*From Maurice Tuchman’s ‘The Spiritual in Art – Abstract Painting 1890-1985’ describing Frantisek Kupka’s translation of his visionary experiences into visual form.
Frantisek Kupka 1871-1957
Gary Lachman spoke recently at The Black Light Exhibition, an event sponsored by The Center for Contemporary Culture Barcelona.
Lachman, whose presentation begins at about the 5:30 mark in the above video, briefly covers a history of the relationship between art and the occult. He speaks for roughly 35 minutes tracing the roots of this phenomenon from paleolithic cave paintings to the varied works of William Blake to the secret Gnostic paintings of Hilma af Klint and to the expressions of contemporary artists such as the filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky, which is then followed by a Q and A session.
This exhibition stood on the shoulders of another exhibition curated by Maurice Tuchman in the 1980’s in Los Angeles, ‘The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985’.
Tuchman in the introduction to the wonderful book published in conjunction with this event states,
“Abstract art remains misunderstood by the majority of the viewing public. Most people, in fact, consider it meaningless. Yet around 1910, when groups of artists moved away from representational art toward abstraction, preferring symbolic color to natural color, signs to perceived reality, ideas to direct observation, there was never an outright dismissal of meaning. Instead artists made an effort to draw upon deeper and more varied levels of meaning, the most pervasive of which was the spiritual.”
The cover of the accompanying publication for The Black Light Exhibition
From the CCCB site,
“Esoteric traditions can be traced back to the very origins of civilization, having served at different times to structure philosophical, linguistic, scientific or spiritual ideas. Despite their importance for the development of twentieth-century art, they tend to be ignored or disparaged these days due to the dominance of rationalistic thinking and the difficulty of talking about these subjects in clear, direct language.
In recent years, however, many artists have taken a renewed interest in subjects such as alchemy, secret societies, theosophy and anthroposophy, the esoteric strands in major religions, oriental philosophies, magic, psychedelia and drug-use, universal symbols and myths, the Fourth Way formulated by the Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff, etc., generating an interest in these fields that had not existed since the counterculture of the sixties and seventies.
According to the writer Enrique Juncosa, curator of this exhibition, this interest may be due to the fact that we are, once again, living in a restless and unsatisfied world, worried about new colonial wars, fundamentalist terrorism, serious ecological crisis and nationalist populism, just as in the sixties and seventies people feared an imminent and devastating nuclear catastrophe. Furthermore, much of today’s mainstream art is actually rather boring due to its complete lack of mystery and negation of any kind of poetization or interpretation of our experience of it.””
Photo by Asa Lunden
Photo from a 2013 Exhibition of works by the Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint who as Lachman describes in his presentation is probably the first Abstract artist, predating Wassily Kandinsky
“[N]obody is willing to invest money in poetry. But film will continue existing thanks to the resistance of…poets. You can be sure that cinema history is made of films that recreate the inner world of their artist, and not the movies we see today and that I hope will not continue to please the public for much longer. Since the beginning, cinema has been in a difficult situation. To make movies, you need money. To write poetry, all you need is some paper and pencil. I bow to those directors who keep trying, with what they have, to make their own movies. We have seen that these films have a specific, personal rhythm.”
The Worlds of
Art by Matt Melanson
There is a new podcast in town, Weird Studies, hosted by Phil Ford and J.F. Martel –
As they describe it,
“Weird Studies” is a scholarly field that doesn’t and can’t exist.
The Weird is that which resists any settled explanation or frame of reference. It is the bulging file labelled “other/misc.” in our mental filing cabinet, full of supernatural entities, magical synchronicities, and occult rites. But it also appears when a work of art breaks in on our habits of perception and ordinary things become uncanny. The Weird is easiest to define as whatever lies on the further side of a line between what we can easily accept from our world and what we cannot. And it defines an attitude towards whatever lies on that side of the line: a willingness to remain suspended between explanations and abide in strangeness.”
In this episode the two connect the dots and discuss those connections and surrounding pathways into the origin of contemporary existential fear and how it manifests in recent works such as David Lynch and Mark Frosts’ ‘Twin Peaks – The Return’.
Along the way their map include signposts from Philip K. Dick, Norman Mailer, Stanley Kubrick, Carl Jung, William Burroughs, Guy Debord, H.P. Lovecraft and many others.
A fascinating and thought provoking look into the abyss, to synchronous expressions of art, and the implications for modern life as we live under the shadow of the mushroom cloud.
“I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams”
“In the medieval tradition, Beksinski seems to believe art to be a forewarning about the fragility of the flesh– whatever pleasures we know are doomed to perish– thus, his paintings manage to evoke at once the process of decay and the ongoing struggle for life. They hold within them a secret poetry, stained with blood and rust.”
― Guillermo del Toro
A Short film about the life of Leonora Carrington
(A few examples of her work below)
* Todd Haynes
“I have no doubt that whatever kinds of movies you like, seeing ‘Wonderstruck’, you will not have seen anything like it before.
It intercuts a story of one little deaf girl in 1927 who travels into New York City searching for answers, with the story of a little boy who becomes deaf in 1977, fifty years later, also on a journey.
And so the question keeps getting posed every time you intercut from black and white to color, silent film to sound film, why are these two stories sharing one movie?
