What is Art?

[The Consensus Bureau dares you to read all of this.]

Proceedings of the 132d Regular Meeting of The Consensus Bureau

April 14th, 1746, Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire

what is art?
i think we can with great confidence affirm that it is in the very nature of art to be mass-produced consumer goods for common consumption. it is within the widest possible circle of opinion that truth is found; common opinion defines the boundaries of truth. thus, to be contrary to common opinion is to be contrary to truth; to want to be contrary to common opinion is to be insane. those who resist consensus must either ultimately yield upon the application of sheer force or quickly be neutralized. neutralization in this instance refers not only to the blackening out of unpopular or taboo subjects but in addition the “blandification” of any and all publically discussed ideas. art is not the creative spontaneous eruption of an individual’s very ego into and onto the sub-stratosphere of interlinked socially created human consciousness-spaces. how could it be? art is the fulfilling of a need, the satisfaction of a desire, the providing of a cure, the assurance, the security, the conveyance of the notion that the essence within you is near or identical to the essences within the common herd. art must be used for this purpose as it is fundamentally correct for things to fulfill their purposes. it is consensus reflecting consensus; the consensus of the whole creates the truth and by rigid enforcement of consensus the truth is forever and always co-extant with society. one of the primary methods for such enforcement being the distribution of pre-approved, pre-marketed, wildly popular tokens of artistic (and other) freedoms.

if i may i’d like to challenge the previous speaker’s assertions. the fundamental metaphysical error in the above analysis is the a priori assumption that what is true is contingent on what is believed, that society functions as a cohesive and indivisible unit such that we can ascribe to it singular motives and specific desires, that there is anything fundamental linking the discrete subunits of civilization other than what amounts to mass delusion brought on by the abstract horror of existence. given this underlying reality infused as it is with the quasi-mystical sense of separation and isolation, the fundamental goal is not the manipulation of deep-seated psychological “frames” by which the universe is viewed but instead the glorification of the ego, the deification of the individual, and the ever-present counter-need to achieve a profoundly meaningful solipsism. to this end, art must be seen not as a connector of monads but the evaporator of networks. the ties that bind us in analytic webs of groups and sub-groups must be made to unwind through the non-distractible purpose made manifest. art is, crucially, a representation of that purpose, the product of a process whose entire Eigengeist reeks, epistemologically, of particularities. thus, contrary to the previous view, the state cannot be used as a means by which an elite attempt, however well-intentioned, to subvert the individual’s quest for a unique path, a new and original flowering of the human spirit. any dogma that professes a need, even if couched in traditional neo-liberal orthodoxy, for censorship, restrictions on free speech, a setting of acceptable standards and like authoritarian constructs must be rejected outright as contrary to the laws of nature. the artist must be permitted to experience the full range of human endeavours and emotions, and nothing resulting from such an exploration must be questioned or criticized or put to judgment in any way shape or form. it is only thus can mankind discover the truth.

if i may be allowed to make a few desultory remarks on the current debate i believe that where others have delighted in obscuring the vastly more important issues with confusing semantics and ridiculous assertions, i find that plain speech, clear and direct, suffices to render most arguments trivial. the prior speaker cannon mean what he says. for let us examine the conclusions that actually stem from his premises and it will be all too obvious that the so-called facts upon which these lies are based are little more than red herrings doused with a grain of salt. and i, for one, have had my fill. (laughter) the gentleman wishes us to laud and applaud his call for “experimentation” and allowing the artist free reign in society to do as he pleases, contributing nothing to the general welfare and producing nothing that can be said as to have any value. for if art is to be anything then it must be a thing of value and things are valued in society only in proportion to an socio-economic determination of “worth”. economic markets, constituted as they are of the intermingling of free choices related but not attached to greater and greater sociological unit are thus the ideal embodiment of what may be characterized as the general will. the marketplace thus facilitates the conversion of unintelligible and wholly insular desires, wants, needs into quantitative descriptors of value. what the individual seeks in the marketplace is to redirect energies from an introspective position to an ontological perspective by linking the individual’s value to and of himself to the wider nexus of relationships caused by the transaction phenomenon; the free market not only induces non-self-directed activity by provides a basis for long-term alteration. few can dispute that this is so. fewer still have tried. it has now become clear that art must not flow unimpeded into the ocean of collective consciousness but must be directed by such a consciousness through the mechanism of exchange-moments that make up most social interactions. art must be bought, art must be sold, and it is fundamentally through these actions that mankind feels both the freest in terms of true existential liberty as well as the happiest.

