“If Art is Anything, It Is Everything” – ‘On Style’

This week’s Textasy is of Susan Sontag’s essay, ‘On Style’. Style is the unique manifestation of human will, the form of which is most clearly evident when viewing art; the best art involves a mystical subjugation of both the creator and the witness in order to involve some shared experience; I will now proceed to tell you about an experience I have had which illustrates the author’s point, adding credence to Sontag’s (vicarious) all-encompassing theory of art.



Susan Sontag is a writer.

Often, she writes about capital A ‘Art’.

This may seem abstracted from reality, tendentious to some, but to her it is the stuff of existence.

“The purpose of art is not as an auxiliary to truth, either particular and historical or eternal.” [Quoting Robbe-Grillet.] “If art is anything, it is everything; in which case it must be self-sufficient, and there can be nothing beyond it.”


Clearly, Sontag has puts a lot of faith in the power of art.


In all honesty, it took a long time for me to give a fuck about art. I thought it to be useless and extraneous; something effete which people do in their spare time. Certain works have changed my opinion.


There is a simultaneous experience of memory and phenomena. The work of art ignites the memory which is then transposed onto the brain in the form of a vision… I felt it so hard, that first time, that it crept up from my dick into every other part of my body; consciousness bleeding out, I attempted to grasp on to what I held, which was the memory of a time past.


“If art is anything, it is everything;”


Robert Rauschenberg is the author of this experience. Isn’t it strange, that a man can make an object whose power stands so visceral throughout time (at least to this soul)?


The painting itself is violent, bloody. Red colors spill off the canvass along with tensile objects embedded in the work: a spring, a rounded circle of some plastic exterior. They all coalesce into the project like a strange world which invites you but is evil. Nevertheless you go.


I first saw it about a year ago, when I walked into the downstairs room to the right of the ticket-desk when you walk in the Hamburger-Bahnhof. The building itself is a former train station.


You walk into a decommissioned place of commerce, light flooding in through the overhanging ceiling to the main corridor.


After wandering for a while, vaguely taking in the art, seeing Andy Warhol’s big canvasses of Mao, some other works of Pop Art (satisfying the brain and not much else), you see the Rauschenberg. It is called ‘First Time Painting’ (1961). At the time I am with my girlfriend. We have come to Germany on a trip within which we wish to lose ourselves and each other. At least, that is what I had expected.


Moving through the wing of the Hamburger-Bahnhof, we come to many pauses – pictures, to admire aesthetic beauty – but none is like this.


I feel it so viscerally. Something bulges in my balls. This is the scene: I, when I am about 10 years old, on the beach down the block from my grandma’s house in Queens, NY. The year is maybe 2003. My younger sister, who I love, has fallen; she cuts her foot on a piece of glass. Laying in the sand she looks up at me and screams.

All I can do is stare. I sit there and stare as she screams and cries and the blood rushes out of the soft part of her foot. All I can do is stare.


My older sister, who is now a nurse, comes rushing up from where our family is situated down by the water to save her.


She picks her up and carries her off to somewhere where she is bandaged up and the crying stops. However I don’t see any of this. I know it has been experienced and happens, but ever since that day, I have tried to hide it away. All I can is do is stand there in awkward silence and pretend I have helped.


If art is not everything then what is this?? Something lame, useless? Rendering of the Freudian subconscious?


It was so strong that I felt a reaction which extended first from my balls and then throughout my whole limbic system. The auditory/visual response was felt on par with what I have seen described as “visions” or “seeing god”.


Raushcenberg’s painting was the catalyst for this experience, the prism through which I was afforded the chance to experience the work, myself, and now here, analyzing the people, things, and precise moment which forced me to feel that way. It’s power is not in any contemplative enjoyment but the immediate experience of phenomena integrated into life; the Raushcenberg painting is not an isolated experience and essentially a mirror through which I looked at myself.


It is hard for me to come to terms with how strongly the image of that day was implanted on my brain. It felt twofold. First, the day my sister fell, cutting her foot. Then, in the moment, through the painting. Both instances were real. I know it because my inefficacy had trapped the memory away in some corridor of my brain, attempting to not be experienced. The Rauschenberg painting would not allow this: it said, “Get up! Say something you lousy meager animal!”


I felt it in my dick and not in my brain.


There is no denying the power some works of art can have over us when we let them.


Sontag describes art as “not an auxiliary to truth”, implying that it is in fact ‘Truth’ itself (when done correctly, of course).


I believe the Rauschenberg painting forced me to re-experience a matter in my life so well hidden it was even unknown to me up until that point of contact. The contact was strange, visceral, but also rewarding: I came to understand some of my own feelings and what they meant in terms of representation towards my life: My sister is the one who acts, while I sit and watch. I am the wallflower, and she is the strength.


This gave me a better understanding of our relationship and what it means to exist.


If this isn’t everything, and if this isn’t art, then what is?!?


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This text review is part of Textasy, Sensa Nostra’s new text reviews section. Want to contribute?