When you really are excited by, motivated by the richness and strangeness of popular culture that we all share – movies, music, you realize that everything that’s great has been gotten away with and that it has sort of snuck into the conventional languages that we come to expect and that’s when our minds get percolated. That’s how we get pricked by a new experience.
And it’s also what reinvigorates the respective mediums involved. Getting away with it I think is what culture is about.”
“[It’s] too easy to put symbols in service of narrative. The trick is putting narrative in service of symbols.” – J.F. Martel in a recent tweet regarding how to watch Twin Peaks
“Artists end up producing symbols, beacons that point to those vast regions of reality which psychoanalysts call the unconscious. In other words, art doesn’t belong to the conscious world. It belongs on the same plane as dreams, visions and synchronicity.” J.F. Martel
“True works of art are powerful symbolic constructs, genuine oracles that can give society access to what’s going on below the threshold of collective consciousness.” – JFM
“I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper.” David Lynch
“It makes me uncomfortable to talk about meanings and things. It’s better not to know so much about what things mean.” DL
“Because the meaning, it’s a very personal thing, and the meaning for me is different than the meaning for somebody else.” DL
“When something’s abstract, the abstractions are hard to put into words unless you’re a poet.” DL
“Cinema is a language that can say abstractions. I love stories, but I love stories that hold abstractions–that can hold abstractions. And cinema can say these difficult-to-say-in-words things.” DL
“I like things that go into hidden, mysterious places, places I want to explore that are very disturbing.” DL
“In that disturbing thing, there is sometimes tremendous poetry and truth.” DL
“As Henri Bergson says, if we could perceive reality directly, we wouldn’t need art.” JFM
“The reason we need art is that the intellect is constantly reducing reality to a conceptual order that accounts only for an infinitely small portion of what is real.” JFM
“If things get too specific, the dream stops. There are things that happen sometimes that open a door that lets you soar out and feel a bigger thing. Like when the mind gets involved in a mystery. It’s a thrilling feeling. When you talk about things, unless you’re a poet, a big thing becomes smaller.” DL
“I don’t know why people expect art to make sense when they accept the fact that life doesn’t make sense.” DL
“Symbols are signs, but signs pointing us to the unknown, perhaps unknowable aspects of reality. They call us to the dark expanses that extend infinitely on every side of the small castellated island that is the human world.” JFM
“Met on its own ground, the work of art as vector of symbols is an inexhaustible producer of meaning. Invariably, the work reveals more than its creator ever intended and more than any interpreter can fathom.” JFM
“True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the facade of the everyday, a sudden revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.” JFM
“The more unknowable the mystery, the more beautiful it is.” DL
“I love mysteries. To fall into a mystery and its danger … everything becomes so intense in those moments. When most mysteries are solved, I feel tremendously let down.” DL
“I want things to feel solved up to a point, but there’s got to be a certain percentage left over to keep the dream going. It’s like at the end of Chinatown: The guy says, ‘Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.’ You understand it, but you don’t understand it, and it keeps that mystery alive. That’s the most beautiful thing.” DL
“When you sleep, you don‘t control your dream. I like to dive into a dream world that I’ve made, a world I chose and that I have complete control over.” DL
“I would love to be in that state [of a waking dream] all day long, but you have to have some quiet. The world is getting louder every year, but to sit and dream is a beautiful thing.” DL
“A lot of people assume I have very strange dreams, but I’ve only had one dream that affected a film. I don’t dream much at night. Most everything is daydreams.” DL
“I like making films because I like to go into another world. I like to get lost into another world.” DL
“My movies are film-paintings – moving portraits captured on celluloid. I’ll layer that with sound to create a unique mood — like if the Mona Lisa opened her mouth, and there would be a wind, and she’d turn back and smile. It would be strange and beautiful.” DL
“In my mind it’s so much fun to have something that has clues and is mysterious – something that is understood intuitively rather than just being spoon fed to you. That’s the beauty of cinema, and it’s hardly ever even tried. These days, most films are pretty easily understood, and so people’s minds stop working.” DL
“Through the darkness of future past, the magician longs to see, one chance out between two worlds, fire walk with me.” – Twin Peaks
From the wonderful blog by Rhys Tranter comes this link to an interview with the producer of the new documentary about David Lynch. A must see for anyone interested in Lynch who in his own words provides some insight into his early history and creative process.
Jon Nguyen on a new documentary exploring the life and work of the American artist and filmmaker
Lewis Bond’s video essay on David Lynch may offer some insight into this work, especially timely with the return of Twin Peaks to television.
“I believe in an unspoken ceremony that occurs when we watch movies. If an audience is to truly offer themselves to cinema, an acknowledgment must be made on
behalf of the observer to momentarily
sacrifice their psychological and emotional bonds so that they be manipulated and molded by the artist. The viewer must then accept that as art is incapable of capturing one’s own
subjective experience, it can never
fulfill all the questions of the individual. Art’s preoccupation with
secrecy can feast on the deepest parts
of you but its mysteries can also
energize something profound within. I suppose cinema’s true affliction as well as its triumph is that its answers are often destined to remain unknown and nowhere is this more truthful than in the work of David Lynch.”
