Notes on Susan Sontag’s “On Style”


There’s always a distance between the work of art itself and the reality it represents. This distance is “inhuman,” says Susan Sontag: it’s artificial, belonging to the representation and not coming directly from lived reality.

But Sontag wants us to understand that the art work’s distance is not a retreat from reality, but a movement towards it. For too long art has been thought of as something aristocratic, standing aloof from the concerns of the everyday world. And the distance between representation and reality seems to confirm this. Not so, says Sontag: the fact that there is distance does not mean that there is no connection between art and life.

If the work of art is moving towards reality, then why would there be any distance in the first place? This is a difficult question to answer, because it all depends on the artist in question. An artist is born, for whatever reason, with a certain distance between her and the world, and this is why she must create: to bridge the gap.

“Every style is a means of insisting on something,” writes Sontag. Style means “repetition” and “redundancy”: we can observe an artist’s style to discover what particular obstacles she encounters between herself and the world, what her mind gets stuck on. Art reflects the obsessions that make an individual.

(Image is from Pixabay.)

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