Monday, January 8, 2007

Weltkunst [world art]

Milan Kundera wrote an essay titled "Die Weltliteratur", which was published in todays issue of The New Yorker (the article is not available on-line at their site). I found it very interesting.

To people familiar with his literary critisism the essay might not be that "new". He talks about how people from different countries, people with different nationalities, have a different view of literature. Art can be viewed in the small context of the history of its nation or in the large context of the supranational history of its art. His essay takes a very European perpective, and I wonder how these concepts translate to visual art (the field I work in) and the U.S.A (where I now reside)

I noticed I almost wrote "America" in stead of "U.S.A.". That might be an indication of the context problem here. America includes two continents (North and South America) but when people talk about America they usually mean "The States". When I was a graduate student at Ohio State, a fellow student from South America would always correct people who refer to the U.S.A. as "America".

Since this country is huge and a dominant player in the world, the context here tends to be small, that is: national. Which in this case is rather large. Visual art radically differs from literature in that is not bound to language. But it is rooted in tradition that might be national. As Kundera points out, music is usually seen in the large context. It seems to me visual art can also be supranational. Still, there are quite a few museums for "American Art" by which is meant "National Art": the small context. Kind of peculiar for a country this influential to feel the need to protect "American Art" as different from art in general. The Whitney does show work by non-US artist in their biennial though.

Another thing that came to mind while reading the essay: what is the meaning of small and large context on the internet? The large context is probably a global context. But the small? The digital communities one is a member of? The fragmentation of the internet into micro-worlds makes it possible for people to live in a very small context. Which is kind of scary: if the unkown grows in proportion to the known, if people retreat to a small island with like minded individuals, the unknown cannot but become a thing to fear. And unfounded fear leads to no good.

Enough musings, back to animating in the small context of my study

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