just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t share.
She was assuming that sharing is an ‘unselfish’ act and that doing something just for money was a ‘selfish’ act. The act of sharing says: “I would rather share this with you than have it for myself” or “You seem to need this more than I do”. To assume this, is to pretend to know what the other needs. This code of sharing seems to be entrenched into our ethical codes as human beings. We, as a country, give to other countries in need. We give to folks who are down and out and need some help. We volunteer. When there is a disaster in an area, we put all our needs aside and go to help others out. We share ourselves and we share our money.
The concept of ‘self’ has been lost. Self has been overpowered by the power of selflessness. Those who are selfish are made out to be greedy, wealthy, and ungiving folks. We are made to feel guilty if we don’t share and if we don’t give. Our souls say, “You are a selfish person, and it is bad to be a selfish person. You need to share.” The same as my friend had said.
Who put that value of ‘bad’ on a selfish person or on a person who doesn’t share?
And what happened to ‘self’?
Today it seems that the ultimate standard of ethics, (code of conduct, moral code, code of value) is selflessness. But if everyone is selfless, then, who is establishing that value? There will always be someone in power governing the selfless ones and telling them what their values should be.
Art is different. Art has always been subjective. Faith, instinct, intuition, revelations, feelings, tastes, urges, wishes and whims are all subjective and all part of the value of art. There are many today who say, “Art can be anything you want it to be. Art is subjective. Art is all about the self.”
But I ask the same question here, “Who puts that value on art, the value of art as self, as subjective and that it can be anything you want it to be?” (And thus nothing) There will always be someone in power governing the selfless ones telling them what their values should be and are.
As I am about to create a work of art, the first thing I ask myself as an artist is, “Who benefits from this work? For whom do I create the work? For myself? For others?”
Many will say I only create for myself. Others will say that they create for money.
My goal, when I create a work of art, is not to create the work for others, but for my own pure pleasure of creating it. Pleasure is subjective. Pleasure for me is an aesthetic moment. If I create for myself and for this aesthetic moment, am I selfish? But really, is this selfish or is it just my personal, unique, individual self shining through as it should?
I create work that I value. I create work that I want to create. The alternative is to create work for another and that would have to include their values. That would then be an unselfish act.
If the value of art is subjective and can be anything or everything, then, creating art is selfish. Even art that attempts to take all of the subjectivity out of the work, such as minimalism, never fully succeeds in doing so. The self is there simply because the intent to remove the self was the very reason for creating the object in the first place.
Wouldn’t it be much easier if ethical content and the value of an art object today be based on reason, the mind and reality, and not subjectivity.
Since it is impossible to remove the self from the work of art, when it comes to valuing a work of art, the criteria should be finding the artist’s self in the work. It should be the self that an artist is and not the self that others think an artist should be. If the self is unique and individual and independent of all ‘others’ then it makes sense that a work of art should be valued for its uniqueness and individualism and independence, a selfish thing. These are objective and reasonable values, especially if it is agreed that creating a work of art is a selfish act.
The fact that the work is shared with others not through force and a mandatory value, like my friends who believed that selfishness was wrong and bad, but simply because the artist wants to share it.
Let me illustrate my point and then close. Enjoying the morning and the woods waiting for the sun to peek over the tops of the trees, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. When I glanced over to see what it was, I couldn’t locate it again. A slight twitch, the grey squirrel was unseeable but for that movement. She was spread flat against the grey bark of the tree, matching the color of it. Isn’t it interesting that movement was the focal point of my gaze? Artists frequently create movement in their work so things aren’t just a monotone.
Ad Reinhardt created monotone paintings. You might be familiar with them if you have ever seen or read about the ‘all black painting’ gracing a museum wall. The goal of this all black painting was the goal of the minimalists. Reinhardt tried to produce what he described as “a pure, abstract, non-objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relation-less, disinterested painting and an object that is self-conscious (no unconsciousness), ideal, transcendent, aware of nothing but art.” Reinhart stated that his goal was “to create work painting is devoid of all personality, all individualism.”
That would be impossible and was merely someone’s idea of the next new movement in art.