“Lynch submits a series of breaches to what we accept is our reality in the hope that we recognize that what we perceive is only a fraction of what we see and it’s exactly why Lynch intentionally misguides our perceptions through offering plots that embrace a subconscious manner of storytelling. Our expectations so often go unfulfilled in his movies because he shows that we expect so much from life yet know so little.”
– Lewis Bond
Dandelion Salad with Chris Hedges RT America on Apr 29, 2017 On this week’s episode of On Contact, Chris Hedges discusses the role of the artist with Enrique Martinez Celaya. The sculptor, painter, physicist and philosopher’s work focuses on the struggle of individuals to navigate the inner and outer realms of darkness that negate our […]
‘Arrival’ – Denis Villenueve
“Myth has something very direct to say. Many of the stories we need now arrived perfectly on time about 5,000 years ago. Old mythologies contain not only stories about our place on the Earth, but have the Earth speaking through them, what the Islamic scholar Henry Corbin termed the mundus imaginalis – where the human imagination is open to what David Abram describes as the more-than-human world. So with myth, you are working not just with imagination but with the imaginal, what many aboriginal cultures would call the Dreamtime. In other words, as we turn ideas around in our head, we’re not just thinking but we are getting thought.”
Colleen Wallace Nungari
“It’s very hard to talk about the imaginal in conventional language. The most fitting language to address it is poetry or imagery or mythology. If the language is too psychological it reduces the mystery. It makes the mysteries containable and safe.”
‘Paterson’ – Jim Jarmusch
“Myth is a robust and ancient way of addressing a multiplicity of consciousnesses that abide in and around the Earth. What is so powerful about an uncolonised imagination, a mythic intelligence, is that it connotes but does not denote. It doesn’t tell you what it is. Its images have a radiance that reveal different things to whoever is beholding them.”
“The days of conventional hero myths are not serving us. What is being called for now culturally is a word you find often in Ancient Greece: metis. Metis is a kind of divine cunning in service to wisdom.”
“We can’t be naïve in times like this, because we are in the presence of underworld forces that will do one of two things: they will either educate us, or annihilate us. And in fairy tales whenever the movement is down – and the movement culturally is down right now – you have to get underworld smart, have underworld intelligence, underworld metis. I have a strong feeling that a lot of what wants to emerge through many ancient stories is a kind of wily, tough, ingenious and romantic force that needs to come forward at this point in time.”
S u s a n S e d d o n B o u l e t
“…in Corbin’s expression of this ancient Sufi philosophy, the material world which we take as real is in fact totally enveloped by a spiritual reality which influences (or perhaps even determines) it.
The reality of the mundus imaginalis communicates itself to human beings through images, so that the act of imagining then becomes an act of connection to it. But we’re not just talking about any old imaginings; as Corbin said:
We must be careful not to confuse it with the imagination identified by so-called modern man with “fantasy”, and which, according to him, is nothing but an outpour of “imaginings”.”
“This is an important point: Corbin differentiated between the simple everyday acts of daydreaming and fantasising (which are what we often mean when we speak about ‘imagining’) and the reality of this world of archetypes and visions. To stress this point again: the forms and figures which occupy the mundus imaginalis have a real – and the key point here is that ‘reality’ is not just restricted to the material – presence. The mundus imaginalis is the place from where all spiritual and transcendent experience derives. It is the source of synchronicities, ‘psychic’ experiences and creative insights. This world penetrates into our dreams and other visionary experiences, including the places we visit during deep meditation or imaginal journeying.”
“An awareness of the Otherworld, then, in our own native traditions (which are so potent, and yet so often neglected in favour of cosmologies from other parts of the planet) is an awareness of the power of the Earth itself. The Otherworld isn’t just a pretty place in a fairy tale: it is the source of life and inspiration. The powerful Otherworldly woman in the oldest of our stories isn’t a mere fairy mistress, or a pretty muse in a poet’s dream: she is the moral and spiritual authority of the earth, the anima mundi personified. The Otherworld is more than just a myth; the mundus imaginalis is real. As Corbin’s work suggests: the material world which we take as real is in fact totally enveloped by a spiritual reality which influences (or perhaps even determines) it.
We ignore it at our peril.”
‘Moonlight’ – Barry Jenkins
“If you look at the last five hundred years in the West, you see the steady growth of a mindset that denies the validity, even the existence, of anything that exceeds the grasp of human cognition. As a result, our environments, physical and psychic, have become increasingly human, increasingly artificial. There is a pseudo-gnostic vein in modern thinking that seeks to place humanity at the centre of the universe. This is why I believe that the recognition of radical mystery as an intrinsic quality of the real is both the most important move we could make and the most repugnant to the existing power structure. Art confronts us with a more expansive view of reality in which humans are peripheral and mystery is inescapable. This is pretty obvious when you consider a weird fiction writer like Lovecraft, but I think it’s also true for Van Gogh, Shakespeare, or Emily Dickinson.”
Vincent Van Gogh
“Artifice denotes the use of aesthetics to manipulate the emotions in a predetermined manner. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce calls it “improper art” and defines it as art that presents its content in such a way as to induce a state of attraction or repulsion. There are therefore two kinds of artifice. Examples of the first kind include porn videos, advertisements and generic pop songs. All of these are, at bottom, pornographic. The second kind includes traditional propaganda films and shock art, but also any work specifically designed to push a political or social message: slick PSAs, moral fables and concept art that does nothing but voice an artist’s opinion.”
