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Branko Lazic
ART BETWEEN INTEREST AND MONASTICISM

Art is often contained in simultaneous conceding to different orders.[1]

At the end of the 20th century the material-spiritual circumstances facilitate different linguistic constructions which sanction the human kind and human work. By respecting the presence of psycholinguistic relations, one can ascertain numerous lexical units as parameters of artistic currents. Interest-monasticism, as a duet, can be singled out as the background of art at the end of the 20th century, and thereby this pair demands that one approaches life as a multilateral communication and the understanding of art as one of the fundamental steps toward self-cognizance. Also, it is imperative to emphasize that the term "between" implies a tempestuous process that evolves in culture, because it is susceptible to rapid changes.

In order to understand the concept of interest one could begin with the Latin "interesum (es, esse, fui)", meaning, "to be between, be involved, be present, take part". There are also other meanings, like: participation, involvement, attraction, appeal, inclination, significance, gain, bank interest, revenue on money deposited, profit or damage one could suffer from other's actions or some event...

In its conventional meaning, interest is the driving force of overall existence. In human communities activities without interest are unknown. Social changes, both those proclaimed as progressive and those labelled retrograde, have interest as their corner stone. Whoever thinks or claims that interest does not exists, he/she deliberately chooses not to see and acknowledge it, out of his/her interest.

Monasticism signifies the spiritual life of monks, and monk (Greek, monos, monachos) is the one who lives alone, like a hermit. Monasticism is a subtle expression of existence. Nevertheless, understood as a form of experience, monasticism is present in profane world as well, since eventually, man must both fight loneliness, and use it as a protection against the huge quantity of sensations from the threatening environment. Thus man approaches himself, mostly unaware of the fact that the preservation of his heavenly qualities he owes to the principles of monasticism and its moral scale that never resigns to death. "In conclusion, one could point to a broad diffusion of certain sensations and feelings that are of specific religious nature, and which tend, even in the most perceptive individuals, to leave their trace long after they have ceased believing in a rational justification of those sensations and feelings. The first and most important among them is the "feeling of unity with an imperative universe of values"...The other sensation, frequently emerging from the first, is a feeling for the acrosanct ot sanctity, or deity. The notion that certain experiences or ideas, or objects, or personalities, should be specified as symbols of the final value, is unacceptable to the modern critical mind... Of all the religious sensations, the feeling of guilt is probably the most difficult to understand, since it is in an almost amusing way quite unacceptable to modern mind... The price of the reality and power of positive sensations I have mentioned, of which each and all should be broken in everyday life, is the sensation of guilt, the unavoidable shadow cast by a genuine religious feeling"[2]

The interest and monasticism are specifically related to two elements each. In principle, interest counts with the highest possible speed within the "space-time continuum". Monasticism is defined with eternity; and spiritual calm, not corporeal immobility, is the antipode of speed. Basically, the correlation of speed, time, eternity and spiritual tranquility begin and end in reversed proportion.

The great turmoil of modern life is primarily caused by technological-technical development. The society of the so-called post-industrial age is marked by enormously increased requirements for profitable effectiveness and an exceptional expansion of communication systems. Primarily, in order to keep the financial bobsled, with economy at its steering wheel and banks at its brakes, on the icy track of the market, and to effectively cure the unwanted dislocations or damages, a Union of Consumer Baskets has been constituted as a phantom servant of the so called universal turnover of capital and ideas. Due to an extremely consumer relationship toward money as a target object and not as the means of realizing autonomy, the demand for high profitability is closely connected to bringing the production process to violent levels and a depersonalization of persons.

Paralelly, the satellite bell jar above our heads, as another signifier of the development of contemporary planetary provinces, inaugurates a new aspect of the world. Namely, the most diverse forms of communications are permanently being improved as well as an unlimited exchange of news through television, papers, audio and video modes, and through the latest hits of mass communication media: Internet, computer conferences, electronic mail, electronic publishing, interactive magazines. However, although new technologies are susceptible to political, economic, military and other manipulations, they have not, despite previous forecasts, succeeded in imposing a monolithic image of the world. By taking over the function of Matissian armchair and usurping the rights of the mental comforter, the media sustain an atmosphere of resignation and an asynchronous mystification of real problems.

In the dislocated climate of this world, speed and time have gained primacy over other features of living. According to the laws of physics, speed is defined by a ratio of time and distance. Among other things, the traffic of capital and ideas, of people and means of transportation are also defined by speed and time. Political programmes and economic changes, scientific experiments and educational-pedagogical development, health projects and sports contests, even leisure, are defined by speed and time - a pair of actors. On the stage of tourism and travels, these leading actors have significant roles. It could also be that speed and time, movement and travel conceal the questions of the sense of contemporary destructive civilization and the secret of perceiving contemporary art.

