Art becomes the enemy of the artist, for it denies him the realization, the transcendence, he desires.
Every era has to reinvent the project of “spirituality” for itself. (Spirituality = plans,
terminologies, ideas of deportment aimed at the resolution of painful structural contradictions
inherent in the human situation, at the completion of human consciousness, at transcendence.)
Krishnamurti claims that we must give up psychological, as distinct from factual,
memory. Otherwise, we keep filling up the new with the old, closing off experience by
hooking each experience into the last.
We must destroy continuity (which is insured by psychological memory), by going to
the end of each emotion or thought.
And after the end, what supervenes (for a while) is silence.
In the modern era, one of the most active metaphors for the spiritual project is “art.”
The activities of the painter, the musician, the poet, the dancer et al, once they were grouped
together under that generic name (a relatively recent move), have proved to be a peculiarly
adaptable site on which to stage the formal dramas besetting consciousness, each individual
work of art being a more or less astute paradigm for regulating or reconciling these
contradictions. Of course, the site needs continual refurbishing. Whatever goal is set for art
eventually proves restrictive, matched against the widest goals of consciousness. Art, itself a
form of mystification, endures a succession of crises of demystification; older artistic goals
are assailed and, ostensibly, replaced; outgrown maps of consciousness are redrawn. But what
supplies all these crises with their energy — an energy held in common, so to speak — is the
very unification of numerous, quite disparate activities into a single genus. At the moment at
which “art” comes into being, the modern period of art begins. From then forward, any of the
activities therein subsumed becomes a profoundly problematic activity, each of whose
procedures and, ultimately, whose very right to exist, can be called into question.
Following on the promotion of the arts into “art” comes the leading myth about art,
that of the “absoluteness” of the artist’s activity. In its first, more unreflective version, this
myth considered art as an expression of human consciousness, consciousness seeking to know
itself. (The critical principles generated by this myth were fairly easily arrived at: some
expressions were more complete, more ennobling, more informative, richer than others.) The
later version of the myth posits a more complex, tragic relation of art to consciousness.
Denying that art is mere expression, the newer myth, ours, rather relates art to the mind’s need
or capacity for self-estrangement. Art is no longer understood as consciousness expressing
and therefore, implicitly, affirming itself. Art is not consciousness per se, but rather its
antidote — evolved from within consciousness itself. (The critical principles generated by this
myth were much harder to get at.)
The newer myth, derived from a post-psychological conception of consciousness,
installs within the activity of art many of the paradoxes involved in attaining an absolute state
of being described by the great religious mystics. As the activity of the mystic must end in a
via negative, a theology of God’s absence, a craving for the cloud of unknowingness beyond
knowledge and for the silence beyond speech, so art must tend toward anti-art, the elimination
of the “subject” (the “object,” the “image”), the substitution of chance for intention, and the
pursuit of silence.
In the early, linear version of art’s relation to consciousness, a struggle was held to
exist between the “spiritual” integrity of the creative impulses and the distracting
“materiality” of ordinary life, which throws up so many obstacles in the path of authentic
sublimation. But the newer version, in which art is part of a dialectical transaction with
consciousness, poses a deeper, more frustrating conflict: The “spirit” seeking embodiment in
art clashes with the “material” character of art itself. Art is unmasked as gratuitous, and the
very concreteness of the artist’s tools (and, particularly in the case of language, their
historicity) appears as a trap. Practiced in a world furnished with second-hand perceptions,
and specifically confounded by the treachery of words, the activity of the artist is cursed with
mediacy. Art becomes the enemy of the artist, for it denies him the realization, the
transcendence, he desires.
Therefore, art comes to be estimated as something to be overthrown. A new element enters
the art-work and becomes constitutive of it: the appeal (tacit or overt) for its own abolition —
and, ultimately, for the abolition of art itself.