“What Joyce calls “proper art,” on the other hand, uses the aesthetic to reveal things in their original, preconceptual “suchness.” That is, it doesn’t reduce its content to some instrumental end. In doing this, artists end up producing symbols, beacons that point to those vast regions of reality which psychoanalysts call the unconscious. In other words, art doesn’t belong to the conscious world. It belongs on the same plane as dreams, visions and synchronicity. By its nature it calls us out of the trance states that artifice instills.”
‘Knight of Cups’ – Terrence Malick
Martin Shaw –
“I notice that several times a day I go into what you could call a mild trance state. I’m not talking about ouija boards here! I’m just talking about falling under the influence of advertising, or various politically engineered neuroses that might be floating around. But I recognise I have come into a kind of enchantment. And the way I recognise it is that I feel less than grounded. I feel I’m not in the realm of imagination, I’m in the realm of fantasy. So the imaginal is not present; the Earth as a lived, breathing, thinking being is not present. What’s happening is I’m simply fretting – to use my mother’s language – I’m spinning my wheels. And so actually I think stories have a capacity to wake us up.
We are living in a time when we need symbolic intelligence, not just sign language. We are being fed signs, and signs that frighten us, and then paralyse us, and then colonise us. And imagination, through myth, wants to give you symbols to raise you up.”
‘They Live’ – John Carpenter
J.F. Martel –
“Art is in itself a form of resistance to the commodification of consciousness. Every bit of time and energy spent creating or experiencing works of art escapes the grasp of those forces that would reduce us all to a quantity or algorithm.”
‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ – Nicolas Roeg
“In a sense, asking what art should do to improve society is like asking what the heart should do to improve the health of the body. The heart can only do one thing: beat. It’s up to the body to live in such a way as to allow it to keep beating. Similarly, the only thing art can do is reveal the non-human forces that shape the world. It oxygenates society by infusing it with a more expansive reality than its preconceptions, opinions or beliefs allow for. Art is the heartbeat of a civilization. For that reason, it’s not up to artists to produce works that will change the world. It’s up to the world to organize itself in such a way that artists are able to make the art they’re called to make. While this doesn’t absolve artists of their civil responsibilities as members of society, it does mean that when they practice their art, they ought to have the freedom to be guided by powers that exceed our understanding. True works of art are powerful symbolic constructs, genuine oracles that can give society access to what’s going on below the threshold of collective consciousness. But they won’t do that if artists feel a need to impose a moral or message on the material. For the magic to happen, vision must lead the way.”
‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ – Jim Jarmusch
Links to works quoted:
The Mythos We Live By: Uncolonising Our Imagination. An interview with storyteller and mythologist Martin Shaw by Dark Mountain editor, Charlotte Du Cann.
The psychology of mythology: or, why the Otherworld is just as real as this one. Dr Sharon Blackie: writer, psychologist, mythologist from her blog – The Art of Enchantment.
Reclaiming Art: An Interview with J.F. Martel The author in an interview with Jeremy D Johnson for Reality Sandwich.
“The Carnival of Dreams is a short film based on the unforeseen events that transpired over a 48 hour period in a magical place called Slab City where Ian Ruhter and Will Eichelberger set out to make the world’s largest Ambrotype. In the midst of this larger 3 year project to photograph and film the community a spontaneous visit by Gary Oldman to Ruhter and our crew in the field revealed something far greater than the process that brought everyone together. As Oldman and Ruhter focus their cameras on each other the plates unveiled a beautiful friendship. The photographs made also revealed a hidden truth about the people who stand by our side and allow us to see the beauty that’s in front of us. The Carnival of Dreams captures this bond between colleagues, friends, loved ones and soulmates and a process that takes place within this journey.”
“There are always individuals who are a little too sensitive to spend all their time hanging around other humans, because they pick up too much from nervous systems that are the same shape as themselves. If someone depressed walks in the room, they find themselves getting depressed, and if someone happy walks in they’re immediately joyous. They’re too easily influenced by other humans, and yet their sensitivity is just right for entering into a rapport with a very different shape of awareness, with an owl, for instance, or an oak tree, or an ant.
These particularly sensitive folks tend to gravitate quite naturally to the edge of any traditional culture, where with one hand they can turn toward the human collective, but with the other they are open to the whole field of other-than-human powers. They become the intermediaries between the culture and the living land.
I think that every culture worthy of the name recognizes the need for such folks. These persons are the boundary keepers, those who tend the boundary between the human community and the wild, more-than-human world in which human culture is embedded. Their craft or work is to keep that boundary porous, to ensure that it remains a fluid membrane and doesn’t harden into a static barrier.”
“When I look at the state of the world right now, I see an arc bending towards something that dwarfs any parochial concerns about particular presidential elections or political arrangements between human nations, and which should put those events into deep perspective. I see a grand planetary shift that has not been seen for millions of years. I see that half the world’s wildlife has gone, and half the world’s forests, and half the world’s topsoil. I see that we have perhaps two generations of food left before we wear out the rest of that topsoil. I see 10 billion people needing to be fed. I see the highest concentration of carbon in the atmosphere since humans evolved. I see coming waves of political and cultural turmoil resulting from all of this, which makes me fear for my children, and sometimes for myself.
