Friday, April 30, 2004


To return to one of the things that set me to wondering when I was blogged off or had the blog on as you may wish, I seem to remember Roger musing on the nature of art and, using his father as example, at what point craft would become art.

Well, liguistician that I am, my first thoughts set me to playing about with semantics and, as is my wont on these occasions, to casting my thoughts back to the bard. Only two quotations leapt readily to mind but both proved quite aposite to the question in hand.

The first is from Hamlet..."I swear I use no art at all," and the second from Macbeth..."There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face." I dismissed "Wherefore art thou..." as an irrelevance.

So what therefore, is art? Well, Shakespeare obviously thought it included the meaning of skill, craft and artisanship and maybe in the first quote a touch of artifice, craft or even magic. The art of being crafty, maybe?

But, bugger the bard, what do I think? Well, I thought about it for a while and I kept coming back to something I said in a previous blog about the nature of writing or even blogging. That it is essentially a masturbatory exercise, at its best whenever you've got a load on and simply have to get it out but also a pleasant enough way of whiling away an odd moment here and there.

What I guess I mean is that art is produced solely for the pleasure of the artist using all the tools at their disposal, including that which lies within themselves to generate something with care, passion and love. If all these criteria are met then the next should follow but it is here that the magic occurs...when you are so at home in your milieu that technical ability is no longer an issue, when you are hardly conscious of what it is you are doing, when inspiration strikes and the muse assumes control and you are essentially a conduit for something other, something outside of yourself, then and only then will you produce something original, something unique to its creator and worthy of the name of art. Also, it should be noted that according to the above, true art needs no audience, no reader and sure as hell, no fucking criticism either.

Sure, you can criticise someone for attempting to produce that which lies beyond their abilities and their skill or art to attempt but even then, is it art you are criticising or the self delusion or hubris involved in it. Anyway, I defy anyone to show me something meeting all the criteria I have outlined above which I would not instinctively recognise as art.

From my own a translator, writer, teacher, musician and liguistician, I realise that as a musician, I will never produce art. I hit things and make the requisite noises in the required time and at the right volume but I lack the technique required to be able not to think about my technique and unless you can forget about the technique, you will never make art.

As a teacher, however, I have given maybe two lessons in my entire career which for technical excellence, timing, improvisation and channelling that indefinable something, I would rank alongside the best of Fawlty Towers.

As a translator, I have knocked out contracts, technical specifications and company prospectuses none of which remotely approached art but other things that I have translated...personal letters, essays, poems, liner notes for albums, film scores and the like are a different matter. Although the original Hungarian words were not my own, I still had to find a way of conveying the original emotion in the English language and, when the muse strikes, the feeling is as if I have produced something just right, something that no other translator would have come up with, something which came from both inside of and outside of me. Art.

And as for the writing. Well, most of that is sheer mechanics but sometimes, just occasionally and even on this blog, I will look back on a sentence I have written and wonder just where the hell that came from. Sometimes it just flows and all I can do is ride the wave to its end and type for dear life in an attempt to keep up. But is it art? Well, if you think I'm going to answer that one...I'd hate to bring out the critic in your better nature.

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