Friday, December 13, 2019

Art is the Subject

Velasquez's "Las Meninas"
The subject of the some of the greatest masterpieces of art can be said to be art itself. Consider Velasquez’s “Las Meninas” and James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and might it not be said said that Rembrandt’s numerous self-portraits were by definition about the making of art. Art about art is not the same as art for art’s sake however. The subject of the making of art is almost the equivalent of an spiritual or ideological statement. For instance, it can be argued that the famed Grand Inquisitor poem from The Brothers Karamazov is really about the limits of art since the notion of Christ being put on trial for heresy is a demonstration of the power of story. In the hands of Dostoevsky, the narrative itself becomes a kind of Nietzschian Ubermensch who’s no longer subject to any limitations or rules. Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale is about bringing the dead back to life, a subject that Hitchcock would approach in Vertigo, with one addition. The artist could now bring alive someone who was not only dead, but never existed in the first place. What greater essay can one have on the artist as magician—a subject that Bergman would address in a film of the same name? Ibsen’s The Master Builder, one of the great masterpieces of  theater is also a paradigm about the nature of art with its central figure Solness being an symbol of the Ur artist, whose breathtaking ascent to ever increasing heights of awareness places him or her ever closer to self-destruction and death.

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