i beg to differ with some but by no means all of the preceding remarks and lest anyone doubt that i too subscribe to some of the more moderate and most incisive of these comments let them no more entertain such thought as i forthrightly declare that much of what has been uttered cannot be found fault with. how best to proceed? let me begin by simply noting that the tendency to stray from the precise topic of discussion is a trait less often found in the most intelligent apes as it is in the lowliest of savages. (laughter) gentlemen, and ladies, for i note that there are several of the more vicious sex amongst us this brave evening. let us pray that they are not Calvinists (much laughter) i propose to meander back to the main line of inquiry by which you no doubt have guessed i mean to be art and its true nature. or, could i put it more obliquely: art and the nature of truth? we have heard a great deal this evening on the relationships that extend outward from the art itself but we have singularly failed to address the much more vexing question of those that extend inward and can in some sense be said to subsume the entirety of which the object is composed. we have overlooked, it might be agreed, art’s most amazing facet: it’s multi-facetedness. you may scour the globe from one end of human civilization to the other, from the highest culture to the most primitive rudimentary societies and you will never bring together two instantiations of art identical in every respect. why is this so? could it be that humans are in some ways damaged, somehow incomplete in their creation, lacking the central radiation that serves to unite disparate and conflicting values into a patchwork unity of unrelated yet diverse elements? even a cursory investigation of the underlying principles suggested by the forgoing would be sufficient to declare it nonsense. no, it must be accepted that humans contain within themselves each an original immaculate will requiring a gateway to the substantial world and that gateway, ladies and gentlemen, is art. by opening such gateways, the state can be said to be the benefactor of every narrowly-defined interest existing within its ambit. the more channels through which the individual experience may exude, the greater the resultant symbiosis created by the merging of particular identities. by becoming many, we are joined, through art, as one. for it is the nature of truth and by extension the nature of art to be multitudinous, to exist in multiple realms, to partake of different essences, moment to moment, century by century. thus the conclusion is inescapble: all art, to be true art, must be original and unique, the singular expression that has never before be injected into the cosmos and which cannot, if it be true art, be so injected again. all unoriginality, all blandness, all repetitions are thus mere shadows that should under no circumstances be encouraged or assisted in their vain striving for popular recognition but need not rise to the level of a mortal and efficacious threat to human dignity. all that is required is liberty to discover the incomparable and the will go beyond shallow comparison.

