Ha! I bet you all thought I forgotten (Aaron especially)! But I didn't forget, I'm just lazy. In any case, Aaron asked me some questions way back in April (context here
"But all that this line of thought does is raise more questions in my mind. Where's the line? When does simple writing become art? Can it become art in spite of the author's primary intentions? Or is art more a state of mind, where one work could be 'superior' to an 'actual' work of art in terms of aesthetic value, but still not be art because it wasn't done with the appropriate intentions?"
He was talking about the line I was attempting to establish between criticism (a form of art) and reviews (a form of reporting). Which is where this ties into a recent post
where I laud something John Scalzi wrote about video game criticism. That's necessary background here. Go read. His point 3 sums up the whole criticism vs. review thing pretty well, and there's nothing in his piece that I would disagree with off the top of my head (I reserve the right to backtrack on this if someone brings up a good criticism in the comments here).
I like Aaron's questions because they grapple with the whole authorial intention thing in a way other than the boring, easy to grasp way we normally encounter it. For those playing at home: Quite some time ago, academia basically decided that the author's intention, while sometimes helpful/useful/informative, was not the be all and end all. So whether, say, Melville meant Moby Dick
to be anything other than a whaling adventure novel (or whether David Bowie really "meant" Station to Station
to be an epic portrait of collapse
), we can find subtext there. Basically works of art sometimes have things we didn't consciously (or even unconsciously) mean to put in there. Which is, or should be, a pretty noncontroversial assertion at this point; obviously there are limits, but if it works it's valid, basically.
Aaron, though, is asking an aesthetic question: What makes a work of art a work of art?
There are a ton of theories on this, of course; my preferred one is that anything that is capable of creating an aesthetic object is a work of art. Without getting into it too much, as that would be another massive post, think of it this way: Take your favourite novel, one you would consider a work of art. The aesthetic object isn't the actual copy you have on your shelf, or some sort of Platonic ideal copy, or the original manuscript. The aesthetic object is what is created between you and the book when you read (experience) it. There are a ton of ramifications and complications of course, but let's move on.
So is "simple writing" capable of becoming "art"? I guess - but I'm not sure there's ever something that's just simple writing. I distinguish reportage from art in that the former does not have as its primary goal art; one of the problems Aaron had with my conception of criticism before we distinguished the two fields is that I feel (pretty strongly) that the latter cannot allow any considerations of audience, usefulness, etc to overshadow its responsability to be, simply, good writing
- and the former clearly has other responsabilities as well, even some that are of greater importance. So, can "simple writing" (which I am assuming Aaron is using to refer to reportage among other things) be art? Sure - but that's gravy.
Can it be art even if the author wasn't trying for it? Well, leaving aside how likely that would be, I would say yes. I mean, it wouldn't be that much of a modification to take my above statement and change it to something like "anything that is intended to create
an aesthetic object is a work of art." But I do think you start running into all sorts of problems there. As for the last question, I'm sure some people would assert that the deliberately "artistic" is always superior to the accidentally or incidentally so, but those people are probably snobs. Probably. I'm not sure what Aaron means by "one work could be 'superior' to an 'actual' work of art in terms of aesthetic value," since aesthetic value is intrinsically and unavoidably subjective (absolutely, 100%, totally), but I will say the accidentally artistic can certainly triumph over the slaved over work - one of those things that bugs the creative to no end.
Is my definition of art broad, too broad for some? Sure ("But wait," they say, "doesn't that mean nature could be art? Math? Sports? Pretty much anything?" "Sure," I say, not quite understanding the problem). Is it vague? Well, here maybe, but talk to me after sitting down and chatting with me about it for an hour or two. And let me grab my notes to brush up first.
"Our art is a way of being dazzled by the truth."
"Art and Life are different, that's why one is called Art and one is called Life."