ESSAY: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ART AND TRUTH
The only way towards reconciliation of opposing and contradicting forces is in the sublime nature of pure Truth.
As of late I had been struggling on how to formulate an encompassing language that could express opposing ideas. I struggled and cried out in my despair. I knew that I wanted to express abstract truth in my art, such as the formal truth of the interplay of line and color. I knew also that I wanted to express the personal truth of my unique experience as a person. l knew that I wanted to be both deep and yet broad, to be profound yet humble, artful yet artless, speak of my personal experience yet use universal language. How could I depict emotive, passion-filled images yet merged with mathematical accuracy and symmetry, and vice versa? How could I be true to my limited materials, yet transform them into an image of something greater than they are? I just couldn't wrap my head around it. However, through a great gift of realization, contemplation, and conceptual change in my thinking that I do not even feel fully worthy of, I have been granted a glimpse of the answer. The answer lies in only recognizing the One Truth. There is only one quality, as it were, that underscores all being and non-being alike. It has always existed at every moment. and will exist at every moment. It is outside of Time. It is available at all times to all beings in all of the universe. This is the concept of Truth itself: which is embodied in the myriad forms around us, including ourselves. However, it is the nature of the human mind and thought that we cannot generally see it, and we will necessarily split the world and every force in it into opposing polarities. We see Truth as only being possessed by forms and not born of them. Our nature is to have dualistic thinking. For example, The ocean wave will act always as an ocean wave will. It always has, and will, continue to act in the way an ocean wave will. This is its Truth, or simply the law of the ocean wave. One can know all of the ocean waves that ever were or will be by understanding its law and the simple truth of this fact. Even in all its variations due to temperature or wind etc., it will still be in accord with the truth of its being. If one were to encounter an ocean wave that did not act in this way, if it for example turned to dust instead of foam or mist, then we would have to concede that this was still within keeping with its nature of being. Furthermore, our sense that ocean waves are mysterious and surprising would be all the more resolute. Instead, we learn to take things for granted by the ways in which they meet our expectations. We fail to engage the great mystery that is a single ocean wave. The single ocean wave always has been, always will be and presently is still full of a profound mystery. This wave is in the process of becoming. What is it becoming? Perhaps part of a larger ocean current or rip-tide. Or perhaps it is one small movement of energy that is part of the process by which this mountain here will eventually become sand. But the simple fact of its being is without question, and we cannot judge it, cannot apply moral or critical codes to it. We must accept it for what it is at the moment that it is. The idea of it does not exist outside the embodiment of it.
The same must be true for art. This is the critical leap of faith that all emergent artists must bridge. Without it, one will remain in illustration of an idea, not embodiment. Sign will never become symbol or experience. Even the most beautifully realized painting or sculpture of a human woman will never come close to the living breathing Truth of Woman. Only a living, breathing woman herself will embody this truth. Art can only point towards that objective or mythical reality. Acknowledging this fact brings with it the realization that all our artful efforts will be temporary, flawed, and failing. They can never really capture the truth of a thing not itself. And paradoxically, art can be perfect and complete unto itself in its truthful being-ness as an artful effort. The only course that remains is to see every image democratically, to take the critical distance. Every so called realist image created is simply an ‘abstraction’ of a truer reality. Every abstract painting is really a ‘realist’ work, because the paint is the most real, truthful thing about the object. Seen this way, these opposites are reconciled. Every singular image or mark will never be singular because it shares the common truth of all multiple images or marks that ever have been or will be. It partakes of the eternal quality of mark or image'. Every rnultiple image or repetitive mark will always be singular unto itself and also One reality by partaking of the shared truth of all such marks or images. By so sharing in the ultimate truth of reality, all things are One and Many simultaneously. This stands for people as well. We are all One in our ultimate embodiment of human being-ness, and simultaneously Many in all our diversity of form and action. Nothing a human can do can be "inhuman". The most incredibly glorious or the most perverted, barbarous thing done by any man or woman is still within keeping of the truth of our human being-ness. So we must say yes to it, not because it is good, but because it is the truth of the matter and we wish for clarity of reality. If we are to evolve as beings, as artists, we must be servants to only one thing, the Truth itself. The truth only seeks to know itself: to exist as itself, which it will do anyway.
This is the course we must follow. Most artists are disciples of the truth, many without fully realizing it. We seek to show the truth of a feeling, an image. an idea. But the greatest step is to embrace this ultimate paradox. To reconcile the One we must acknowledge the Many in all its truthful forms, both destructive and benevolent. To reconcile the Many we must acknowledge the truthfulness of our shared Oneness in the Truth. We must trace multiplicity of the ten thousand forms back, trace the river of truth its one source. Then having drunk of it’s clear unifying waters, we can reenter the world of the ten thousand things and see the quality that unites them all.
