The Art of Automutilation

A French distributor of anti-art tracts causes Dalrymple to consider the meaning of art, the difference between it and craft, and its relation to tattoos.

Although he seems to be an outsider, the author of these little tracts—which I much enjoyed reading, incidentally—captures quite a lot of the flavour of the times. His insistence that there is no such thing as art would be grateful to the ears of all kinds of relativists. If nothing is art, everything can partake of the kudos of art once only the connotation remains after the denotation has been removed. And if there is no art, there can—I think it follows—be no good and no bad art. Everything is the same, and we neither have to try very hard at anything nor make the painful discovery that we are not geniuses, that the achievements of, say, a Mozart or a Shakespeare are further removed from our own attempts than are our bank balances from those of Bill Gates.

One thought on “The Art of Automutilation

  1. Noah Dunn

    Daniels is making some interesting assumptions here. The first is that one “discovers” genius in oneself, as if it was a type of gem in one’s brain – preexisting all experience. The second assumption is that this “discovery” is separate from “trying hard.” To me, this dichotomy seems a bit false – it suggests that one could not try very hard but nevertheless “discover” genius in oneself or vice-versa. I do not think that every person has the potential to reach the musical heights of Mozart (there are many unseen limitations on each individual), but I do think that there is no such thing as “discovering” genius in oneself. This suggests a passive-stance towards personal ability that doesn’t seem born out by even the most cursory glance of the historical record, which clearly indicates that all those labelled “geniuses” tend to do thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of very deliberate practice and study.

    Further, it’s impossible to actually know what one’s limitations are. If I reach a certain level of musical ability, I can tell myself two things: 1, that I’ve reached my limitations and therefore I should stop trying to improve and accept my lot. Or 2, that there are concrete mistakes that I’m making, and that these mistakes can be rectified. With the first option, you very might well have reached your limits – but you can’t actually know; by telling yourself you’ve reached your limits, you might create a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby you tell yourself you can’t improve, which leads you to not practice, which of course leads to no improvement, and therefore reinforces your original assumption. With option two, you’re obliged to continue the process of practice, which is hard work, but at least you avoid a self-defeatist mentality.

    With all that said, I don’t think many artists practice their art because they suspect there is a Nobel prize (or the equivalent ) around the corner. I believe they practice because they enjoy the process of incremental improvement. So the notion that there are thousands and thousands of musicians out there, quietly enduring the painful reality that nobody is calling them the next Mozart, is patently absurd.


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