Some dozen odd years ago I was attending some Asian artists’ conference in Singapore, and I remember asking someone what made something (art) liked by everybody. By ‘everybody’ I meant everyone, everywhere in every time (age, era, century). ‘Like Shakespeare,’ I remember saying. The person I asked remarked laconically, ‘Not everybody likes Shakespeare.’
After a stupefied pause to consider the justice of that remark I attempted to explain, ‘Sure they do. I mean, the guy’s been dead a bazillion years and people still like his stuff.’ It was toward the end of the day at the time and we were on the beach, so, I don’t remember getting an answer back. But to this day, I find myself still asking.
What is it about Will’s stuff that makes people still stage it, watch it, quote it~ or Wolfie’s stuff or stuff from Vinnie, Leo or Remy? Or, closer to (my) home, what is it about the Noli or the Spoliarium (or pretty much anything by Amorsolo) that make them live on today?
Maybe it’s that time of the year ~ you know, when people get all *existentialist* looking back and trying to plan for the year ahead.
It’s just, personally I wonder whether any of my stuff is going to survive me a bazillion years from now. Or (as is the more likely), join the heap of Salieris that lived alongside Wolfie and ultimately disappeared into oblivion. (That actually isn’t fair, I mean they did use Salieri’s music in the first Iron Man movie ^^)
Or, more to the point: Is it worth making anything when you know they’re going to toss it all into the nearest landfill as soon as you become worm food? (Hopefully they at least recycle the wood and glass ~ or even the paper.) Are these questions even worth asking?
What’s a ‘classic’ anyway?
So ‘classic’ applies more to literature than the visual arts; if we said ‘classical’ as in art or music you’d get Greek statues and a lot of violins ^^ (If we talked about cars, you’d get a Corvette ^^*)
For this post I’m talking about classics like the Mona Lisa, Starry 2x and so on. Things many people would be familiar with, even if they weren’t into art, per se.
Did Leo and Vinnie think, when they made them, ‘I am going to sit down and make a timeless work of art. People are going to love this painting a bazillion years after I’m gone.’
Some works of art are obviously made to last forever (think Pieta or the pyramids). It’s said that what makes works on canvas *worth more* than stuff on paper is the durability of the support, as well as the media.
As to the question of age, I’m reminded of a passage from one of my forever favourite books:
‘…If you will permit me, I shall be happy to show you my picture gallery, composed entirely of works by the ancient masters ~ warranted as such. Not a modern picture among them. I cannot endure the modern school of painting.’
‘You are perfectly right in objecting to them, for this one great fault ~ that they have not yet had time to become old.’
(Guess Danglars must be kicking himself now cos he said that around 1844 XD)
Incidentally, as to the question of whether it’s the critics that make or break the *immortality potential* of a piece of art, Keats apparently got a lot of hate for Endymion. And you know how Rousseau had to put up with his share of spiteful comments on his creations, too.
People don’t change.
They say (who’s they, anyway lol) that what makes art endure through the ages is people being able to relate to it. A word lots of people seem to like to use these days is ‘relevant’. If people can *relate* to something, that makes that thing *relevant*, I guess. ‘Relevant’ to me, means, ‘it matters’.
Like a guy selling sneakers to a mermaid ~ sneakers wouldn’t be relevant to the mermaid, because. (Unless the mermaid had a boyfriend maybe who collects classic Nikes ^^) You get the idea.
But again, when I say people I mean everyone from way before they put sea monsters on maps to when they used Google maps. Sure, the technology changes and so on, but people, today probably aren’t that much different from a bazillion years ago like, super fundamentally.
I mean, people still get happy, sad, angry, frustrated, hopeful, hungry, fall in love and all that jazz.
Super bold assertion, super sweeping statement from someone without a PhD or anything like that.
It’s just, I guess people waaay back then and now still feel things and have all sorts of relationships. They also still interact with their environment and whatever’s going on in it ~ whether’s that’s in a city or the jungle, the Bronze Age or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is, a work of art becomes immortal because of its ability to touch, or to move people regardless of time or place. If the painting, sculpture, poem, novel, opera, sonata, tapestry or whatever still connects with someone a bazillion years from now, then…
So what happened to that whole ‘question of age’ thing?
