Thursday, February 23, 2012
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
This thought occurred to me when I was ritualistically driving home from work one day:
Once the rate of our physical movement exceeds the movement of our ability absorb our surroundings we lose our ability to focus. In short bursts where the temporary acceleration serves as an exception it is easy to revert back to a state of equilibrium. But, when the acceleration is the norm rather than a burst, reversion to a natural state is more severely difficult. When I think about the rate at which our minds need to absorb things, at least to an acceptable degree of understanding, questions emerge as to just what we are missing. The ancients had such time, even in their work of survival, to think and absorb. Such thought led to epic wisdom literature. Rumination over keen observations was allowed to ferment into metaphor and symbol. Maybe the symbols took control, and to the extent that they did, their creativity ended and their absorption into the culture led to tradition and other modes of culture-building. Maybe they were led astray by delusions in their ruminations, which led beyond cultural identity into idolatry and superstitions. Nevertheless, they were right in one aspect: the value of thinking is not in quantity, but quality. Although our thoughts can speed up or slow down, I think that there is a natural limitation to both the rate of absorption and the duration of exposure to acceleration.
The contemporary notion, which seems the result of mechanization and the control of scientism, seeks quick verification; then determination based on results. The there is either immediate dismissal or pragmatic utilization. As the relentless atomic clock drives the nails into the coffins of our creativity it seeks to replace imagination with invention. The difference is like that between knowledge and wisdom that the ancients so well understood. Knowledge is useful, but temporary. Wisdom is ‘useless’ but eternal. If we allow the waves of this mechanized thought-acceleration to take over we lose the ability to create a generation of stewards. Rapid staccato beats dull our minds, and distract us from fully-experiencing the world around us. Our minds learn to ignore what they cannot perceive. Although we always do this to a degree, problems arise when we ignore more than we should; more that is safe. True, we no longer need to listen to the rustling of leaves in order to preserve our personal physical existence, but our survival as a culture hinges upon our ability to perceive and think fully through the issues of our times. We no longer seem willing to generate positive thought towards the issues; we seem incapable of even recognizing what those issues are: the rate of the ephemeral transmission of information is too quick for us to digest. The daily news and social media act as ‘scrubbing bubbles’: providing effervescent puerile cleanliness for the mind.
In art, this threatens beauty. Beauty exists in the eternal realm that cannot be reached through the acquisition of facts; it exists in the timeless realm where experience saturates us and absorbs our cognitive emanations. We must slow down and allow the eternal to reach into our hearts (the center of our humanity, if you will). Without this slowing-down-to-experience we are left with only the rapid pace of the automaton. The dehumanized machine cannot create; it can only repeat, only appropriate and reconfigure symbols, not use them in thoughtful and dynamic ways. The result of this is that we are left with hollow or shallow works that only reflect the function of life, not the beauty or truth to be had.
All of this fails to affirm the value of existence. At best it only grudgingly allows for the thought THAT we exist. The dull replication of aspects of life, the mechanization of art-processes, and the dismal game-playing that goes on in the art world today do nothing to affirm culture. It cannot build anything except more machines. Humanity has no heart; he is no longer gossamer, but a lab experiment. The loss of value is the result of the positivism of previous generations, and the atheism of our fathers. I believe that the accelerated environment that we see around us is conducive and amenable to maintaining a secular thought-life, but is antithetical towards a spiritual mindset where contemplation and reflection is paramount. Atheism and agnosticism are impatient and uncreative. It is akin to the relationship some historians have felt between the Greeks and the Romans. The Greeks understood beauty while the Romans understood engineering. To nail this point home Duchamp stated about his “Fountain” that America’s legacy in art is to be found in its plumbing.
I would suggest that we seek to decrease our heart-rate and open all our senses and absorb the meaning we find all around us. Children assume such a state but are educated out of it. As God’s Children, let us return to our youth and enter the Kingdom with wisdom.
Note: I did not type this out while I was driving.
Sunday, June 05, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
This expected content is tied closely with identity. Artists are to be not only craftsmen, but seekers of truth at the expense of their person-hood. They are to be existential heroes, finding some formulation of truth within themselves and thereby attaining a type of perfection at the end of their artistic career. The world is to witness this struggle and garner hope from its successful resolution.
