Art According To Adrienne (a response)

Posted: January 22, 2007 in All and Sundry

“If there were no poetry on any day in the world, poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.” –Muriel Rukeyser

If given the opportunity to rail against the academic atmosphere cultivated in this university I am presently trapped in as a marginalized artist, writer, and teacher of the humanities, I would definitely scream words from sister poet/feminist/essayist Adrienne Rich’s essay “Why I Refused the National Medal for the Arts” (1997). And in response to the growing unabashed smugness of pseudo-logico-centered intellectualism that pervades around me like a stinky pile of bull’s crap, the kind of intellectualism that scoffs at art deeming art as frivolous and dismissing it towards marginalization, or worse, tokenism–as mere entertainment (aah we all know when we are needed, don’t we?) or novelty–because it is not “scientific” or “socially and politically inclined” or again, worse, does not have “robust empirical data,” I shall scream Rich’s words on this page:

“…And what about art? Mistrusted, adored, pietized, condemned, dismissed as entertainment, auctioned at Sotheby’s, purchased by investment-seeking celebrities, it dies into the “art object” of a thousand museum basements. It’s also reborn hourly in prisons, women’s shelters, small-town garages, community college workshops, halfway houses–wherever someone picks up a pencil, a wood-burning tool, a copy of “The Tempest,” a tag-sale camera, a whittling knife, a stick of charcoal, a pawnshop horn, a video of “Citizen Kane,” whatever lets you know again that this deeply instinctual yet self-conscious expressive language, this regenerative process, could help you save your life. “If there were no poetry on any day in the world,” the poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “poetry would be invented that day. For there would be an intolerable hunger.” In an essay on the Caribbean poet Aime Cesaire, Clayton Eshleman names this hunger as “the desire, the need, for a more profound and ensouled world.” There is a continuing dynamic between art repressed and art reborn, between the relentless marketing of the superficial and the “spectral and vivid reality that employs all means” (Rukeyser again) to reach through armoring, resistances, resignation, to recall us to desire….

Art is both tough and fragile.
It speaks of what we long to hear and what we dread to find. Its source and native impulse, the imagination, may be shackled in early life, yet may find release in conditions offering little else to the spirit.

…Art is our human birthright, our most powerful means of access to our own and another’s experience and imaginative life. In continually rediscovering and recovering the humanity of human beings, art is crucial to the democratic vision.

It is precisely where fear and hatred of art join the pull toward quantification and abstraction, where the human face is mechanically deleted, that human dignity disappears from the social equation. “Because it is to those “complex equations of human nature and experience” that art addresses itself.

In a society tyrannized by the accumulation of wealth as Eastern Europe was tyrannized by its own false gods of concentrated power, recognized artists have, perhaps, a new opportunity to work out our connectedness, as artists, with other people who are beleaguered, suffering, disenfranchised–precariously employed workers, trashed elders, throwaway youth, the “unsuccessful” and the art they too are nonetheless making and seeking.

I wish I didn’t feel the necessity to say here that none of this is about imposing ideology or style or content on artists; it is about the inseparability of art from acute social crisis in this century and the one now coming up….”

*above is an excerp of Adrienne Rich’s essay. To view full essay click here.

*and johnnyboy, you know who this is for….:-)

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