JF Martel’s recently published ‘Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice‘ opens with the following manifesto –
“Art is the name we have given to humanity’s most primal response to the mystery of existence. It was in the face of the mystery that dance, music, poetry, and painting were born.
Since the dawn of the current era, art has been under threat.
In the place where it belongs on the cultural landscape,
two idols stand like golden calves demanding worship:
Pornography, the use of aesthetics to manipulate
through desire; and
Propaganda, the use of aesthetics to manipulate
Even where true art is made, powerful economic and political forces are there to subjugate it to one of the idols.
The work of art is apolitical and free of moralism. “The artist,” Wilde said, “is free to express everything.”
It is precisely the absence of political and moral interest
that make art an agent of liberation wherever it appears.
Art opposes tyranny by freeing beauty from the clutches of the powers of this world.
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.
Only the revelation of beauty can save our world.
The artist is always and for all time a seer, and artistic creation
is always and for all time an act of prophecy.
The artist does not choose the prophecy. Rather the prophetic
shines through her work. It comes from elsewhere.
The artist therefore needs enough courage to stay
true to the work at hand. Even greater courage is
required of those who to whom the finished work
is given, for their interests will always recommend
dismissing the vision for fear of its implications.
Only through art can human beings express and share the
archetypal powers that shape the universe.
To abandon art would mean forfeiting the gift of vision,
which, by all appearances, was given to humans alone.
To reclaim it might enable us to recover our faith in
this world, and to act in accordance with that faith for
the benefit of life on earth.”
“I think the weird is present in all great artworks, if by that we mean works that lays reality bare instead of placating us with illusions.” – J.F. Martel
(From the publisher)
“Part treatise, part critique, part call to action, RECLAIMING ART IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICE is a journey into the uncanny realities revealed to us in the great works of art of the past and present.”
“Received opinion holds that art is culturally-determined and relative. We are told that whether a picture, a movement, a text, or sound qualifies as a “work of art” largely depends on social attitudes and convention. Drawing on examples ranging from Paleolithic cave paintings to modern pop music and building on the ideas of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Gilles Deleuze, Carl Jung, and others, J.F. Martel argues that art is an inborn human phenomenon that precedes the formation of culture and even society. Art is free of politics and ideology. Paradoxically, that is what makes it a force of liberation wherever it breaks through the trance of humdrum existence. Like the act of dreaming, artistic creation is fundamentally mysterious. It is a gift from beyond the field of the human, and it connects us with realities that, though normally unseen, are crucial components of a living world.”
“While holding this to be true of authentic art, the author acknowledges the presence—overwhelming in our media-saturated age—of a false art that seeks not to liberate but to manipulate and control. Against this anti-artistic aesthetic force, which finds some of its most virulent manifestations in modern advertising, propaganda, and pornography, true art represents an effective line of defense. Martel argues that preserving artistic expression in the face of our contemporary hyper-aestheticism is essential to our own survival.”
“Art is more than mere ornament or entertainment; it is a way, one leading to what is most profound in us. RECLAIMING ART IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICE places art alongside languages and the biosphere as a thing endangered by the onslaught of predatory capitalism, spectacle culture, and myopic technological progress. The book is essential reading for visual artists, musicians, writers, actors, dancers, filmmakers, and poets. It will also interest anyone who has ever been deeply moved by a work of art, and for all who seek a way out of the web of deception and vampiric diversion that the current world order has woven around us.”
I have just ordered this book, ‘Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice -A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action‘ after reading the interview (which I highly recommend) with the author J.F. Martell on The Teeming Brain website with Matt Cardin. Martel describes the book as
“an attempt to defend art against the onslaught of the cultural industries, which today seek to reduce art to a mindless form of entertainment or, at best, a communication tool. In Reclaiming Art I argue that great works of art constitute an expressive response to the radical mystery of existence. They are therefore inherently strange, troubling, and impossible to reduce to a single meaning or message. Much of contemporary culture is organized in such a way as to push this kind of art to the margins while celebrating works that reaffirm prevailing ideologies. In contrast, real works of art are machines for destroying ideologies, first and foremost the ideologies in which they were created.“
Martel, in an article exploring some of these themes before the publication of his book, explains how mass media seeks to control and limit how we perceive what our horizons actually look like.
