I remember a while back, when I was faced with a very pressing situation requiring my instant attention. I was being interviewed live, on a major television station at prime time, along with showing a series of my slides in connection to the opening of an art exhibit. As soon as they wired me up, and situated me on stage, and only a couple minutes before going live, the very charming gentleman, who was to interview me, whispered to me the following: “I have no idea what to ask you, what do you suggest?” I said, no problem, if you ask me only 3 simple questions, I will handle the rest. He was relieved, and quickly jotted down the questions. The green light came on, we went on live, and wrapped up a flawlessly smooth and successful interview. Off camera, the crew came on the stage with big smiles, and acknowledged both of us; but they praised the interviewer, for surprising them as an art connoisseur!
Aesthetics as a set of principles and branch of philosophy deals with questions concerning beauty and artistic experiences. As far as our general understanding of it is concerned it is a highly nebulous field, subjected to tremendous degree of misinterpretation, particularly in the field of abstract art. In any field of humanities where less accurately is known about that field and its principles have not been precisely formulated, the more authoritarian the field becomes. In the field of arts, with no exact fundamentals accurately developed, the techniques and approaches are wide open for the artists to imagine, explore and create their art.
The artist is also subjected to the “laws” of commerce, where various schools of divergent opinions begin to “teach” the artist “how” to be an artist and paint a certain way, citing the field’s critics galore as she listens with an open jaw in lieu of reason. The “authorities,” in the field of visual arts, most of whom have never painted any paintings themselves but are very “fluid” and “cultured” by having memorized a few standard opinions and artistic works and projects of humanitarian nature, analyze the paintings for the artist every step of the way, each time the artist presents a piece of her art for a critique, mainly to discover what’s wrong with her art and how she should fix it according to these “professors’s” brand of “expertise.”
I admit to a tad of generalization here for making a point; but does any of this ring a true bell for you? Can you think of an artist you know who is or has been on this ship? I lived and survived through it all, trusting and believing that there had to be a logical and more nurturing way to free imaginative impulses so that the artist could paint as freely as he wanted. Something within me, was telling me, that something was inherently not quite right with the constructive criticisms that were to “teach” us how to view our own world of art, through the eyes of the “critics,” excuse me, the professors. I had viewed this “school of thought” as an authoritarian method of teaching that smothered the thoughts, emotions, or efforts of the artist, but could not quite articulate the problem I was sensing at the time. I discovered later, that this mechanism of controlling thought through teaching, was only one of the elements in our society, which inherently brings about the suppression of the arts that stifles the creative impulses of the artists at the expense of the whole culture.
Artists are often “accused” of having their heads up in the clouds, and living within an unreal world of imagination. This brings about the necessity of taking a good and thorough look at just how reality bites. Plowing through several fields of study in search of a tool to measure the aesthetics and the creation processes can leave us empty handed, until we splurge into the field of philosophy to examine our thoughts and reasoning.
THE ART OF THINKING AND REASONING
Thinking and reasoning is a social activity for most people. They require the engagement of external forces as the individual is as much a part of society as the society is a part of the individual. From the moment of birth, the social labyrinth of customs, beliefs, languages, values, religions, politics, and other traditional ideas are all well positioned to mold the child into the image of those who the child is surrounded with, and it is thoroughly based upon faith and belief. So masterfully the operation is instilled into the society as social heredity that even science has often mistaken it as being genetic.
English philosopher and author Francis Bacon (1561-1626), and another English philosopher and mathematician Issac Newton (1642-1727), and others have developed ways of thinking and reasoning that requires a fact in order to be proven must be measured, sensed or experienced. And when we thrust this into the realm of mind and spirit we find our willingness reduced in accepting facts based upon faith or belief.
For this reason, in appreciating life, and creating anything within it such as art, looking for answers and solutions exterior to our own sentient qualities, intellects or experiences is to lose concept of our own truth, values and individuality. And the artist, very often, bears the brunt of this philosophy of “independent thinking” and frequently subjected to criticism by those who have a firm grip on the traditions of status quo.
But the artist moves on, knowing where the roots of criticism lie, and reasons that people who resort to “criticism” operate in the absence of true understanding, and since no knowledge can exist in the absence of understanding, there we arrive at the presence of “ignorance.” Thus, knowing the basis and the mechanism behind criticism, often serves as a tremendous source of empowerment and consolation for the artist to continue with his art on the grounds of certainty and knowledge of her art and transcend through the highest echelons of culture called: aesthetics!
