THE BLOG
04/13/2012 01:44 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2012

Willing Suspension of Belief

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.
-- James Baldwin

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.
---Paul Klee
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I like to know, and sometimes even figure out on my own, why things look the way they do. Some things seem to explain themselves; I like things whose outward appearance reveals their function. "The only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges," said Marcel Duchamp a century ago, mistrustful of everything that called itself art.

An enormous and admirable amount of effort has gone into understanding why the world is the way it is, and we carry around many answers. Science and religion share an explanatory power, and different underlying assumptions, but assumptions nonetheless. It becomes hard to look at anything in the world without seeing its associations, implications, precedents, diverse meanings, or seeing our own dilemmas mirrored. The habit of understanding makes us who we are.

But what if we give away, even for a moment, meaning, purpose, received wisdom, analysis, knowledge, and let things be? Forgetting where things come from, or how things work, why? If we didn't try to understand or feel we already knew?

Art is so often seen as representing feelings, reproducing something we already know and can explain. The remarkable thing about art is that it gets to our core via unexpected paths, with immediacy and presence and in unanticipated form, yet with utter familiarity, as if we already knew what it was saying, though we know we haven't seen or heard it before. Art is irreducible and often inexplicable, and though much can be said of it, its truths we should pass over in silence.

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