What is art? I will not try to answer this difficult question of course, but after visiting the Whitney biennial I started wondering about the role of illusions in art. The 2017 biennial presented a variety of works, ranging in form and subject, but almost every work I saw aimed to challenge my perception in one way or another. It made me think of art in general and to get back to Andre Bazin’s theories that define art as the middle ground between preservation and creation of illusions. As it seems to me, art has always tried to answer our human need for challenging our perception and letting us see the world from different angles.
Artists are not detached from their surroundings of course. They are influenced by the society they live in, representing the thoughts and feelings of other people that live among them. As such, they have an important role in preserving our ‘state of mind’ and by that they influence the future discourse but also the present one. This is a bit confusing, how can they influence and be influenced at the same time? Relations are usually more complicated than that, after being in a relationship long enough, I understand that we can, and have to fill more than one role at the same time.
This complicated situation puts a lot of weight on artists, especially with today’s discourse about “fake news”. In 2002, a Palestinian-Israeli director, Mohammed Bakri made a “documentary” about the battle of Jenin between the Israel and the Palestinians. The film showed alternative view that was not based on facts and was banned in Israel. Bakri himself was sued in the Israeli court for defamation. He was later found not guilty but the film was never screened in the Israeli commercial theaters. I find this story very interesting as I wonder if our society allows artists to create meaningful art in this situation where people try to distinct true from false and good from evil.
Wallace Shawn, in his essay about his play “Aunt Dan & Lemon” presents his answer to this complicated question: “My conclusion — after wondering for a while about this question — was that anyone has the right to think or speak about them, because it’s in fact impossible to say in advance whose contribution might be of value…” I believe that ‘the artist’s spirit’ is hiding in each and every one of us, perhaps the definition of an artist should include the courage and the urge to challenge our perception. I believe that in today’s post-modernists times, it is safe to say (at least for now) that the illusions of art are not different than the illusion that the world is divided to good and evil.