In other words: what space does art occupy in my life? What is the value of Italian artistic production as a contribution to the wealth and culture of our Country?
Lately we have witnessed rapid and important transformations in our daily life. But Italy’s routine has remained unchanged. There is that “live and let live” that rarely manages to trigger effective, collective and structured claim mechanisms. With the flexibility allowed by our culture, we are more inclined to make an “exception” to the rule.
“Exception to the rule” of which the world of art and show business lives on continuously: from the cases of important ensembles working underpaid, to the underground world of artists who, by choice or force of circumstances, are often “moonlighting”, forced to compete for a slice of the market in the entertainment industry which, moreover, is frequently occupied by amateurs.
Have you also noticed how the word “artist” is often used as an unwitting insult?
“Ah, but that one is an artist!”, to say that one is not well framed in the productive logic of society; for solidarity with someone to be pitied; to justify unconventional choices; to define one who comes to a solution more from intuition than a cultural formation. “Artist”, so not to say “disorganized”, “selfish”, “ignorant” or, in borderline cases, “a loser”.
In common thought, when we talk about art and artists there is a halo of ambiguity that drowns all kinds of structured reasoning in what someone has well defined as “weak thinking“. On the other hand, especially from a postmodern point of view, how can we objectively draw the boundaries between what is art and what is not? How can we distinguish who is an artist from who is not?
During the quarantine period that has just passed – also reflecting on my personal work status – I played around with writing down a few words. A work in progress that then turned into a set of reflections on a problem that has its roots in the social history of our Country’s schooling. It seems that this type of education has not yet accepted the value of the peculiar Italian artistic production (contemporary but also historical) as a fundamental contribution to the richness (also economic) of our life and culture.
Seven are the points I would like to share with those who will accept the challenge of talking about everything and even a little bit of nothing, on a subject as specific as it is complex:
From a legal and economic point of view, professionalizing one’s artistic activity can in some cases be a dividing line between those who can live from their job and those who, simply, in the eyes of all, do it for passion or, worse, for “fun”. Perhaps it is from here that come the harsh approach that entertainment can never be professional. And maybe that’s why we still separate “serious” artists from entertainers. Most likely, the artist is not only required to be able to issue an invoice, but to possess some of that yuppie and entrepreneurial spirit that can reassure the user, the organizer or the manager. Maybe it is enough to wear a nice jacket.
The artist entrusts to his/her creations an inner world that can only be a living expression of a part of himself/herself. Originality is not being detached from a tradition or having to promote solipsistic visions of the universe. The true parameter to measure originality is the definition of one’s own opposite; that is, the ratification of artistic action by following models to be reproposed as faithfully as possible. It seems no coincidence that in recent years the market of small musical entertainment has been dominated by the phenomenon of cover and tribute bands. How is it possible to be perceived as artists tracing models that, very often, are struggling to be perceived as little more than simple entertainment?
The artist very often lives in very crowded places and contexts (of ideas, people, stimuli), but inevitably experiences a feeling of isolation on several levels. It is that feeling that trivializes decades of study and research when they ask you “how did you manage to do this?”, and you answer “just like that, I felt it inside. It came to me.”
It is what you experience when there are no interlocutors, no places and no occasions when you could express your thoughts freely and with people with the right frame of mind to listen to you. It is what makes you appreciate and curse your evident uniqueness, which the world always emphasizes, branding it even as harmful and corrosive. Isolation is a necessary condition, but it should also be transitory. Because art without encounter (and confrontation) means nothing and cannot produce significant effects (self-satisfaction aside).
There have been numerous direct performances via social networks by artists who have decided to freely share them on a new means of communication: they are certainly contents that have magnificently filled that suspended, and often algid, time of quarantine.
The greatest lesson we have learned from this experience, however, is that art can fill our lives, but it cannot be just an occasional guest or a luxury filler for our voids and silences. The presence, the “here and now” of Walter Benjamin, is the real added value for many forms of performing art. A screen is often a blurred projection of a life and of our feelings.
An artistic phenomenon is something complex. Something you can look at from multiple angles. Something to which you can ask many questions and that will always answer you, depending on the intensity of your questions. There are deeper questions and more superficial ones; intimate or collective questions.
A work of art maintains its validity over time as long as it speaks to someone: it is our opportunity to communicate, to understand ourselves, and to understand the world through synthetic associations and emotions. Yes, because art often does not give answers, but it manages to raise big questions in its relationship. The flattening promoted by many cultural industries is surely what has made us confine music, graphic art, cinema in the less significant and intense moments of our lives. Those moments in which we don’t want to think. Those in which asking ourselves questions could also be dangerous.
It may seem reactionary, but I feel that a certain ethics is always to be found in art. Because artists, even unconsciously, always pursue something that escapes the strictly economic and working mechanisms. It may be only an idea that discriminates between what is necessary and what is superfluous.
Art has the strange power to put the women and men of the world in contact with something that goes beyond the narrow daily routine and, at the same time, is also within it. I like to see art as a process of awareness, that enables us to rediscover ourselves closer to something that we can neither see nor touch, but only intuit. What is this something? Maybe friendship, affection, memory… re-evaluating the ethical aspect of art could be the beginning of a real social revolution.
The definition of “artist” runs on the thin line between public judgment, society judgment and self-definition. While artists feel that their activity is trivialized if considered simply entertainment, the public, on the other hand, does not perceive a clear and effective separation between the art industry and entertainment. Perhaps because one is (rightly so?) incorporated into the other.
There is a legacy, both nice and disturbing, also described in Le vacanze intelligenti by Alberto Sordi: what is cultural is often boring. It seems to me that at stake is the very meaning of the word “entertainment”. Entertainment, on the contrary, has the aim of being permeated with life and art and – also through transcendence and that lightness of Calvinian memory – it can give us access to aesthetic enjoyments that the brain alone can never reach.
At the end of this diary I do not know what is left. Maybe I’ve only managed to write a “disorganized”, a bit “selfish”, little structured, maybe destined to fail article. Most likely it may raise some curiosity or, at best, raise some questions.
I would very much like one question to be: “What space does art occupy in my life?”.
Yes, because art will be one of the sectors that in the next few months will have the hardest time restarting and we’ll have to find a place for it – I’m not saying important, but simply a place – in our lives.