In his book The View from the Studio Door, Ted Orland goes on at length about the function of Art in society. In particular, this passage caught my attention:
Most historical artwork played a role in society or religion or both. There’s pretty good evidence that Bach himself understood that to make work that mattered meant addressing art at every level – from the purely technical to the completely profound – simultaneously. He once composed a set of training pieces whose purpose, he said, was “to glorify God, to edify my neighbor, and to develop a cantabile style of playing in both hands.”
Some version of Bach’s three tiered work order might be a worthwhile guide for artists working today. Today most artwork is not part of something larger than itself. It certainly isn’t within the art world, where the embattled but still dominant postmodernist view holds that artists are not even the authors of their own work – that there is no such thing as an ‘original’ piece of art, but rather that we make art by taking things out of their original context (i.e. deconstruct them) and reassemble them in a new context. The idea that the subject of art is art may be a stimulating intellectual proposition within the art world, but it goes a long way toward explaining why most non-artists find zero connection between their own life and that same art. How deeply can art matter if the only fitting description of its meaning and purpose is “art for art’s sake”?
I’m highly sympathetic to Orland’s view of things. What do you think?