Bacon had come to the conclusion that no field of study by itself is sufficient in the absence of another form of discipline exterior to it to align and coordinate it in the direction of its goal. We can elaborate further that it is not possible to walk a path aright in the absence of defining its destination. Therefore, to stay clear off the grounds of myths, mysticism and superficial approaches, we can take a look and see how the arts can be best served by defining its goal under the broad umbrella of philosophy that embraces all the arts, sciences and humanities.
Just as it is impossible to have a full view of a countryside by sitting on one of its boulders under a tree, every field of endeavor, to be fully understood, must be viewed and analyzed from a ground much higher than where it germinates. Thus, in the field of visual art’s, we cannot look at an abstract painting’s isolated data out of context without a consideration of its existence within the scope of a life that contains the art. Bacon say, that would be to use a candle to light a room that is illuminated with daylight.
ART IS COMMUNICATION
We all enjoy and desire a pleasant conversation with our associates, friends and family. But when we look, and inspect our environment, we notice that the great majority of our population, have difficulty with communication. A two way communication takes place, when we can freely initiate our thoughts or ideas to one another, acknowledge each other and continue this interaction, back and forth, by continuing with the sharing of our thoughts and ideas, very much similar to a friendly game of tennis; where the return of the ball, is dependent upon the quality of the serve.
There are times when we notice a break in communication, when either one of the parties, in its turn, fails to acknowledge and originate a thought or an impulse back, to continue with the conversation, or to bring about an optimum conclusion.
The people having these difficulties with origination, are generally accustomed to prepackaged amusements, such as a weather disaster, or an incident or story relayed by a coworker. They get very low on originating communication on their own, inspired by their own imagination; and they become somewhat vexed, when faced with an “imaginative conversationalist.” This is either through their upbringing and cultural environment, or their education.
Origination is very important to bring about a communication. To this degree, these people communicate mainly regarding subjects that are handed to them by external sources. They see a news story, they talk about it; they get a call about a family affair, they talk about it. They wait for an exterior circumstance to bring about an interaction, otherwise they do not engage by “creating” a communication. They either have a compulsively irresistible urge toward doing something, or inhibited and behave awkward and unnatural in communicating. If they manage to engage, they often turn sharply, towards derailment of the dialogue, and bring about a good degree of resentment, ill will and unwanted conclusions.
The people who do not originate, or do not engage imaginatively, are inherently dependent upon others to give them primal reasons to engage in a conversation; this is due to being endowed with very little imagination. As a result, we can conclude, that a pleasant and engaging conversation, requires the participation of two imaginative minds, with similar endowment of creative impulses, to mutually create the art of communication.
The field of visual arts, follows the same principles, as art is a form of visual communication. The artist originates his communication as s visual message, through the presentation of his art, to his audience. The quality, and the presence of this initiative that he forwards in his art, forms the visual message, that he delivers to his audience; the quality of which, determine the response of his audience, to whether engage or not. Hence, arts much similar to personal dialogues and conversations, follow the same basic principles of communication, in its success or failure
An artist with low imagination, who does not originate verbally, does not communicate visually either. He originates no visual messages in his art, or when he does, it is so scarcely done, that it stirs up no interaction with his audience. This absence of expression, is mainly due to the artist heavy reliance upon the origination of the audience – as an external force – to brings about a communication, in the direction of his art, which is “silent.” Thus, no emotional interaction takes place between the audience and the painting.
An artist, high on imagination, is more likely to enjoy the virtuosity necessary in the technical execution of his art. Thus, he is competent, to effortlessly and vigorously, create his visual messages on his canvas; bringing about an interaction between the audience and his painting.
The visual message does not have to be the same for every viewer. The message, serves only as a visual or artistic “code,” to be subjectively decoded, by each viewer; much similar to a popular piece of music, that echoes widely by communicating to the listeners – same melodic tone creating a different mood in different listeners.
Thus, the communication quality of an artistic expression, is the artist’s intention as a carrier wave, by which her message is delivered to his audience. The technical expertise, by which the art is executed, is also very important, and at times, successful all by itself; although, the quality of the visual communication, always remains senior to the technical execution of the art. The carrier wave, which communicates the artist’s intention, to his viewers, is a phenomenon occurring between the artist and the viewer and resides within the realms of spirit.