i feel it would be amiss of me not to compose a few thoughts on the current matter, seeing as previous speakers, while unnecessarily delaying the prompt confrontation with known discrepancies, still somehow manage a lack of candor usually reserved for less able intellects and the physically infirm. i offer you tonight a solution, or perhaps to put it more accurately, a way forward. a great man once said that a quote ill-remembered is a quote that need not be remembered at all and it is with such a view of things that i have forgotten more than half of what others have remembered to forget less than a quarter of. (laughter) jests aside, i do find it intriguing that such little attention has been paid to the greatest question that hangs above our proverbial sword of Damocles. by this i mean the question of art’s relation to this argument itself. (murmuring) i understand this audience to be somewhat puzzled and perhaps more that a little awed at my bold suggestion and indeed the desire that it should so affect you in this manner was not so far from my brain as experience might have led you to believe. for you see this argument exists not merely as a frank and honest competition in which the contours of truth are acknowledged and agreed upon in consonance with elaborate but by no means unexaminable sets of rules, the genesis of which remains the subject of fierce debate upon which scholars of varying abilities have only the right to differ. but it also exists as the crossroads of its own reality and its observing reality, the generative piece and the passive or “transcendental” piece. what do i mean by this? noting that the rhetorical nature of this question is itself liable to the very analysis its attempts to explicate, you will forgive a contrite philosopher if he fails to identify the significance of the ultimate resolution of such a question. have we perhaps, in our zeal for quick and easy solutions followed the same traps and verbal miscues common to the humans species, accelerated under the pressure of lofty musings tenderly laid before the altar of exquisite incomprehensibility? i have little doubt that it be so. and yet what manner of linguistic hedonism remains powerful enough to steer us away from our own ubiquitous urge to solve the riddle, to square the circle, to articulate the inarticulable? i submit to you that there is none. and with this knife i can but poke the gordian knot of these passage and declare, once and finally: all art is argument. true seekers of knowledge cannot deny that in their darker moments, the haunting truth of this statement does not fill their being with that potent mixture of fear and joy attributable to all but the most trivial of proofs; to create art is to lay a judgment upon the world, to take a stand, to proclaim a position, to assert a fact, to describe a reality. the form it takes is immaterial for truth cannot be cabined and compartmentalized into discrete categories of consciousness, fit to be chopped apart, dissected, and analyzed. no, it is of the nature of art to be unitary, to be incapable of true definition, to exist within and at the borders of physical things and the nonphysical essences that comprise the modes of existence. it is thus now plain that by creating a discourse on art we have made the discourse itself art; the thing of being has become the becoming of the being-in-thing. by conflating the object and the subject of the observation, by perceiving (incorrectly) that two halves of one entity must necessarily coexist on equal footing, we have inadvertently divorced the property to be analyzed from the analysis that partakes of that property. we must, if you will forgive a trite idiom, consume the products of our own consumption whilst never forgetting that our own view is obscured by the haze incumbent in our own eyes. by acknowledging that the artist is by her (i see no reason avoid gendered terms of either variety) very nature both the creator of the art and in a very real sense the art itself can we ever hope to go beyond the formal dimensions by which these subjects are normally evaluated and begin to advocate for what i believe to be true freedom of expression as both an intrinsic part of the agent herself and the relational property that extends from that intrinsic self to similar (and, indeed, the same) classifications of being. it is only by this method can we obtain clarity with respect to the subservient questions of the role of the state and the dignity of the human individual.

little of what has gone before us this evening is deserving of response and yet i am compelled, however reluctantly, to rise before you and invest my energies in exploring but a strand of the tangled mass that i fear can only render our audience less likely to comprehend the more reasonable parts of this discussion than the unreasonable. several of tonight’s speakers have cautioned against ascribing undue significance to the mere formal characteristics of art or, if i may be permitted to say, the methods by which information is transmitted from one sovereign entity to another. nothing could be more dangerous than such an opinion even provisionally held. i put it to you, my friends, that it is in the nature of art to be nothing other than art’s formal characteristics and that any serious philosophy will eschew any treatment of art’s “essence” or, as it is so often termed, “integrated supra-belief.” the analogy i posit is thus: imagine, if you will, an empty cube, devoid of internal substance and yet real and extant in the physical universal, incorporeal but whose properties can be examined by an independent mind separated (at some distance) but wholly ignorant of that which is hidden under the veil of epistemological obscurantism. would such a cube be considered, in any meaningful sense, art? by this i do not mean to suggest, as did our last speaker, that observation equals perception or that things cannot be perceived in their true natures without resorting to an inadequate approximation of how functional reality combines seemingly distinct features. far from it. such an analysis may warm the hearts of postmodern neo-rationalists sitting by their Cartesian fires sipping the brandy of small intellectual battles dearly won (as is their wont) but it will hardly do for those of an altogether more grounded disposition less willing to trod the paths less taken and much more inclined to see what others only dream of wishing to experience. if there be any such miserable creatures in our audience tonight, may i simply bid you a pleasant journey and cast in your direction the knowing wink of a man who has had but few opportunities to witness such excursions without recourse to palliative measures. thus, let us examine what has already been established: 1) art is, by its very nature, a multifaceted unity of purposeful endeavour; 2) any analysis of art must, by its very nature, control for the inevitable intermarriage of one set of descriptive nomenclatures for those of pre-verbal signifiers; 3) by experiencing art as a discrete individual entity it is nonetheless possible and indeed desirable that those boundaries dissipate into a formless collection of wave-pools, each giving rise to the inner feeling of communion or connection to an all-pervading unknown. these three simple declarations are quite sufficient, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, to directly imply a fourth conclusion, stated thusly: 4) art does not, as such, exist. I welcome any and all refutation of the above but am confident that the reasoning is susceptible to no ingenious faculty.

