Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

The Persistence of Hope

Posted in art by Jason Gray on December 19, 2009

The second law of thermodynamics states that, “energy moves from an ordered to a less ordered state”, like children gathering at the top of a slide, in a playground of subatomic particles, pushing and shoving one another towards release. Everything is relative to this, politics, economics, art, the universe, everything. Chaos impels us.


In art, rational approaches to style, form, or content lose their rationality, ultimately. New approaches form, new followers coalesce, and the old ones are laid to rest. Museums preserve the memories, but this is only true for the most elite of artists. Most of the art produced in modern times becomes relegated to the most severe entropy imaginable; it is forgotten and so are the artists who produced it. Since Van Gogh, at least, it has been the romantic thing to do to martyrize oneself for the art created. If one is to reap the eternal rewards, he must first expel the notion of them from his mind; he must work for the art, and not for the fame. But what artist truly does not desire recognition for the sacrifices he has made?

It is a simple truth that, as the museums of the world commemorate those few who “made” it, the pawnshops, flea markets, and antique stores of the world generally perpetuate the anonymity of the many who fell short. Under the cruelest of circumstances, some of that artistic detritus (the paintings) are actually resold for less than the cost of the materials, and a new legion of artists buy these to paint over, themselves involved in the same Sisyphean struggle as the progenitors of the art they cannibalize. This is the severest attrition, for these artists are eliminating the possibility of “discovery” for the ones which came before them; they are erasing the thousands of hours invested, the hundreds of meals eaten from a can when art materials were put at a higher premium, the many lives lived on the fringes of society, and the innumerable other self-sacrifices made for the art being destroyed in an instant. They eat away the memory of a person, and in a way sponsor a system that will eventually devour most of their own existences as well. And this leaves nothing said of all of the art consigned to the landfills and refuse incinerators of the world.

In earnestness, the art system is a cruel one, but necessary. After all, the second law of thermodynamics predicts the eventual entropy of all charged matter anyway, a veritable “end of everything”, so why bother with doing anything? In truth, it is because the stakes are stacked so high that the romantic dream is so intense. We desire the perpetuation of ourselves beyond the worldly sacrifices we make; this is unsurprisingly the basis for most of the world’s religions, so why would art be any different? The persistent naiveté of human hope is the most beautiful physical law of all (even if it exists only for the “instant” of our existence).

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