A Few Thoughts on Art As a Lived Experience

It’s getting be late in the afternoon, and this accursed summer cold (courtesy of adorable little nieces and nephews) has rendered me mostly incapable of extended thought. But I have been enjoying the ongoing reporting of the story of an eighty-year-old Spanish woman’s attempt at art restoration that’s been making the rounds of the Internet for the last week.

It’s true that at heart, the story is so saccharine it makes your fingers sticky just thinking about it, and from the presevationist’s stand-point, there’s some possibly permanent damage done to a minor work of art that someone somewhere deemed worthy of restoring and preserving for future generations, which I suppose is also sad.

But for the life of me, every time I return to this story, all I can think is how wonderfully it demonstrates the lived experience of art and indeed the difference between the viewer and the maker. The woman, we’re told, took it upon herself to attempt to restore the painting because it was her favorite and she was saddened by its decrepit state. I rather doubt she takes much pleasure in the results of her restoration. Still, I find it hard to be too bothered with the work’s loss–surely it meant more to her, the person who sought and failed to save it, than the people who left it to moulder and fall apart?

As a performance critic I’m deeply committed to the idea of art of art as a lived experience rather than abstract notion. Hyperallergic has cheekily dubbed her the “Punk Restorer,” but there’s actually a great deal of truth behind the comment. Reading about the story, I was reminded of the following bit by Antonin Artaud, from “No More Masterpieces,” which I think is very apropos (despite being specifically about literature):

If the public does not frequent our literary masterpieces, it is because those masterpieces are literary, that is to say, fixed; and fixed in forms that no longer respond to the needs of the time.

Far from blaming the public, we ought to blame the formal screen we interpose between ourselves and the public, and this new form of idolatry, the idolatry of fixed masterpieces which is one of the aspects of bourgeois conformism.

This conformism makes us confuse sublimity, ideas, and things with the forms they have taken in time and in our minds-in our snobbish, precious, esthetic mentalities which the public does not understand.