weightier questions have seldom fallen into the minds of men and yet persistence in the declamation of flippant absurdities and vain contradictions seems to be the chief characteristic that assails this great assembly. (a great shouting) nay, do not pit your shrill accusations against what all must acknowledge are true and readily determined facts. no one can doubt my august sincerity on these subjects as few have had the temerity to challenge the sanctity of individual experience, rightly gained, in the course of noble and historic dissertations. i promise at the outset to maintain a healthy respect towards our intended subject and not to depart on sad tangents and ever-wider degrees of coincidence. for any subject, by degrees, can be converted to any other, given enough time. what is truly troubling about the debate thus far is the endless repetition, the constant rehashing of points and counterpoints, in increasingly obscure terms, until it is scarcely possible for even half of the intended audience to imagine the barest glimpse of what the speaker might be alluding to. i propose to focus on but a single aspect of the overall discussion, invest our complete abilities in the answering of that one part as fully and thoroughly as humanly possible and let it rest as the foundation of further pursuit. the sub-category of thought can be thus described as a commonly ignored (“hiding in plain sight”) dichotomy: is the essential component of art 1) the motive of the artist that formed the basis of its creation; or 2) the experience of the art-consumer in the moment that the art is consumed? we need not banter the terms “determinist” and “essentialist” about with abandon, in the frenzied attempt to overtake what are bound to be tedious articulations of the inexpressible. but confronting the semantic problem head-on, i assume it will be permitted to hold those questions in abeyance whilst the groundwork is laid for
a proper analysis on its own terms. if this cannot be granted, i would submit that rational discussion ceases and the utility of continuation drastically diminishes. having availed ourselves of this temporary exception, we must acknowledge how both sides of the pending question occupy the same mental space vis-a-vis immediate and direct comprehension. taking the long view, with full knowledge of the additional dispensations that may be required, i think we can safely dispose of the instant controversy by concluding that it is one and same experience to act upon and to be acted upon by the art-object. consumption and creation thus fold in on one another, neither being sufficient to exist in its own right but only as the equal partner in a continuing expression of human consciousness. subsequent questions regard the autonomy of nations or the existence of “race memory” that may, to some limited extent, reveal further complications cannot at the present time be subjected to the same rigorous dissection and consequently must be relegated to more industrious times. let us take solace in those fulfilling enterprises rife with expectant harmony.

gentlemen and ladies, i will not bore you, as others here today have, with lengthy diatribes recounting the numerous personal horrors and setbacks i have encountered in my illustrious career as a wayward adventurer on life’s mystic tugboat ride. too often, these tall tales serve only to prejudice the ill-mannered and inflame the superstitions of smaller minds. (nervous laughter) the previous speaker, though perhaps unknowing of it, proceeded in one direction and having not achieved even the first component of what was envisioned, retreated into an intellectual cul-de-sac that i for one do not have the strength to extract him from. for what has in fact been established at this point?; that is the question to be answered, and not what would some have liked to have been established, if you take my meaning. “art” qua art has not, you will be surprised to find, come under much scrutiny, specifically the following attribute thereof: it’s ethical character. what most scholars understandably avoid addressing is the problematic zeroing-in on one particular area to the exclusion of similar (and different) characters. once this small hurdle is overcome, the results are self-explanatory. from there, it is but a short hop to the basic underpinnings of Puegot’s theorem and the postulates that must be accepted to reconcile the two. once these pillars are standing as beacons to light the realm of interactive reasoning we need only take a moment to discover the obvious symmetry: the artistic act is a moral act; and morality is but a form of aesthetics. let us take that as a working hypothesis for the moment, shed it of inconvenient ontological concerns and treat it plainly, silently, and dutifully as a object worthy of extended consideration. you will find (pleasantly, i hope) that more pieces of the puzzle fit together, though perhaps not in the way we had originally conceived and yet it is intuitively obvious that it could not fit any other way and thus it is by any reasonable definition of the term, perfect. this perfection, you will attest, is indicative of a higher nature. that higher nature, you will agree, corresponds, in large measure, to the higher reasoning faculties of the human mind. thus we find that rationality equals morality, morality is, in essence, art, and art is what in human terms has come be known as God.

