moments before the wind.

January 28, 2006

i don’t really think it’s a hallway at all

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, business, music, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 3:31 pm

One time, I wrote this:

First of all, you cannot create an unmediated anything. You cannot construct an unconstructed thing.

It doesn't really matter where it came from, but I wrote it and I sometimes have to remind myself that it's true. And then, when I really need convincing, I consult what is, in my opinion, the single most authoritative source of definition: The Oxford English Dictionary.

Here, I reveal my true nerdiness, I know, but thanks to the Seattle Public Library, I have access to what is truly one of my favorite pastimes. The OED will give definitions, etymologies, and quotations from earliest recorded uses of words. It's amazing. Some people play, oh, what was that computer game in college?- Snood. Not me, no; I look up stuff in the OED.

So, on with it then.

Art: Skill; its display or application.
Artifice: The action of an artificer, the making of anything by art, construction, workmanship.

Here's where it gets interesting. For both words, the second definition references the other:

Art: 2. b) Artifice, artificial expedient.
Artifice: 2. The product of art, work of art

Most of us these days think of artifice as dishonest, fraudulent. I do think that a contemporary interpretation is important. I also am fascinated though, by the basic interchangeability between the two words as recorded in the OED as early as the 16th century. At what point did art lift off into the realm of creative pursuit while artifice descended to the pits of deception? My guess would be the advent of consumerism, but I have nothing to back that up with, other than instinct.

So what's my point? Sometimes people get so caught up in authenticity that they forget the implicit impossibility of ever really achieving it. Read Derrida, or, much more interesting, House of Leaves. Our sense of reality is assaulted by so many forms of representation that sometimes everything seems fake, appropriated, or insincere. That's not my point, that's just leading up to it. My point is, I think, that only what you can touch is what is real. Everything else comes and goes, and comes and goes. Art, or artifice, because it really can be either/or, can serve as a bridge, an extended sensory limb. Art can also be other things. This point of contact, though, is how we define what succeeds and what fails. Hey, man, it could be MTV's latest, or it could be the next winner of the Newbery Medal, or it could be a blog!

1 Comment »

  1. hey, who said anything was bad about “artifice”? i love artifice!

    Comment by amarc — January 28, 2006 @ 9:35 pm


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