Contemporary Culture from the Bottom Up

Culture Quote of the Week by Robert Williams

This is a long quote taken from the introduction of Robert Williams’ Art Theory book, which I have begun reading recently:

“[...] in modern Western culture, after all, art is associated with the free expression of a unique vision or the pleasurable cultivation of individual tastes; it is an arena in which we are usually encouraged to assume the validity of our spontaneous impulses and reactions–in much the same way as we shop. Yet our impulses and reactions are not as spontaneous as they seem and they are rarely as uniquely individual as they seem: they too are historical products; the very space that culture creates for them is framed in a manner that structures their contents. This realization can be unsettling; it implies that our interest in art is not as innocent as we suppose and, in fact, is grounded very differently than we suppose. Even more disturbingly, it implies that the kind of things we commonly regard as mot intimate and particular to ourselves–our thoughts and feelings, even our very identities–are not entirely, not really our own, that we too are provisional, unstable categories, that we too are historical products.

Such self-consciousness is critically productive because it exposes the real urgency of our stake in art, the depth and complexity of the processes by which art affects and shapes us. Although it is often thought of as something set apart from the everyday, art draws upon all those reflexes, sentiments, and habits of mind which we use to make sense of our day-to-day lives. Its resonance and power are grounded in our need for meaning in the most fundamental and all-inclusive sense; indeed, the kinds of basic skills we use to find our way through the world themselves involve and depend on art. Art is not something we must go out of our way to encounter but is woven, like language, into the very fabric of our experience and consciousness, and it is essential to the way in which we navigate a complex culture. Our thoughts and feelings may not be entirely our own, but we do experience moments of coherence, achieve some semblance of identity, and manage to retain some sense of significant agency; such as they are, they are the effects of art.

Art Theory Culture Quote

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Written by Nicole Casamento

Nicole Casamento is the founder of Culture Grinder.

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