i would hope, ladies and gentlemen, that we may digest what the previous speaker has uttered in solemn decrepitude, weary as we are from an ageless war between our spiritual and animalistic natures enlivened by tonight’s discourse. we find ourselves again at a crossroads, steeped in the traditional norms of consumerist heterodoxy, saturated (as our society never ceases to be) with mass-produced, pre-packaged plastic anti-thoughts, and thoroughly drenched in the blood and sweat of preposterous cliches, uncertain as to which path would prove fruitful and uncertain as to whether fruitful paths are themselves to be desired. we know not whether the next step we take shall be forwards or outwards; the two-dimensional plane on which we thought all of knowledge could be safely laid out has been revealed instead to be a hyperbolic surface replete with tiny holes through which knowledge (if we may be so lucky) may drip upon us. but no matter. these ethereal sprinklings may yet cause the spark to ignite a solitary artist’s primary motivator-sense and bring him/her closer to what we all seek. these false equivalencies need not detain us as their value to the discussion lies only in proving that the discussion is worthwhile and were others not convinced of this precept i should hardly go on speaking. it can scarcely be denied that large and profound questions are the game tonight; we are not playing dice. i invite anyone to object to the truth of the following observation: art exists. (murmuring) thus, as so many have said, we hold this truth to be self-evident. may i congratulate the assembly on an auspicious beginning. (quiet laughter) the ultimate question being “why?” when applied to the instant case presents us with “why art?” which we might further refine as “why make art?” i hope i am not proceeding too swiftly for the confused and frightened. (warm laughter) we have already answered a part of the previously-described question if you take pains to remember the erstwhile discussion of creation as being closely aligned with the sexual aspect of mankind’s creative (or, indeed,
procreative) nature. humans make art for the same reason humans make humans: to generate, to grow the seed, to develop the “other” as a substitute for self. we are drawn to art because it enables the freeing of oneself from death, the liberating of one’s own essence by transference of properties into a metaphysical vessel, namely, the art-object by substituting or replacing one’s own ego with the shell-ego of a projected anti-self, the individual begins to grasp inter-related perspectives, to form socially-acceptable yet uniquely calibrated bonds of collaboration, and by fusing these elements, is able to validate one’s own being as a sentient agent existing in a non-linear universe. hence the debate on the ethics of cloning, though i do not wish to further legitimize prior assertions regarding the aesthetics/ethics hypothesis. if replication were all that were sought, we might never have guessed at the over-arching framework in which such replication would have to occur and yet with each passing moment our ability to engage in such replication erodes, as each of us encounters the futility inherent in original creation. mere duplication of greatness is but the lost words of long dead prisoners chained to notion that our freedom is ours for the grasping and the judge at our final trial will not be impartial. i end with these few words, unconcerned entirely with their imputation or reception: there is nothing new under the sun.

much has been said on the subject of originality tonight but i cannot conceive that any of it has been original. (laughter) i come before you tonight with one simple goal: to convince you that there are no simple goals. i wish to argue, if you will forgive the levity, against argument. what has come before is of no consequence; what comes after will be immaterial. what matters is the here and now, and what is here and what is now is you, the individual, and you, the individual, are nothing more than a receiver of inputs. i will grant you, respectfully, that you are also a producer of outputs and lest we allow the chicken and egg problem to cross the philosophical road, as it were, we shall never see the other side. (laughter) as a receiver of inputs and, more importantly, as primarily the receiver of inputs, we should take care to examine in all its details the particular faculties by which the external stimuli are both physically transmitted to the underlying consciousness and how the mind sorts such stimuli into pre-defined categories of understanding. the purpose of these investigations need not be developed to its fullest extent if sufficient progress is achieved within established temporal parameters. but most will find that even the vaguest of outlines demonstrates the key concepts in an evidentiary setting. what we receive is, in large measure, pre-determined by what we have received in the past. the wilderness of human experience, we may all agree, is cut-through with the worn paths of dialectical commonalities, the fault-lines of universalities severing the landscape in a cornucopia of ill-advised inklings that cannot be said to inure to any one individual. is art so unique that we can avoid the conclusion, unbearable though it is, that the only footprints to be made by that artist lie exclusively within the realm of whatever the particular threads of her brain-scape have opted to construct? i submit to you that it cannot be otherwise; that art, by its very nature, is not different from the more primary aspects of our being – inhalation, ingestion, excretion. the creative impulse, you will gather from these concurrences, is on par with (and occasionally subsumed by) such physical manifestations and one can no more separate the two into idealized categories of transmutation than one may render that laws of rational discourse subject to plebiscite. humanity exudes art as a natural function. stripped bare of pretentious psychological comforts, the artist discovers the enduring duty to be, and by so being, create.

