I insist on maintaining a position of basic naivety toward art. The emphasis should be on “maintaining” — it’s a maintenance job. Only the very naive can remain naive without trying.
RIght now I’m on an extremely luxurious farm, full of flowers, dogs, horses, lakes, fields, beautiful paintings. This farm is a work of art: but it constantly needs maintaining. And thinking about this helps me get to the core of my assumptions about art. When I see the amount of work that goes directly into keeping this farm not only functional but beautiful, the money that gets spent every month to ensure it’s perfect for as long as possible, to keep the dogs happy, the horses and cows fed, the rabbits breeding, the rifles clean, the water free from all sorts of weeds — it’s insane.
Without proper management, without a whole crew of people dedicating their lives to this, the farm would not survive. It’s not a static object of endless beauty. This place’s beauty is a product. It sounds unappealing to put it that way, but then anything loses its “naive” appeal when you look at it from the perspective of its daily maintenance. Just as a beautiful human being has “ugly” maintenance needs, just as a sophisticated and beautiful piano composition needs to be rehearsed if it is to be played correctly, this farm is like a machine, a dynamic set of relationships that would vanish if nobody saw to its functioning.
Like it or not, until enough heads have rolled and the capitalist system crumbles (I will leave this eventuality to those who would wish to see such a crumbling), the objects of art we call “timeless” are only timeless because of the social links and routines and systems in place that allow for a fragile sense of timelessness.
No, of course I’m not saying anything particularly new, but with my involvement in publishing, and my stay at this farm — it all adds up to some considerations on the nature of art’s relation to time. Paintings need restoring. Memory changes. Conceptions of what is good and bad in art change.
I get a bit down about this sometimes. A sense of duration, of real longevity, would suit me nicely. And most of the time I can get away with fooling myself: I am uncompromisingly elitist when it comes to what I read: I want great classics, difficult books of little access to Woolf’s “common reader” — and of course, because I am semi-deluded, I write my books assuming that someday they will be appreciated by the finest minds.
But the world keeps trying, only somewhat altruistically, to instill in me a sense of “realism” about these things. And the world is probably right, and in the end the world will kill me to prove that it’s right. When I work on a book, I continually insist on this naive illusion of the timelessness of art, the belief that great art always ends up being adored by those who “get it” and so on. It is naive. It is an illusion. Yet I need it, and it informs my work all the time.
When I’m writing, I don’t want to think of the human work that will go into printing the book. I don’t want to think of my distributor, sitting in a warehouse, breaking wind and chatting about things that aren’t timeless while waiting for a van to arrive so the books can be loaded onto it. But that’s the human, the “maintenance” element, that allows the timeless delusion to stay propped up in our imagination.
So I force myself, when I’m writing this new book, this short little novel that will be printed on paper produced in a factory and marketed by marketers and distributed by distributors, to think in terms of infinity. That way the fucking book gets written…