Last week I came across a transcript of a lecture that Brian Eno gave. http://speakola.com/arts/brian-eno-john-peel-lecture-2015
Eno says (well, I read between the lines of Eno’s speech and understand) that people spend a lot of time embellishing the basics of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You know, the one where the base of our need pyramid is largely physiological. Air, food, water, clothing, shelter and sometimes sexual competition.
I can see it all around me. It’s not just food – it’s avocado toast or the miracle of technology that is a tuna casserole in the middle of Nebraska. It’s not just shelter – it’s Versailles, or a tiny hermitage. (YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXpDPekGB3Q3:25 Crow’s Hermitage, by Tiny House Lover) It’s not just clothing, it’s a Bob Mackie gown, or it’s a store-bought pair of jeans that have been repurposed into a waistcoat (and bespangled with recycled buttons). And it’s not just sex, it’s rule 34 of the internet: if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it online. Anyway, I whole-heartedly concur with Eno that we spend a lot of our lives making and consuming art daily, even if we don’t consider ourselves artists.
What does art do for us? Well, Eno points out four things, and I embellish on them.
- 1. Explore scary feelings without being in actual danger. Nobody I know would put up with a notorious rake as a boyfriend, or want to go on a simple vacation to a country B&B and find that the host has been murdered. But in a book, I can explore things like, “What is love?” and “Who deserves to die? And who deserves justice?” without having to go through the trauma. (And let’s face it, if I were put in the midst of that kind of trauma, I be too busy to be learning lessons.)
2. Synchronize the culture. What do we find acceptable as a culture, and what do we reject? Creative arts shape morality in a way that news just can’t, and reaches much further than simple gossip between neighors. So . . . is your book helping to synchronize the culture? To keep it in sync? Or is it just repeating an old idea that doesn’t need any help? These questions really catch my attention. The advent of reliable birth control has really changed the nuances of romance and mating in our culture. You can see this being explored in some romance novels – some stories don’t imply eventual marriage and children. And some romance novels absolutely revel in a fantasy of pregnancy – out-of-wedlock surprise babies that drive the plot, secret babies, billionaire babies . . . . You can synchronize the culture two ways: by pushing and by pulling. Some literary conversations reinforce the changes the writers want to see, and others (particularly satire) push readers away from a model by providing a horrifying example. Heady, exciting stuff – you never really know as a creator what will be heard in this cultural conversation, and the actual effect may be the opposite of the intention (if any).
3. Art provides the raw material for more art – different re-combinations and the foundations for new and original flourishes. To borrow from Ecclesiastes 1:9, there is nothing new under the sun. Or as David Bowie sang in “Teenage Wildlife”, “The same old thing in brand new drag.” Consuming art sparks new art; new art produces more art to consume.
There were two other ideas from the lecture that I wanted to point out:
Eno talks about “scenius” – the genius of a “scene”. Art doesn’t exist by itself; there’s a whole scene of supporters of the arts who provide money, spaces for exhibition, encouragement, marketing, sometimes even food and sex. These nurture the artists, great and small. How do you feel about your “scenius”? With the internet, our potential scenius could be scattered across the world like tiny droplets, but still be enough to support our vision and our art – if only we know how to connect.
Which brings me to another point: do you dissolve into the art, or do you stand apart from the art and refuse to engage? The love of control, the fear of feeling foolish might keep you from giving yourself wholeheartedly and sharing. But there’s something about becoming part of a bigger whole that is so very much part of the human experience. This means we have to art hard, as Chuck Wendig’s mug says, and get our art in front of people who can engage in it and us. It’s not just about selling books. Through art, we can interact with the bigger whole, and add our voice to the grand conversation.