“In so-called open societies, ideology is propagated using the techniques of art. That is to say that the aesthetic realm—the domain of feeling—is the locus where the potentialities of the social system are actualized or condemned. Freedom of thought finds its counterweight today in the systematic control of feeling. One of the primary functions of the mediasphere is to concoct moods, which then become determining factors as to what is deemed possible or impossible for society as a whole.”
“…in a very real sense, mass media is a spiritual machine for colonizing the psyche. It establishes an emotional climate favoring the replacement of living thought by the memes of the market. Achieving this has less to do with outright censorship than with aesthetic framing. It isn’t the content of what is presented that matters, but how that content is portrayed. The secret lies in the theatre that encodes an event, the smoke and mirrors that are used in framing it, the implicit judgments it can be made to serve and the poetics that narrate it. In the course of the last several decades, modern media has woven around us a tangled web of clamorous illusions and dancing lights whose function is to divert, confound, and bewitch an increasingly anxious populace while inuring it to the realities of life outside the “green zones” of Western privilege.”
“Authoritarian societies recognize the power of art, which is why they so brutally censor their best artists. Free market societies, on the other hand, adopt a strategy of suppression by appropriation. We tolerate artists so far as they make themselves useful as purveyors of distraction or producers of luxury commodities to be hawked in staid galleries and concert halls. Artworks that criticize the tenets of the system are accepted precisely because by their very powerlessness, they implicitly condone the practices they outwardly condemn. The fight is fixed: you can say anything because whatever you say won’t make a difference.”
“Art is neither a system for transmitting information nor a mode of self-expression. It does these things no better than any number of activities. Art is the seizure of a vision that exceeds language. It captures a slice of the Real and preserves it in an artifact. The work of art is fractal and open—an inexhaustible well of meaning and image overflowing the limits of the communicable. It is a way to the wilderness of the unconscious, the land of spirits and the dead. If great works of art are prophetic, it is because they disclose the forces that seethe behind the easy façade of ordinary time. I am not just thinking of the plays of Shakespeare and Sophocles here, but also of the poems of Emily Dickinson, the songs of Bob Dylan, the choreographies of Pina Bausch, the films of David Lynch. All of them are oracles.”
“The shaman enters the priestly society of the ancient world and is called a prophet. She enters modern industrial society and is called an artist. From the shape-shifting sorcerer painted on the cavern wall to Mr. Tambourine Man jangling in the junk-sick morning, a single tradition flows—backwards, like an undertow beneath the tidal thrust of history. This tradition tears us out of the system of codified language and returns us to the dreaming depths where language first rose as the idiot stammerings of poetry. The shaman, the prophet, the artist: each knows the way lies not in the dry processes of logic but in the snaking courses of the heart. If art makes use of ideas, concepts, and opinions, it is only to subsume them in the realm of the senses, to push them to the knife-edge of lunacy where the primal chaos shows through the skin of objects, where all judgments are silenced and beauty, naked and terrible, is revealed.”
“Art doesn’t begin when you realize that you have something to say. It begins at the hour when there is nothing left to say, when everything has been said, when what must be said is unspeakable. Deleuze described the artist as a shapeshifter and a seer. He or she “has seen something in life that is too great, too unbearable also, and the mutual embrace of life with what threatens it.”* Art, in other words, is a way to the sacred. It places the aesthetic in the service of something that transcends instrumental reason.”
At the end of the end of the interview with Cardin, the author is asked what advice he has for those who are moved and inspired by his writing. He responds,
“…all I can manage is an appeal to the individual reader to look at art again. We need to let go of our cynicism and disenchantment and recover our capacity to believe, our power to affect and be affected. Beyond this, there is one quite concrete action I think every new monk should take, and that’s to keep a dream journal. Recording our dreams awaken us to the imaginal, even as it awakens the imaginal to us. The result is always an abundance of vision.”
