The goal of art is something grand—a glimpse of living mystery.

Yesterday, Vic Seizmore had an interesting post (Tuck In Your Artifice, It’s Showing) questioning Michael Chabon‘s  claim that “artifice, openly expressed, is the only true ‘authenticity’ an artist can lay claim to.”

A preference for suspended disbelief, for letting oneself be taken by the work, is wrong. As a matter of fact, to desire more than self-announcing artifice in your art is, “simple-minded and profoundly mistaken.”

On this claim I have to call bullshit.

Walter Pater famously said that all art continually aspires to the condition of music. Not arranged pieces inside a box—though that might well be what the work of art is—but an experience that you are swept up in, or at least glimpse, something larger, something utterly mysterious.

Self-conscious—self-announcing art—is inimical to that experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which the entire person is engaged. If, as Chabon claims, what is important about a work of art is that it always reminds you of its artifice—which keeps you from falling fully into the work—then he is saying the experience of art should not be aesthetic, but anesthetic, that is turning off some part of human experience.

I am far from an art theorist but I think I agree with Vic on this one.

I also like his conclusion:

The goal of art is not to show how cleverly the artist can arrange the parts of a hopelessly broken world, and let’s not forget to keep slapping our own faces and reminding ourselves of that. The goal is not even just a vision of the world whole again—it is a movement toward wholeness.


The goal of art is something grand—a glimpse of living mystery. To deny this in one’s art is, in the words of John Gardner, to treat “the only true magic in the world as though it were done with wires.”


What say you budding art theorists? Is artifice the key to authenticity?

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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