• Andrew Field

Theory of Feeling, part 2 - Forms of Golem-Making

Image from the interior of the sculptor Chaim Gross's studio, with sculptures and tools, 2016.

In two earlier posts, we talked about why feeling can be a good framework for thinking about art. Today I want to extend those ideas.

Art has a lot of forms, including literature, visual art, film, theater, dance, music, puppetry, and comedy. Each form is made out of different materials, and these materials are made out of different semantic configurations. By semantics I mean "meaning." Meaning is a property, before anything else, I think, of feeling.

When we say "art form," we often imagine an abstraction - "music" is some vague idea about what we hear on the radio, "art" is a passing impression of a visit to the museum a few times, "literature" is something intimidating that a mean teacher made us hate our freshman year in high school. Because these are abstractions, they contain no life, no actual substance related to the way in which people create, perform, and experience art. There is an enormous and tragic paucity to our understanding about what art is, or can be, what it can contribute to our lives.

In order to think about art, however, we need creative ways of talking about it, ways that are fresh, that draw people in. Feeling is one such way. Oftentimes, in the U.S. and probably abroad as well, too much criticism of art is lexical. It takes literature as the be-all end-all or art forms (and probably poetry as the highest and purest form of it, which is an interesting claim probably based on religious notions of voice and invisibility, but somewhat limited), and as a result, images are slighted, as well as performances like dance, live music, film. It makes sense - people want to use words to describe words. But again, it's an approach with limitations, and amazing artists wind up getting slighted. This is ironic, to say the least, because every art form is a performance, including writing, of course. When performance is slighted, art becomes more disembodied, and we begin to focus exclusively on language, because we associated language with thought, and we associate thought with a kind of impersonality we feel must belong to something profound and important and distinctive, something our intimidating high school teacher must have valued when he or she corrected our grammar for the gazillionth time, or circled a word and glared at us.

In order to fight these abstractions, it's important sometimes to start with some basics. Here are 34 theses (I like theses - here is an earlier post with more of them about poetry):

  1. Every art form is a creation and performance, and every interpretation of an art form is a creation and performance.

  2. A creation and performance is a form of participation.

  3. Every creation and performance carries within its DNA different gradients of embodiment.

  4. Every creation and performance is, by its nature, a matter of feeling finding form.

  5. Feeling is an embodied experience, in the sense of both emotion and touch.

  6. Feeling is more connotative than denotative.

  7. Feeling is the force behind metaphor.

  8. Feeling is organic or its nothing.

  9. Feeling is a matter of tone more than content.

  10. How we feel shapes how we create, perform, interpret, value, and imagine.

  11. Art forms are various shapes of the feeling imagination.

  12. The written Torah is the oral Torah.

  13. Both the written Torah and the oral Torah are the product of the feeling imagination.

  14. The feeling imagination can be represented along a gradient of embodiment.

  15. By embodiment I mean all the senses - sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste.

  16. By disembodiment I mean anything from pathological disassociation to shamanic journeys. I also mean experiences of art that, because they privilege one sense or another - sight for visual art, hearing for music, the mind itself, a sense in Buddhism, for literature - can lead to either healthy or unhealthy experiences of disembodiment.

  17. Imagining is both an embodied and a disembodied activity, like love.

  18. Embodiment or disembodiment does not necessarily mean more associated with thought or feeling.

  19. Embodiment and disembodiment can differ based on the experience of the artist or audience. A sculptor sculpts with his or her whole body, but we look at it usually only with our perception, not our touch.

  20. The semantics of words are neither embodied nor sensuous. We physically see them in the foreground, say, but we read and understand them with our minds.

  21. Live performances - music, comedy, dance, theater, puppetry - are more embodied, because they involve more of our senses. Popcorn, bristling elbows, hand-holding, loud sound, laughter, colorful costumes, velvety chairs, etc.

  22. The Western tradition of art favors the mind over the senses, as a product of the Judaeo-Christian inheritance, as a means of moving away from the animalistic in the human being. This is why Whitman's "I am the poet of the body / and I am the poet of the soul" is so radical. The fact that it is written in language makes it even weirder.

  23. Images and words are shapes made out of lines, colors, and arrangements. When they are captured, they are stitched onto surfaces. We can touch the surfaces, but we can't exactly touch the words and images, unless we are reading braille. Images and words in art are like things we try to net that are un-nettable, like ideas.

  24. Abstractions happen when we think things are nettable.

  25. Every performance and creation - every shape - of the feeling imagination contains different versions.

  26. An artwork is a performance and creation of the feeling imagination - a shape - that contains a boundless amount of versions.

  27. Version means an interpretation based on a perspective.

  28. A version is a psychological thing.

  29. Thought without feeling is useless.

  30. Feeling without thought can be a lot of things, depending on the thought.

  31. Logic is a matter of feeling more than thought.

  32. Psychosis is logical, because it is an attempt on the part of feeling to find form.

  33. Art, in any version, is a human being imagining, through a strange synthesis of feeling and thought, shapes that give it meaning.

  34. All art is syncretic and ekphrastic, because all art forms are forms of Golem-making.

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