Friday, January 22, 2010

Art as Brain Surgery

From an interview with film theorist Ray Carney in Rick Schmidt, Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices (NY: Penguin, 1995)—

The greatest works [of art] do brain surgery on their viewers. They subtly reprogram our nervous systems. They make us notice and feel things we wouldn't otherwise. One of the principal ways they do this is through the strangeness of their styles. Style creates special ways of knowing. Henry James and John Milton do it with sentences. Chantal Ackerman and Roberto Rossellini do it with pictures and sounds. Artistic style induces unconventional states of awareness and sensitivity. It freshens and quickens our responses. It limbers up our perceptions and teaches us new possibilities of feeling and understanding. In this view of it, art is not a luxury, a frill, a pastime, a form of entertainment or pleasure (although it can be supremely entertaining and pleasurable). The greatest works of art are not alternatives to or escapes from life, but enactments of what it feels like to live at the highest pitch of awareness—at a level of awareness most people seldom reach in their ordinary lives. The greatest works are inspired examples of some of the most exciting, demanding routes that can be taken through experience. They bring us back to life.