I just finished Art Objects (read ‘objects’ as a verb), which I gave you a quick taste of recently. First, let me admit – again – that I am so enamored of Jeanette Winterson’s writing that I can’t express the impact is has on me. I believe everyone should have an author whose work they love so much – or multiple authors – the more, the better, really. So, while Winterson is considered controversial and there are many out there that do not give her words the prominent place in their soul that I do, I cannot help myself from sharing a bit more from this book.
Art Objects is a collection of essays about art, all kinds of art, and people’s relationship with art. I come from a place where art, except literature, has always seemed out of reach to me. It was something I associated with wealthy people – snobby people, even. The worst course I took in college was History of Modern Art. My other half is an art and theater lover, and I have softened my position some due to her influence – but, I still struggle with unreasonable feelings of self-consciousness in a museum or at the theater – somewhere in the back of my mind, I still feel I don’t belong in that crowd.
Art Objects addresses many aspects of art, and has given me pause to rethink my attitude. This book alone is not enough to wipe away years of weird discomfort about certain kinds of art, but it did make me think about my own writing as art, among other things. That said, here is one of a dozen or so passages I earmarked in the book:
Against daily insignificance art recalls to us possible sublimity. It cannot do this if it is merely a reflection of actual life. Our real lives are elsewhere. Art finds them.
Should people be treated as fictions? The question is an ethical one only if we assume that fiction is a copy of actual life. If we do, then art always is autobiography or biography and the skill of the artist is making it into a pretty toy or perhaps an educational instrument. Art should not drag unwilling actors into its animation. … Instead of art aspiring towards lifelikeness what if life aspires towards art, toward a creative controlled focus of freedom, outside the tyranny of matter? What if the joke about life imitating art were a better joke than we think?
Are real people fictions? We mostly understand ourselves through an endless series of stories told to ourselves by ourselves and others. The so-called facts of our individual worlds are highly coloured and arbitrary, facts that fit whatever fiction we have chosen to believe in. It is necessary to have a story, an alibi that gets us through the day, but what happens when thes tory becomes a scripture? When we can no longer recognise anything outside of our own reality? We have to be careful not to live in a state of constant self-censorship, where whatever conflicts with our world-view is dismissed or diluted until it ceases to be a bother. Struggling against the limitations we place upon our minds is our own imaginative capacity, a recognition of an inner life often at odds with the external figurings we spend so much energy supporting. When we let ourselves respond to poetry, to music, to pictures, we are clearing a space where new stories can root, in effect we are clearing a space for new stories about ourselves.