Thursday, December 11, 2008

Poetry That Won't Compromise

My previous post was a simple statement from Brad Holland. No additional commentary, just his quote which I now repeat.

Many of the contradictions in Postmodern art come from the fact that we're trying to be artists in a democratic society. This is because in a democracy, the ideal is compromise. In art, it isn't. ~Brad Holland

For most of you, the name Brad Holland will likely mean nothing. It meant nothing to me till I ran across this quote, which I’ll admit to instantly taking a liking to.

Holland is an illustrator who was born in 1947, so he is my senior. He was born in Ohio, and began drawing at an early age. He sought employment by Walt Disney, but was turned down. He started school at the Chicago Art Institute, but decided it was too restrictive for his liking. He went to work at a tattoo parlor and later too a regular job at Hallmark Cards in the mid 1960’s and spent his off hours developing a serious portfolio. In 1967 he moved to New York with his portfolio and from there made a name for himself as an illustrator. Freelancing, he became perhaps most notable for his work in Playboy magazine, Avant Garde magazine and various other publications. In 1977 he published Human Scandals, a social commentary using ink drawings.

While Holland is not a poet, he is truly a student of the developing history of art and culture. I have found a degree of cynical humor in some of his statements, but the one I have focused on for this post seems pretty straight forward. I think what he is saying is something which I whole heatedly agree with, but perhaps would never have quite been able to articulate it as well as he has here.

There are two points about this axiom which I believe stand out as fundamentally sound. One is the tendency to treat most of what we do in the constraints of what we believe principals of democracy. That is to say, we naturally fall into the trap that in society what the majority of the people perceive as “good” or as “acceptable” is just that. It is the cumulative value of the majority view. The other fundamentally sound argument Holland makes is that is that this is exactly what art is “not.”

Let me shift back to poetry for the rest of this discourse. It is after all, an art.
When it is said that the job of a poet is to name the unnameable (a concept that we've all heard and I believe is attributable to Salman Rushdie) I think one has to expect that poetry has to take us to new places. It may be in the way words are utilized, it may be in physical location of those words on a page… their presentation, or the metaphorical image, but above all it is not the same old standard commonplace usage of language that everyone expects. It is not simply the cumulative value of how most people see something.

It is true that some people want to hang a still life painting of a bowl of fruit on their wall that looks exactly like you could reach into it and pick up an apple. To paint that well indeed takes skill. It is a craft that not everyone can or has mastered. It would however be a contradiction to the concept of postmodern art which settles not for carbon copies but originality, not cookie-cutter art but for audaciousness.

And so my question to artists, but especially poets is, what two or three things most prevents you from freeing yourself of being an artist/poet in a democratic society tradition?

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