IMAGINATION VS. COMMUNICATION
Imagination is the faculty or action of forming ideas in the mind and the ability to be creative and resourceful. The ability to originate communication, is in direct proportion with good imagination. The reverse is never true that imagination has to be imperiled first to result in failure of imagination to express thoughts and ideas. Imagination becomes thwarted and dulled in artists who become dependent upon others to reach out to them, to the point that they do not reach at all. These artists can then, greatly benefit, by rehabilitating the ability to originate, and initiate expressions of thoughts and emotions, and thus restoring their imaginative impulses in favor of creating communicative art.
Imagination is the driving force behind the artist’s dexterity by which he executes his art and the deftness by which he communicates his impulses as visual messages. The more refined the artist’s creative impulses, the clearer are his visual messages in sharing his thoughts, feelings, perceptions and other creative faculties with his audience. Imagination is the prior cause, which precedes the expression of art as its effect; a cause that unarguably and intrinsically, initiate itself in the future, as a postulate first, followed by an effect, which becomes expressed as a painting. Its conception is superior to its execution. Thus, the artist, through his imagination, continue to live in the future.
In the case of abstract expressionism, the art is the conduit for the dialogue, between the imagination and the audience, via the expression as a painting. The more the artist becomes intimately acquainted with the inherent truth, and virtues by which he was created himself, the more freer become his imaginative impulses, and the more spirited he can express his art.
Abstract expressionism, is a genuine fruit of the imagination. Imagination is the only form of wealth, that gives us art as its dividend. Imagination is where the art is conceived and germinated. Imagination does not work with reason, it does not attempt to classify the physical universe as real or imaginary, it does not assess or evaluate things into categories; it only conceives ideas and expresses them – nothing more.
The magic of art, does not exist in its execution, or presentation of feelings and mental imagery independently exterior to the mind. Execution, or presentation of the art, is the technical expertise; the externalization by which the art is expressed. The magic of art, particularly modern art, resides within the intellectual awareness of the mind, in conceiving and forming of ideas. The essence of creation, resides in its conception. When the artist, completes the formation of a conceptual idea, and it then arrives in the external world in the form of an abstract or modern painting, the artist has given birth to expression, and the creation process is complete.
Similarly, when we originate a verbal communication, the words we utter, are expressions of ideas we have already conceived and formed in our mind, what is being expressed in our speech. It is external to the boundaries of our imaginative and intellectual calculations, and subjected to the limitations of the physical or material means, by which they can be expressed; as it is not difficult to recall the times, when our thoughts or feelings, were far more beautiful, than what we have been able to express in our speech. The action of painting, the writing of words, the striking of the piano keyboard, are only the interpretations of the imagination in the field of thought and spirit. They do not exist in the realm of aesthetic creation, which is a spiritual pursuit.
An imaginative idea, is far greater in scope, than what the artist portrays on canvas. The expression, whether in the form of abstract painting, singing a song, writing a poem, or composing a piece of music, it is always limited to the boundaries and limitations by which they can be executed within the material world. Thereby, it is an alteration of truth conceived in the imagination. The extend of this alteration, as to how much the expression realizes, and fulfills the conception of the original idea released from the imagination, is not measurable, or fully known at this time.
A work of art is understood and appreciated by direct observation. Between the artist who creates the art, and the viewer who contemplates it, lies the magic: Expressive imagination. It is our own creative impulses, perceptions and recognition of the aesthetic expressions within the art, that allows us to experience what is being resonating to us from the artist; and thus, becoming engaged in a two way communication with the artist through his art; the art is an spiritual connection to the artist. Aesthetics, when fully perceived, elevates us into the serene realm of timelessness.
KNOWING IS SENIOR TO UNDERSTANDING
Knowing and understanding are two of the basic fundamentals in creating art. Knowing is a part of imagination within the mind, in which aesthetic impulses are conceived and transformed into artistic expressions; a process which is best understood by defining both: knowing and understanding; and why knowing is above understanding.
Knowing is an intrinsic quality of the mind, in variable measures. Knowing is a state of awareness and a perception in pursuit of a goal. It requires no reliance on exterior forces. Knowing is always accompanied with certainty, ability, and confidence. Knowing is a state of awareness; it is a given state of knowledge. Those with great abilities in a given field, have confidence and are fully aware of knowing that they know, independent of any external factors.
