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On Art and Alienation
The following mini-essay was written by Vanya, the nom de plume of the person and mind behind the publication Good Propaganda.
I first subscribed to Good Propaganda about a year ago and have found it to be the most intriguing and thought provoking newsletter which I currently read. And read each and every issue I do! Sometimes more than once. Vanya explores art, philosophy, life and deep truths at level of thinking beyond most of what one finds online in 2023. The wisdom is deep, the writing is sophisticated but eminently readable which I find quite refreshing…and rare, especially for a young person, though I admit that I am deducing Vanya is young since the publication is pseudo-anonymous. In any case, young or old, for the serious human, for the serious thinker, for those who wonder at the mystery and wonder of existence — for those who are tired of the ubiquitous banality that has invaded most of modern life — Good Propaganda is a publication I wholeheartedly recommend.
Most articles on Vanya’s blog are for paid members only. If you aren’t quite ready to commit with your dollars or denarii (Though, I will attest that a subscription is money well spent) you may follow Vanya free on X at https://twitter.com/vanyaix
Editor’s Note: In a few days, this post will be locked and is available only to paid members because we don’t want this duplicate content on the open web in a way that might draw traffic away from the original post. If you are not a BoldBrush member, you can still read the entire original post as it appeared on X (formerly Twitter) here.
A quandary: a man always feels as if no man has ever been a man like him. Yes, he knows that others have fears and hopes and loves, but none which take on the same fragrant air, the exact likeness or nuance. To him, his life, his psychodrama, the endless burden and exaltation of living is imbued with an imperceptible and profound depth. He is first disabused of this when he encounters great art: he is stunned by Ecclesiastes; he wishes to cry, but doesn't, out of a self-restraint that he can't source the original cause of, before the image of Michelangelo's Pieta.
Here, in these instances, where he encounters art, he sees his inner life brought to the external: finally, he sees what has always been within now without him, but not just any old mood, feeling, or ambient emotion from a certain time: he sees the entire panorama of his emotional life within a single frame, boundary, or territory: he sees his life condensed and dispensed with. What man, what mortal man of similar blood and bone, could see him so exactly, without knowing him precisely? To know every contour and turn in his soul, without having ever known his name, his history, his confession? It is easy to think that such men are geniuses, or maybe even have their own trace of divinity that they impart—we must then wonder about and, ultimately, reconcile with the fact that our great artists have been bastards and bitches; they've been drunks and profligates; epic thieves and defilers of conventions. Caravaggio, that man who changed our conception of light and composed some of the most stark visions of Jesus Christ, was a wandering, violent man; Van Gogh, who shared a new perspective on color and movements in nature at a time when we lost collective faith in the heavens, could not make sense of his own mind.
It is no secret in the history of the Catholic church that the great saints, the fathers of the tradition, have often began not as devout Christians, as if groomed from a young age towards an immanent virtue, as a flower might be cultivated by careful hands in a nutrient rich soil, but have instead lived lives of shame, desperation, and callous abandonment—until such a life breaks, which it always does. St. Augustine, who wrote the Confessions that moved countless others to a nearness with divinity, once wrote, as a young man with a wanton desire for women, 'Lord, grant me chastity: but not yet!' What does this make of our art, of the way we think about art, of the impossible, and yet real, transference of intimacy through mediums which, at once, make us feel seen and heard, and yet all the same isolated from the one who made such a feeling of intimacy possible? What is this paradox? Of what use is a method of knowing the self through aesthetic representation if it does not solve what goes on within? It seems as if I am driving us towards an answer, but really I am driving us towards a question—life often seems impossible, it seems lonely, it seems filled with suffering. Art is one way we increase the feeling of intimacy towards humanity in general while denying the intimacy in particular. It is true that for many people they would not have lived through certain nights without a certain music album, book, or movie; they remain completely alone, and yet are inhabited by a representation of the world that gathers them closer to that world in general from which they originally were repulsed by, and into a movement back towards that representation, like a lonely traveler on a train that never comes to standstill.
There is a rhythm that conspires us, despite and through us, into going on, even if it does not cure, heal, or rectify the feeling of an illness or lack. Is it possible that what we are 'doing here' on earth isn't to look for a cure to such a feeling of illness or lack, to cover up some hole, bandage some wound, ‘for once and for all,’ but rather to further expose it: to ourselves, and to others? Is the truth of art that, by deceit, a deliberate reordering of the world in ways that don't mirror nature and reality but instead fold it in on itself, bend and break it, we may alter what we think it means to not only go on, but what it means to be alive? That exposure, honesty, and vulnerability, through means which defy the conventional understanding of those words, is what may not only keep ourselves from giving up on existence, but also show us the way forward? One can hope.
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