Our stories are cracking: the things we have pretended to believe about the world have turned out not to be true…In such times, we write to make sense of things, and to examine our stories in their proper perspective. We write new stories because the old ones are half-dead now.
I think we could make a case that most of the world’s great religions, philosophies, artforms, even political systems and ideologies were initiated by marginal figures. There is a reason for that: sometimes you have to go to the edges to get some perspective on the turmoil at the heart of things. Doing so is not an abnegation of public responsibility: it is a form of it. In the old stories, people from the edges of things brought ideas and understandings from the forest back in to the kingdom which the kingdom could not generate by itself.”
“I’m really interested in the landscape of the mythology and the mythology of the landscape. That’s where I get curious. And so for the last twenty years I’ve been taking people up out into the few remaining wild places in Britain. And also that led to a certain curiosity into where does wildness still reside in language itself. Could there be places within stanzas within stories within poems where old gods still reside. And so quite naturally I’ve been brought back into story as a way of articulating wild information, information from the edges.
For me a compelling story is when you feel a variety of intelligences at play. And I would go so far as to suggest that culturally for thousands of years, stories in their fullness in their efficacy were a form of negotiation with weather patterns, with the movement of the hunt, with the dreams of the people, with the bones of the dead, with the future memory of those to come. All of that was present in the story, which can be told as simply as ‘Once upon a time, there was a woman at the edge of a great forest.’ But make no mistake, some of the most incredible thinking of our age is transmitted through stories.”
(All Photographs by Jerry Uelsmann)
“…when I say that artists shape the symbols, I don’t mean that they construct them according to their own preferences or opinions. That’s precisely what I call artifice in the book. I mean that they collaborate with forces that come from deep down, they call out of the chaos of the Real, new forms that they themselves won’t necessarily understand. In fact, artists may often be the people who are least likely to understand what it is they have done.
If beauty and symbol are not human contrivances but partial apprehensions of more-than-human realities, it follows that some objects or events will be more direct avenues to those realities than others are. For people of vision (whether or not they are practicing artists) all objects are potential avenues to those realities. But that’s just the point. Artists are people who can frame out the signs that make up the ordinary means-and-ends world in order to reveal those signs’ imaginal depth as symbols on the aesthetic plane of nature. As Henri Bergson says, if we could perceive reality directly, we wouldn’t need art. The reason we need art is that the intellect is constantly reducing reality to a conceptual order that accounts only for an infinitely small portion of what is real. Art is what allows us to glimpse the world beyond the conceptual order. So while it is true that everything is fundamentally aesthetic and so belongs to the reality which art reveals and discursive thinking conceals, we need art to see that. We need good art — that is, non-ideological art — to see that.
Some artists couldn’t care less about any of this, and that’s no doubt for the best. I didn’t write this book for artists who are getting on with it; I wrote it for people who are concerned about where our culture is going, as well as for genuine artists who may be experiencing some cognitive dissonance between their deepest intuitions and what contemporary culture tends to promulgate as fact. There are very good reasons to believe that art is much, much more than a form of entertainment or a platform for communicating opinions.”
“When we are frightened it can feel like we are trapped under water, under ice. The mythic directive in such a moment is unusual. It says this: go deeper. Attend to the Goddess underneath the unfolding. There’s no restoration without courtship. Don’t smash your knuckles raw on the ice, but dive down further – seemingly the opposite of what everyone on the surface wants you to do. But of course, the diver swims down not just with their terror, but with their stories, their artfulness, their skill. Most importantly, most wonderfully, their love. Ironically, only by diving deeper can the ice melt. In such times, attend to your soul-ground. And that is not some interior – unless everything is interior – it radiates out to a related field of kiddies, sickly elms at the edge of a motorway, the distracted young mum at the food kitchen, the galloping ecosystem of your nightly dreaming.
We are living in a time when every one of us is going to have to make that descent. All of us. Not in some inflated way, but “with the grandeur of our ordinary tears”, because it is what defines us as true human beings. It is simply the right way to behave. If we can’t find our mythic ground, then we have little ground. When you swim down to Sedna you are in the business of alchemy: the tributary of your own fears meets the ocean of your artfulness and suddenly you are giving a gift, not seduced by your own wound. It is quite wonderful. We could learn the home-making skills again to welcome such stories back into our lives. We can’t stick plasters over the Fisher Kings wound.”
“Sometimes, anger and grief is a necessary precursor to transformation. Sometimes, we need to let the wild woman rage. To grow feathers and fur, and run wild through the woods. Sometimes, we need to bite. To stop being nice and talking about love and light and thinking that we can make the world a better place just by pretending that it’s so, or that we can make Donald Trump a better man by sending him love and light through the ether. (Yes, I’ve seen that proposed as a solution to yesterday’s catastrophe by women I’d expect to know better. It beggars belief.) These are dark days in our history, and dark days for women. If women want to change that, we need to take hold of that pure, honest energy which fuels our necessary rage and grief, and use it next for transformation. Find the hag energy. Use it. Transmute it; transform it. It’s what all good alchemists do, and women are born alchemists.
