7 ‘Aesthetic Experiences’ I can Remember Where Art More or Less Saved / Affirmed my Life, or Something

My junior semester is ending and I’m feeling reflective and wistful and seriously stressed and time-crunched and I’ll probably do poorly on my exams / final papers, and I’m thinking about how or why I’ve ended up becoming an ‘arts blogger’ and vaguely thinking about things like ‘what is art’ and ‘why does it matter’ or ‘what does it mean to me,’ and before long I’m realizing that ‘art’ in general is pretty much the one thing that seems to ‘matter’ to me, and I recently read this thing this philosopher guy Ludwig Wittgenstein said—Wittgenstein said, “It’s impossible for me to say one word about all that music has meant to me in my life. How, then, can I hope to be understood?” (which is broody and philosopher-y but so trueeeee, right?)—and I stopped and thought about it for a minute and was like, ‘whoah,’ and I just instantly wanted to write similar things about ‘all that music / literature / art in general has meant to me’ in my life, even though it’s kinda impossible to say how much they’ve meant and I know that’s cliché to say but I also know it’s true. Let’s face it we’re bombarded with art-talk almost constantly in this day-n-age, what with the internet and 18 credits of humanities courses and blogs like this one etc., but maybe it’d be cool if we all took a moment, as this semester ends, as beautiful spring begins, to breathe and think about what art ‘means to you’—maybe people can like comment on this post, answering the question ‘what does art mean to you?’ (nobody will do it)—and breathe in and out, slowwwlllly, and maybe just, like, appreciate (?) those moments in your personal history where a song made your stomach flutter or a film made you cry or a book made you think and maybe just, like, feel good about how sometimes, despite the generalized shittyness of existence and final exams and essays, things can be beautiful?

Earlier this year, I read a post (http://www3.arts.umich.edu/ink/2012/02/15/looking/) from my arts, ink blogger friend Jessy Larson that said, “After 2.5 years of being an art history major, I have watched myself care less and less about what a work of art actually looks like” and “I rarely have that ‘oh this sculpture is so beautiful!’ feeling anymore.” It made me feel sad. Because I know the feeling—or lack thereof—all too well. The ‘nothing really seems oh-so-beautiful’ feeling. And to hear the feeling from one of my good friends, well, that hurt. I mean the older I get the less mystical and mind-blowing and wonderful a lot of art seems. A lot of it just seems like average things average people make, averagely. A lot of it seems shitty—like that episode of South Park where Stan starts seeing everything as shit (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You’re_Getting_Old). That episode is really good. Watch it, if you haven’t. #Disillusionment. I often can watch a ‘tear-jerker’ film and feel Nothing. I can read a novel in one sitting, without once feeling excitement or suspense or sorrow or empathy or anything really, with complete knowledge of how the story will end before I reach the final page, with vague antipathy towards the author for writing a predictable story, with vaguer antipathy towards myself for predicting. I can listen to a song without really ‘hearing’ it. Maybe I’m just getting older. Maybe I’ve oversaturated myself; after 21 years of book after book after song after song after film after film, they’ve all started to ‘taste like chicken.’ Etc. Etc.

But as my…’aesthetic experiences’ (?)…become rarer, they also become more precious. And it’s night’s like these, when I’m pounding on my keyboard in the grad library and have 10000 papers due soon and finals to study for but won’t study for, when I’ve just read a deep-seeming quotation from an Austrian philosopher, that I feel compelled to drop the ennui and the blasé and the jaded and the three years of A-grade analytical essays re art for university courses for a second and feel compelled to just run with my inexplicable current passion vaguely about ‘art’ and to acknowledge its ability to make me tremble, cry, hope, acknowledge its ineffable…something.

So these are some of my top ‘aesthetic experiences’ I could remember.

1. In 7th grade, I was just starting to learn how to play the drums and was like ‘studying’ John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), who is probably my favorite drummer, and I remember this one night: there was a thunderstorm and I couldn’t sleep and I was worried about going to school the next morning for some angsty seventh-grader-y reason—maybe I had a presentation, maybe some kids were going to pick on me—and I was listening to “Stairway to Heaven” on my first CD player ever, which was a P.O.S. Sony, via big whole-ear-covering headphones and I cranked the volume all the way up and sobbed uncontrollably and made vague promises to myself about ‘being a better person’ at school the next morning and about getting good at playing drums so that I could be a super famous drummer and so that I could always have music in my life.