All things will and want to act in accord with the truth. The sunflower wants to act as all sunflowers do, and turn toward the sun. Paint wants to act as all paint does. Stone will break along lines that all stone of its kind breaks along. This is the truth of these things. Generally, we all need and respond to truthful things with the greatest of acceptance. Even deceivers of others hate to be deceived themselves. The problems that occur with most people occur in the moment when they substitute the Truth itself for what they think they know as the truth. They stop believing the truth of their own experience and start believing ideas that exist outside themselves. Truth becomes relative and contextual, as do morality. Then even lovers of the truth will sometimes seek to quash the actual truth in order to protect their cherished illusion. The world as I see it, is not split into good and evil. Rather, it is split into acceptance and orientation towards the Truth, or ignorance of and orientation away from the Truth. Acceptance of the One Truth of all things is "the Good" itself for it always validates, assures, and is ultimate, unarguable and absolute (without Time). One who argues with the truth is a fool and is destined to lose the argument. The ignorance of, absence of, or denial of the Truth is "the Evil" because it is always relative, arguable (causing strife), open to invalidation, and temporal. The moment of salvation will occur when all beings wake up to this fact and stop seeing the box from inside it. Within our art discipline, the maturing step for the emergent artist is in the "being in the work, but not of the work", just as Christ told his followers ‘be in the world but not of the world.”
To see where the work ends and the person’ will begins. Likewise, as humans and makers, we too must be in the world, but not of the world. We must actively engage life, this blessed and frightening life, but not be of this life. We must remain outwardly engaged and inwardly removed, beings complete unto ourselves within the knowledge of truth embodied. Seeking the truth outwardly, in concept, only brings us into contact with multiplicity and relativism. We must engage the paradox: Things are not what they seem and are also exactly as they seem. This is how meaning is conveyed through art. Knowledge of artworks is useless in the production of works of true art. Yet each artwork gives the maker of it knowledge. Knowledge is not the same as understanding, yet understanding may come through accumulating knowledge. The flawed is perfect and the perfect is always flawed. To become master of one's discipline, one must unlearn all one has learned to master the discipline in the first place. Faith in the truth does not require reason, but reason may lead one to faith in the truth. Nothing exists in isolation, yet we are all isolated by our thoughts. Economy of energy and form are the simplest way to complexity of thought. Nature is a vast symbolic illustration of truth, yet is the truest embodiment of it. Truth only exists to our minds as it is embodied in forms and concepts, yet extends beyond all forms and concepts.
Notes: Spiritual painting
Mark Rothko once said “ All good painting is spiritual.”
Painting and metaphysical thought share an enormous common ground. Often the act of painting spiritual or abstract artworks can feel very similar to a true mystical experience when totally immersed in the act of creation. Perhaps some truly accomplished abstract painters will say that they are the same thing. Often the painter will approach his or her works with all of the spiritual honesty of a visionary or mystical poet. However it is important to temper this interior temperament with a balanced health towards the tangible, material world. Many great and important American painters of the first half of the twentieth century gave into a deep hopelessness, eventually committing suicide, including Rothko himself. We wonder What could have caused such hopelessness and self destructive despair amongst such great and profound talents? In my view, I believe the great overwhelming and self-imposed project of spiritual purification through the act of painting, as evidenced by their paintings, lacked the appropriate systematic and realistic balances for the practitioner to call up such forces and keep their soul intact. To bring up such titanic psychic and psychological forces up from the collective and personal minds and then translate it into visual reality is a tremendous and difficult task. Even Buddhist and Yogic meditational systems, and Jewish and Christian contemplative orders, are supervised and codified in some way, are mediated by older masters, rabbis and priests. Therefore, in tandem to the practice of painting the invisible, I stress the discipline of a meditational, contemplative or movement art form as a physical and tangible strengthening of the mind with the body. A martial art or dance art for example gives to its practitioner the ability to manipulate and channel currents of energy within the body with intention. Importantly it provides a physical vehicle by which the practitioner strengthens his connection of ephemeral soul to tangible reality yet without a physical remnant to show for it (such as a painting). His only reward is a more integrated and well conditioned sense of being. This then will necessarily translate into more and more integrated paintings when the time comes to create, without the psychic pitfalls of depression that may result. Such an approach results in Action painting without an actual painting or a painted object as debris, yet serves to recalibrate and rebalance the painter. Perhaps if Rothko had just danced a bit more, chanted a bit more, or hiked in a forest a bit more, he may have lived longer and given us so many more masterpieces.
