All art begins as a supererogatory act!
That is what I shall now call Savage’s First Thesis in honor of Cort Savage, a professor of art here. The exclamation point, I think, may be essential to the thesis, though I’m not sure about that.
I had a fascinating exchange with Cort after contacting the art department about the Van Gogh Project. Although the exchange wasn’t one of art, it was one of ideas; and I’ll take that any day.
Of course, one might wonder, as did I, what Cort means by the phrase ‘supererogatory act’. And here is what Cort said he means:
1. An act that exceeds and raises the bar for what is considered the social ‘good’.
2. No one would fault you if you did not engage in the act.
So according to Cort, the creation of art produces more social good than typical acts; and no one could be faulted for not creating art.
In addition to the first, Cort articulated Savage’s Second Thesis:
Art is a manifestation of a philosophy.
Cort didn't say exactly what he meant by 'philosophy', but he did articulate a third thesis and provided some examples that clarify his meaning.
Savage’s Third Thesis:
The moment a philosophy becomes a commodity, it transforms into sophistry.
Cort illustrated his third thesis with two examples:
The latter example [pushing someone out of the way of an oncoming car and letting yourself be hit instead] is interesting because I think it is a supererogatory act, but if you then demanded payment from the person in exchange for saving his/her life the act ceases to be supererogatory.
Remember Todd Beamer and his ‘lets roll’ line from his 911 airplane phone call to his wife...supererogatory act : ) Then his wife tries to get the line trademarked to profit from his death...transformation to sophistry : (
Because I’m in a thesis-naming mood, I shall from hereon call the conjunction of Cort’s three theses: Savagery.
I am not sure what motivates Cort’s acceptance of Savagery. But my guess is that it stems from the feeling that art elevates us above the savages. In the words of Doctor Matt, a local art collector, art transcends. To turn that transcendence into an object that is bought and sold, however, is to push that original act into the cold, ugly and utterly untranscendent thing called the market. It is to push one’s art once again ever closer to the savagery that art seeks to escape.
Savagery, I think, is a fascinating philosophy of art and has a number of interesting implications that I hope to explore at some point.
But one very salient fact is worth pointing out right now: Van Gogh’s art has become utterly commodified.
So if Cort is right, to get a Van Gogh, I’ll need to dine with some savages.
And no doubt once I get a Van Gogh, I’ll have plenty of dinners with savages as well.
So perhaps part of my new strategy should involve inculcating savage tendencies in myself -- training in mixed martial arts, firing guns, etc.
Now that I think about it, I like those ideas very much.
In the next few weeks, therefore, I'll try to find a class in mixed martial arts. And I'll try to find a way to fire a gun.
I haven't up to this point in my life been inclined to those types of activities. But I'm willing to try. And who knows, it could be fun!
And maybe then, once I've become savage enough, the Universe will see fit to bring me closer to a Van Gogh.
Yes, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that the Universe has given me a sign:
It doesn't want me to just own a Van Gogh. No, what he Universe really wants is for me to become a gun-toting, ass kicking owner of a Van Gogh!