You have to understand that at a certain point the logic involved in explaining a piece of art collapses, because you can’t explain art through logic. – Milton Glaser
I have often thought about this, quite inconclusively. It would render so much of what I do and am surrounded by useless. And yet, despite spelling my redundancy, it would also be liberating. Where, to what and how, I have no idea. Even if I tried my hardest best to not logicise a Keats poem or a Katy Perry song, it is what my brain and the universe ask of me. There are two kinds of people in the world, and often these two are found in the same person. One, that wants to experience art and beauty for what it is, as a source of pleasure both light and dark. The other is the unfortunate soul who either wants to work it out, has been taught to work it out or has been asked to work it out. And, there is a pleasure in that too. The more complex and challenging, the better, if you have the time and resources to reach a conclusion. For a conclusion must be reached.
The history of mankind and its relationship with all artforms has been a fluctuation of reasoned and unreasoned pleasure. If you look into the history of any art form, from literature to music to painting, it is defined by conveniently named “periods” that can themselves be categorised into reason or passion. Of course, drawing such histories are themselves acts of furthering the process of logic. Logic is central to everything we do in life. Why do most people wake up in the morning? Why do they marry? Why do they get insurance? Why do they splurge? If you didn’t have an answer to any of these questions, you’d be in trouble. You couldn’t say you wake up in the morning for “no reason, just fun”. Fun is itself a very justifiable activity. Even if some things appear unreasonable, like the common cold, there is still some sort of reason you can gather for it, even if it is too modern for such a classic activity, like spawning a multimillion dollar industry that ultimately creates no valid results.
To explore why logic and art can’t always go together, we need to know why we create art. Is there any logic to it? Alright, so the Greeks made very functional examples of architecture with those columns. But, did they really need those flourishes and figures on top of it? Why do we need new pop songs everyday? Aren’t the thousands of ones we already have testament to how they work as a concept? Why should I bother to make a piece of art? Isn’t there more than enough art already?
Ultimately, art is unlike any other human endeavour. In fact, non-artistic human endeavours often become art when their use is redundant. That is why telephones, typewriters and computers from the 80’s are now in museums and not on worktables where they once belonged, providing a more obvious service to mankind. We see these objects solely for their beauty now and even if we use them, we do so with a sense of nostalgia. These objects become art not just because they are on display for their design and participation in human history but, because they evoke specific human emotions.
Even the most logicised piece of art is cold and useless without emotions that get evoked by it. That is why you get mobile phones in so many shapes and colours with subtly different but, more or less, the same functions. Tell me honestly, is it really all those extra megapixels or that bright orange colour? You use as easily as you throw away these gadgets, clothes, furniture and yet they represent something about you and the time you lived in.
That is where logic and boring old academics like me come in (okay, not really old ). In my first year as an undergrad studying English Literature, I asked one of my teachers what were we actually learning to do here. After quite rampant cross-questioning from the overenthusiastic 18-year-old on this end, she finally blurted out, “I don’t know. Nothing. But, that doesn’t mean you stop studying for your finals.” I have since made up my own answer while considering what I do as I logicise artworks ( for a living and because I can’t help it ) and how, in general, art logicians work:
It is to situate, appreciate and protect. With the first, you try to place a work of art in a place, time and culture in history. With the second, you try to see what it means then and now for our lot ( which is the bulk of logicising ). The third, however, is the most important because everything, everything that is around you, makes up what it was to be you now, whether you made it yourself or not. And someday, someone or you yourself will try to preserve it as a record for future generations, so that they may learn where they came from and who you might have been. Ultimately, Shakespeare scholars and portable tape-recorders collectors are doing the same thing. Understanding and preserving a moment in human history.