Does escapism save art or does it make art redundant?

The bliss of escapism

Art’s greatest value is that it can make us escape from reality. Especially in times of crisis, you can’t get enough of beauty, magical worlds and love. In short, art keeps us going when the ground seems to disappear beneath our feet.

Once upon a time there was a man named Nikolai Ivanovich Serpukhov. Behind and around this Nikolaj there is nothing, nothing at all, just a bottle of vodka. He brings the bottle to his nose, sniffs it “and moves his mouth like a rabbit,” writes the Russian writer Daniil Charms. While this Nikolai drinks this “bottle of spirit,” there is less and less around him, only an “absence of any presence.” When the bottle of vodka is empty, it turns out that there is still less than nothing, even Nikolai Ivanovich Serpukhov does not exist, and the bottle of vodka also disappears with it. What remains is the question of whether anything exists, and Charms concludes: “We don’t even know what to say about it.” To then close with “See you soon.”

Losing yourself in a story that makes the whole world disappear until you yourself disappear, symbolically brought with a bottle of booze, describes the power of escapism. “Farewell” with which Charms tells its story On Phenomena and Existence No. 2 ends, is one of the best expressions an escapist can sing: see you in another world, in another story.

A world to escape from: this is what literature can do, not only in fairy tales, fantasy and love and nature stories, but even in the stories of the masters of absurdism. It is safe to say that without escapism, fantasy becomes impossible. You will conjure up other worlds, the most famous opening line of which is ‘Once upon a time’. “Escapism is the only weapon in the war against reality,” said Lewis Carroll, immediately giving us the sublime Alice in Wonderland.

Romance

When you think of escapism, you think primarily of romanticism, where artists sought the beauty of nature or the simplicity of the past away from the noise of everyday life and the new industry. Free from worries – or should it be Love – the artist stands staring into the distance, aware of feelings and emotions and striving for freedom in thinking, acting and letting go. To this day we owe to Romanticism our ideal image of the artist: the artist who elevates life to a higher level.

But by associating escapism with romance, you shortchange the concept. Romanticism was overtaken by time. Escapism is of all time, it is our search for paradise. After all, paradise was conceived not only to show what man has lost, but also an existing place, accessible to those who are not afraid to allow the imagination.

The artist Franz Marc was good at this: He made animals that were completely free in their being because they were not spoiled by imposed standards of civilization. He and the other artists around the group Der Blaue Reiter certainly criticized bourgeois society in this way, but also offered an ideal image of a fictional world where one could escape through the imagination. Reality was released to present another world to the viewer.

Paintings with the individual high up on a mountain detached from the world, the dream world of the surrealists or the earthly paradise as Gauguin presented it to us: these are the works of art that still mean a lot to us today. We would rather see sweeping vistas than oppressive still lifes with skulls telling us to die or the neo-realist work often praised as ‘artful art‘. Where realism evokes the man in the stamping boot, escapism gives us other, new worlds.

John Cage

In this respect, music is the genre par excellence that expresses the power of escapism. Music does not refer to reality but takes you to a higher plane while listening. JS Bach’s fugues have no message, and we have listened to them rapturously for more than three centuries. And it doesn’t even always have to be in sounds, music can also provide the silence that we sometimes look for. John Cage understood that in his 4.33 which he composed in 1952, when we had just left World War II and entered the Cold War. “I have nothing to say / and I say it / and it is poetry / as I needed it,” he said of his work, in which the listener listens to more than four minutes of silence – in three parts. Some saw and still see it as a joke (humor is also a form of escapism), however, Cage himself referred to the influence of Eastern philosophy and the redefinition of the idea that silence could lift your consciousness.

Goodbye

Long live escapism, which is not only of all times, but also sustainable through all times, because imagination is simply more timeless than a time-bound work. Blissful escapism, in short. Or in Charm’s words, “Goodbye!”


August MackAbscessCollection Museum Ludwig / Sammlung Haubrich

The accident of escapism

Art’s greatest value is that it can make us look at reality in a different way. Especially in times of crisis, art can show us what people are capable of and make us think again when we are stuck. It is not for nothing that art in dictatorships is the first to be restricted.

