What is necessary up front is a quick discussion about the sacred–in the Indian example we might look into the Rig Veda and see the roots which inform Dravidian sensibilities. After the Aryan “invasion” religious texts were rewritten to comply with an Aryan power elite and its ideas about what the holy texts should be telling the people about their cosmology.
Here’s the interesting part: the Dravidian (which were indigenous)
sublimated key aspects of their belief system and enabled these to manifest in the latter Heterodoxy. Ok, so what, right? But one of the key aspects was this ritual of drinking Soma, which, according to the Dravidian, was meant to take the individual out of the wheel of the mundane, to make him/her more god-like (and it likely would, given that Soma`s principal constituents were cannabis, ephedrine and opium). This practice was in direct opposition to the dominant Aryan practice of ritual sacrifice, in which individuals offered up their energies to the greater good of the gods–a practice which was mirrored in daily living by prostrating oneself before the totalizing power of the Aryan rulers. The resultant dualism persists to the present day and is a defining
characteristic of modern India.
Okay. So we have the sacred being defined by different groups–in this case, completely different societies. And we can see, through the flow of history, what happens. The syncretism gives way to a compelling idea of the sacred,
that which embraces (for lack of a better dichotomy) both sacrifice and self-exploration, both abnegation and embrace, both the human (prostrate before the god-head) and the god-head (floating in the (ephedrated) aether above the human.
Alright. Now, obvious progressions from the sacred in religious practice to the practice of the artist aside, may we not at least extrapolate the idea that society (ours) considers the true artistic masterpiece to be a product of sacred
practices, produced by individuals (or collectives) possessing heightened, illuminated senses? I think so. We demand it, really, demand of our artists a rigorous prescience, a profound grasp of the economy of metaphor, a mastery of forms with which they may render the sacred. What is this sacred-ness? Well, we might go on for volumes of email debating aesthetics but I want to stay on track (re: Frye`s purveyed dilemma). We have equated masterpiece with sacred and the clue is in this equation: if we think of the Soma drinker, suddenly extremely elevated by the narcotic effects of the drink, and we then think of the arts consumer, the conoisseur, the dilettante, patron du salon, the audience, attendees at opening night, passers-by witnessing spontaneous street performance, and the like. We seek the lightning bolt, what Robert Hughes spoke of in his introduction to Shock of the New http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/documentaries/features/shock-new-eps.shtml(visual art`s own Fearful Symmetry), that which ignites the heart, instantly, irrevocably changing the individual who feels it strike. Here is the sacred, here are our masterpieces found, in this practice, perpetuating these unbelievably complex mechanisms with each new viewer, each new recipient, each new reader, each world-weary staggerrer, off the sidewalk and into the gallery only to be staggered uncompromisingly by the masterpiece he/she beholds. And staggers out, equally, perhaps, overburdened.
Okay, then. I`m happy with these comparisons. So back to Frye we must go. We place ourselves at the heart of his dilemma:
“We have still the problem of establishing the social function and responsibility of the different aspects of culture while respecting their autonomy and authority“ and, “The basis of the problem, once more, is the simultaneous sense of both the social relevance and the inner integrity of all the elements of human culture. Without the inner integrity we go around the cycle again back to the subordination of everything creative and scholarly to the expediences and superstitions of authority.“ I think the deterministic fallacy at work here is that Frye favours, like Hughes (above) the view from the Eiffel Tower, beyond that of the pedestrian far below. He looks at the problem from above, stepping outside the individual and social realities to draft a problem that doesn`t really exist. As he suggests, “It may be more difficult for some to see that the writer or artist also may owe a loyalty to his own discipline, and may have to defend that discipline against the concerns of society,“ but this is the very task we require of our artists, and, while Frye was writing these words there may have been much ado over McCarthyism and the more chilling, outright murder of artists in the various camps of the Gulag,
we see no abatement of such censorship even today. But these sacrifices we demand also. We want our artists to issue forth masterpiece after masterpiece, at each successive station of the cross, and we want them dead, at last, so we may truly inherit them.
In exchange, we grant them everlasting life, a better peace here on Earth, adoration, wealth (maybe). But what we really grant them is access to our society, access by which they may shape our mass character, access to our our very center. The stakes are high, most artists never achieve such success, but that`s okay too. We need cultural workers, we need curators, we need critics, we need disciples, adherents, even Judases. But to view this dynamic from above is to employ the fallacy of reverse Gestalt–you cannot discern the whole from one small piece, and the mass will always be missing some teeth.