What is art and where does it come from?
Copyright by Dave Okar, 2/17/01 

  I'll start with a quote from Gerhard Hauptmann, "Poetry evokes out of words the resonance of the primordial world."
  Any poem that does not reflect images of the artist's personal unconscious, or those of the collective unconscious, is not worth serious consideration on my part.  Why?  Because it is through the collective unconscious that we can resonate with the primordial world.  The technical details- the alliteration, the musicality, the line-break, the form- all of these are secondary concerns.  Secondary because a given work may contain all of these things, yet not meet the first requirement nor accord with Hauptmann's definition.  Even if such a work is technically perfect it is a waste of my time to read it.  In fact, such a work would be a "craft" rather than "art".  Please notice:  I am NOT saying that the technical details are irrelevant - merely that they cannot replace the center of an empty poem.
  What is the value of the technical details?  These so-called Rules of Craft are what the poet uses to refine and polish their inspirations into the finished piece that they will make public. From my perspective, the main sticking point concerning the rules of craft, as applied by Dan Schneider, is the dictatorial approach that he champions.  The message I get from his writings and public forums is basically this: "I know what makes a great poem and if your work doesn't fit MY definition, it cannot POSSIBLY be a great poem.  This is so regardless of how many other poets, editors, and consumers of poetry say otherwise.  I am the FINAL arbiter of greatness."   Furthermore, Dan and his ilk contend that the Rules of Craft are the primary determinant as to whether a given piece should be allowed to wear the label "ART".  I think that my preceding statements make it clear that I disagree.
  Let's take a look at the "inspiration" that I spoke of in the preceding paragraph.  According to my Webster's, "[inspiration is] the act of inhalation, as opposed to expiration".  Further down the list it means, "to be breathed upon by God".  Neither of these has anything to do with art.  The latter definition is, however, the root of the backward notion that artistic inspiration comes solely from outside the artist (ditto: all the talk of Muses).  In my opinion, artistic inspiration is found within the poet.  Certainly, one may be stimulated to create a particular piece by external things; the sunrise, a rose, the plight of the working classes, and so on.  However, these external stimuli are not the source of the inspiration.  Rather, they "resonate" with whatever it is inside the poet that promotes creativity, i.e. "the primordial world".  Everyone has experienced these stimuli, but only the artist feels this resonance and attempts to create a physical rendition of it, that is, create art.  Certainly, external stimuli are not required and many poets can create pieces that are driven completely from within, yet, they still "resonate" with the primordial world - which is, after all, much larger than any individual.
  With these ideas in mind, I can define an artist.  An artist is one actively engaged in trying to "pull" these resonances out of their psyche and into the "real" world (I use the word "psyche" only because this is my preference - you may prefer others- "soul", "heart", "mind", etc.).  The question then arises: "Why does the artist pull these things out?"  The answers are as numerous as artists, but at the root, I believe we have no real choice.  From my own experience, a poem is like an insistent knocking upon the door, always pleading to get out.  At times it is polite and may even be ignored, then it is violent and demands immediate satisfaction, but it never goes away.  My only real choice is to render it into some kind of tangible form where I can look at and try to figure out what the hell it is.  This is "self expression" in its truest form.  This is raw art.  If you want to understand this more completely I will point you to two essays: 1) "The position of art in the psychology of our time" by M.C. Cammerloher in "Spiritual Disciplines - Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks" and 2) "On the relation of analytical psychology to poetry" by C.G. Jung in Volume 15 of the collected works of C.G. Jung.
  You have, undoubtedly, noticed that two things are "missing" from my scenario of the creative process.  (Although, I have enough experience with this topic to understand that some of you will claim that I have missed the point so completely that my words are meaningless drivel.  If you fall into that category - close your eyes and imagine me shrugging my shoulders)  I have not invoked any rules of craft, nor have I included an audience.  These two are inextricably linked and are secondary to the creative process in the sense that they define the quality of a given work- not its identity as a work of art.  The particular rules of craft that a poet uses to hone their work are determined, to a large extent, by the audience that they are targeting with their work.  Some prefer to write for other writers, that is, those who can fully appreciate the form and style of their work.  Others will employ rules of craft based upon the oral traditions - today characterized by the rap, hip-hop, or slam style.  Some will move to a more multi-media approach, pulling in music or drawings to flesh out their poems.  Still others, myself included, write (even perform) basically for an audience of one - themselves.  And, yes, I DO read my poems aloud, even when I am alone.  The point is this: the rules of craft employed by a particular artist is a personal choice and that choice, alone, has no bearing on the quality of the work.

[DAN REBUTS- Dave, I'll be brief as possible because I want others to voice off pro or con. 1) Thanks for contributing- while I disagree with most of this piece you have crystallized months of your arguings well. In light of the academics who refuse to participate beyond a smirking diss, or anonymous cowards who hurl stones,  you stand out as willing to stand for something. Bravo! I hope others will view this essay's appearance as proof that I am fair-minded. The initial quote seems like mushy gobbledygook more apropos for a philosopy or religion than an art/science, as does your explication. You mention (in your email reply below) Rilke & he was a master at fooling others to buy into his "personal resonance"- good/great artists can fool you- that's part of their greatness. As for seeking to get poets to ape me in their approach to art. Nonsense. Read my Bloom essay (S&D page) & my bit on Whitman & Art's branches. And any attendee to the UPG can attest that I always tailor my critique to the poem at hand, not try to mold the poem to be more Schneiderian. Any attesting to that wd be appreciated! W/o craft art is formless emotion & philosophy. The art is in the conveyance of the thing/idea- not the thing/idea itself. And usually a higher conveyance than normal. As for its inspiration, I agree 100%- too often artists eschew their own abilities to attribute it to a Muse/Jesus. There's a book called FIRE IN THE CRUCIBLE by John Briggs- it's on Genius & Creativity. I've emailed him hoping he'd be willing to distill his views in essay form. Your piece alludes to some of his points. To end- your last sentence is plain dumb- it's classic excuse-making. But we've gone 'round this carousel before. Let's let others in.]

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