Distinguishing between paradigms B and A is a great and so far an overwhelming challenge for most of humanity. Until we can see the cause of our suffering, we will not have the motivation or insight necessary to shift to a worldview that empowers our transcendence. Art reveals the ongoing struggle to awaken, expressing the attempt on the part of each artist, to reveal through his art the profound insights that can occur in the flow of the creative process.
Let’s use the definition of art provided by the author of the book we are using for this essay. “We have defined art as the skillful interpretation of human experience in a man-made object capable of producing an aesthetic response.” An aesthetic response (emphasis added) would be an appreciation of beauty and it has been said that beauty is truth and truth is beauty. Truth most profoundly understood is to experience the nature of reality. Although Albert Elsen would probably not go as far as we do—we believe that artistic expression can reveal more than beauty— it can also lead us to see a reality that will deliver us from the madness of self-destruction.
“During [Hieronymus] Bosch’s lifetime, and long before, the Church taught that all one saw in the world was symbolic of the invisible, either godly or demonic. Bosch viewed the preponderance of immoral activity and folly about him as positive proof that the Devil had conquered the earth. Bosch’s hero was St. Anthony, whose strength of soul gave him the power to triumph over evil.”
“To become truly immortal a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the regions of childhood vision and dream.” (1 – Mystery and Melancholy of a Street)
Max Beckman sensed that deeper truth than comes with seeing beyond P-B. “Departure, yes departure, from the illusion of life toward the essential reality that lies hidden beyond.” (2 – Departure)
The limitations of the human intellect are another key realization necessary to move from the unsustainable P-B to the compassion, joy and freedom of P-A: “We aspire to reach what Klee shows to be ultimately unattainable via the ladders of reason.” (3 – The Limits of Reason)
“The emergence of abstraction after 1909 with its promise that the representation of the visible world was dispensable to the expression of truth, reality, and even beauty was an exciting challenge to artists to transform or reinvent art itself, to engage in risky formal adventures while seeking out new spiritual expression. Since abstraction resists verbal paraphrase, this sharing between artist and sympathetic viewer had to be on an intuitive plane.” The subordination of the intellect to intuition—so necessary to put each human being in touch with inner wisdom and to enable each of us to be self-reliant—had begun to express itself in non-representative art.
Which aspect of the false self, security, sensation or power seeking, is expressed in this statement by Piet Mondrian? “The genuine modern artist sees the metropolis as abstract living converted into form: it is nearer to him than nature. In the metropolis the natural has already been stiffened up, ordered by the human spirit. The proportion and rhythm of patch and line in architecture will speak a more direct language to him than the capriciousness of nature. In the metropolis beauty expresses itself more thematically.” Some of us may feel that the Dutch artist is subconsciously expressing the fear of nature and the need to feel some power and control over those natural forces both seen and unseen. (4 – Broadway Boogie-Woogie)
“Stella discarded the hallowed idea of painting as warfare—as an emotional struggle in which artists constantly courted the risk of failure so as to bring into being by improvisation a new image each time they confronted the canvas.” Here Frank Stella speaks out against the tyranny of the power and control center of the false self and the misery it creates by putting human beings into a futile competition for a limited amount of material wealth and recognition and the attendant suffering. (5 – Ileana Sonnabend)
Understanding and experiencing the difference between emotion and feeling is a challenge but it is fundamental to learning to live in the present moment. “Malevich wanted a mystical art that captured feeling induced by the absence of objects and what lay beyond sight ‘where nothing is real except feeling and so feeling became the substance of my life.’” (6 – Suprematist) Malevich painted black or white squares on white backgrounds in his attempt to transcend the world of form which he intuited was part of the illusion of a world characterized by impermanence, suffering and an ego-driven “having, knowing and doing.”
“For many artists in this century, beginning with Paul Klee and Jean Arp, art’s purpose has been to restore innocence and joy to life. Alan Kaprow sees the provisions for fun as art’s last valid purpose.” If we are to experience the “fun” that Kaprow refers to as we approach the roller coaster of life, we would do well to remember J. Krishnamurti’s admonition, “I don’t mind what’s happening.”
ILLUSTRATIONS in Purposes of Art by Albert E. Elsen, 1981
- Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914) by George de Chirico, page 390.
- Departure (1932-1933) by Max Beckman, page 395.
- The Limits of Reason (1927) by Paul Klee, page 400.
- Broadway Boogie-Woogie by Mondrian, page 402.
- Ileana Sonnabend (1963) a portrait by Stella of a New York art dealer, page 410.
- Suprematist (1913) by Kazimir Malevich, page 413.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.