Consider musician Brian Eno’s theory of Art, and this is not a completely preposterous question.
The programme of the 10th annual Design Indaba held in Cape Town at the end
of February describes Brian Eno as “an artist, musician, ideologue and
systems-maker”. The man who started his music career with 1970s art-rock
band Roxy Music and might be said to be the father of modern ambient music addressed
the question “What is art?” and provided an answer that was sufficiently
broad that it might include even wine.
“Art is everything we don’t have to do,” said Eno. “Or more specifically,
art is the stylistic overlay we put on everything we do.” He made the point
that, theoretically, everything wrought by human intervention sits on a spectrum
ranging from that which is purely stylistic to that which is purely functional.
While something like a Picasso painting should be viewed pretty much entirely
in terms of stylistics, there was arguably nothing that sat at the opposite
extreme. Even the most mundane objects and activities of everyday life – Eno
referred to a wedding cake and body building – had some stylistic quality.
Elaborating on his theory of art, Eno posited that the outcome of all human
activities is located in a multi-dimensional cultural space, defined by axes
of meaning. He used the supposedly unimportant example of the haircut and pointed
out that any one haircut could be positioned in terms of whether it was more
male or female, modern or retro, natural or contrived and so on.
What art therefore becomes for Eno is a simulator. When an individual makes
a fashion choice (such as one haircut over another) he is engaging in a sort
of game between himself and the rest of the world. However trivial on one level,
it is still an invitation to others to experience a different world. A buzz
cut, for instance, sees the wearer of such a hairstyle playing with issues of
militarism, strength and weakness, dominance and subjugation. “You can
surrender to the issues in art, whereas in real life you can’t,” he remarked.
Without too much of a stretch, I think Eno’s theory of art can be applied to
wine. All of the issues of the day that apply to wine make it a phenomenon located
in a multi-dimensional space. Take any one wine and you can analyse it in terms
of whether it is more New World or Old World, modern or classic, elegant or
powerful, authentic or artificial.
Eno suggested that communication has “almost nothing to do with language
and everything to with assumptions about what’s going on in another’s head”.
What he is saying is that in order for any of us to co-operate with our fellow
man, we have to understand not only our world, but the world of the person with
whom we’re co-operating. He said that “humanity’s greatest asset is imagination”
which he described as “the ability to model and re-model continuously”.
Art therefore becomes a means of testing other realities as well as a way of
“staying in tune with each other as we embark on more and more ambitious
projects”. I believe wine can be seen in this light. Simply ask yourself
what kind of world we are endorsing where wines of weight and power prevail
over those of elegance and finesse. The one proviso to all this is that wine
must be seen as essentially man-made, rather than a product of the earth, which
means that anybody who holds terroir primary will find it difficult to justify
wine as art.