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Monthly Archives: June 2014
For about fifty years I’ve asked this question, off and on. Maybe I’d have done better off just to DO it, but… ‘the philosopher is strong in this one’.
So, ‘Art’ was one thing I found very slippery to define, so I kept worrying away at it, even while I avoided doing it. (Acknowledgements required: When I was a Christian I found Hans Rookmaaker’s ‘Modern Art and the Death of a Culture’ helpful in allowing me to do at least a bit of art while still shackled to the evangelical imperative; and more recently (though I am not an Ayn Rand disciple) the ‘Romantic Manifesto’ by Ayn Rand. Her argument that art is the expression of a sense of life obtained through a philosophy of life is very clear. Also (though I find Schopenhauer’s general attitude and pessimism hateful) ‘The World as Will and Representation’ has some good things to say about art as a means to ascend through the vivid perception of the particular to be the ‘pure, will-less, painless, timeless’ perception of the transcendent and general. And Robert Pirsig’s life-changing ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, really all about art, really did change my whole life; as did Nietzsche, despite his proto-nihilism.)
Now I feel I am brimming with answers, but mostly hungering to just do it and let the answers inform the art. Happy state, to be guarded against all that would divert this conative energy into lesser tasks and diversions of all kinds! Narrow is the Way that leads to the enchanted land of Art… ‘O afternoon of my life! What have I not given away that I might have one thing: this living plantation of my thoughts, and this dawn of my highest hope!’ (Nietzsche’s Zarathustra)
So, while the ebook soundtracks upload for about my last ebook upload customer (touch wood), I’ll say what Art is. IMHO.
Art is being vividly conscious in the World, not on autopilot, sleepwalking, but intentional, conscious and self-conscious, and communicating something of what you sense (see, feel, hear, taste, imagine, conceptualise, understand, intuit) when in that heightened – enchanted – state.
Or, as Robert Pirsig says, ‘Art is high-quality endeavor’.
But a precondition for high-quality endeavour of any kind is a high-quality structure of knowledge and belief, within which to frame that lucid awareness and that endeavour. This is where art can be ‘high’ or ‘low’, depending on the quality, breadth and depth of the structure of ideas in which it is set.
What has happened to ‘fine’ Art, when so much of the production of modern artists in galleries seems so ugly, silly or pointless to people who take pride in doing high quality work but would never call themselves ‘artists’?
Well, first, there is good art and bad art. Bad art is mixed, conscious with unconscious/derivative/insincere/crude/hateful even; framed within a narrow, faulty philosophy of life.
Secondly, some good art is about something bad the artist feels the need to protest/point out/ridicule/expose. So it will (partly) not feel good – there will be some discord. But good art still enchants and ennobles even while it saddens or angers. It doesn’t demean our existence, but gives us a sense explicitly or implicitly of an alternative, something good, something which is not that bad thing.
Bad art about bad things is merely rubbing our noses in badness (or meaninglessness). It’s loveless and joyless, disenchanted. There’s a lot of it about. It’s a cheap shot at life. It’s had a very, very long run, this kind of art, a century or more. Modern art of this ignoble, shameful kind should be refuted and banished from our galleries by total lack of sales (and replaced with good art sold with a good conscience), but modern philosophy (I mean the philosophy which is approved by the zeitgeist and therefore the universities) has no means to refute bad art or anything else bad, since it has itself become corrupted, by materialism, nihilism and relativism. Bad art is the offspring and creative expression of bad philosophy, and both together have presided over the gradual disintegration of the foundations of our civilisation. The Emperor of our culture is clothed in the filthy rags of its bankrupt father, the philosophy of materialism, relativism and nihilism.
The reason I love Art is because I know there is such a thing as Quality, such a thing as Good, such a thing as Truth, and I love to see those things shining through the particulars of things as portrayed in art.
Love, Beauty, Truth and Freedom, honoured in a coherent philosophy, and in word and deed, will at least set the stage for good art. Then we have to Just Do It. Whatever form it takes, in galleries or architecture or writing or everyday life. The final aim of Art is the ‘re-enchantment of everyday life’. All of it.
