Art as Essay

Art has been characterized as imitation, expression, communication of emotion or communication of other social values. Art, especially visual arts, carry the artist’s unique stamp.

Essay, a piece of writing, is also often written from the author’s personal point of view.

Can art become essay? Is art a different form of essay?

This section presents essays as a combination of the paint and the pen; brushstrokes and words.

We push the essayist to take essays beyond traditionally accepted forms and structures while staying true to the principle of being one woman or one man’s pointed view of the world.

This series is currently helmed by Dennis Dodson.

Before art called out to Dennis, he was an avowed sociologist by vocation. Hesitant about jumping into a passionate relationship with art; all doubts and misgivings were swept aside when he realized that art could be one of the best ways of expressing what interested him sociologically – the connection between mind and society; the connect between the interior spaces of a human – what a human feels, thinks - and the external circumstances in which that human lives and which determine the way the human feels or things.

Or as sociologist Zygmunt Bauman put it in an interview with Michael Jacobsen and Keith Tester in one issue of The Essayist (see link here) put it, Dennis grapples everyday with Erfahrungen and Erlebnisse: the two different phenomena generated at the person/world interface, which the German language distinguishes and sets apart yet English speakers, due to the lack of distinct terms, usually blend into one notion of ‘experience’. But the German language further classifies the notion of experience:-

Erfahrung is what happens to me when interacting with the world.

Erlebnis is ‘what I live through’ in the course of that encounter – the joint product of my perception of the happening(s) and my effort to absorb it and render it intelligible.

Erfahrung can, and does, make bid for the status of objectivity, whereas Erlebnis is evidently and overtly, explicitly subjective; and so, with a modicum of simplification, we may translate these concepts into English as, respectively, objective and subjective aspects of experience; or, adding a pinch of interpretation, actor-unprocessed experience and actor-processed experience.

The first Erfahrung may be presented as a report from the world external to the actor; and the second Erlebnis, coming from actor’s ‘inside’ and concerning private thoughts, impressions and emotions, may only be available in the form of an actor’s report. In reports of the first category we hear of inter-personally testable events called ‘facts’; the contents of the second kind of reports are not testable inter-personally – beliefs as reported by the actor are, so to speak, the ultimate (and only) ‘facts of the matter’.

When the lack of words in the dictionary become a detriment to capturing or relaying the human experiences of today’s world, a simple brush stroke conveys the essence of what was going on inside in response to the external happenings, events and situations in society.

However, one can take the boy out of the sociology (and put him in an isolated mountain), but one cannot take the sociologist out of the boy; so Dennis continues to write short pieces along with his paintings – hoping that combination of the brush and the pen will express and capture the human experience and lay bare the human condition and maybe throw light on “…some of the vital lies that are essential for our existence.” (link to About Us)

This “brush & pen combo” also allowed Dennis to express the distinction between personal TROUBLES and public ISSUES as C. Wright Mills (1916-1962), American social theorist and intellectual, and Dennis’ inspiration within sociology, would put it.

Troubles refer to 'an individual's character and with those limited areas of social life of which that individual is directly and personally aware'. To describe and address those troubles, Mills would say, we must pay attention to the individual's biography and the scope of their immediate social setting that is directly open to his personal experience.

ISSUES, on the other hand, refer to 'matters that transcend these local environments of the individual and the limited range of his life' (Mills 1959: 8).

To explain and distinguish between Troubles and Issues, C. Wright Mills provides the example of unemployment:

“When, in a city of 100,000, only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of the man, his skills, and his immediate opportunities. But when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million men are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual.” (Mills 1959: 9)

“Art as Essay” aspires to highlight that intricate connection between mind and society; between troubles and issues and lay bare the “human” experiencing the “human experience” that lies at the interface of the interior and the external.

“Art as essay” is an exposition of human experience(s).

Mills, C. Wright (1959)The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.

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