The whole modernist conception seems contradictory. How is an artist supposed to maintain a distanced position from their work (to avoid feelings of despondency or trust in the natural self) and yet be able to invest their person-hood into the objects pouring forth from their hands? Even if there is to be a ‘training period’, what good comes from the imprisonment of the idiosyncratic ego? Such attempts to do so are impossible, and perhaps should be abandoned.
Fear and anxiety are brought back into the studio by the very attitude that is supposed to keep such thoughts at bay. The new fear is for relevance and authenticity. There is a struggle for originality. Artists must recreate themselves in order to recreate the world.
Mozart once made the comment that his originality was due to the same cause that made his nose aquiline. I think he was onto something there. As a modern he saw the struggle of many composers of his day to find their way. But a belief in a benevolent Creator afforded him the ability to understand that originality is the province of the God who made him. We are given our authenticity and originality as part of our nature, it is up to us to use our gifts rightly. The proper stewardship of our gifts is what authenticity is all about. We do not need to worry nor do we need to manufacture a persona to deal with social perceptions.
Perhaps a better approach is to inspire our fellows to greater heights. To teach each other to transcend the limitations of our processes, whatever they may be, while bringing each other up in love and unity respects the whole person and the collective.
We truly are not what we create, yet our creations contain a piece of ourselves; it is unavoidable that we invest part of our person-hood in what we do. We need to be aware that if we stifle the natural development of the artist we also give the viewer a simulacrum of art. We would lose ourselves only to lose our audience.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
One of the issues I have witnessed is that when non-rational experiences are encountered by certain individuals they pass through a matrix that does not allow for the experience to have a fully orbed interpretation. Rather than letting the experience reach the deeper recesses of the body and soul, it is left to the discretion of the mind alone to interpret. When this happens the rational mind seeks to find order by looking for familiar forms and objects. This is right and natural for the mind, but this also stops the experience from reaching a fuller potential.
A good example of the negative effects of this mental sifting can be found in the arts. Visual Language is not a cerebral language, but a sensory language that has been rationally discovered and can be propositionally described using other languages that can bear that function. This does not entirely apply to a work of art itself. What is communicated in art can only be partially described through propositional statements since a work of art is only partly the result of conscious thought. But the language itself can be described rationally.
The automatic reliance upon previously understood labels negates the possibility that the content is going to be seen anew, as was mentioned above. All dialogue, exploration, and discovery are closed once the symbol is understood. The principle that gets us loose from the stranglehold of the mind is that the content is greater than its manifestation. We see this especially in the “types” in prophetic scripture. We find that there is a heavenly Jerusalem, for example, that is not modeled on the earthly Jerusalem, but is eternal and transcendent. It is the earthly form that is the tangible and limited model. The content and form must be fused together for the transmission of truth to occur.
Much damage is currently being done by the insistence that visual communication utilize symbols that have a history of misuse and/or multiple connotations simply because they can signify a singular content. This does nothing to add to the meaning of the symbol itself, and if not carefully considered can have negative results for the piece and all those involved. I am thinking of the cross for example. Though it is a powerfully transformative symbol, it has been so misused by the culture that its meaning as a visual symbol isn't as simple as it may have once been. I am not advocating that the cross no longer be used, far from it. However it cannot be assumed that a work of art is somehow sanctified or even Christian by a simple appropriation of this symbol.
Because visual language can articulate content that flows from and exhibits experiential and spiritual aspects of the Christian Worldview, some have suggested that it must always be narrative. However, a more specific didactic use requires the addition of literal devices that limit or inhibit the artistic language itself and must only be used when there is another function that the work must perform besides the purely artistic.
This means that the more literal devices used the less artful a piece becomes.
The solution to this imbalance in favor of the mind is not automatic. There are those within the Church that seek to reconcile the rift between the arts and the Body of believers, but can this happen without an elevation of Grace? The experience of Grace, beauty, mercy, and love must be exalted, at least to the same footing as rationalism; but I think it needs to transcend those levels since we are not asked explain our knowledge when we finally see the face of Christ; we are to fall at His feet in worship. We are to experience Him fully and deeply; but how much of this is lost now if we have spend our lives suppressing these qualities?