I recently started reading Steven Heighton’s essay collection, The Admen Move on Lhasa, after discovering his writing on Numero Cinq. The title essay elegantly compares a work of art to a “living and visionary” city, in this case, Lhasa, Tibet. He contrasts art (and Lhasa) with advertising and schlock (and modern, planned cities.) There were many illuminating points which I will not be able to do justice to here. The following are just a few quotes, the ones I underlined and double starred.
…art usually involves an invitation and solicits the entry and collaboration of the audience, while advertising usually implies a threat. Or, to continue this meandering trip towards Lhasa: art invites you into the city along any available road, while advertising dictates where you enter. And when.
Perhaps artists can begin to suspect they’ve created a memorable city, a god-haunted world or visionary town—some site worthy of a repeated pilgrimage—only when responses to the work are unpredictably and ungovernably divergent, diverse, off the wall, missing the point that good artists do sometimes try to make but without ever quite succeeding—always seeming instead to convey something else. Something impossible to signpost.
Schlock makes us understudies loitering in the wings of our own lives.
It’s not that art cannot be entertainment, the way schlock is, or is advertised to be, but rather that art, while entertaining us, also unsettles. For whatever sedates us is shuffling us off towards the great sleep of death. Art, on the other hand, is a persistent wake-up call, the setting off of a quiet siren in the heart.
This entire collection is filled with great essays, insightful, honest and so well-written. I hate to be simple-minded and say, This is really good, go read it, but…This is a really good collection. Go read it!