Studio Mysteries

October 15, 2009

Towards A Definition Of Art As Effing The Ineffable

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 1:29 am


Ever since I saw an action figure of Roy Batty in a Santa Monica toy shop two weeks ago, I have been thinking about this character. Roy Batty is a painfully Viking-like android who goes on an existential-despair murder spree against his makers, in the film Blade Runner. The film is abrasive and has troubling sartorial issues, but the final scene, in which Roy Batty finally greets his death, makes it something very much like Art.

Roy rages in all our hearts as he confesses to a random wet dove he holds in his hand:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the Shoulder of Orion. I watched Sea-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die…”

And then the dove flies away, because the android hand is no longer capable of closing.

There are two ways to watch this scene: as an atheist and as a person with some kind of faith. The atheist would have nothing to offer Roy except the phrase “Life sucks and then you die. This fact is one of the ways in which life sucks.” A person with some kind of faith would tell Roy that death is not the end, that his life, as his death, has meaning and reason, and also possibly that he may have messed up his prospects in the afterlife by killing so many people.

I am neither type. I can’t claim that I have faith, or that I have faith in the total pointlessness of faith. Instead, what I have is hope. It’s very clear to me that the universe is a giant mystery, and that our mental equipment for comprehending it is as advanced as a snail’s equipment for understanding trigonometry. It’s also clear to me that art is part of the mystery. Our drive to make and look at art is inescapable and will not brook denial. It is built in, at a deep enough level that we can locate the reason for doing it in such wildly differing frameworks as building temples, decorating hospitals and generating the wealth of one Mr. Saatchi via the display of unmade beds.  What I am getting at is that art is unexplainable, and that it is also what we are meant to do, something profoundly necessary and right.

I would say this to Roy Batty as he soaks in the misery of imminent death and precipitated pollution:

“Roy, the problem is not that you saw these wonders and will now die. The problem is what you did in between those two events. You refused to acknowledge your own fear and dressed it in robes of entitlement, instead of being grateful for all you got to see and have.

You took revenge for your life being finite and short, and in doing so, you wasted it completely. You saw untold wonders across the galaxy, and you responded by spending all your free time afterwards killing people. What you should have done is tell them what you saw. Your vision is wasted because you, and no one else, wasted it.

I hope your soul goes somewhere after you die, and I hope that somewhere is a kind place and will be willing to forgive you for your foolishness, but that’s all it is – hope, which is not the same as certainty. What I am certain of is one thing and I am certain of it a lot: if you shared with others the wonders you had seen, neither you nor the wonders would vanish. They would transmute into something else, and become part of the great ongoing clusterfuck of life, because that is what life requires of us, self-aware monkeys organic and artificial. Life requires of us that we live it so that it is shared with others.”

I am hopeful, rather than faithful, about consciousness moving on after death. But if  I am certain of anything, it is this: when we capture the memory of the attack ships on fire off the Shoulder of Orion, or the starry night, or the beauty of a trashcan as the fluorescent office light falls on it, we take the finite material world and make it eternal. And then we pass it along to others, and neither we nor they are alone in the universe any longer.

The way plants grow, and how DNA causes various kinds of animals to happen, and the way tides come and go, all have really excellent functional reasons. “Those are the ONLY reasons,” say the atheists and the scientists, “these things are nothing but Laws and Mechanics and Equations.” But if so, why are they also Beauty? Beauty that no capital letters in the world have the power to express fully, so beautiful it is? Why does it all make us want to draw in our breath, and stop, and marvel and then race off to a keyboard, a camera, a canvas? The world is so indescribably beautiful, and it keeps being so ALL THE TIME, so how can it not be more than just the stones and the bones? When it’s ALREADY more? “But it’s only in your head,” say the atheists and the scientists. “So what?” says Hopeful Artist. Just because it’s in our heads, that makes it not real? That makes it not matter? It *is* real. It does matter. It matters to you who sees it, and therefore it matters, period. And if you tell others of what you saw, it will matter even more, and in the act of making it matter, your souls will touch and become one. The tree will make the most gorgeous sound as it falls because you two are there to hear it together. Then the tree’s fall is not waste or oblivion, but wonder, and memory, and the fire with which we burn. Maybe that’s why it is all so, even at the terrifying expense of jacked-up chimpansees running around with free will – so that nobody would be alone. So that the tree would matter to somebody. So that the fire is set off within us. So that there is light.

I guess what I have faith in is art. Because art is a conversation between souls. I forget who said it, but I am convinced he or she is right.

Now that I’ve thought about it, what I want to do the most, with regards to the dying Roy Batty, is stand next to him holding an umbrella and his hand. Wet Roy Batty is a thing of almost unbearable Beauty, but I would still do it. The world has more than enough to make up for that small loss.

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