Artist Essay In Media Open Other Times War
Something is neutral only with respect to something else — like an intention or an expectation.
As a property of the work of art itself, silence can exist only in a cooked or non-literal sense.
If only because the artwork exists in a world furnished with many other things, the artist who creates silence or emptiness must produce something dialectical: a full void, an enriching emptiness, a resonating or eloquent silence.
Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech (in many instances, of complaint or indictment) and an element in a dialogue.
As such, art usurps the role religion and mysticism previously held in human life — something to satisfy our “craving for the cloud of unknowing beyond knowledge and for the silence beyond speech.” The spiritual satiation that arises from this dialogue between art and anti-art, Sontag points out, necessitates the pursuit of silence.
For the serious artist, silence becomes “a zone of meditation, preparation for spiritual ripening, an ordeal that ends in gaining the right to speak.” In a counterpart to her later admonition that publicity is “a very destructive thing” for any artist, Sontag considers the zeal the artist must have in protecting that zone of silence — a notion of particular urgency in our age of tyrannical expectations regarding artists’ engagement with social media: So far as he is serious, the artist is continually tempted to sever the dialogue he has with an audience.
It is contradictory not only because the artist continues making works of art, but also because the isolation of the work from its audience never lasts…
Goethe accused Kleist of having written his plays for an “invisible theatre.” But eventually the invisible theatre becomes “visible.” The ugly and discordant and senseless become “beautiful.” The history of art is a sequence of successful transgressions.
It suggests that the artist has had the wit to ask more questions than other people, and that he possesses stronger nerves and higher standards of excellence.And yet, in a sentiment that calls to mind Kierkegaard’s astute observation that expressing contempt is still a demonstration of dependence, Sontag recognizes that the gesture of silence in abdication from society is still “a highly social gesture.” She writes: An exemplary decision of this sort can be made only after the artist has demonstrated that he possesses genius and exercised that genius authoritatively.Once he has surpassed his peers by the standards which he acknowledges, his pride has only one place left to go.(Put otherwise: if a work exists at all, its silence is only one element in it.) Instead of raw or achieved silence, one finds various moves in the direction of an ever receding horizon of silence — moves which, by definition, can never be fully consummated., where Alice encounters a shop “full of all manner of curious things,” and yet whenever she looks closely at any one shelf, it appears “quite empty, though the others round it were crowded full as they could hold.” Silence, similarly, is relational rather than absolute: “Silence” never ceases to imply its opposite and to depend on its presence: just as there can’t be “up” without “down” or “left” without “right,” so one must acknowledge a surrounding environment of sound or language in order to recognize silence…A genuine emptiness, a pure silence is not feasible — either conceptually or in fact.Modern art’s chronic habit of displeasing, provoking, or frustrating its audience can be regarded as a limited, vicarious participation in the ideal of silence which has been elevated as a major standard of “seriousness” in contemporary aesthetics.But it is also a contradictory form of participation in the ideal of silence.Ideally, one should be able to pay attention to everything.Many years later, Sontag would advise aspiring writers to learn to “pay attention to the world” as the most important skill of storytelling.Silence is the furthest extension of that reluctance to communicate, that ambivalence about making contact with the audience…Silence is the artist’s ultimate other-worldly gesture: by silence, he frees himself from servile bondage to the world, which appears as patron, client, consumer, antagonist, arbiter, and distorter of his work.