“Hedgespoken is our dream – we’ve thought long and hard about how best we want to live our lives, how to do what we love doing in a way that serves our communities and fulfills our dreams of living close to the land in a creative, sustainable way. Hedgespoken is our best shot, our way of taking our skills and our love of story, of art and magic, and living in a way that means we’re using all of that, all the time. And, it’s our promise, to ourselves and to our children, that we will refuse to live half-lives. Hedgespoken is a gamble – to live on the road is to embrace uncertainty and certain kinds of insecurity, after all – but it’s a gamble that we have to take, because we dreamed this in the week that we first met and we knew then that we had to find a way to make it real. With your help, we’re getting there, in Hedgespoken style, living lives that are full, not empty, nor half-lived or hollow – with your help, we’re already creating something beautiful, allowing something of the magical world to be born.”
Sketch By Rima Staines
“Hedgespoken is our attempt to try and live our dream right here and now in this life, fully and heartily and with all the colours available to us. It matters because of the flame that burns in all of us to really live our dreams, despite all those voices – inside and outside – telling us that that’s not possible. It matters because by sharing soul-nourishing arts with others in this way, we are re-weaving a tribe of those who yearn for this old magic that feels at once delightfully strange and very familiar. It matters because sitting under the stars by firelight together is a fundamentally old and human thing to do, and because when we sit there in the woodsmoke and owlsong and crackle of darkness, we Remember…”
Photo by Andy Letcher
“Based on who this person is I knew I would scrutinize this image far more than any other portrait that I had ever made. During this project “The Making of a Celebrity Portrait,” it redefined how I view celebrities. It made me question if celebrity culture influenced us so greatly that we want to be portrayed like them. In a world that revolves around social networking and selfies I started wondering what these images really say about us.”
“NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. I’m asking you to include a photograph of yourself for this project. The idea is to collect many images so we can create one picture of who we really are. On Instagram, #iamthecelebrity with a portrait of you. Follow @ian_ruhter and @Profotoglobal for project updates. All month long we’ll be cataloguing and commenting on these images. Once this is done we’ll create the final project—stay tuned for updates!”
Photo by Lindsey Byrnes
“One thing I’ve learned for sure, even though it’s something I’ve been told all my life by my mentors: All beings seek liberation. Even if they don’t know it, they do. They’re like sunflowers aching to the sky. When you start looking at the street and the marketplace and all human beings that way, everything starts to make more sense.”
– Amanda Palmer
(h/t Dave Pollard)
Amanda Palmer of Dresden Dolls fame shows how she courageously sidesteps the patterned behavior of how to make it in this world. As structures collapse and implode and become obsolete, how do people interact and engage with each other in new and vibrant ways. Palmer has created avenues of trust and interchange with people around the globe who are fans of her music. How can each of us encourage and create our own gift economies? How will will that translate into a new language for us to navigate with as we try to map our way into an unknown future?
In this interview with Richard Bartlett, she elaborates a little more on the ups and downs of what she presents in this TED talk.
There are a few more hard-earned truths – as I have come to know them – that have arisen on my personal odyssey as a singer and at first glance, they may seem like harbingers of bad news, but I invite you to shift your thinking just a bit (or perhaps even radically) – you guys are artists, so thankfully you’re already brilliant at thinking outside the conventional box! I offer these four little observations as tools to perhaps help you as you go forward, enabling you to empower yourselves from the very core of your being, so that when the challenges of this artistic life catapult and hurl themselves directly and unapologetically into your heart and soul – which they will do, repeatedly – you will have some devices at your disposal to return to, to help you find your center again, so that your voice, your art and your SOUL will not be derailed, but you will instead find the strength to make yourself heard, and seen, and FELT. Then you will have the power to transform yourselves, to transform others, and, indeed, to transform the world.
My first observation:
You will never make it. That’s the bad news, but the “shift” I invite you to make is to see it as fabulous, outstanding news, for I don’t believe there is actually an “it”. “It” doesn’t exist for an Artist. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, right here, right now, in this single, solitary, monumental moment in your life– is to decide, without apology, to commit to the JOURNEY, and not to the outcome. The outcome will almost always fall short of your expectations, and if you’re chasing that elusive, often deceptive goal, you’re likely in for a very tough road, for there will always be that one note that could have soared more freely, the one line reading that could have been just that much more truthful, that third arabesque which could have been slightly more extended, that one adagio which could have been just a touch more magical. There will always be more freedom to acquire and more truth to uncover. As an artist, you will never arrive at a fixed destination. THIS is the glory and the reward of striving to master your craft and embarking on the path of curiosity and imagination, while being tireless in your pursuit of something greater than yourself.
