johnsu01 (johnsu01) wrote,

Deepening the mystery

Art versus ordinary life, round one.

Today's Art Quote of the Day from was from Francis Bacon, "The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery."

Universal pronouncements about art are generally worthy of skepticism, but by subscribing to Art Quote of the Day, I've basically agreed to suspend my disbelief in that regard. Part of me likes to read people's "always" statements about art, because what they usually do is show some aspect of art to be appreciated. I just ignore the "always" part, and the overuse of definite articles.

At least Mr. Bacon gives artists a job. We can always use one of those. But I don't have any idea what "deepening the mystery" really means. I tend to like art, especially writing, that does what's probably the opposite. I love the poems of people like John Ashbery, Frank O'Hara and Ted Berrigan, who involve many very mundane details of pop culture and "ordinary" daily life. A friend and I were talking yesterday about the way people talk, and the little phrases we say to frame our conversations, like, "I love the theater, but I..." Art can take these kinds of moments as its subject, or its form, or both, and I'm not sure any mysteries would afterward be deeper than they already were.

A quick handy example from "A Step Away from Them" in Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara:

It's my lunch hour, so I go
for a walk among the hum-colored
cabs. First, down the sidewalk
where laborers feed their dirty
glistening torsos sandwiches
and Coca-Cola, with yellow helmets
on. They protect them from falling
bricks, I guess. Then onto the
avenue where skirts are flipping
above heels and blow up over
grates. The sun is hot, but the
cabs stir up the air. I look 
at bargains in wristwatches. There
are cats playing in sawdust.

This isn't the kind of poetry I hope to write, but it is a kind of poetry that I value and want to be informed by. If there's an opposite to the idea that poets should be preachers of morality and deepeners of mystery, this could be it. This guy's just shopping for wristwatches and checking out the construction workers.

Tags: aesthetics, art, poetry, quote
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