Saturday, December 3, 2016

Memory and Art

In the book Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, Alva Noe writes, "It isn't in what we see, exactly, but in what we can't see, or in what the piece affords as a possibility for discovery." The ambiguity of the "it" at the beginning of that sentence is but one of the problematic things about this book, but I like the idea of that statement, especially if one substitutes "meaning" for "it." Meaning "isn't in what we see, exactly, but in what we can't see..."

So if a memory is altered each time we recall it to the surface of our consciousness, imagine what we do to a memory when we incorporate it into a work of art. Far from "capturing" it on the page or canvas or stage or screen, that constantly-morphing memory now becomes a communal thing, a shared shape-shifter.

Is it any wonder we wonder about the nature of reality?

Which brings me to my favorite quote about reality, by a woman to whom reality was a treasure that was too often, terrifyingly lost: Virginia Woolf. She wrote, in A Room of One's Own,

What is meant by 'reality'? It would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable--now to be found in a dusty road, now in a scrap of newspaper in the street, now a daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual saying. It overwhelms one walking home beneath the stars and makes the silent world more real than the world of speech--and then there it is again in an omnibus in the uproar of Piccadilly. Sometimes, too, it seems to dwell in shapes too far away for us to discern what their nature is. But whatever it touches, it fixes and makes permanent. That is what remains over when the skin of the day has been cast into the hedge; that is what is left of past time and of our loves and hates. Now the writer, as I think, has the chance to live more than other people in the presence of this reality.

I love that passage especially from that book, and most especially that line, "But whatever [reality] touches, it fixes and makes permanent." A paradox, considering that a memory is never fixed, always changing. Thus, what to make of reality?

Art--that's what to make of reality. The part we can't see, to go back to that quote from Alva Noe. If we combine the Woolf and the Noe ideas, we get reality as explored by the artist who presents what can't be seen to be seen.


almost every one
a bird flies through

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