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December 18, 2011

George Saunders on useless art.

I always flinch a bit when I hear a phrase like “writers’ responsibilities.”  Which writer? Who’s doing the judging/enforcing?  A writer is a person who does what she likes.  She makes beauty (or ugliness, whatever) in any way she wants to, just because she wants to.  It has to be that way.  You can’t conditionalize it.  The culture has to allow this place of extravagant freedom if it is to get the gift that is art.  And that gift might not do any good for anyone.  It might be silly, or decadent – whatever.  The critic Dave Hickey has written about this idea – that the way to weaken and infantilize your art is to require it to be useful.  What art gives a culture is weird and deep and…inexplicable.  Irreducible.  Now, a citizen, an essayist – that’s a different story.  Citizens have responsibilities, essayists are, roughly speaking, in the business of doing conceptual analysis, advocating and all of that.  But an artist has to be a radical defender of the right to do useless work.

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