A second truth:
The work will never end. This may sound dreadfully daunting – especially today when you are finally getting out of here!!!! But what I have found is that when things become overwhelming – which they will, repeatedly ~ whether it’s via unexpected, rapid success or as heart-wrenching, devastating failure ~ the way back to your center is simply to RETURN TO THE WORK. Often times it will be the only thing that makes sense. And it is there where you will find solace and truth. At the keyboard, at the barre, with your bow in hand, articulating your arpeggios ~ always return to your home base and trust that you will find your way again via the music, the pulse, the speech, the rhythm. Be patient, but know that it will always be there for you – even if in some moments you lack the will to be there for it. All it asks is that you show up, fully present as you did when you first discovered the magic of your own artistic world when you were young. Bring that innocent, childlike sense of wonder to your craft, and do whatever you need to find that truth again. It will continually teach you how to be present, how to be alive, and how to let go. Therein lies not only your artistic freedom, but your personal freedom as well!
Perhaps my favorite truth:
It’s not about you. This can be a particularly hard, and humbling lesson to face – and it’s one I’ve had to continue to learn at every stage of my own journey – but this is a freeing and empowering truth. You may not yet realize it, but you haven’t signed up for a life of glory and adulation (although that MAY well come, and I wish with every fiber of my being, that it WILL come in the right form for every single one of you – however, that is not your destination, for glory is always transitory and will surely disappear just as fleetingly and arbitrarily as it arrived.) The truth is, you have signed up for a life of service by going into the Arts. And the life-altering results of that service in other people’s lives will NEVER disappear as fame unquestionably will. You are here to serve the words, the director, the melody, the author, the chord progression, the choreographer ~ but above all and most importantly, with every breath, step, and stroke of the keyboard, you are here to serve humanity.
You, as alumni of the 109th graduating class of The Juilliard School are now servants to the ear that needs quiet solace, and the eye that needs the consolation of beauty, servants to the mind that needs desperate repose or pointed inquiry, to the heart that needs invitation to flight or silent understanding, and to the soul that needs safe landing, or fearless, relentless enlightenment. You are a servant to the sick one who needs healing through the beauty and peace of the symphony you will compose through blood-shot eyes and sleepless nights. You are an attendant to the lost one who needs saving through the comforting, probing words you will conjure up from the ether, as well as from your own heroic moments of strife and triumph. You are a steward to the closed and blocked one who needs to feel that vital, electric, joyful pulse of life that eludes them as they witness you stop time as you pirouette and jettè across the stage on your tired legs and bleeding toes. You are a vessel to the angry and confused one who needs a protected place to release their rage as they watch your eyes on the screen silently weep in pain as you relive your own private hell. You are a servant to the eager, naïve, optimistic ones who will come behind you with wide eyes and wild dreams, reminding you of yourself, as you teach and shape and mold them, even though you may be plagued with haunting doubts yourself, just as your teachers likely were – and you will reach out to them and generously invite them to soar and thrive, because we are called to share this thing called Art.
You are also serving one other person: yourself. You are serving the relentless, passionate, fevered force within you that longs to grow and expand and feel and connect and create; that part of you that craves a way to express raw elation and passion, and to make manifest hard-core blissful rapture and – PLEASE, I beg of you, never forget this – FUN! Don’t ever abandon that intoxicating sense of FUN in your ART. Thought that, you are serving your truth. My hope for you is that you will let that truth guide you in every moment of your journey. If you can find that, you have everything. That’s why “making it” is, in the end, utterly insignificant. LIVING it, BREATHING it, SERVING it … that’s where your joy will lie.