In medieval texts "movement in geographical space turns into movement on the vertical axis of religious-ethical values... Even more than that, the understanding of ethical values and topographic positions are correlative: moral ideas have topographic meanings and vice versa. Geography appears to be the diversity of ethical meanings. Every transference within the geographical space leaves its mark in religious-ethical behaviour. It is no coincidence that human transference to heaven or hell medieval literature treats as JOURNEY, as a movement within the geographic space... In accordance with these images, the medieval man understood geographic journeys as movements across the "map" of religious-moral systems... and every travel was like a pilgrimage. From there stems a specific relationship toward the traveller and the travel: long-lasting journeys augment human holiness. At the same time, to desire holiness means to renounce life tied to one place only and suggests TRAVEL. The breaking up with sin is understood as DEPARTURE, as spatial transference... Movement within the geographic space brings the traveller to a new level of blissfulness... Having in mind the specific meaning of geographic distance, one could understand why medieval utopias always contain topographic signs of distance. A beautiful country is on the other end of a long road."[3]

Today, the length of journeys and the comfort of transportation are defined by the sum of money we have at our disposal. Millions of people travel simultaneously in cosy ICs through silicon valleys. The change of lodgings from one to another hut of the global village leaves no mark in religious-ethical behaviour. Travels reinforce anxieties, because one lives between the two destinations like between two points of pathological Narcissism. Today, pilgrims travel in aeroplane business class, and not along dusty imperial roads. One journey long because of the talent for earthly prestige, and not because of a desire toward sanctity. such a pattern of movement designates a homeopathic doom of travelling and brings the traveler to a higher level of aestheticized anomaly from the initial terminus. Consequently, the interest of travellers is pure recreation without metamorphosis, not Aristotelian entelechy. The tangle of mass media, speed, time and money has brought about a feeling of anxiety and crises, or, as others believe, a near catastrophe. There have been debates on agony, even the end of art. The phobic character of the artistically dead man is reflected now in chaotic harmony, as the global or particular artistic practice is sometimes called. Various soothing cures have been applied in the artistic clinic. One lives on, in inertia the extended arm of speed.

The conflicts and laxity of the spiritual climate of this century would look fatally irreparable if crises did not mean a chance for a spiritual transformation. Namely, crises can be determined in three ways: as a warning that man no longer lives in harmony with God, himself and/or his environment; as a challenge and test of abilities, and as inconvenience and self-punishment for evil done and errors made. Therefore, crisis is an opportunity for a change of awareness and a transitional moment toward new creativity. Art must choose its future road. One is interest, defined by reckless speed (even loss of control), by money and self-sufficiency. The other is monasticism, turned toward patience, responsibility and self-re-examination. The art that is fascinated by interest experiences the fatal discourse - from imploring to imprecation. Art that evokes monasticism avoids the trap of haughty perversity and indifference, and bears the risk of self-isolation. The artistic freedom of will is uncompromising and refuses servility to exclusive ethical and aesthetic absolutes, but, in reverse, the inevitable fact of their existence has been and can be an acceptable pattern of a mega-dialogue. An active monastic approach to the reality of art does not endanger the blissfulness of creation, but could turn into a perception of Self and its coexistent toward a constructive-accumulative and not destructive-nihilistic artistic interaction. The consensus of art and monasticism can bring remorse and revolt against self-deception, a change of mind as an accomplishment for posterity and a token of success, since art can "...re-establish the original premise of avant-garde lost today since avant-garde has voluntarily been assimilated by materialism namely, art is a spiritual transformation of life that always leads to an awareness of what is essential in life and brings life a new identity. The confused and upsetting quality of avant-garde art is just a secondary effect of its novelty. This novelty in itself is nothing more than an external sign that summons avant-garde to a new awareness of existence, to re-evaluation of values".[4]

The fragmentary character of values in the present magnetic field of culture can be an impulse for radical turns, both by individual artists and the overall art of the metastasized postmodernist age. In any case, the inexhaustible awareness of the sense of existence is the stable monastic level on which contemporary art and the aged twentieth century stagger and slip.

Art and its mission can be defined as a balance of authentic individualities and environment, attained through sustaining individual originality, alongside the respect of differences and conformity with changes in the environment. It is a continuous process aimed at achieving balance. Fortunately, it is never realized since every balance is essentially a risk. Therefore, in exchanges between art and its environment, the desire for harmonious relationships is permanently thwarted by a domination of the opposites. Anyway "Christ did not kiss the forehead of the world after he had created it and said: you will be the world of art".[5] Therefore, whatever these "last-but-one times" say, can be (mis)used against them.

Notes

1 Roger Caillois, Esteticki recnik (The Dictionary of Aesthetics), Novi Sad, 1982, p. 43.

2 Edward Sapir, Ogledi iz kulturne antropologije (Essays in cultural Anthropology), Beograd, 1984, pp. 170-172 . (The above is a free translation of the Serbo-Croatian translation, since the original text was not available.)

3 Y. M. Lotman, "O shvatanju geografskog prostora u ruskim srednjovekovnim tekstovima" (On Understanding Geographic Space in Russian Medieval Texts), Znak 13, Beograd, 1981, pp. 57-60 (capital letters as in the original text).

4 Donald B. Kuspit, Beuys: loj, krzno i alhemija (Beuys: Suet, Fur and Alchemy), Gledista 38, Beograd 1987, pp. 3-4.

5 Giulio Carlo Argan, Mozda dan... (Maybe a Day...), TV Beograd, second programme, September 22, 1989.



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