Monday, January 14, 2013

The Arts, Ranked

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 1:25 PM

  • Henry Leutwyler

Some things are better than other things. We all know this to be true. And even though rankings are subjective, they're still a way to organize your thoughts on things. And, personally, I prize organization. I just prize it. That, and efficiency. So when I read on Brainpickings that Virginia Woolf, at the age of 17, wrote a letter to a friend, saying that "we are a world of imitations; all the Arts that is to say imitate as far as they can the one great truth that all can see," but that writing is "the least effectual method of all — & music the nearest to truth." It made me want to rank all the arts myself, in an imitation of the young Virginia Woolf. Not because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, no, but because it is the easiest form of blogging.

One of Nabokovs index cards.
  • One of Nabokov's index cards.

4) Writing

So, I'm going to agree with Virginia Woolf here and say that writing is the least of the arts. Which, you know, I wish it was higher up, because it's what I do. But I have to follow my conscience here, as I do with all things, all the time. Which doesn't mean that writing isn't still an important and potentially beautiful way of conveying the truth of the world. Truth cloaked in constructions, the more depraved the better. Vladimir Nabokov advised young writers to, "Delight in perversity. Burn pedants in pale fire." And that is what great writing can do. It can illuminate the world in a sublime and terrifying way, like a flash of lightning that sets a forest on fire. But also, writing can just be about making stupid lists. So I have no choice but to rank it last.

3) Dance

Martha Graham said that "dancers are the messengers of the gods." And is there any other art form that punishes and celebrates the body in such an extreme way? Like with all art, and life too, a good deal of pain is a requirement for producing something of great beauty. But the pain in dance is like nothing else. It really, really hurts. Also, dance always requires discipline and presence in a way that, for example, writing doesn't always, and I can't help but admire anything that requires discipline. It is only the ephemeral nature of dance—the fact that if the viewer is not present, the art disappears—that forces me to place dance this low on the list. I mean, this is a very serious list, so I must be truthful and not show my biases. If I were to show my bias, though, dance would be at the very, very top.

A piece by Paul Thek, who is amazing.
  • A piece by Paul Thek, who is amazing.

2) Visual Arts; Painting, Sculpture, Film, etc.

Like writing, visual arts are consumed as separate entities from their creators. And yet each work is necessarily imbued with the—am I actually going to say this?—soul of the artist. I can't believe I said that. Forget soul. It should be that each work is imbued with the torment of the artist, the passion, the grace, the darkness. Frida Kahlo said "I don't paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality." Each creation from each artist is another reality, endlessly multiplying in the mind of the viewer, growing into its own new reality, constructing a new world, in a language that has no need of words.

  • perfection

1) Music

Susan Sontag wrote, "Music is at once the most wonderful, the most alive of all the arts— it is the most abstract, the most perfect, the most pure— and the most sensual. I listen with my body and it is my body that aches in response to the passion and pathos embodied in this music." And, well, I can't really say it better myself. Music wins. Music is the highest of the art forms.

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