July 20, 2011

Ruminations on Expressionist Art

This kind of contemporary Expressionist art, in order to be any good, seems like it needs to avoid two pitfalls. The first is a self-consciousness of form where everything gets very mannered and refers cutely to itself. The second pitfall, more complicated, might be called “terminal idiosyncrasy” or “antiempathetic solipsism” or something: here the artist’s own perceptions and moods and impressions and obsessions come off as just too particular to him alone. Art, after all, is supposed to be a kind of communication, and “personal expression” is cinematically interesting only to the extent that what’s expressed finds and strikes chords within the viewer. The difference between experiencing art that succeeds as communication and art that doesn’t is rather like the difference between being sexually intimate with a person and watching that person masturbate. In terms of literature, richly communicative Expressionism is epitomized by Kafka, bad and onanistic Expressionism by the average Graduate Writing Program avant-garde story.
                      --David Foster Wallace from an essay entitled “David Lynch Keeps His Head” as published in his collection of essays called A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again published by Little, Brown and Company 1997.

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