Knowing is different than understanding, which comes about with learning. Knowing is the enlightenment felt in perceiving truth. Knowing is self-contained. It is a singular activity which exists by itself and within itself. Knowing is knowing that one knows. Knowing is the faculty to perceive and the capacity for truth – it is a self-determined knowledge.
Knowing is self-assurance, it is self-belief. Something that is known without effort. The mastery in a given skill is knowing. The imaginative impulses of an artist that spontaneously conceives an abstract art is knowing. Knowing is the self-confidence by which a task is pursued. It is a certainty in thought, and knowingly perceiving that certain conclusions can be drawn. Knowing is the work of the imagination in conceiving an abstract painting, or making instantaneous conclusions, as to the completion of an art composition. Knowing is awareness of the truth within, and the certainty that it can permeate through any, real or imagined barrier.
Understanding on the other hand, is below knowing, because it is dependent upon the engagement of external elements, in the material universe, to fulfill its aim. It is the result of education, as a group activity involving the external world. Studying about prehistoric art, or modern art for instance, creates an understanding about these two styles of art. It does not rely upon our perceptions, or awareness of what is innately ours.
An activity in pursuit of understanding is a potential knowledge, as it is acquired, such as the study of a modern painting. It does not fulfill its aim by itself. Understanding is to come to know something in a certain direction; such as learning to play the piano, or a foreign language. It becomes skills in doing things aptly, which leads to knowing.
An ability to cook and enjoy good food with ones friends is understanding of how o cook and entertain. The ability to paint a piece of modern art is an understanding of the art itself. The ability to raise beautiful flowers and share them with our neighbor is understanding of gardening and creating goodwill. The ability and competence in having a successful conversation with someone is understanding of good communication skills. Understanding is the universal solvent. Understanding brings about peace and harmony. It can wash things away.
In the field of arts, exterior sources of reference, used as mimicry or imitation, compromises the integrity of imagination, ideas, thoughts and concepts; and so becomes impure the art, when it is created through understanding, and reliance upon external forces. Knowledge, purely expressed from within, through the mind and the spirit, is how the artist gives birth to new abstract forms. Abstract art is an example of origination of communication to the viewers as a pure presentation of self-expression.
VIRTUOSITY IN MODERN ART
Pure creation of fine art, such as abstract paintings, is an emotional activity that surmounts any rational thoughts or reasons, as it fulfills itself through an spiritual journey into time, motion and space, with light, color and form. It is an state of awareness, that summons the most innate essence of the artist’s imaginative and analytical forces. The higher the awareness and the clarity by which he perceives, the higher will be the versatility, and willingness by which he performs along the various facets of life.
Johannes Itten (1888-1967), was one of the principal teachers of modern art at The Bauhaus School in Germany, whose teaching philosophy, has produced several great artists of the 20th century. Itten’s principles bring to light, a greater and more in-depth understanding and appreciation of the values in acquiring additional skills in the field, outside of the arts. He believed, studies and mastery in areas such as philosophy, gardening, landscaping, sewing, woodworking, etc., were necessary in developing personal interaction and direct experiences with nature. In Itten’s view, understanding life, it’s structure, forms and textures, plays a significant hand in developing one’s creative impulses. He believed, broadly acquired dexterity, was essential in the competent execution of art through memory and inspiration. Itten’s concise and illuminating words on the subject are expressed more eloquently in the following quote.
“If new ideas are to assume artistic form, physical, sensual, spiritual, and intellectual forces and abilities must all be equally available and act in concert.” – Johannes Itten
Hans Hofmann (1880-1966), a German artist, who lived in Paris in his youth, and was a patron of the French avant-garde movement. His friends, impressively included Matisse, Miro, Picasso and Bracques. He evolved through the revolutionary period of the Western art in early 1900, and later, when he immigrated to America, he became well regarded as the father of abstract expressionism. Hofmann taught the very effective approach of encouraging his students to explore within their own experiences, to develop artistic signatures unique to themselves; and consulting nature only as a reference. He articulates this concept partly as follow:
“Nature is permeated by rhythm whose variety cannot be restricted.
