My wife set this picture as our computer desktop background about a year and a half ago, after we had walked past the Intermedia Arts building on a cold day in January. For some reason I never thought—never really thought—about what that phrase implies.
Does art change everything? In a recent Viewfinder post, Jay Orff, echoing W. H. Auden, mentions that “art makes nothing happen.” When you examine these words: “Art Changes Everything,” you think, “no, no it doesn’t.” Jaap Blonk’s sound poetry performance last month didn’t launch me from my seat, scoot me off to L.A., or make me chase down a Foley artist job. But it did stir something in me, and I did have conversations about it. The corollaries—and possibilities thereof—are endless.
Now, I understand Auden’s impulse to say that no, art itself doesn’t change anything; perceptible change occurs at the hand of human intervention. It goes along with the NRA’s obvious point: Guns don’t kill people… The hope isn’t that art brainwashes people, but that it cajoles, excites, arouses, and perhaps inspires the viewer to create, to find their voice, or to plumb the magnificent details of the mundane.
But how do we know that art makes nothing happen? Every second unravels with cause and effect. I walk in to a cafe to buy a cookie, the girl behind the counter answers the phone, making me wait an extra fifteen seconds. I leave, but just as I crack the door, a biker on the sidewalk whizzes past. If I had exited earlier, maybe he would’ve hit me. Maybe not, though. Maybe he would’ve simply weaved around me. But if that were the case, I might’ve become consumed with a momentary hatred for reckless cycling. I might have then ranted to my wife about it. She, depending on the countless events, people, snippets of conversation she encountered during her day, might have then combusted (I exaggerate).
The point is: the possibilities are endless. And yet, at the end of the day, I agree with Auden. No, art doesn’t change anything. It makes nothing happen. But each moment changes the next. Each thought we have and step we take and conversation we engage usher us into the next moment, the next mood. And if we take enough time to truly engage art— to see it, hear it, let its trances and expositions ruminate – then we might compile enough of these moments so that when we see something like, “art changes everything,” we know somehow, someway, it’s true.
About the author: Josh Cook has an MFA in fiction from Pacific University. His work has been featured in Guitar World Magazine and The Iowa Review, and is forthcoming from Sic Semper Serpent. He lives in Minneapolis.
Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to katie(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)