The edge of the work is perhaps more important than the center. When I was at the Museum School in Boston, my professor would often remind me not to forget about the corners. It is natural when composing a picture to focus on the interior of the picture plane, when one is young and still developing. However, without acknowledging the authority of the edge or respecting the boundaries of the arena, the work will not have a sense of self-containment. It will appear as an amateur snap shot photograph does, enclosing a single frame of reference or information from an otherwise larger landscape but without consideration of what is bounded within the field of vision. Enclosing and documenting is a different mental space than inference, implication, or evocation. I think we humans even like our activities contained to certain arenas, as in Sport or Theater, or warfare, or the bedroom. We appreciate a place where the senses can journey through with little immediate threat to the physical self. Non-contained energy is rarely conducive to deeper thought or the appreciation of works of art because art as such is primarily a function of civilized societies. Societies (systems of order for maximum survival) cannot adequately function without the appreciation and respect for the edge (which equals oblivion). The ‘Edge’ is synonymous with ‘the unknown’ .i.e. Death. The edge allows for the moving of energies (blood, paint, rock, water, light) within the fields that we can apprehend. Mature Jackson Pollock paintings always stay within the edge of the canvas (Flux within Space/Time) Josef Albers late work~ explores the edges in the form of light and color(as does the Suprematist paintings of Kashmir Malevitch)
NY painter Brice Marden’s paintings of the last 20+ years illustrate this beautifully. Lucia Fontana, the Italian futurist artist, pierced the plane of his canvases, but the plane remained integrated. Certainly many artists have pushed the activity off of the plane, some by including real objects projecting into space. Rebelling in this sense is healthy as long as there is appreciation and respect for the edge. Early Gothic stained-glass windows have this quality as well. Although borders were created to allow peripheral cracking to occur as the heavy window settled and for ease of installation and removal, the lighted borders play an aesthetic role. When viewed in situ, the window appears to back away and float in its stone frame, making it appear lighter and accentuating the rhythms and geometry of the compositions.
Essay: True Art
Sometimes I don't want to be an Artist.
All names imply or limit an experience in some subtle way in our language. On one side, the name “artist” is often conflated with someone who simply crafts something well (as it did in ancient times), or on the other side now means an eccentric person who makes nothing well but pushes a strange conceptual idea divorced from common experience as his intellectual currency.
But for me, I only want to paint. I like to paint primarily on canvas, wood, and glass. Colored mud is erotic to me in a way. It’s Laborious, yet rewarding. I find it a rich material experience. Sometimes within the activity of painting, art happens. But not always. My opinion is that be considered a true work of Art it must include or have some combination of these elements. Awe, Grief, Hope, Love, and Faith. These qualities manifest in the face of the most sublime mystery of existence, which includes ourselves and Nature. Awe in the face of Nature. Grief in the face of our certain Death. We hope that our human lived experience will be meaningful, and that we will survive and thrive individually and as a species. We hope in the face of Uncertainty. Love that unites all things, and Faith which completes the circle of our intelligence along with our faculty of Reason. It is because of these reasons that I propose we create a new term: the True Artist.
Humans all possess creativity, endowed by God into our human nature. Therefore, I think anyone could be an artist, if they have the discipline enough to develop their natural potential. Very few people actually have this discipline, therefore not many people can in fact be artists. It’s truly a vocation. Art is an ephemeral force, locked up in material objects. Indescribable. Elusive. A Phantom only glimpsed through the inner eye. She kisses one rarely within the process of one's chosen activity. She is a moment of Temporal and Eternal conjunction. She arrives when there is a conjunction between the power and focus and intention of the maker, the cooperation of the materials and the environment, and the reciprocity of the audience or receiver of the message. The art itself is not in the object alone but is existent also within the mind of the viewer.
It is only because so many others before us have found her embrace in specific materials or disciplines that those things then later become synonymous in the general opinion with art and artists. Workers and works in oil paint, clay, stone, etc… for example. This opinion has greatly expanded in the last 80 years to encompass almost all kinds of material and action. Still, art isn't automatic just because certain actions or materials are manipulated. Art is poetic metaphor. Connotation is more important than denotation. All human activity can be termed artful if it simply means the making of something by human hands. But it’s true that many works of creativity which are primarily denotative and not connotative, or come to us pregnant with assumptions simply because of action and material similarities to art, may in fact upon closer examination constitute other things. Many of these works fall under other categories such as design or fashion or pornography, and are not in fact principally works of Art owing to a deficit of Awe, Grief, Hope, Love, or Faith. In essence, they lack Soul. Such works are “artistic”, but in a technical manifestation mainly. These things are more prose than poetry. Yes they were fashioned by human hands and created using human creativity, but they lack an attention to the soul, our human complex of the heart/mind/intellect, that locus of inner meaning. Its this element alone that elevates illustration or advertising or music to the realm of true Art..
Creative Work which espouses, buttresses, deconstructs, criticizes, or explores forms of political, systemic ideology is more properly understood as propaganda and not principally as True Art. Propaganda may appear artistic through its form alone or material, actions, or design, but propaganda differs fundamentally from True Art because propaganda does not locate the peak experience of the truth to be found within the activity of creating the work itself or in experiencing the work itself. Such work presupposes a claim to the truth beforehand as a foregone conclusion as it then espouses, buttresses, deconstructs, criticizes, or explores a political or systemic ideology. It assumes a fundamental and previous stance as the correct one. Since moral stances are relative in terms of the Culture they originate from, the Time period, the religious and governmental atmosphere, iconography, prevailing information, and superstitions, then the aim for the propagandist is not one of creating an as yet-unnamed experience but of informing the viewer of what they are to believe, in a didactic manner, and using the tools and techniques of visual art to do it. In this way we must distinguish clearly propaganda from the True Art, and hold that each has its place and function.
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