Sunday, December 12, 2010

Giving In To Expression And Circumstance: Art And Craft In The Social World

Sometimes we talk about life as if though it is something we control, something we make happen. And sure, it is, it can be. But what if sometimes it isn't? What if sometimes we just are swept along by circumstance and can't do much else but think and express ourselves clearly. What if sometimes we aren't in control? Or we aren't as in control as we might think? What if circumstance dominates us? What if I want to make certain things happen but I can't? What if I want to make a certain conversation happen, or make it go a certain way, but things just go differently. Something happens and suddenly plans fall apart.

How are we to best approach life? Are we to approach it is a process by which we make things happen? By which we turn the raw materials of our life into a finished product that we have planned out? Or is there another way?

Right now I'm asking all these questions because I think that Collingwood's distinction between craft and art has some interesting things to say about this.

Collingwood defines craft as a process by which we convert a raw material into a finished product that has already been planned out in our minds. The construction of a table is a work of craft, the construction of a bookcase is craft.

Art, on the other hand, Collingwood defines art as the imaginative expression of our emotions. It is a process by which we use our consciousness to transform our raw emotions into a state in which they can be expressed by our imagination. Art is always the creation of imaginary objects. It is the creation of something in our mind. It is expression. It is not craft.

What if our lives could be more about than they could be about craft? What if we were worried a lot more about living consciously, and about expressing ourselves, than we were concerned with turning a certain situation into something we wanted? What if we were concerned with expression rather than executing a social plan or strategy?

This has a few implications. It means first of all that we are giving into circumstance: we are giving in to social circumstance in which certain situations demand us to behave in certain ways, and we are giving into personal circumstances in which we simply have to accept the emotions that we are having, and we do our best to express them.

The idea of living life like a craft troubles me. I don't want to execute a strategy, or have some social plan that I bring into being. I don't want to fake an accent to get girls. I don't want to present myself in certain ways, I don't want to represent myself.

I just want to express myself. I want to tell people how I feel and what I think. I want to express lots of things to lots of people.

I don't want to live my life as a craft.

I want to live my life as an art.

And if that means giving in to simply expressing myself rather than representing myself, or if it means just giving in to circumstance instead of trying to take life by the horns, maybe that is okay. Or maybe it isn't.

Maybe we need to have life as craft so that we can make meaningful changes. Because if we are too busy just accepting things that could be bad.

But maybe the real thing is that the best way to change things is to accept things. A crucial problem that my aunt was able to pose yesterday at lunch.

How are we to change things if we accept them?

My quick and underdeveloped answer: by accepting things we are able to get the clearest picture of them, we are able to understand them. And only by understanding things are we able to change things. But that seems like it contains elements of craft.

My big essay 'Art, Zen, And Insurrection' is meant to probe this question of life as an art form. And so far I think that it is easy for me to recognize that the social world sometimes contains elements of craft. But I don't like that.

I don't like to hear people say how they are going to execute a social plan, a strategy.

I just want to express my love and hate.

I want to live like art, not like craft.

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