Mika Karhu, artist, researcher
The ways we talk about art may also function as control mechanisms. Art is controlled by styles of speech and by general ways of thinking, which explain what art is and what can be its role in the social world. The stiff discourses of art resemble ritual patterns of religious services. These enthusiastically repeated patterns of speech give the texts about art some sort of holy character. Ritualistic and fixed ways of discourse lead to empty formalism and functionalism, and do not reveal anything essential about the relation between art and society. On the contrary, they conceal everything interesting and important. Thus we loose everything that connects art to life from which it arises and which it serves. Rigid formalism rejects all connections to everyday social experience, to smell, flesh, sweat, sex, money, satisfaction, yearning, submission, domination, vomit, to choir singing, football, child’s laughter, joy, fear of sickness and death, to resentment, murder and injustice. By denying art’s connection to everyday experience the priests of the holy power of ritualistic art express that they are part of the elite.
John Dewey’s way of approaching art from the viewpoint of experience is an alternative to this. Experience in art is communal. Art is an important element of social experience, which cannot be separated from the dynamics of the community and shared experiences. According to Dewey the holy object and art were connected in the rituals of social life. One consequence of this was that spiritual dimensions were projected on art and ways of talking about art. Art became an internal world as opposed to the external material world.
Instead, art can be understood as a translation of social experience. Art deals with social tensions and experience. The society is full of contradictions from which art gets its potential meanings. Works of art express and communicate these meanings by giving meaningful forms to material with which artists work.