What I particularly like about the story of Mis is that her transformation comes from bringing together both male and female energies. Dubh Ruis is a gentle man; he literally loves her back to life. Like Mis, women can’t do this work alone. Fortunately, there are still good men out there, and I believe that between us, we can do the great work of turning the base metal of a decadent and decaying culture into gold.”
(All Photographs by Jerry Uelsmann)
“Most of us don’t want to change
I mean why should we
What we do want is sort of modifications on the original model
We keep on being ourselves
But hopefully better versions of ourselves
But what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic
That you just change
Change from the known person to the unknown person
So that when you look at yourself in the mirror you recognize the person that you were
But the person inside the skin is a different person”
Please read Tanja Stark’s fascinating research into David Bowie’s emergence as a Jungian visionary artist.
“Jungian concepts are so inextricably woven throughout Bowie’s multi-decadal tableau of creativity that in Bowie’s synthesis of mythopoeic themes of the Unconscious with the zeitgeist of pop culture, together with his palpable struggle for meaning, catharsis and knowledge, Bowie has become a poignant contemporary representation of Jung’s ‘visionary artist’, potentially illuminating his deep resonance in popular cultural consciousness.”
(Art by Sarah Beetson)
Amanda Palmer assembled a troupe of musicians, artists, photographers, technicians, family, friends and supporters to feverishly within two weeks produce this tribute to David Bowie. Titled – “Strung Out In Heaven: A Bowie String Quartet Tribute” it features integral contributions from Anna Calvi, John Cameron Mitchell, Neil Gaiman, and her music partner in this enterprise Jherek Bischoff.
“We’re really, really, really proud of what we made, even though we cranked it out in a short time.
Music is the binding agent of our mundane lives. It cements the moments in which we wash the dishes, type the resumes, go to the funerals, have the babies. The stronger the agent, the tougher the memory, and Bowie was NASA-grade epoxy to a sprawling span of freaked-out kids over three generations. He bonded us to our weird selves. We can be us. He said. Just for one day.
It didn’t hit me until a week later, in the studio, why this was such a fitting project. We were immersing ourselves in Bowieland, living in the songs, super-glueing up some fresh wounds. Not just “knowing” the songs, but feeling the physical chords under our sad fingers, excavating the deeper architecture of the songwriting (especially with a tune as bizarre as “Blackstar” (which we realized was constructed like a sonic Russian nesting doll).
Bowie worked on music up to the end to give us a parting gift. So this is how we, as musicians, mourn: keeping Bowie constantly in our ears and brains.
The man, the artist, exits. But the music, the glue; it stays. It never stops binding us together.”
Listen below to all six songs preferably with headphones!
In an interview with Maria Popova, Palmer explains why the timing of this project was so crucial,
“When David Bowie died, I wanted to immerse myself in David Bowie and give myself a work project, because I had been so immersed in motherhood and was struggling with reconciling that with my identity as an artist. I wanted desperately to work, but had cleared my plate of projects because I didn’t know what my life as a mother would be like and I needed to make room for that. So I had this semi-vacuum of time where I was coming to terms with mother-schedule, but I looked at the Bowie tribute and realized I could do most of the project from home, on my computer, in collaboration with Jherek, and I could spend two days at the studio and find a babysitter. I looked at the entire project and thought it was manageable, I could do it right now, which is the way I like to work — fast and furious and surprising and very chaotic and manic.
Jherek was on board to go with the pace, and I knew that if we waited seven months to put out our David Bowie tribute, it just wouldn’t feel the same. It is of the moment, and it was of the moment to sit on the couch and listen to Bowie songs with Neil [Gaiman] and read my patrons’ favorite Bowie songs and go on hunts for obscure tracks and sit there with the baby between me and Neil, immersing ourselves in this artist’s world — because all that felt like part of the project, it felt like part of the patronage.
That was our way of mourning, and that became our ritualistic David Bowie funeral.”
Palmer is asking for a $1.00 donation for the price of streaming the music. As she explains,
“Since it costs me/us about $.54 ($.09 per song x 6 songs) in licensing fees to the bowie estate every time you stream for free, please consider donating that $1 on bandcamp. Any leftover money from the $1 will go to the cancer research wing of Tufts Medical Center (https://giving.tuftsmedicalcenter.org/give) in memory of David Bowie. listen on bandcamp: https://amandapalmer.bandcamp.com/album/strung-out-in-heaven-a-bowie-string-quartet-tribute “
Check out the website http://amandapalmer.net/strungoutinheaven to see more artist, musician and technical credit for all who made this happen so quickly and in such fine fashion.
“This breezy little tome I’ve written, Die Wise, was graced with a noble introduction by a denizen of England and of times gone by, name of Martin Shaw, with whom I was briefly reunited a week ago for a riotous night of elegy and lament worthy of the ages. (Keep a weather eye for a film record of that boisterous event, crafted by Ian McKenzie, that might see light later this winter.) In the spangled generosity of his Forward Mr. Shaw took me for a citizen of the Other World. And this was to my knowledge the first time I was recognized, the first time this drizzle of sorrow and love for life that is my claim for Orphan Wisdom was seen and called by name. This stirred my gratitude. I have gratitude for him personally and specifically, surely, but I’ve another gratitude that arrived in this slurry of anticipation and pause, one that rises in the departure lounge as I make my way back across the Atlantic, tracing the furrows ploughed centuries before when We Who Left, who could not afford to stay, parted ways so deeply with You Who Stayed, to become the great European fantasy of America. And Mr. Shaw wrote of we who left: “To us, when you left you became spirits. How does dying wise function when to we who stayed you are already dead?” This is surely the arche of sorrow and longing and the uprooting of the world in search of home that America has become. It is to this wonder that I am returning.”
