Another Sunday drive through The county. Sunshine adrift upon the breeze, the rolling lines of green of the vineyards sliding past. Nearer the lake, the contrasts of blues makes me wonder. Here in these rural rhythms it's not uncommon to see 150 people gathered on a morning like this, to attend an auction at a local farm. To see what might arrive. So seeing tractors of all sizes and mechanism are the norm roundabouts here.
But this morn, on the western approach to Wellington, I had to stop in wonder. A collector of sculptures has started to install their major works outside on the shores of the Great lake. The White lion, the Sienna Bull between the conifers, and this morn, the vintage tractors !
Which just shook my expectations. There upon their private lane, raised on metal poles riven into the ground, were impaled these tractors of all vintage. Simply amazing. Obviously they were originally designed and engineered so those aesthetics had to have always been there. But this morn, suspended in balance upon these minuscule pedestals, metal and rubber tires both adrift upon the air, those tractors had become - useless, Inutile. Utterly and unquestionably Beautiful.
And that's just it. This appearance of inutility seems to be a necessity for art. (Consider antiques or Duchamps ready mades) I doubt this is simply a question of context, these floating tractors were outside on a private lawn - they were inherently in their environment for the most part. I still hold to the view that art has an extreme contribution to make to social evolution. For me art isn't useless, but crucial for civilization to stay on track. Yet, Arts appearance of inutility is necessary for it to become useful.
That reason I think is pointed to in Iain McGilChrist's book The Master and his Emissary. Among the thesis put forward there (and elucidated much clearer there than here) is that there is an essential reason why we have two hemispheres for a brain. That being in part to be able to hold two differing ways of knowing the world always at our beck and call. The right hemisphere being attuned to that which approaches us, discerning the other as other and seeking the possible relationships we may have with this variable environment and our place in it. It is attentive and responsive to what is, seeking an integrated understanding of the world which includes oneself. The left hemisphere is geared to applying an existing rational self view of consequences, structured to do things within its understood and pre-existing worldview, it is manipulative in all senses of the word. It attempts to bring the world to fit its view point, it achieves things. Put vulgarly, two world views, one for the prey and the predator.
But significantly, it is the attentive to the other, the realm of the moral and morales, that permits us to become one with an other, that allows us to see the greater significance of things, of metaphor and meaning and graces us with love. Art, by appearing to be inutile, has no apparent function for the left hemisphere to apply its reasoning to. So the right hemisphere is allowed to attend to what is there. To discover the depth and significance of this other than what is known by the left hemisphere. So like a friend that has utterly no utility for us, but is cherished for their complexity and depth, in fact can hence be loved for themselves, so art too is given the space and time to reveal itself. It isn't something to be used, but something that might be understood and related to for itself. There is seemingly nothing to accomplish with it, nothing for the left hemisphere to make work, so instead we seek with the right hemisphere the arts relations to itself and the world, we attend to it, awaiting discernment of whatever it may reveal itself to be.
All because, art appears useless !. When we put something upon a pedestal, like those tractors impaled upon those black metal posts, there isn't much it can do. When we hang pictures on a wall, there isn't much they can do, when we capture a memory within a moment, frozen or repeating within a loop, it itself can't accomplish much, the sculpture upon the pedestal, remains there. But since we can do little with them, the left hemisphere doesn't intrude on the right hemisphere, and we are then allowed to discover of them. Like a friend that is always so much more then we have ever known, and we allow to reveal to ourselves, to change , be in flux and not reside in our expectations, so our understanding of a piece of art is grounded in our accepting it as always having something more to say. That it isn't simply something we need or can manipulate to our advantage, as our left hemisphere is apt to achieve. That it is allowed to be whatever it reveals itself to be.
Art first needs to be seen as useless, otherwise we can see only its utility, and then nothing of its being and significance. Art is understood in our relationship with it, within the right hemispheres attending to the world, and far from the left hemispheres analytical preconceived view of the world.
So yes, art first appears useless, hence we may discern its significance and value.
© GAMcCullough 2012