Now that would be a Renaissance worth painting for! That’s the kind of art I will do while the sun still rises and I am still here to greet it. Here at the Quarry Arts Centre, probably, I hope. It’s a Good Place to be at, this afternoon of my life! Once I was a young man, and I worried about what to do when I grew up; now I am grown up, and I realize with Zarathustra that the final ‘metamorphosis of the spirit’ is to become the Child again, but with full powers of understanding and experience.
A final point, about Freedom, that controversial precondition for the truly creative artist to do his or her best art. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra says the the ‘reverential, weight-bearing camel’ of the spirit must become a lion:
‘My brothers, why is the lion needed in the spirit? Why does the beast of burden, that renounces and is reverent, not suffice? To create new values – even the lion is incapable of that: but to create itself freedom for new creation – that the might of the lion can do. To create freedom for itself and a sacred No even to duty: the lion is needed for that, my brothers.
…’But tell me, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion cannot? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes.’
(Of the Three Metamorphoses of the Spirit, from ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, translation by Walter Kaufmann)
So, a last unscientific postscript on art: it is the way we must go to become truly free, and ‘become what we truly are’ (Nietzsche again) – creative, playful, childlike, transcendent, godlike. Of such is the republic of Art and Eutopia.
More on the passing of my mother.
A lot of the time it felt like a great ponderous steamroller approaching, her decline into death. But a few ‘diamond moments’, as she called them in her book of that name did come.
The day we were called to the home because she had taken ill, we were outside in the glorious winter sun, the sky as blue as I’ve ever seen it, and the great-grandchildren were playing on the grass, as was our last little puppy Leone (named in honour of my mum and also because she looked like a little lion cub). I looked up when I saw a white bird approaching. It passed directly over mum’s corner room, dipped its wing and looked down at the roof, then passed on overhead. It was just a seagull, but to me it seemed an omen. Only later after the funeral I was telling my sister, and she said that’s like the anecdote about dad when they were first married. Dad was training to fly (it was wartime) and he would fly over their house and dip his wing and mum would wave up at him…
Another time when I left her room that day to walk in the sun a bit, a monarch butterfly came right up to me and then flew away. Mum always said dad had a steamroller mind and she had a butterfly mind.
Then, when the undertaker came for her body, it was a grey day, but the sun came out as he prepared to wheel her out of her room for the last time, and a gentle sunshower fell, just like the shower of sunlit rain in her book Diamond Moments.
All just natural things, but in context they were more than that. They were signs that death is not forever, not the ultimate fact of life.
My mental finger has been hovering over the ‘reset button’ of my life as I approach the sobering age of sixty (On June 25th 2014). More so since my mother unexpectedly caught pneumonia and died last week, aged 92.
Such is the reality of all process – it is governed not by what has gone before, no matter how often, but by systems of cause and effect – 60 years with a mother, now suddenly no mother. The human body being what it is, and the Western diet, etc, this was not unlikely. The human psyche being what it is, it’s not surprising that it caught us all a bit by surprise. We were settling in for the longer haul, as she had stabilised and seemed quite perky. Raewyn and I were looking to try and buy a house in Whangarei, start a ‘Eutopian flat’, practicing the principles of Eutopia in the microcosm of a homely house, and taking turns with sisters Penny and Rose and brother John to visit mum every day until she turned 100 and beyond, if that was to be…
Now? Well the night she took a turn for the worse, I had begin moving my stuff into the bigger studio in the Quarry Arts Centre. Yesterday after the burial I completed that move. Now that we have sold the physical Eutopia in Kaiwaka, the Quarry is the closest thing to a stable manifestation of Eutopia (a ‘Good Place’) in my life. So we may stay on in Whangarei and keep doing Eutopian things at and around the Quarry, and buy that Eutopian house. I don’t know…
[Trivia alert!] Meanwhile here at my sister’s barn where we have lived since mum was in the rest home, we have a menagerie of one old cat Max, which younger son Robert brought back (originally 17 years ago found as an abandoned kitten by daughter Xanthe), Honey, Anna’s yappy doglet who kept waking Bruno her baby son; big dog Zoe which elder son Daniel left with us upon taking off to teach English in Kazakstan; and our own Poppy mother of Honey, also a bit of a barker. Last night Max climbed a painting ladder up into our garret and set Honey off barking hysterically. I staggered up and threw Honey out and shut the door. Cat feet padding across the bed alerted me to the cause of said barking. So I got up again and threw cat out, apologised to Honey and let her back in. Woke up a bit depressed, feeling very mortal, first day without a mum above ground. Took dogs for a walk, big dog Zoe got over-excited playing fetch and bit onto my hand as I held the stick up to throw it for her. Was thinking of doing some ferrocement work, begin the couch to put by the waterfall at the Quarry:
Now I might get to do some painting before day is over.. if I get up the gumption – the market value of my art works is… unknown but approaching zero market cap, like me. I bought this painting, Dark House, back when it surfaced on Trademe auction site. See it on my pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/pin/173740498099294937/[/embed]
As the only bidder, I got it for NZ$55.55 (I wanted to bid a figure that would strike awe in any other would-be bidder) .
