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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Art for Art's Sake

They came in the night, as elves generally do, and instead of making shoes or baking cookies, this time they had a larger design. It was an occasion for the grandest gift or mischief, depending upon how you look at it.

Silent and perfect in their industry, their work was complete at the glimmer of dawn, and when they left they proudly looked upon multiplied perfection, piled high to the sky. In the morning, and like the shoe cobbler of the fairy tale, the world woke up not to shoes, but to rooms full of duplicates of all things beautiful and precious: Da Vinci’s and diamonds and fine wines stamped out indistinguishable from the originals. Rarity itself had become rare, virtually detached by elfin hands from all the icons of culture. And when confronted with the munificence of all rare things, the people were aggrieved.

For detached from these fine things was the intonation of memory, the poetic metaphors of places and people and societies long lost in time. To view the real Mona Lisa is to imagine the moving hand of the artist, the bustle and smell of Renaissance times. But it also recalls the collective admiration and desire of individuals and nations. Art is embedded in the collective memories its rareness invokes, but these memories are mere artifacts of culture, and have little to do with art itself. Yet without them art became the stuff for a coffee table book, to be admired briefly and at turns with drinking tea. A poem or song or a pretty sunset do not achieve value because we know or possess their origins, but because they delight the mind through their existence alone. If art is for art’s sake, then for art’s sake, we will and without regret take equal pleasure in the editions of Shakespeare, Mozart, and Rembrandt so faithfully copied by the elven like hands of our own technological robots, working silently into the night.

written by me (1988)

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