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Composing a Life and Learning Along the Way Published: Sunday, November 16, 2003 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Some philosophers (Ogilvy, Bateson, Needleman and Wilshire) have articulated a radical proposition. Art has no end outside itself. A work of art does not work. Having nothing to gain on any specific behalf, art does not serve purposes beyond itself. If it tries to brain wash on behalf on some particular interest, it falls into propaganda. Rather than fine arts, it becomes decoration for doctrine. These postures are worth of a profound reflection.

The dramas, challenges and difficulties of artistic creation are very much like the difficulties confronted in the creation of the self. The process of composing a life is very much like the process of creating a work of art. There is always a kind of anxiety of influence induced by those who have gone before, shown the way, but cannot be followed footprint for footprint for fear of mere cloning or duplication.

The task of the artist is like the task of living in having no assurance of success. Life and art both call for a balance of freedom and discipline, take place in real time, build on what has gone before, demand the ability to bend the momentum of tradition toward unprecedented, and to require the deployment of creativity and innovation.

Aesthetics and ethics are very similar to one another in that both are about judgment of the unique and particular, and in making this argument one can also state that there is a closeness of the good and the beautiful. Thus, our ethical and aesthetic judgments are not separable from their influences as conclusions are separable from premises. It is not a matter of step one and step two guaranteeing that we proceed to step three. Picasso’s Guernica, is not beautiful because it contains some particular motifs; its beauty consists in the coupling of all its motifs. Neither is behavior good or bad because it produced benign effects or derived from particular intentions… The challenge is that of thinking and, thinking one, two or three times if necessary.

The point is that our judgements spring from perceptions that are less syllogistic (cause and effect) than the calculations of logicians and the mathematicians. This is not to say that they are (always) irrational, or that they admit no defense. But the defense we give for normative decisions will look less like logical proofs and more like literacy criticism.

I hear Beethoven’s Fifth and wonder, how did he first hear it…? How do we humans hear our lives? Sometimes we succeed in making it up as we go, but as I grow older and mature I listen for directions from above and this has allowed myself a few mid-course corrections. Could an artist say more about just why he/she placed the color just there? Our experience indicates that sometimes no, sometimes yes, sometimes will depend… But to live, to create and to work is a subtle mix of discipline, play…and fun…


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