Sigh… Good to have it back though. For me. And pretty good to think I still can pick up a brush and paint, just like 42 years ago when I painted it, even if left hand a bit sore from dog bite… Painting has always come easily to me, as has carving. Which is probably why I’ve mistrusted it and not done it full-time. Protestant work ethic, thanks a lot – NOT! So I mostly did ridiculous things with my talents, like make spinning wheels and photoframes and print other people’s books. Thanks to brother John, I have written some fiction books, about three quarters of a million words I guess by now. But these too lie undiscovered, apart from the ebook volume one of the Apples of Aeden, at 200,000 words a bargain at $0.00 on smashwords. That one has rung up about 4,000 free downloads but no known reviews (I would have welcomed one star even, if only they had bothered to say something). and volumes 2-4 priced at $3.99 have combined sales of 360 copies. There goes 15 years of my life…
YET I am not now despondent. Now I am free of any present lure to tow the line, sell out and prosper, I am quite joyfully resolved to write and paint and sculpt and start Eutopian flats or new systems of investing in the Flow, for ME, not for any protestant work ethic or other shoulds of any external kind. (And Raewyn now knows it’s our only chance of anything like a living from my side of the partnership, and is resigned to peter the artist in a garret).
Why do I trust Me rather than these shoulds? Because Me is authentic, and external shoulds are not. Of course I do have internal shoulds, but they are of the living kind, authentic, first-hand, dynamic. So many millions of folk have died never having authentically lived past nine or so. I have some life left, lots of experience, many memories of wonder and creation, and much clearer focus now than 43 years ago when I set out as an ‘Artist’ off to Art School. I could have begun then painting and sculpting and keeping the inner fires burning bright, but my fears of damnation if I should die without knowing the ‘meaning of life’ kept me from it. Once or twice it seemed the Empire of Sacred Shoulds seemed to have got hold of me for good, but I wriggled free, impoverished and bedraggled, but free, on the outside of the Great Wall which separates the beneficiaries of the Empire from those in outer darkness/wilderness/wasteland.
Now I realize I should have stayed on the outside all along, built something there, until (as does happen) the walls opened up and accepted some of the outer ground I colonised for the majority on the Inside to enjoy. Because of course the Empire is the Status Quo, Robert Pirsig’s Static Quality, the realm of the tried and true, That Which Works (more or less), and we need it, directly or indirectly. In my philosophy it is the Purple Zone, and around it are the Dynamic Zones of Blue and Green, Yellow and Red, where the new new Thing is discovered, tried, tested and applied for the first time. The Bleeding Edge. That’s where people like me do their best work – sometimes their only work… It’s not so bad out here, if you know that’s where your lifespring is. And out here, age doesn’t matter so much. When you say Me, my Creation, my Work, my Bliss, you are just being the Child you always were. Become Yourself and do as you will, and all things will be full of life and energy, and light (adversities notwithstanding). Or bow your neck to the yoke of the Empire of Should, and all things become heavy, laborious, lifeless imitations of real Life (prosperity, security and wealth notwithstanding).
Thus spake Zarathustra/Pirsig/the Wizard of Eutopia/the Child Within. Or as writer Gaiman says, whatever life throws at you, “Do good Art”. See the speech here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI
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Well, I’ve inspired myself. The golden afternoon sun is shining through the garret window, and Raewyn is coming home soon. I hope she likes these magic beans I’ve traded the afternoon for. As for me, I think I’ll plan my first post-parental painting. An epitaph, maybe, set in the Quarry in the golden afternoon of my life. Sun, keep shining a little longer on all of us who dare to really live, and are willing to sell our last holy cow to do so…