“I have not a clue whether we humans will live for another 100 or 10,000 years. We can’t be sure. What matters to me is the fact we have fallen out of a very ancient love affair – a kind of dream tangle, with the earth itself. If, through our own mess, that relationship is about to end, then we need to scatter as much beauty around us as we possibly can, to send a voice, to attempt some kind of repair. I think of it as a kind of courting – a very old idea.”
“When we claim myth as nothing but a map of our inner-life we reduce it, make a prison of it in our rib-cage. We stay in a rather sad isolation, rather than the sophisticated awakening that we are frisky boars rolling in myths deep and nourishing mud. The delicate flecks of soil that lace the sides of our pen (that is the world) is the art we display from such a calorific experience.”
“I am saying that in a functioning culture, myth is the dwelling hut for the people, the goats, the gleaming little babies, the old ones crooked and crazy-wise, the heart-broken, the grand stretch of birch trees at the bottom of a Norfolk field. It contains it all. It’s not just a reductionist blue-print for a therapists handle on why you feel so blue.”
“This is not to deny the interior – much great art has been developed in its amplification. But at what cost? For many of us now, our inner-world has become more real than the real. So i praise the genius of psychology but i believe there is much gain in myth cutting loose from the corral of human allegory – these are wild horses we are encountering. They have much to disclose.”
“A society continually emphasizing victory and progress is out of touch with myth. Myths emphasis on descent is erotic – it is the longing of the apple to fall from the quivering branch and be cradled in the dark arms of the soil. Gravity is a secondary issue. It is really the business of desire. I think our access to so many facts is causing us to be in a permanent state of hallucination. We are societally tripping. We have the facts but where on earth has the story gone?”
“Myths demand full occupancy of the lived experience. Which includes the myriad difficulties and slow-drip struggles that eventually carve out those rare and ordinary creatures we call elders. It requires a full, creative declaration of attachment to the world. That declaration, hewn into language, growing, loving, learning, music – is part of awareness of the impossible debt of gratitude we have for being here at all. The very sensation of the debt is a wonderful grounding in being a full human being.”
“…once you have understood the song its no longer of much interest. And some of those great songs that you do that you kind of become aware of new things over the years with [those] songs -its the reason why you keep playing them. I love the feeling of a song before you understand it. When we’re all playing deep inside the moment the song feels wild and unbroken. And soon it will become domesticated and we will drag it back to something familiar and compliant and we’ll put it in the stable with all the other songs. But there is a moment when the song is still in charge and you just cling on for dear life and you’re hoping you don’t fall off and break your neck or something. It is that fleeting moment that we chase in the studio.”
“The song is heroic because the song confronts death. The song is immortal and bravely stares down our own extinction. The song emerges from the spirit world with the true message – One day I will tell you how to slay the dragon.”
“In the end I am not interested in that which I don’t fully understand. The words I have written over the years are just a veneer. There are truths that lie beneath the surface of the words. Truths that rise up without warning like the humps of a sea monster and then disappear. What performance in song is to me is finding a way to tempt the monster to the surface. To create a space where the creature can break through what is real and what is known to us. This shimmering space where imagination and reality intersect – this is where all love and tears and joy exist. This is the place. This is where we live.”
(All quotes by Nick Cave from ‘20000 Days on Earth’)
J.F Martel describes in his book Reclaiming Art the experience some may have had in the presence of a created work, be it a piece of music, a film, dance, theater, a painting, a moment in a novel, a poem…
The experience is one where the work actually captures you where the emotional reaction is such that you believe that the world you thought you knew is somehow different now, now that you have crossed paths with this creation. That this work is actually having a conversation with you or perhaps speaking to you, acutely and individually just you. As if it were alive, as if it had meaning that only you could decipher.
Martel suggests that this experience is not necessarily caused by the intention of the creator or performer but that it is something that is breaking through, something that has a living presence. Now he describes this in conjunction with great works of art – he uses a friend’s encounter with a painting by Van Gogh as one example. I’ve had something strange and powerful happen with one of my paintings, the one featured above. In no way do I think it falls into the category of ‘great’ or even very good. I cannot look at it without critically going over everything I think is wrong with it.
Yet a couple of years ago it was in a show at the studio where I take classes regularly. I invited some new friends to attend the opening. After one couple had arrived and had meandered around looking at different paintings I discovered to my amazement that one of them had been so overcome with emotion after standing arrested in front of this piece that tears were flowing down his face. He tried to express what was happening inside to cause such a reaction but could not adequately explain only to say that it felt like the woman in this painting had pierced his heart. As he described it, for him this was a life changing experience. I was incredibly humbled that anyone could feel this from looking at one of my paintings. Later I stood in front of it hoping to get a taste of what he had experienced…Of course nothing happened. It had no effect on me whatsoever. But I looked at it as a gift and a mystery of what could happen from something that I was a part of in creating. To this day I still don’t understand what happened that evening but I accept it as something I was privileged to witness. I’m thankful for that.
