My late godfather Lee Fischer used to admonish me, rather ambiguously, "Chas, the point of life is not to be happy," and I must confess that, looking back on my existence, the moments of pure, unfettered ecstasy have been few and far between and, thus, all the more cherished in retrospect.
George Leonard, the journalist who just passed away and was one of the gurus of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, liked to point out that the whole point of his windswept think tank was "joy," but, if you have ever been to Big Sur, with its forbidding waves, freezing winds and majestic cliffs, thoughts of terrifying majesty spring to mind before those of carefree happiness. I stood at a similar place last week in Garrison, New York, the celebrated Dick's Castle, a Moorish-styled palace built in the 1920s (in homage to the Alhambra) on top of a mountain overlooking the Hudson.
From there you can survey the rapid river, the fortifications of West Point across the way, the gliding descent of moss and rocks, the occasional eagle and tugboat propelled barges, all in an envelope of grandness that reduces the viewer to insignificance. I gazed at a womb-like Ursula von Rydingsvard sculpture on the property and longed for the comforts of art. But, with all of the big collectors afraid for their values, the myriad bloggers splitting hairs over museum ethics, the Bloombergian elitism of our public art installations and the inward noodling of art school educated conceptualists, where exactly is that joy (for the majesty left the scene a long time ago)?
Art has become a very big game with a very small focus, a golden scarab on the mountain of life. There is so much self-referential, push/pull neurotic activity in our world and so little joy, but perhaps that can be said, as my godfather reminded me, about life itself.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).