AI: All Persons Living and Dead Are Purely Coincidental

Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite writer. He was complex. He was supportive of science and yet disgusted by the things perpetrated in its name. He was contradictory; an atheist who often invoked god. He loved the arts. He was hilarious.*

Photograph by Kelly Savage ©2009

Here is a quote:

“…Which brings us to the arts, whose purpose, in common with astrology, is to use frauds to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking much more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on. Actually, practically nothing is going on inside. And on and on.”
(from Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons)

What do you take away from this quote? Does it minimize humans in favor of our artistic achievements? Is it even possible to make that separation?

*He also said “You understand, of course, that everything I say is horseshit.”

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Brian George

Brian George is an illustrator and designer who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In his spare time he makes videos of Spirograph drawings and complains about doing laundry. Website: Twitter: @brianggeorge Insta: @brianggeorge If you're into what I'm doing, feel free to throw down a bit in my tipjar here: @brianggeorge

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  1. I don’t think it does minize humans. It seems to me that he’s making the point that not all humans are dancers (or architects or singers). But because some humans are, and other humans value those who are, I think that art is still a good representation of humanity. And no, I don’t think one could remove the human element from art. :/ Beauty, sure, but not art; art needs an artist.

  2. I usually see really dark ideas in Vonnegut. Here I think he says (almost?) everything beautiful is just distraction from the underlying nothing, like a frame on an empty canvas.

  3. @rodriguez: Vonnegut could certainly be quite dark, especially towards the end of his life. But earlier on I think the quote that best applies to his approach is this:

    A friend of mine, who is also a critic, decided to do a paper on things I’d written. He reread all my stuff, which took him about two hours and fifteen minutes, and he was exasperated when he got through. “You know what you do?” he said. “No,” I said. “What do I do?” And he said, “You put bitter coatings on very sweet pills.”

    Sometimes, it’s just the opposite of the darkness, like he’s trying to paint a lightbulb black. The light is shining and he knows it.
    But other times he was plain ol’ miserable and just dark.

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