There is an old phrase that goes, ‘something that takes on a life of its own.’
As Martel says in his book describing the process, “It is more than a creation: it is a creature.”
The problem with ‘mainstream’ culture’s conformism and lack of innovation is not the fact that it makes life uninteresting. It is the fact that it endangers life itself.”
I love this book, Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice by J.F. Martel. His goal is to start a conversation about the true nature of the transformative power that is characteristic of great art. I know it has sparked my own internal musings about the subject. The following post contains examples of what I believe are incredible works of art that were chosen out of thousands of possible examples. I’m sure everyone can think of many more that are important to them. There are so many!
Most of the following excerpts are from the preface to Martel’s book. I encourage anyone who is an artist or who loves and is inspired by art to purchase his book here or at your local independent bookstore. I believe it is an important and timely call to explore the possibilities of depth in an age when we are so easily hypnotized, manipulated and ultimately destroyed by the shimmering, shallow, unimaginative mirage of modern life.
“Every great artistic work is a quiet apocalypse. It tears off the veil of ego, replacing old impressions with new ones that are at once inexorably alien and profoundly meaningful.”
(Vincent van Gogh)
“Great works of art have a unique capacity to arrest the discursive mind, raising it to a level of reality that is more expansive than the egoic dimension we ordinarily inhabit. In this sense, art is the transfiguration of the world.”
“What could be more superfluous than art in the face of the authoritarian turn in contemporary politics, the systematic devastation of the biosphere, the ever-widening economic gap, or the rising tide of anxiety and mental illness? The objection is valid so long as we continue to see art as simply a source of entertainment or a platform for ‘self-expression.'”
“Art, however is more than that. It deals in consciousness itself, the stuff dreams are made of.”
“Art is the only truly effective means we have of engaging, in a communal context, the psyche on its own terms.”
“My argument is that by rethinking art in that light we can reorient ourselves individually and collectively toward alternative modalities of being, setting the stage for what Daniel Pinchbeck calls a new mythological consciousness able to resolve issues ‘through symbol and image, without need of rational explanation.'”
“Art breaks down the barriers that normally stand between the physical and the psychic, between your soul and the soul of others.”
“Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon.” – Marcel Proust
[For Proust] “Art is a meeting place in which human beings commune at a level that ordinary language and sign systems do not allow. Without art, connection at this deeper level is impossible.”
“This is a troubling idea to consider in a time when aesthetic forces ranging from sensationalistic news spectacles to manipulative viral marketing seem bent on achieving a very different end.”
“The all consuming razzle-dazzle of sound and light with which we are bombarded does not draw us into the secret universe of another consciousness.”
“On the contrary, it fools us into taking as self-evident a picture of life that in reality belongs to nobody, effectively producing an artificial space wherein the market and the state can thrive as though they were inextricable parts of the cosmos rather than the mutable accidents of history that they are.”
“We are in danger today of losing the capacity to distinguish between artistic creation as Proust defined it and the aesthetic creativity that goes into a commercial jingle, a new car design, or a hollow summer blockbuster.”
“If our confusion suits the reigning political and economic regime just fine, it is because it stands as proof that the operation to supplant the dream-space of soul and psyche with a fully controllable interface is going according to plan.”
“There is a sense in which art is a cultural contrivance and a sense in which art is a natural phenomenon. Art is a contrivance so far as we limit our conception of it to the things and activities the culture labels as artistic.” (This and the remaining quotes are excerpts from Martel’s Notes Towards An Interpretive Method)
“Art is a natural phenomenon in that it is the expression of non-human forces in the human world.”
“Concretely, it inheres in the creation of symbols, that is, crystallizations of psychic energy emerging from the imaginal depths of Nature.”
“Symbols are signs, but signs pointing us to the unknown, perhaps unknowable aspects of reality. They call us to the dark expanses that extend infinitely on every side of the small castellated island that is the human world.”
“If no interpretation of a symbol is ever complete, it is because a symbol’s potential meanings are never exhausted. In fact symbols don’t “mean” anything at all. Rather, they provoke the spontaneous creation of meaning in us.”
“Only art can express the symbolic, and symbols don’t occur outside of art. One possible definition of art is: any activity by which symbols are brought into the world.”
“The moment a symbol is extracted from its originating aesthetic substance in order to be “explained,” it becomes an ordinary sign.”
“The work of art that is interpreted without regard for the ineffable power of the symbols it contains turns into an allegory—that is, a cultural artifact rather than a natural force. It thereby loses its connection with the depths.”
“The symbol is a concrete cosmic force,” Gilles Deleuze wrote. “It is a dynamic process that enlarges, deepens, and expands sensible consciousness; it is an ever increasing becoming-conscious, as opposed to the closing of the moral consciousness upon a fixed allegorical idea.”
“Met on its own ground, the work of art as vector of symbols is an inexhaustible producer of meaning. Invariably, the work reveals more than its creator ever intended and more than any interpreter can fathom.”
“The artist doesn’t inject meaning into the work of art any more than the interpreter extracts meaning from it. Rather, the work of art by its nature asks us to create its meaning(s), and there are worse definitions of culture than “the act of creating meaning.””
(Philip Rubinov Jacobson)