Art imitates it in this respect, in order to clarify itself and thereby
attain the same degree of sublimity, raising itself to a state of multiple
harmony, a harmony of colors that are divided at one moment and
restored to wholeness by the next. This synchronic action is to be
regarded as the real and only subject of painting.” – Hans Hofmann
Through his technique of push and pull, Hofmann proved that the illusion of depth, space and motion, can be created abstractly, through the use of color and form, in the absence of representational imagery. His teaching was very influential in the progress and the development of abstract expressionism, specially in terms of his philosophical wisdom, that nature is the greatest art and artist and it is there not to be imitated but to inspire.
THE MOMENT OF JUDGMENT
The artist conceives his aesthetic ideas in his imagination, and transforms them into paintings. His paintings carry a visual message, and communicate it to his audience. These paintings are his artistic performance by which he tells about himself. His art, ought to be created purely for his audience, in the absence of any considerations given to any possible critiques given by the critics. People’s emotional responses are the sole decision makers, as to whether the art is successful or not, based on the quality by which a the art communicates to them.
To disabuse you totally of any mysteries, involving the recognition of a successful work of art, here lies a simple acid test by way of an Asian tale: an ancient Chinese poet whose poems were laudably read throughout the land, had a simple test to insure the acceptance of his audience. Each time he wrote a poem, he surveyed its popularity in his town. He took it to an old flower lady he knew in the town’s square and read it to her. If she liked it, he published it; and if she did not, he discarded it and wrote a new one. His very thoughtful and wise conclusion in doing this survey, was the following: that if his poems were understood and appreciated by a peasant lady in the town square, they will also be popular with his readers. So, here lies the simplicity by which a widely successful and pure work of art should communicate its essence.
The point here in terms of visual arts, is that a successful work of art, whether representational art or abstract art, has to impinge emotionally, upon people who view it, and bring about a sentient response that causes them to engage and understand the painting. When they understand it, they talk about it, participate in it, and put a part of themselves in it, to complete it for themselves as their own work of art.
The Chinese “flower lady” is the acid test for every good piece of art, which nullifies all the esoteric classified fallacies, put together by the “experts” who pontificate that a certain type of convoluted “knowledge” or “expertise” is a prerequisite for the public to understand and appreciate art, specially abstract art. Nothing is further from the truth. The simple truth is this: every individual viewer’s instinctive, and instantaneous pulse of joy that he feels and senses strolling through his heart, as a reaction to the pleasure, brought about by viewing the art, is the ultimate judge; alerting the viewer, that he is in the presence of a successful work of art – and no more.
ARTS: A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY
“Art is greater than science because the latter proceeds by laborious accumulation and cautious reasoning, while the former reaches its goal at once by intuition and presentation; science can get along with talent, but art requires genius.” – German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
Purity of life force, or spirit does not belong to any part of the physical or material universe. It has no mass, no form, no location in space, no energy, and no motion. It resides in the realm of spirit; and that is not religiously, but spiritually speaking.
The more intellectually, and spiritually endowed is the artist, the more powerful will be his demonstration and expression of his ideas. Clarity of his concepts are directly related to the level of his awareness and his willingness to face life. The more purity, vitality and awareness the aesthetic mind of the artist attains, the more intelligently forceful and sentient will be his artistic expressions. Abstract art, in its purest form is expressed through the soul.
The interaction of the artist with his canvas, when he paints, is an awe-inspiring time of feeling totally free, from the concerns of the material universe; as he enters the sublime world of spiritual awareness. A state where, according to Schopenhauer, the sun can be viewed the same, either from a prison or a palace. It is this level of sublimity that saturates life with an enchanting beaut; assigning aesthetic quality to our sufferings, enabling us to view our pains from a much higher elevation.
Art inject serenity and calm into our space. It humanizes our relationships. It soothes our mind and soul. Art transcends us from the agonies of the transitory, and the material world, by placing infinity into our view. The best arts appeal both, to our intellects and our emotions. The magnificent field of art elevates the culture, and gives Man a splendor of peace and joy to rise to.
As the aesthetic mind, become purged and purified of its impurities and misconceptions, it begins to approach more towards the infinite level of awareness and knowledge in its purest form; an ascend, which leads the aesthetic mind closer to eternity; an awareness level instinctively knowable by those who have achieved a higher level of awareness; a level, where the aesthetic mind can effortlessly journey through distant times and places, to bring back imaginatively divine souvenirs in the form of art.