Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On Quality and Art

A while ago, a good friend let me borrow his copy of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

Through steady reasoning, weaving philosophical references from all corners of the globe with simple lessons about motorcycle maintenance, Robert Pirsig creates a masterpiece around the topic of quality. Page after page, he redefines Quality - with a capital "Q" - as the absolute source of our knowledge; a connecting bridge between the unending potential of our future and the realization of that potential in the present. This is the kind of definition that cannot be found in a dictionary.

Now, onto art, starting with...a dictionary definition:
the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

These dull words make me wish that Mr. Pirsig had also written about art, but maybe he already has.

...a sufficiently inspiring work of art is indistinguishable from absolute Quality.
Good art challenges the observer to interact with it. A good artist is able to create a finite piece of work that causes unexpected feelings on observers. As the observers become aware of those feelings, surprise takes root to support a wave of new feelings, causing a chain reaction of conscious thought and ultimately a final stage of wonder.

How do they do it? Without a blueprint or recipe, out of the thin air of their imagination, they impart their intelligence and inspiration onto ordinary materials. Hours, days, centuries later, without exception, that intelligence and inspiration remain alive, ready to amaze anyone who gazes or listens to them.

Whenever a work of art touches someone, it needs characteristics that are lost in the observers; otherwise it will fail to cause new sensations and emotions. However, human beings are so complex that finding something amiss amongst millions would be virtually impossible to men. In many cultures, those who hover above men are known as Gods.

So, are great artists Gods? Certainly not, but at some point in time, they established a transcendental connection with a greater source of inspiration not available to average men. They were able to convey that fleeting moment into hand craft using rudimentary tools and their earthbound skill and senses.

That source of greater inspiration is Mr. Pirsig's Quality: the source of our knowledge. A true artist is able to channel that undiluted knowledge and transform it into art. Even as some impurity makes it into the final work in the form of imperfect craft and imperfect materials, the quality in the final work is still indistinguishable from its primordial source.

To paraphrase Arthur Clarke's 3rd law: a sufficiently inspiring work of art is indistinguishable from absolute Quality.

Maybe most of us cannot touch millions with our work or create timeless sculpture, but that is only one way of expressing art.

Art - now with a capital A - is the representation of Quality, and is available to all of us. All that it takes is that we sit quietly now and then, letting our imperfect thoughts to fade away while Quality asserts itself. If you capture as much of that moment in craft, words, or actions, and the result manages to inspire as much as one person around you, you will have become an artist.


Nascif said...

Nice post!

Defining Art as something that connects with observer in some shared, deeper level is an idea that has been described by many great authors; the difference being their interpretation of what that inner space that is activated represents.

Joseph Campbell tells us that artists are the gatekeepers of the Mythology of their time. According to him artists tap into what C. G. Jung describes as the collective unconscious, and our sense of connection with a work of art comes from our recognition of the archetypes that it brings to life.

Paul Graham, although not going so far as to postulate a theory to describe it, writes about how good art is the one that is successful in resonating with its audience. He tries to dismiss the idea that what makes a work of art "good" is subjective and even suggests a method to judge them.

Denilson Nastacio said...

Great articles. I liked Joseph Campbell's article for its attempt to objectively describe good art, but I think he may have lacked the philosophical finesse from Robert Pirsig.

Paul Graham's article seemed like a good technical reference while trying to create good art. It does introduce a fine point I missed in my posting, about what separates more successful artists (not necessarily better) from the occasionally enlightened person.

Drawing from Quality requires one to tune out their rational thoughts for a moment, but if your unconscious is primed with Graham's recommendations, there is a greater chance that the final result will be much more powerful, as not only it will elicit emotion but it will also resonate with the audience.

Thanks for the links and stopping by!