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The function of bridging gap between an idiosyncratic language (his or her own) and a more universal one was relegated to a group of special individuals called artists. Theirs is job to experience (mostly emotions), to mould it into a grammar, syntax and vocabulary of a universal language in order to communicate echo of their idiosyncratic language. They are forever mediating between us and their experience. Rightly so, quality of an artist is measured by his ability to loyally represent his unique language to us. The smaller distance between original experience (the emotion of artist) and its external representation - more prominent artist.
We declare artistic success when universally communicable representation succeeds at recreating original emotion (felt by artist) with us. It is very much like those science fiction contraptions which allow for decomposition of astronaut's body in one spot - and its recreation, atom for atom in another (teleportation).
Even if artist fails to do so but succeeds in calling forth any kind of emotional response in his viewers/readers/listeners, he is deemed successful.
Every artist has a reference group, his audience. They could be alive or dead (for instance, he could measure himself against past artists). They could be few or many, but they must exist for art, in its fullest sense, to exist. Modern theories of art speak about audience as an integral and defining part of artistic creation and even of artefact itself.
But this, precisely, is source of dilemma of artist:
Who is to determine who is a good, qualitative artist and who is not?
Put differently, who is to measure distance between original experience and its representation?
After all, if original experience is an element of an idiosyncratic, non-communicable, language - we have no access to any information regarding it and, therefore, we are in no position to judge it. Only artist has access to it and only he can decide how far is his representation from his original experience. Art criticism is impossible.
Granted, his reference group (his audience, however limited, whether among living, or among dead) has access to that meta language, that universal dictionary available to all humans. But this is already a long way towards representation (the work of art). No one in audience has access to original experience and their capacity to pass judgement is, therefore, in great doubt.
On other hand, only reference group, only audience can aptly judge representation for what it is. The artist is too emotionally involved. True, cold, objective facts concerning work of art are available to both artist and reference group - but audience is in a privileged status, its bias is less pronounced.
Normally, reference group will use meta language embedded in us as humans, some empathy, some vague comparisons of emotions to try and grasp emotional foundation laid by artist. But this is very much like substituting verbal intercourse for real thing. Talking about emotions - let alone making assumptions about what artist may have felt that we also, maybe, share - is a far cry from what really transpired in artist's mind.
We are faced with a dichotomy:
The epistemological elements in artistic process belong exclusively and incommunicably to artist.
The ontological aspects of artistic process belong largely to group of reference but they have no access to epistemological domain.
And work of art can be judged only by comparing epistemological to ontological.
Nor artist, neither his group of reference can do it. This mission is nigh impossible.
Thus, an artist must make a decision early on in his career:
Should he remain loyal and close to his emotional experiences and studies and forgo warmth and comfort of being reassured and directed from outside, through reactions of reference group, or should he consider views, criticism and advice of reference group in his artistic creation - and, most probably, have to compromise quality and intensity of his original emotion in order to be more communicative.
I wish to thank my brother, Sharon Vaknin, a gifted painter and illustrator, for raising these issues.
ADDENDUM - Art as Self-Mutilation
The internalized anger of Jesus - leading to his suicidal pattern of behaviour - pertained to all of Mankind. His sacrifice "benefited" humanity as a whole. A self-mutilator, in comparison, appears to be "selfish".
His anger is autistic, self-contained, self-referential and, therefore, "meaningless" as far as we are concerned. His catharsis is a private language.
But what people fail to understand is that art itself is an act of self mutilation, etching of ephemeral pain into a lasting medium, ultimate private language.
They also ignore, at their peril, fact that only a very thin line separates self-mutilation - whether altruistic (Jesus) or "egoistic" - and mutilation of others (serial killers, Hitler).
About inverted saints:
About serial killers:
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.