2. In 11th or 12th grade I was grounded and alone in my room and bored and decided to read for whatever reason, so I downloaded “The Catcher in the Rye” and read it as a Microsoft Word document on my like 7in.-by-12 in.-netbook screen in like two sittings, and I liked it, so I Googled “books like The Catcher in the Rye” and got the result “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and downloaded it and read it as a .doc too, in one sitting, and loved it and felt like the protagonist in it was pretty much me exactly and felt good knowing there were ‘people like me out there’ and decided—and I mean decided—I needed to ‘participate’ in life more—that’s pretty much like the whole point of the book: you have to participate, in life, instead of just being a ‘wallflower’—and now I still think about ‘participation’ in life very often, and if I hadn’t read that book I’d probably participate in life less.

3. In high school in my first band ever we covered the song “99 Red Balloons” and every time we played it I would get PUMPED and hit my drums way harder than normal—like to the point that my entire arms would hurt from it and my hands would blister—even when we we’re just playing in my basement for nobody, and but one time we were playing at a stupid place called “His Rock café,” which was basically a medium-sized stained-carpeted room with musty couches pushed up against the walls and shitty lighting, and after we played some shitty screamo band played next and their guitarist jokingly played the 99-Red-Balloons riff as they were tuning up to like make fun of my band or something, but I wasn’t even mad—I felt like ‘I don’t care if anyone thinks “99 Red Balloons” is a lame song because when we play that song we kick its ass and nobody can tell me otherwise, ever, especially not this stupid screamo guitarist kid.’

4. Summer 2010 I was jobless and had way too much free time—it seems like most of my best ‘aesthetic / art-related experiences’ happen during periods of ‘too much free time,’ I just noticed—and drove myself to Borders (RIP) and bought the 1,000 page behemoth Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which my creative-writing teacher whom I liked way more than 95% of my teachers had suggested I read over the summer, and for ~2weeks I read it for ~7hrs. every day and only stopped to like eat or urinate or stuff like that, and I’ll probably never read so consistently constantly intensely deeply ever again ever, and it made me fall in love with reading—I’d always liked reading, but I couldn’t take our relationship to the next level before that fateful ‘infinite summer’—and made me realize other people exist. ‘Made me realize other people exist’? Yeah, well, it’s kinda hard to explain but when you’re a jaded, big-university-attending, blasé, rocker drummer cool guy like me you tend to be a little solipsistic and self-centered and egotistical and oh-so-alone and lone-wolf-y, to the point that skepticism about other’s consciousness isn’t all that far-fetched. But in Infinite Jest I saw a conscientious human on the page, for 1,000 pages, and I ‘interfaced’ with him, and I realized people exist outside my head, realized that although I’m literally at the center of my universe, because of how perception works, I’m not at the center of The Universe.

5. Every time I hear the Crime in Stereo lyrics “It comes around when I need it most / it’s mostly closer to me than anything / closer than you could ever be / the antidote for everything” (which reference music), I think something like “The effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence”—Schopenhauer.

6. Summer 2011 I could never sleep and would always stay up until like 5 a.m., and music was beginning to lose its luster for me—this was the summer I really started developing that ‘nothing feels oh-so-beautiful anymore’ feeling—and so I started listening to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Attenas to Heaven” (which is my favorite album title ever btw) every night to fall asleep, because some of my friends had told me they listened to ‘post-rock’ to sleep, and, yeah, it helped me sleep every night because every night I’d sorta ‘lose myself’ in the music and ‘get carried away’ and sorta enter into a trance or something and meditate and think about things I wouldn’t normally think about, like God or lack thereof (maybe I just thought about God because of the name of the band / album [but I like to think I thought about God because of the music itself]), and one night I literally Lifted My Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven during a big climax in one song—if you don’t know anything about post-rock, it has like ebbs and flows and ‘climaxes’—and held my fists up for like two entire minutes, in the middle of the night, lying supine on my bed, looking out my bedroom’s big window, at the stars / ‘Heaven,’ and my stomach was dropping non-stop.

7. Once I thought, “Art, in general, is the only thing about the world that seems prima facie ‘meaningful’ or ‘life-affirming’ or ‘Good’ to me, and without it I’m literally not sure I’d have ‘the will to live,’” in a near-silent large arch-ceilinged room in a graduate library while all around me students idly typed things on computers and coughed and flipped pages and maintained facial expressions communicating ‘I’d rather be dead right now than doing this mind-numbing school-related thing.’

Mark Buckner

I read, listen to, and watch depressing books, music, and movies, respectively.

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