Art heals

Watching Dr. Strangelove with the sound turned down.

Listening to “Can you Walk on Water,” a Rolling Stones boot. Is a heart of stone a necessity these days? If I believed what I read on the Internet, I might think that was true. Sometimes I wonder at our penchant for turning the horrible and destructive into objects of beauty. There has got to be more than that. I do believe that art has the ability to heal, unlike art critic Christopher Knight of the LA Times.

The idea that art functions as a remedial agent—useful for the treatment of social, spiritual or emotional disorders—is positively Victorian. Popular in America in the 19th century, when the church had long since ceased to be an important and persuasive cultural patron, the sentiment sprang from a metaphysical void. It’s a secular version of venerating the healing power of religious paintings and statues . . .

Still, we cling to the fantasy—even if healing in our post-Freud world is less about physical lesions and more about psychological wounds. Americans’ sentimental relationship to art periodically drives us into the suffocating arms of therapeutic culture.

I don’t even know where to start on this bullshit. Art began to be the highest form of prayer around, during the time of the Romantics, not the Victorians. The Victorians just ran with the idea, sometimes leaving out the god concept, and sometimes not— the basic premise was that there had to be more to life than cold reason and progress. Is this a fantasy? I suspect that those who feel it is, have never felt magical things, like love. Sorry, but I don’t think that the chemical symptoms are the totality of it. Get off my cloud, indeed.

I choose to think of art as the ultimate in multi-leveled communication, and communication is indeed therapeutic. One of the graduate seminars I’m taking next semester is about the science and theory behind “Healing Narratives.” A teacher I haven’t had before specializes in that field, and I am glad to take his class. The idea that art functions solely as intellectual masturbation, as implied by Knight, is an idea that I think whose time has passed. Not to channel the prankster, but FUCK PRETENTIOUS INTELLECTUAL TWITS!

I learned a little more about David’s last days today. His family refused to buy booze for him, so he resorted to calling cab drivers to deliver it to his door. The death of an alcoholic is not an aesthetic experience, to be studied as a case of beautiful destruction. It’s a sad narrative, another story. Once it touches you, it can function as a remedial agent if you take to heart the loss of human potential it represents; it can move you to avoid the pit of wasted life. To say that the real human feelings, frailties, and failings of art have no social purpose is just a crock of shit. Artists make art because they are alive, with the intention of touching people. If that isn’t social I don’t know what is. Remedial? It depends on your perception I suppose. Art doesn’t heal directly; it only re-presents what we are. Taking a close look at art is, to me, is at its very core remedial. We all want to be better than what we are. What therapy is supposed to do is make us better. As far as I’m concerned, art does that.