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« Guest Posting -- Donald Pittenger 3 | Main | Random Facts »

March 07, 2005

Personal Experience

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Reading Donald's art-memoirs has reminded me that -- 90 percent of the time, anyway -- people's actual experience of culture and the arts interests me far more than discussions of Larger and Theoretical questions do. I suppose I could inflate this observation into something that is itself Larger and Theoretical, but for the moment I'm going to resist the temptation and simply assert that I'd almost always rather swap reflections, reactions, musings and than take part in debates about abstract issues. I simply get a lot more out of it. Does this hold generally true for you too?

OK, I can't resist. I'm going to indulge in some inflation anyway: perhaps the arts life is more a matter of particular experiences than it is of abstract principles. And perhaps the arts-generalities that are the most useful are the ones that arise (often quite hazily) out of our particular experiences.

Hey, now that I look at these statements, I think there may actually be something to them. But the time has come to run for cover before the rotten vegetables start flying.



posted by Michael at March 7, 2005


Reflections/exchanges on particular experiences tend to leave smaller piles of dung than those involving Larger & Theoretical. Plus, if you happen to get into an exchange with someone who's a great story-teller, you'll find yourself awake for the majority of their reflection. While discussions of the Larger & Theoretical can be enjoyable once ina while, the only thing they're usually reflecting is the size of one's ego.
Now, if you combine Larger & Theoretical with mud-wrestling, I'm in. Nothing like the philosophical enmeshed with the physical.

Posted by: Darko on March 8, 2005 8:51 AM

I think personal experiences and anecdotes tend to be more interesting in general. You could read a whole paper on the economics of poverty, but the story of one family's struggle with it is probably more likely to keep your attention. I have always been more interested in the quirks of the great artists than in dates and movements. I had a great Art History survey teacher at The New School/Parsons who told us about Donatello chasing his young students throught the streets of Florence, and how Il Sodoma - Raphael's teacher - got his name. Ask me to recall much else about that class and I'll probably draw a blank. But it was his enthusiasm and fascination with the artists themselves that got me interested in Art History in the first place.

Posted by: Alexandra on March 8, 2005 1:03 PM

Welll...I definitely think people's personal experience can be very interesting and enlightening, but I must admit FvB's periodic lessons on how different artistic movements meshed with historical and political events of Their Time have been wonderfully educational, and then are likely to impact what my individual little experience with a specific painting, say, might be.

But FvB tends to write those particular pieces in a more interesting and accessible way than most Scholars Who Talk of Large Abstractions write, so I stay awake and can follow.

But in a sense, at the end, knowledge of all that background just impacts one's own personal experience. I think if one has no "personal experience" but only "large abstract thoughts"---one is sort of missing the point in life.

Posted by: annette on March 8, 2005 4:15 PM

"perhaps the arts life is more a matter of particular experiences than it is of abstract principles. "

If we had any abstract principles in the area of art that were worth anything, it wouldn't be art--it would be engineering.

Posted by: Will Duquette on March 9, 2005 12:12 AM

Darko -- Have you considered teaching philosophy? I think what's ailing the field could use a lot of what you've got to offer.

Alexandra -- It is funny the kinds of things that stick with you, isn't it? Glimpses, anecdotes, human things. At least for me. Plus, maybe it's age. When I was young I seemed to be able to absorb the larger and the abstract and the theoretical OK, and god knows I had some enthusiasm in me for it, if lots less than many people do. But as time goes by my ability to handle abstract matters seems to get worse. Or is it that I'm learning a thing or two, including the fact that most abstract questions don't really matter that much? "Il Sodoma" -- now there's a nickname. I'll have to Google that dude!

Annette -- That's a big reason why I tend to resist the larger and more abstract. (Not that there aren't a few Larger Questions that absorb energy and attention. Death. Why are we here? What's the point of it all? Why do we put ourselves through what we put ourselves through? But it's not like they're new, or haven't been well hashed-over.) Because finally what is the point? All you really have is your own experience; all you can really hope for is a somewhat better rather than somewhat less bad life. And what constitutes "a better life" rather than "a worse one" is to some extent up for grabs. Not that we aren't grateful to have a chance to compare notes about these things with other people. (One of the great things about hanging out in blogville, by the way.) And then it's over. So what was all that metaphysical carrying-on about?

Will -- Right on. Actually I was moved to post my couple of idiot paragraphs here because I'd been spending time hanging out at GNXP, where a lot of engineer/techie/science-y people hang out. They seem to think there's a formula for everything. Is this an engineering-mentality thang? That, if there's a problem, then there's a solution? As the lonely arty guy in the crowd, I keep raising my hand and volunteering mysterious and hard-to-categorize things, just to see how the engineering mind will react. Usually I get told that there's a solution, and I'm just being a pussy. But maybe being an arty guy and being a pussy and liking mystery and being willing to live with it (and even liking that) ... I dunno, maybe it's all part of the same package. Anyway, very interesting comparing notes with science-y/techie brains. Very different creatures than arty people are. You seem to have some of each. Is that a rare combo?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 9, 2005 12:59 PM

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