Kintsugi

Yesterday I went to the arts and crafts supply store. It has been a long time since I’ve splurged on anything but books. I like the word splurge. The onomatopoeia of it. The bursting and slashing out of an outdoor spigot that hasn’t been used in a while. There is something inherently summer-y about it in my mind’s little associative tangle.

Still, it is a big step from purchasing to actual use. Sometimes I get stuck at the sensuous aspects of a freshly sharpened pencil. I want to write the word “poised”, but doing so would ruin the perfect tip, would dull the bright, jagged lines along the tapering wood.

I know this is absolutely related to the more general tendency of clinging in my life. To a moment, to a potential, to the concept of some imminent — amazing — self.

Of course, I’ve no way of knowing, but wonder if this isn’t something women experience more keenly than men through a great deal of our lifetimes? I’m thinking of words like nubile and events like childbirth. The inevitable destruction of life for life. Of beauty for beauty.

It seems to me that embracing dulled pencil-tips, finding beauty in what is worn and smudged and dulled is necessary for me. And not in a “shabby chic” way, aestheticized with filters — physical or conceptual. Not in juxtaposition with the new and slick, setting oneself up for some kind of self-congratulatory appreciation of the “other” that is past. It’s probably not a coincidence that shabby chic became popular about the same time as “ruin photography”. Or even more telling a nomenclature, “ruin porn”.

Adam Alston writes about immersive theater and talks about the difference between an aesthetic experience and an aestheticized experience, where the former is an experience brought on by observing an aestheticized object/event/bit of language, and the latter is the personal, individual experience reflexively acknowledged as the artwork itself. The object/theater performance/poem is only the conduit for the viewer-audience to create art.

The thing is, while aestheticized experience as an art form would democratize art in the extreme, it would (true to Oscar Wilde) simultaneously create a ruthless hierarchy of the inherent worthiness of each individual’s inner life. The artist would no longer be serving a tradition, or mastering a discipline, or channeling a genius (in the Greek daemon sense). They themselves are the genius, and their private un-sharable experience un-manifested in the world is the work of “art”.

In our world obsessed as we are with commodities, this is perplexing.

But beyond that, if the artwork is inherently “un-sharable” then how can we know it is legitimate in terms of expressing the “human” experience. And if all of it is legitimate as art, then art needs to be viewed as entirely subject and therefore any talk of theory, or commodification is absurd.

But is there a culture anywhere really — has there ever been — that doesn’t designate a few members of the community as “artists”? Who are these people? I know I am circling around what other people have spent entire careers questioning. I acknowledge that. And I acknowledge that there is still value in my layman questions and considerations.

Back to Ashton’s distinction of an aestheticized experience. With all due respect to the expert: I have been to see Punch Drunk’s production of Drowned Man several times. I bought a book of photographs of the installations. What I took away from it was an aesthetic experience of the exquisite craftsmanship, the illusions created by the dancers and actors and set designers. The fact that I was immersed in these illusions doesn’t change the fact that it was an aesthetic experience of an objective nature. Yes, theatre often provides the story, but paintings don’t, pottery doesn’t. We always inject our subjective narratives onto artworks. And we can never know if they match the artist’s own.

To be honest, I am not sure where my mind is going with this. What need I’m exploring. What fear.

Look here: this perfectly beautiful sharpened pencil. How can I possibly create something worthy of wearing that point? Of dulling that wood?

Isn’t that the fear? The pressure of aesthetics? A misunderstanding of aesthetics? Is the appreciation of kintsugi just a form of Orientalism on my part? Or is it an authentic longing for something?

And why in the hell is that even a question I am asking myself?

in my coffee mug
a thin layer of tiny
air bubbles floating
on the surface broken
by void-embryos morphing

4 Comments

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  1. Fascinating post. Much to think about. The heartbreaking potential of a sharpened pencil, an empty page. The experience of art and the experience of the experience of art and the experience of the experience of making art. Okay, now it’s getting kind of funny.

  2. Nice post. I believe many creatives are empaths who don’t just love words like splurge or poised, they feel them. Art and beauty is in the eye and mind of beholder. I think that’s why the most powerful things are left for the reader, viewer or listener to fill in. They become part of the story and art. Thanks for the reminder!

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