In his essay “Writer and Region,” Wendell Berry says that “we speak of ‘paying attention’ because of a correct perception that attention is owed, that without our attention and our attending, our subjects, including ourselves, are endangered.” To pay that attention to experiences and things that seem to miss the point, those that appear too small, too removed, or too anachronistic has the power to decentralize authority, reclaiming cultural authorship from institutions and placing it into the hands of individuals, those with whom it originated and to whom it belongs. Staying just out of art’s long reach by being present through direct action as an artist working in a community implicitly rejects a convoluted system of success that favors a klatch of the few at the expense of the rest.
“Perfection,” writes Thomas Merton, “is not something you can acquire like a hat by walking into a place, trying on several, and walking out ten minutes later with one on your head that fits. Yet, people are eager to get the first available system fitted to them and to spend the rest of their lives walking around with the thing on their heads.” Such disguises are often admired, but to float lazily in the stream of a defec tive art culture is to rest upon an illusion, to receive, at best, acclaim as fleeting as smoke. However, to take one’s own place in one’s own ring to suffer and to work offers a true reward: not the noise of false acclaim, but the integrity of that which actually is.