Monday, November 23, 2009

Behind every Cynic...

November 23, 2009

"This painting reminds me of the drawings of Rudolf Steiner, but here the performance of marking is pushed beyond the bounds of the spiritual by the ferocious attack of the artist – repeating the form but transgressing the boundaries of that form, disintegrating the ritual into the physical release of energy through the hand. One can almost see the maelstrom of the splitting of the atom in Twombly’s repeating performance threatening to destroy himself and the world around him."

M Bunyan

(deep SIGH……) This is one of the most perfect examples of ‘art speak’ I have found. It was written about the painting by Cy Twombly that appears here….yes, the childish scribble. Apparently, M. Bunyan has reason to claim some expertise in the "...physical release of energy through the hand." Er, uh.....okay, we won't go there.

Now, if I were one of the inner-circle of cognoscenti, I might say, “How utterly fascinating,” and pretend that I was moved by the stunning sophistication and depth that could be contained in such a simple piece of art. But—assuming that this is not the first posting you have read here—you already know better. Sadly, all the endless hours of art history, and the days spent roaming the concrete canyons of the Big Apple as an adolescent and later, didn’t take. I remain firmly camped among the vast throng of people who look at this piece and say, “What the hell…any third-grader could have done this.”

I came across a quote the other day: “Behind every cynic lies a broken idealist”. And, I immediately realized it must have been written or spoken by somebody who knows me (google: "symptoms, narcissistic personality disorder" to understand why I might feel that way) Argh. In fact, I grew up loving art…all kinds of art. If it was painted, sculpted, written or filmed it had my rapt attention. I wanted to believe that art was a gift from the artist to ME…and to all people. I wanted to believe that it was a window into a realm of wonder and that it was unencumbered by limitations of any kind. And, as the entire modernist movement has tirelessly tried to demonstrate, that is exactly right: no limits apply or can be imposed on art. But, as I look back, there was a dark cloud looming over my idealistic projections. As I learned more and more about the history of art, including all genres and periods, I also was becoming aware that the art I was particularly drawn to was increasingly held in low regard by the Ivory Towers of academia and the mavens of taste in ‘The Art World’, which, of course, is centered—some would say begins and ends---in New York City.

As an independent painter in California, I would take the bus into San Francisco and spend entire days at the De Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park. In their permanent collection were paintings by artists I was unfamiliar with, and some of them had an almost narcotic effect on my young sensibilities. “The Broken Pitcher”, by Wm. Bouguereau was one of those. There were also works by some of the great Masters of Europe. Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Rabbi”—later stolen and now thought to be a fake—was one of them. I had an afternoon in which I spent more than an hour looking at this painting. And, that evening I attended a gathering in Berkeley where Rabbi Zalman Schachter was the speaker. An Auschwitz survivor, Zalman was becoming known as the “purple sox rabbi” and he was among the first people I met whom I would identify as clearly and indubitably ‘enlightened’. All the symptoms of a fully awakened human being—one who emanated love and light—were there. And, I was sitting in the front row as he spoke about whatever came into his Heart. As I watched him speaking I slowly realized that I was looking at a dead-ringer for the rabbi in Rembrandt’s painting. Whoever painted it—and I really don’t care--whoever it was, had tapped into the universal essence of Wisdom and Love. I felt like I was tripping, but I was not. It was an eery feeling, but not creepy. Quite the contrary, it was an ecstatic realization of the presence of archetypes in people. It was there in the painting….and here it was, right in front of me. This was a life-changing moment for me.

This was most probably the peak of my idealism surrounding the true potential and the real meaning of art. At its highest level, it was mystical, laden with energy and a kind of knowledge that could only be perceived and absorbed through the Heart.

I do not know exactly when I finally became ‘broken’. But, somewhere between here and there, I surely did. When I heard the other day that Warhol’s insipid ‘painting’ (which isn’t really a painting as such, but a silkscreened print) , “200 Dollar Bills” broke a record for his work, selling for $43.7 million bucks, it simply drove the dagger deeper, confirming that our society has come to think of ‘art’ as simply collectable objects that people buy for their investment value. I would be very surprised if anybody has EVER stood in front of this print, made in 1962, and had an epiphany…of any kind. It is just one more piece of intellectual blather, utterly devoid of magic or any heart content whatsoever.

In philosophy 101 most instructors cover a quantum shift in how people perceive reality. There is no consensus on when this really took place; generally speaking it is dated back to the mid-1600s, and it is referred to as The Enlightenment, which is enormously ironic because it really has been exactly the antithesis of that in so many ways. My college professor who introduced it, said that it really began with DesCartes’ proclamation that, “I think, therefore I am.” It was indeed a release from religious tyranny in which the clerics dictated the nature of reality, killed those who dared to disagree, and dominated western civilization in ways that still echo today. But, the exaltation of logic and reason to the throne of power and authority, as ‘bringers of truth’, is almost as blind as what preceded it. In a society that has gone up into its head to find ‘truth’, you have created the ability to justify and act out all manner of despotic ideas. We use this reliance on logic to justify pretty much whatever we want. I cannot do an explanation of that statement justice in this limited space, but the net result is that much of what goes on under the banner of being ‘reasonable’……is heartless and inhumane. I will spend time laying out why I feel this way, but not right now.

My point at this moment is: art—the faithful mirror of ‘who we are’-- has become heartless too. The magic has gone out of it and we now have something that is vapid and unemotional, pinning its legitimacy on inane bulls**t and innuendo, like the critique of Twombly’s painting above.

Maybe I had to be broken. Perhaps it was a vital part of the process of proclaiming that for me….and the millions of people who now feel dissociated from painting and art in general….the Emperor is as buck naked as ever.

But, I have a plan. And I am working on repairing my broken ideals….and my broken Heart.

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