Saturday, July 9, 2016
Bats and Arts
This morning I took a brief hike on the Apex trail leading to the Enchanted Forest. The traffic along the trail -- hikers, dogs, mountain bikers -- was bustling. During a moment when I was alone on the trail I happened to notice small butterflies congregating near a creek. I hadn't realized that butterflies were that social (although one often hears of people who are "social butterflies").
The butterflies caught the attention of a small, honey-brown, mouse-eared bat. It flew in slow circles around me like an drunken moth, sometimes swooping down to the creek to snatch a sip of water on the fly. I hoped to get a photograph of the bat when it rested on a tree limb, but the bat was always out of range. All you can tell from this grainy photograph is the bat's color.
After my nature hike I returned home and read from Otto Rank's Art and the Artist (1932). The reading was slow going. Rank was a brilliant thinker (originally part of Sigmund Freud's inner circle until he was ostracised for questioning whether the Oedipus Complex should be the sole foundation of psychiatry) but Rank was not a graceful stylist. And Rank's translator did him no favors: the syntax of the original German weighs down every sentence. I labored through Rank's analysis of two kinds of artists: the Classical artist and the Romantic artist.
Here's a taste. Rank starts from a discussion of two things that drive the artist: impulse and will.
"The external difficulties in an artist's experience appear ... as manifestations of this internal dualism of impulse and will, and in the creative type it is the latter which eventually gains the upper hand. Instinct presses in the direction of experience and, in the limit, to consequent exhaustion -- in fact, death -- while will drives to creation and thus to immortalization. On the other hand, the productive type also pays toll to life by his work and to death by bodily and spiritual sufferings of a "neurotic" order; and conversely in many cases the product of a type that is at bottom neurotic may be his sole propitiatory offering to Life. It is with reason, therefore, that from the beginning two basic types of artist have been distinguished: these have been called at one time Dionysian and Apollonian, and at another Classical and Romantic. In terms of our present dynamic treatment, the one approximates to the psychopathic-impulsive type, the other to the compulsive-neurotic volitional type. The one creates more from fullness or powers and sublimation, the other more from exhaustion and compensation. The work of the one is entire in every single expression, that of the other is partial even in its totality, for the one lives itself out, positively, in the work, while the other pays with with the work -- pays, not to society (for both do that), but to life itself, from which the one strives to win freedom by self-willed creation whereas for the other the thing created is the expression of live itself."
Rank gets slightly clearer as he develops his argument:
"Thus we see that what the artist needs for true creative art in addition to his technique and a definite ideology is life in one form or another; and the two artist-types differ essentially in the source from which they take this life that is essential to production. The Classical type, who is possibly poorer within, but nearer to life, and himself more vital, takes it from without: that is, he creates immortal work from mortal life without necessarily having first transformed it into personal experience as is the case with the Romantic. For, to the Romantic, experience of his own appears to be an essential preliminary to productivity, although he does not use this experience for the enrichment of his own personality, but to economize the personal experiences, the burden of which he would fain escape. Thus the one artist-type constantly makes us of other life than his own -- in fact, nature -- for the purpose of creating, while the other can create only by perpetually sacrificing his own life. This essential difference of attitude to the fundamental problem of life throws a psychological light on the contrast in styles of various periods in art. Whatever aesthetic designation may be applied to this contrast, from the spiritual point of view the work of the Classicist, more or less naturalistic, artist is essentially partial, and the work of the Romantic, produced from within, total. This totality-type spends itself perpetually in creative work without absorbing very much of life, while the partial type has continually to absorb life so that he may throw it off again in his work."
And later in the chapter:
"The Classical justifies the work by his life, but the Romantic must justify both life and experience by his work and, further, must have a witness of his life to justify his production. The fundamental problem of the Romantic artist is thus the self-justification of the individual raised above the crowd, while the Classical artist-type expresses himself in his work -- which receives a social justification by way of general recognition."
I myself lean toward the Classical artist-type.