On Art and Expression

One thing, which is largely disconcerting in Western culture, is the approach and view we have towards expression – primarily artistic expression. It seems that expression in some way presents an individual as being conceited and pretentious. As though that individual has a superiority complex and values themselves above all others because they can express themselves. Malsow, in his nominal work ‘Motivation and Personality’, sums this up perfectly. He purports that, “The United States particularly is dominated by the Puritan and pragmatic spirit, which stresses work, struggle and striving, soberness and earnestness, and, above all, purposefulness.” Art and expression is viewed as an uncontrolled and effortless practice. Whereas the table is a practical item, used to serve a purpose the painting is merely for show. Where the plumber offers a service, the artist is, on the contrary, an uncontrollable menace. And this view undercuts all of Western society. The differences can be observed within philosophy. Whilst the German sect was considering the soul and phenomenology, Britain was preoccupied with Calvinism, the practical and almost stoical view of religion and theology. 

 

As a result, we promote a culture of repression. The theme of repression and sublimation is a motif in much literature throughout the 19th and 20th century. The idea that one had to subvert the cultural norm to be true to oneself is common in works such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Even here we see an authoritative figure brainwash and recondition an individual to think exactly like we ought to think – pragmatically, with practicality and a purpose.

 

Moreover, we are a society and a culture obsessed with justification and meaning attached to our lives and acts. How often do you hear the expression “that doesn’t make sense” and indeed, perhaps it doesn’t. T. S. Elliot, in my interpretation, deals with this very well in much of his poetry. The elusive and tenuous, yet abundant, allusions within his work to other poetical works often leave us none the wiser after reading and studying further. We’re often left bewildered by what the work meant. What was its purpose? Why did he say that? He said it for no reason. He said it because it sounded elegant; it was beautiful; it was expression.

 

We constantly aim to confine ourselves within rules and constraints. A kind of bureaucratic way of living our lives, we are categorizing each individual instance so it has purpose and meaning. But spontaneity is too easy in the eyes of an authority. Youthful abandon is naïve and we should move on from this, apparently. Instead we should aim for purpose and a strict role to perform. This idea is all so mundane. Alternatively we should direct our efforts to a Taoist life and promote a kind of action through non-action; perhaps, one can argue, a modern wu wei.

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