And does that make calling something an ‘instant classic’ a little premature? Some purist types say there’s no such thing really and that you really have to wait.
Also, there’s that whole context thing. I mean, what can relate to people in a certain culture or geography (or planet, universe, dimension…) may not be relevant in others. Like that whole selling sneakers to the mermaid thing. I’m pretty sure that’s what that person back at that conference meant by ‘Not everybody likes Shakespeare’.
It’s just, there we were, two Southeast Asians light years away from Stratford-upon-Avon and… ^0^
And it’s also just, that there undeniably are, some things that seem able to make people relate to them no matter where they’re from, regardless of context or whatever.
Like Shakespeare lol. Or Dumas, or Sherlock Holmes, or Superman, or Don Quixote ~ they get translated and adapted (and butchered lol) but somehow their *essence* is still able to move people. Even make them cry (or laugh or swear or smash~ you know what I mean ^^) Music and visual arts can be all that much more powerful because you won’t even have to translate.
I’ll admit all I have is conjecture as to whether people in other cultures can relate to let alone revere anything I’ve mentioned very superficially so far. But I hope you get the idea.
So should artists make things with *immortality* in mind?
The question is ‘should’, and ‘in mind’ implies making it the primary objective of creation. I, think, there are artists who do, who might embark on something thinking ‘this is the thing that’s gonna be like, my definitive work’. Or, closer to the point, ‘the one that’s gonna make me famous’.
I honestly don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with that, and I say good for them. Especially if it makes them really pour their whole everything into it and do the best work they can.
Besides (again, speaking from my place of relative ignorance), I don’t think the old masters (Shakespeare or Mozart or Rembrandt, et al) created what they did with everyone in mind. They were creating for very specific, targeted audiences (sorry, you know what I do for a living). Will was writing for the folks at the Globe, Wolfie played to the crowd in Vienna.
Even Vinnie started using lighter colours when Theo told him he wasn’t selling anything because his paintings were too dark. In other words, Van Gogh started painting a certain way to try and please the buyers of his time and place. He sure as heck wasn’t thinking of painting for people some hundred years later ~ but bazillions of people across the planet love his work now.
I guess, in the context of this jillablog post, if you were to do this, your target audience would be everybody all over the world for all time. I don’t know about you, but for a finite, mortal jillamonster to even think about attempting this… ^^;
If we were to put this in the context of my other job, not having a well-defined target audience would be flushing your media buy budget down the loo ^o^;
In any case, in my last post, the first video I mentioned mentions how, while some people say you should create with a target audience in mind, you shouldn’t, really. Or at least, to not make this your *prime directive* ~ because this isn’t why you create art in the first place.
And, creating for audiences destined to be born in the far future in the furthest corners of the earth wasn’t what the artists who created classics did, anyhow.
Although I will venture to say there are artists who create things with the idea of leaving something behind. Like if people perpetuate themselves when they procreate, artists just, create-create ~ and they become *immortal* that way.
People from thousands of years ago wondered, too.
One of those sword-and-sandal movies I can’t stop watching opens with Sean Bean going on about eternity. About how men wonder whether people will give two effs about what we did across the centuries.
Later, Achilles’ mom tells her son, ‘If you don’t go to war, the only people who will remember you when you’re dead will be your kids and grandkids.’ (Not in those words ^o^) ‘However, if you do whack the Trojans, you’re going to be remembered for thousands of years.’
Of course, we all know how that worked out XD And anyway, ‘what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul’?
I guess people in general can’t help wondering whether anything they’re doing matters. I’d like to think everybody works hard at what they do whether or not it’s art. So naturally they want to know (as the emperor said in another S&S flick) whether there was some purpose to their lives.
(This emperor went on to ask how the world would speak his name in the years to come and wondered how he would be remembered. So again, the question of immortality through one’s work.) (He just made war, though, not paintings lol)
For my part, I’m not so full of myself as to expect anybody to like my stuff a bazillion years from now. But whether or not anyone will makes no difference to me continuing to make stuff for as long as I can. Of course, I am happy and deeply grateful if my work can connect with or move anyone who sees it, if people can relate to it ~ and ultimately to me.
And I guess, that’s something that might make the work worth making, even if it ultimately does get tossed. Something, surely ~ but definitely not the only thing.
I don’t know ^^ What do you think?