Once upon a time there was a man named Nikolai Ivanovich Serpekhov. Behind and around this Nikolaj there is nothing, nothing at all, just a bottle of vodka. He brings the bottle to his nose, sniffs it “and moves his mouth like a rabbit,” writes the Russian writer Daniil Charms. While this Nikolai drinks this “bottle of spirit,” there is less and less around him, only an “absence of any presence.” When the bottle of vodka is empty, it turns out that there is less than nothing left, even Nikolai Ivanovich Serpekhov does not exist, and the bottle of vodka also disappears with it. There remains the question of whether anything exists, and Charms concludes that “we don’t know what to say about it ourselves.” To then close with “See you soon.”

Charms tells us a bitter story where a man is reduced to nothing. Man is only a cog in the system, from which the intoxication to escape is found only in the delirium of vodka. “Farewell” with which Charms tells its story On Phenomena and Existence No. 2 is the height of bitterness in a world where people could be arrested overnight to end up in a prison camp. Suddenly your neighbor or wife was gone, dissolved into nothingness, ‘goodbye’ was a ‘goodbye’.

Charms, the master of absurdism, uses wry humor to provide insight into a world of terror. “You must stand in your own time,” said the French poet Charles Baudelaire, promptly giving us the sublime The flowers of evil.

Guernica

When you think of art and reality, you think of realism, where people are not so much presented with views that you cannot use, but of a reality that is put in a different light, gives us perspective and recognition, or the need to change something. Guernica by Pablo Picasso is not very realistic, yet we all know what the work stands for, and a replica still hangs as a warning against war in the United Nations building in New York. We owe our ideal image of art to the artist who lifts reality to a higher level.

But by linking art to realism, we sell art short. After all, realism is easy to catch up with. But reality, in whatever form it takes, is of all time, it is our answer in our search for meaning. Reality is not only subject to many interpretations, but also something that can be transformed thanks to the imagination.

The artist Franz Marc was good at that. As one of the men in the group Der Blaue Reiter, he criticized bourgeois society where everything was molded into fixed values ​​and norms. They wanted to create a spiritual revolution with their imagination, for them the world order had been corrupted and therefore it was undesirable to return to a distant past in art. If only more people had adopted that perspective, August Macke and Marc would not have had to go to the trenches (which they volunteered to fight in 1914, by the way).

JS Bach

Paintings with the individual high on a mountain detached from the world, the dream world of the surrealists or the earthly paradise as Gauguin presented it to us: these are works of art that we now question. They show the artist who is too good for the world, a world that does not exist, not to mention the idealization of a colonized world – or the woman as an object in Tahiti. Better is art than later uniform was declared precisely because it posed a threat to National Socialist ideologies. Where escapism pretends that Auschwitz never existed, socially critical art gives us a glimpse of the ultimate inhumanity.

In this respect, music is the genre par excellence that expresses the power of society precisely because it is more universal. In revolutions and protests, it is the music that first reaches the outside world and binds those involved. JS Bach’s cantatas show what humanity can do, and we have listened to them in rapture for more than three centuries. And it doesn’t even always have to be in sounds, music can also provide the silence that we sometimes look for. John Cage understood this in his 4.33, which he composed in 1952, when we had just left World War II behind us and entered the Cold War. “There really is no such thing as empty space or empty time. There is always something to see, always something to hear”, he said of his work, where he not only equated sound with life, but also showed that silence never is possible. Some saw and see it as a joke (where every joke has a deep truth), however, Cage himself referred to the redefinition of composing, where the intention no longer matters, but only to exist.

Goodbye

Away with the illusion of escapism, which not only gives us false pretenses and is unsustainable, but also misses the opportunity to bring real reforms, as only art can. Because imagination has a longer shelf life and can carry more than a politician’s words; and because even art that is banned because it is too critical turns out to be the most valuable in the end. Bad escapism, in short. Because only then will you know that Charms’ “Goodbye!” actually means “goodbye”.

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