Art Not Artifact Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-04-26 15:30:00 No comments

You never realize just how much stuff you own until you try to sift through it and prune it down. I'm in the process of a major housecleaning, which includes slimming down the book and movie collections. It's nowhere nearly as much a packrat's paradise as it used to be -- there was a time when I had a pile of unopened DVDs as high as my waist -- but there's a lot in here I could live without, and so it's 'bout time I decluttered.

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Among the first things to get sorted out were what I call the "ubiquities" -- things that you can find in any public library or movie rental place, most of which I've watched once and really don't need to revisit anytime soon. Many of them were movies which have since been reissued on BD in far superior transfers anyway; if I ever get the urge to put them back into my library, it'll be trivially easy to do so. The out-of-print stuff, the titles which have slipped through the cracks or fallen out of licensing -- e.g., my Criterion edition of Ran -- those stay.

The more we go digital, the less there is to hang onto and to clutter up our lives. It's a mixed bag. I like having an artifact or an object that's intimately tied to an experience, as opposed to something ephemeral. A streaming title, once removed, is gone for keeps; a DVD, once out of print, can still sit on our shelves. I've talked about this before, but this time as I stacked and sorted and pruned, something new about it all stood out.

The beauty of a really lasting work of art is not that we had something new to put on our shelves or hang on our walls. It gave us a new way of seeing things, something that was not limited to just the physical carrier. Neither Shakespeare nor Star Wars is limited to words on a page or images on a strip of film. They're both part of the air we're breathing. Each time we make them less reified, they become all the more part of the air. But does that mean that should be the ideal state for such things? A story reduces most easily to information because it was never anything else to begin with. But does that mean it deserves to be treated as nothing but "information", when we hardly treat it as such a thing anyway?

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Maybe twenty years from now everything will have reached such a degree of abstraction that we will consider such questions foolish. But then I look at the Yoshitaka Amano art books to the right of me, and wonder how any such thing could be presented on a mere device. Would the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel be more impressive if we had the scenes depicted therein recreated holographically around us? I always thought the fact that they were paintings on a ceiling was part of their power.

Tags: art literature media reification