Art as Ritual

Flusser felt that the term “art”– in the West — was almost always understood either as “work”–intended to change the world—or as “communication”—intended to share something with another person.  He thought both were wrong. “The word art,” he wrote, “means the gesture through which existence ‘acts itself out,’” (Flusser 2014a:128).  He was talking about an aesthetic, ritual gesture, one which does not work or communicate, at least not intentionally.  He returned to this underlying misunderstanding about “art”  often, if not very systematically.  He argues, for example, for the aesthetic impact of algorithms or equations and, conversely, for the  scientific value of, say, Bach or Monet (Flusser 2011a: 24-5).  He insists on habit as the true aesthetic criterion (Flusser 2002:51-57). He has scant patience with the “ridiculous isolation of so-called avant gardism,” (Flusser 2003:240).

Somewhat ironically, the clearest, most complete treatment of the matter appears in “The Gesture of Smoking a Pipe,” (Flusser 2014a: 118-134).  As it is described there, art a huge category–religious ritual actually is aligned under, or within it. For references, see Bibliography.

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