Rhythm and Relativism (15.09.2003)

This is one of my oldest texts, which I first wrote in German during my exhibition in Rheinfelden in 1993. Then I wrote the text „Relativism in art”, dated 11.03.2001 which was a translation of the German text from with small modifications and placed it in the Pictures and … Images from 2001 catalog. This text, which I am posting here, is the final version that is a compilation of these two previous texts. The Rhythm


      In art, rhythm is something natural, but at the same time something elusive and very difficult to define for someone who is unable to understand, notice or feel it.  Theoretically, measuring the 3/4 or 4/4 rhythm in music is simple. Difficulties start when we enter modern music, or jazz – there, the so-called timing, or swing, is important, and that is no longer easy for people who don’t have a natural talent for balancing around rigid rhythm. Artists of the theater or film often talk (though sometimes not directly) about rhythm in the dialogs or in editing. Without rhythm, both theatrical plays and films lose quality and artistic sense. Literature and poetry are also based on their specific rhythm thanks to which certain texts are read with growing interest and pleasure, while others make us weary and disheartened. In visual arts, we often refer to composition meaning the ability to use such an arrangement of forms and colors that will provide a given piece with natural, specific rhythm thanks to which in contact with the given work we experience pleasure similar to that which we experience in contact with nature, where everything is miraculously rhythmic according to “divine” golden division. Then, it is easy to recognize whether someone, when painting for example trees or mountains, was able to recreate this natural rhythm of forms in nature, or whether he is a naive amateur painting according to what he knows rather than what he sees.


      Art begins where reality ends. However, this doesn’t make it unreal to us.  Defying the contemporary dictate of “hyper-media reality”, art evidently stands at the side of individual man in his need of finding his own, subjective, individual quality in the magma of generalizations, simplifications and“objective correctness” of everyday life. It creates an alternative niche, where everybody can find themselves, if only they are able to do so. But does art fulfill this postulate today, or does it – wandering away from man – pursue the elusive marriage with glittering reality? When striking the pathological deal with the virtual or real commercial market, art immediately loses all its quality and integrity. In most cases it becomes a ridiculous, infantile copy of “the media world”, no matter if it is for, or against. In this situation, every billboard or another product of advertising agencies looks more sensible and more serious than even the most attractive or scandalous installation in an “avant-garde” gallery. In order to produce and promote commercially attractive products for galleries, some strange direction has now emerged that requires from potential artists skills only in the field of new media and marketing techniques.  This way art loses its distinctiveness and individuality, and becomes a more or less valuable commodity on the global market. After leaving the supermarket we enter one of the contemporary art centers and see the same world, we turn on the TV – and the same again – the chaos of flashing images and gadgets. This extreme showiness, almost pushing the borders of what is bearable, when transferred to art makes even less sense. The essence of good art is the ability of relativizing all real and ad hoc contexts. It should create an alternative and squeeze out the essence of what while being only current has a chance of becoming timeless. Recently, I have heard what one of the young curators of an exhibition of new art said: that the essence of contemporary art is conscious negation of timelessness in favor of the current – what pathetic bullshit. Does this mean that art should compete with the media and become an ad hoc commercial activity, a sensation of the day? Is this the only way to make one’s mark on today’s market? Avoiding what is current and lack of involvement in some fashionable social or political context certainly is a kind of escape from this market, as this way you don’t give the media any chance to simplify it and label it with a catchy comment. Consequently, most artists are desperately looking for a way – an idea that would give them a chance to find a place – with their art – in some current – media-wise – context – to gain such attractive packaging means to win this “market” today. This specific packaging which involves the trendiest context of today: feminist, Jewish, or homosexual is now much more important than its contents. Art balances somewhere between the techniques of communicating and religion, while not being either. In art, faith is as important as knowledge. This relativism, which in philosophy and in life leads rather cynically to nihilism, in art is an invaluable asset. It is easy, with a primitive joke or provocation, to ridicule some topic or drown it in shit (either real, or virtual). It is much more difficult to relativize its meaning, extract it from the context and the concrete, while achieving timeless sense and value. Art should be the sister of nature, which in its greatness and continuance constantly relativizes all “facts” and contexts. It creates beautiful and logical forms, which for ages have been an inspiration for true artists. The technique of expression does not matter; this can be achieved both in realist and in abstractionist painting, or for instance in pop-art, in installations or actions of newest art, as well as all the other forms and genres; also in theater, film and poetry (it might be easiest in poetry). Maybe what I call the relativism of art should simply be defined as the necessity of poetry in art.

Jan Niksiński