Does art find harmonies that soothe? Do the harmonies suggest an underlying and reassuring order? All is well?
Does art destroy smug tranquility? Does the destruction open up new ways of seeing, hearing, living? Or does it merely wipe away preconceptions without building a scaffold for new structures?
I read that James Joyce came across a few intelligible passages as he edited Finnegan’s Wake. A reader might just be able to connect some dots. Joyce immediately reworked the offending phrases until they seamlessly blended in with the seething babble of the rest of the book.
Picasso broke forms, twisted shapes, rendered the world in ways that surprised him. Yet he missed having a set of rules by which he could judge the value of his work. He realized that Cubism had undermined tradition, and that he couldn’t retrace his steps to regain the comfort of working in an enclosed system.
I used to use color as a weapon. Reds and greens clashed and tore at each other. Hot colors shouted at dull. I wanted to wake everyone up to make them feel what I felt. Now I know that they already did, that my emotions weren’t unique. And now I like a little harmony as my days grow harder to manage and the world seems alien to me.
I sometimes visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York when I lived in Pennsylvania. The lower floors started with James Ensor, and as I progressed upward I saw a progression of movements. Fauvism jumped to Cubism skipped to Dadaism and Surrealism. The tangled energy of Ab-Ex ran down and became supplanted by Pop Art and increasingly arid Minimalism. The eighties section focused mostly on installation art. Eccentricity seemed to be the only recognizable goal. I fled around a corner into a quiet room with dimmer lights, sat on a bench and sighed. A Monet water lily painting hung before me, and I felt like a thirsty traveler sipping cool water at an oasis.