gentlepersons of the bureau, i find it not uncommon in such assemblies that vastly more profound speakers than i may drift off-topic, flit from one small problem to another, nervously bound from low philosophy to high, and yet never reach their object. the problem may be phrased as not so much an inattention to detail or a purposeful rejection of easily demonstrable truths but the misapprehension of following a line of inquiry that seems by all known measures penetrating and reasonable and yet in reality finds both speaker and audience united in ignorance, blind to what is plainly before them. to arrest such progress and wrench intelligent men and women from perspectives deeply held yet unsuited for the present declamations is the very definition of foolhardy enterprises and yet no greater calling it seems to me is necessary for the full satisfaction of an unrestrained ego. in undertaking this bold initiative, i proclaim quite unapologetically that the answers that have been proffered here this evening are but a species of the questions that have, hithertofore, remained unasked. For we must not shy away from the unarticulated principle that what has been proposed as the rendering of finalities into the cauldron of rational discourse necessarily implies a host of related and unrelated contingencies upon which virtuous persons of diverse intellectual backgrounds may nonetheless ascertain as but a single conclusory statement, even though nothing could be further from the truth. to remain entranced by the thought that what follows from agreed upon premises must of necessity fail to give rise to additional contradictory hypotheses is both to fly unimpeded into the anarchic sky and simultaneously to lock oneself in the filthy prison of intellectual dishonesty. by feebly accepting that responses to questions propounded must in and of themselves posit no further deductions, we remain, in DeHalberbann’s system “untethered” and without focus. if we react negatively to some of these and lesser theories, denouncing them as mere representations of neo-colonial , anti-humanitarian , crypto-fascist Weltanshauungen, we do no more service to the traditions antithetical to such movements than the partial advocates of these dangerous propensities. ours is not to consider how and in what manner these theories are to be met on the stage of history or indeed the despicable media of the present day. to prejudice our analysis with such ruminations, one eye on the internal search for knowledge, one eye on the sociological complications engendered by the transmission thereof, is to consign all schemes to mere “opinion.” without such an unnecessary divergence of viewpoints, the process is readily determined: the question is posed; answers follow; answers are, in dynamic and ever-changing progressions, reconciled; the reconciliation of answers gives rise to its very anti-thesis, namely, the dissipation of and objection to, conclusions; conclusions, having once been united in ontological wholes but now separated by particularities, exist solely in contingent relationships; relationship-strands of such networks, being the obverse of subject-content, stand opposite to such subject-content and the tension created between the “of and “by” of such relationships fuels the dissatisfaction of the rational side of mankind’s nature; finally, such dissatisfaction of reasoning is transcended, through the artistic process, by the birth of new questions. Art is the non-spontaneous creation of questions. The answer (question) to our initial inquiry “what is art?” is “what is art?” (loud applause)

2 Responses to What is Art?

  1. Christopher says:

    This discussion (above) would be a great deal funnier (and more readable) were it not so verbose. But I guess that’s part of the shtick, right? I’m an old man, so I treasure brevity, knowing I don’t have too many ticks left on my shot clock.

    • PEZ says:


      The Consensus Bureau [variable=”CB”] extends appreciative sentiments for [name_mask=”pronoun_p://your”] reply.

      We are sorry to hear about your clock. Please note that CB may not be legally or grammatically held accountable for any damage to personal property, well-being, or personal property used to gauge well-being.

      You’re Welcome,

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