When every artistic movement is made to be pastiche of itself unto infinite possibilities, a Christ-like figure holding a McDonald’s cheeseburger, for instance, could be reproduced on coffee mugs, bed sheets, and 3-D printed 6-inch models to sit on “avant-garde” art directors’ desks to protest big data and the capitalism rat-race. The individuality of Art in this example, the essence, is lost, because the function becomes solely an extension of consumer-centric ideals. This is true of poetry and literature in the creation and maintenance of the literary canon as subscribing to the concept of “must reads” provides a socio-economic platform for certain works to be mass-produced. This “mass produced canon” differs slightly depending on who the author is, even so the end economic gain is the same. Consider, for instance, this list of the first 50 “Popular Literary Canon Books” taken from GoodReads.com as a general example:
Notice that not one of those great works is produced by a currently living author. While these works range from To Kill a Mockingbird to Homer’s The Odyssey, timeless works to be sure, the underlying goal of having a list of must-reads is to sell popular works for economic gain. The benefactors of these sales, no longer the author or their family to be sure, but large publishing corporations. Though these canonized works are wonderful tools for the academic, critic, or book lover to conceptualize commentary on subjects infinitely diverse and important to the encouragement of art and culture in society, it is only a stepping stone to achieving what I propose is true Art: the Art of Temporality.
Art of Temporality acknowledges and reflects the temporary nature of life symbolically and/or literally in Art. Typically, creating and consuming art exists only as an extension of a human desire to subvert, or disassociate from death by promoting, exploring or exploiting life. The rise of industrialism and consumer-centric ideology act as a glaring confirmation of the human desire for distraction from the inevitability of death. Specifically consumerist ideology, promotes distraction from the ephemerality of life through finding fulfillment in the constant need for new goods to be produced and consumed. Critique of consumer-centric art is best captured by the work of Andy Warhol using popular images in easily mass-produced screen printings to ironically undermine traditional capital “a” Art by treating it as it is, temporary and highly consumable. At the heart, Warhol’s critique points out two major problems that drain artistic expression, the control of corporate capitalism, which influences Art of only very few to succeed and passive consumption that gives the monetary gain to the large publisher rather than the writer of the work. I believe Art of Temporality when applied to literature and poetry is capable of subverting corporate capitalism that undermines temporally relevant commentary and promote active social empathy in a world that too often engages in passive empathic expression.
First, to subvert corporate capitalist or consumer-centric ideologies, should not and is not a rejection of capitalism or monetary gain through art. The goal of any artist, writer, poet is to make a profit doing something they enjoy doing, this profit can be money, acknowledgment of skill, or posterity, but deny or reject the place of art as a cultural commodity with a value would be terribly short sighted. Rather, Art of Temporality suggests true beauty is found not in the mass-produced work of the cannon but in less classical more recently produced work. Beautiful art according to Art of Temporality is untested, momentary, and often forgotten in the collective consciousness to time. For example, a best friend of mine wrote a short story in middle school about our friend group. Though it was never published or sold, the story brought our praise and a wealth of entertainment, upon revisiting the forgotten work much later, I found the stories many flaws, spelling mistakes, plot holes, and tense shifts. Even with these many problems, the happiness and beauty the story brought me in that moment remains unchanged. The moment of untested art bringing momentary enjoyment is the aesthetic of the Art of Temporality. A more relevant example of how you might encourage Art of Temporality in your daily life might be found in supporting new authors, small presses, or chapbook releases (not to mention making one yourself). In doing so you are consciously making an effort to create momentary enjoyment. To consciously create or consume Art while at the same time create a momentary beauty in the face of the inevitability of death, is directly subverts the escapism encouraged by corporate capitalism.
Hold on, some of you might be thinking, subverting escapism, is that not the goal of all art? True, one of the goals of consuming or creating Art is to escape the reality we do not enjoy, but this goal corrupts the beauty of temporary existence. To only be able to find beauty in avoidance and not in making a conscious effort to actively engage a poem, story or any work of art in the reality of your moment is to deny an opportunity to find beauty in that reality. Thus if the art is being used to actively empathize with our particular cultural moment from fantasy micro-fiction to poems about politics then you are participating not in escapism but in the beauty of temporality. For instance, Kevah Akbar (twitter @KavehAkbar) recently published a collection of poetry entitled Calling a Wolf a Wolf which through its content and by Akbar’s exploration of identity speaks to an overarching socio-cultural conversation current with the influx of Middle Eastern diaspora in the United States. Akbar’s poetry is a window into how a current writer is interpreting and reacting to this moment in our soon to be history. It is the ephemerality of his observations, thoughts and feelings on a greater social movement that gives the work its readability and beauty. Furthermore, supporting Akbar’s recently released work through purchase, review or critique contributes to Art of Temporality by actively participating in creating the current narrative of poetry and literature. The purchase of a work by an author who benefits from the purchase is empathizing with that writers artistic struggle, whether the purchaser likes the work or not is irrelevant, as the financial or social engagement that readers create through buying the work supports the future work of the writer.
To engage in the proliferation and perpetuation of current writers and ideas is at the heart of any art movement. Recognizing that this engagement must continually adjust and change with passage of time is the heart of Temporality. Through conscious effort, active empathy with living writers, and engagement with a collective cultural moment, I hope that a wider range of artists, writers, and poets will be able to receive recognition for their work. To read and comment only upon canonized works ignores the most recent efforts to contextualize socio-cultural and socio-political ideas.We should read the cannon to provide background, but to allow the “classics” to distract from how a message might be brought up to date, made more relevant re-invented or scrapped completely is counter-intuitive. Art will be the more beautiful when used to consciously make sense of this wild, wild time.