Defining Art

Some thoughts.
And more thoughts:
A South Korean poet with whom I did a reading in Hibiya Park with other poets many years ago told me that being a poet poses giant risks.
Poets speak the truth, he told me with conviction, and that’s why they are always going to be seen as a threat from those in power.
This was a new frightening idea to me.
I was more used to seeing poetry as a way of self-expression, something that may draw ridicule or indifference, but not something that got one’s life in danger.
Most artists in the modern democratic world spend their time trying to perfect their technical skills and building their marketing/business contacts so they can get an arts grant, a product on the commercial market, a good review in The New York Times, an exhibition at a major museum, or whatever else that translates their skills into a livelihood and a happy state of mind as far as getting worldly Respect.
But in extreme situations, when artistic choice doesn’t match the rules of the physical non-artistic society, the artist must even choose art over life.
Today, on NHK, Donald Keene was talking about his favorite Japanese artist, painter Kazan Watanabe, who sought to bring Western influences (perspective, lighting) in his work at a time when the Edo Bakufu had set up an isolationist “sakoku” policy of banning contact with the outside world.
Kazan criticized that mentality as “a frog in the well.”
This got him in trouble, and he was imprisoned and interrogated for seven months.
He was released but placed in exile and could not paint freely.
He killed himself at 49, writing in his will he was worried about bringing trouble to his family.
One of his final paintings, a portrait of his mother, uses only traditional Japanese techniques.
But another is a powerful portrait using Western techniques that NHK said Kazan purposely put an incorrect year of creation, to hide his persistent pursuit of even outlawed techniques for his artistic vision.