In 1917 the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev commissioned a new libretto from Jean Cocteau. When the young poet asked for advice on how to proceed, Diaghilev replied with a simple directive: “Astonish me.” The phrase would serve Cocteau as a mantra throughout his career, resurfacing, for instance, at the beginning of his classic film Orpheus. Not surprising, as few statements could better encapsulate the impetus that has driven artistic creation since the beginning. Astonishment is the litmus test of art, the sign by which we know we have been magicked out of practical and utilitarian enterprises to confront the bottomless dream of life in sensible form. Art astonishes and is born of astonishment. There is only one thing that it can be said to “communicate” more effectively than other mediums can, and that is “the weirdness of the Real.”
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
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