(Cross-posted from Commonplace)
The justification for this pretense to disengagement derives from our Victorian habit of marginalizing the experience of art, of treating it as if it were somehow "special"--and, lately, as if it were somehow curable. This is a preposterous assumption to make in a culture that is irrevocably saturated with pictures and music, in which every elevator serves as a combination picture gallery and concert hall. The question of whether we can enjoy, or even decipher, the world we see without the experience of images, or the world we hear without the experience of music, seems to me pretty much a no-brainer. In fact, I cannot imagine a reason for categorizing any part of our involuntary, ordinary experience as "unaesthetic," or for imagining that this quotidian aesthetic experience occludes any "real" or "natural" relationship between ourselves and the world that surrounds us. All we do by ignoring the live effects of art is suppress the fact that these experiences, in one way or another, inform our every waking hour.
In my own case, I can still remember gazing at the lovely, lifting curve of a page upon which Oscar Wilde's argument that "life imitates art" was inscribed and knowing that this was the first "big truth" I had come across in writing. I can remember, as well, standing on the corner of 52nd Street and Third Avenue on a spring afternoon, six feet from a large citizen gouging the pavement with a jackhammer, and thinking about the Ramones, amazed at the preconscious acuity with which I had translated the pneumatic slap of the hammer into eighth-notes and wondering what part, if any, of the pleasures and dangers of the ordinary world might rightly be considered "natural." So it seems to me that, living as we do in the midst of so much ordered light and noise, we must unavoidably internalize certain expectations about their optimal patternings--and that these expectations must be perpetually and involuntarily satisfied, frustrated, and subtly altered every day, all day long, in the midst of things, regardless of what those patterns of light and noise might otherwise signify.