I want to share with you a quick email from a soldier on the front lines of our Arts: an elementary/middle school teacher from Salt Lake City, Ms. Audrey Hill, who is fighting the great fight! She brought her students to the recent HD telecast of “La Cenerentola”, and wrote the following note to me:
“One of my boys … a 5th grader… wrote in his review this morning that one of his favorite parts (besides the spaghetti food-fight scene) was where at the end you were singing about getting revenge, and how he really liked that your revenge was going to be forgiveness. This boy was new to our school this year, has a beautiful singing voice, and has been teased a lot. I have seen him getting more and more angry as the year was coming to a close and today it seemed like all that had disappeared. It was very moving for me to experience.”
* That’s exactly who you are serving as you now go out into the world. How lucky are you?!??!
Ah, so OK, I lied … I think this may be my favorite truth:
The world needs you. Now, the world may not exactly realize it, but wow, does it need you. It is yearning, starving, dying for you and your healing offer of service through your Art. We need you to help us understand that which is bigger than ourselves, so that we can stop feeling so small, so isolated, so helpless that, in our fear, we stop contributing that which is unique to us: that distinct, rare, individual quality which the world is desperately crying out for and eagerly awaiting. We need you to remind us what unbridled, unfiltered, childlike exuberance feels like, so we remember, without apology or disclaimer, to laugh, to play, to FLY and to stop taking EVERYTHING so damn seriously. We need you to remind us what empathy is by taking us deep into the hearts of those who are, God forbid, different than us – so that we can recapture the hope of not only living in peace with each other, but THRIVING together in a vibrant way where each of us grows in wonder and joy. We need you to make us feel an integral PART of a shared existence through the communal, universal, forgiving language of music, of dance, of poetry and Art – so that we never lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together and that we are all deserving of a life that overflows with immense possibility, improbable beauty and relentless truth.
What an honor it is to share in this day with you – savor every single moment of it – and then fly out of this building, armed with the knowledge that YOU make a difference, that your art is NECESSARY, and that the world is eagerly awaiting to hear what YOU have to say. Go on, make us laugh, cry, dance, FEEL, unite, and believe in the incredible power of humanity to overcome anything!
“My greatest failure in life came when I lost the ability to believe in my own dreams. It had taken a year and a half to return to Yosemite after enduring one of my most heartbreaking experiences. In an unexpected twist of fate I regained the courage to try again after seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Since the release of the Silver & Light film we have accomplished more than we ever thought possible. We could have never made it this far without the support of people like you.”
“In the process of preparing the time machine, I had no idea this would become one of the most extraordinary journeys to date. It would propel me into the future where I meet Chase Jarvis, one of the greatest photographers of all time. It would then send me back in time to meet with my old friend, Peter Line, the best snowboarder of this era.
All of a sudden I found myself in the present, making a picture of Ishmael Butler from the Diggable Planets. I had travelled the way you would in a dream, taking me backward into the future. A future where you paint with silver and light.”
Visit Ian Ruhter’s website here
Watch more videos here
“Jodorowsky is insanely talented. Quite literally, he is talented to the point of madness. But as with all madmen, there is a method to his madness. He’s a mathematical madman. He is a divine madman. He’s a constructivist madman. And this madness, this intelligence, this talent — for there is no talent without madness — find their unique expression in directing. I believe.” – Fernando Arrabal
“There are those who make film for money. There are others that make film for the adventure or ego of it all. But then there is the most special kind of filmmaker—the true artist. That rare kind of maverick who is so driven by total, unsullied heart, soul and vision that such mainstream cinema conceits like compromise and whoredom are completely out of the question. These are the artists that truly love us because they respect us enough to never lie, never condescend and never ever play you for a fool. There is no living filmmaker today that defines all of this and more better than Alejandro Jodorowsky.”
“The way he approaches the story of both his childhood and his parents is fascinating. For anyone familiar with European filmmaker Louis Mouchet’s excellent 1994 documentary, La Constellation Jodorowsky, some of this technique will feel instantly familiar. In La Constellation, you see Jodorowsky build a human tarot deck. Think less divination and more of a therapeutic “psychodrama” technique that utilizes the tarot as a means to reveal facets about your family, your past and yourself. That brief description does not truly do this justice, but The Dance of Reality has a feel that this is Jodorowsky using the medium of cinema to conduct his own personal human tarot reading”
“The phrase “cinema magic” is one whose power has faded from years of overuse and bad application. The Dance of Reality is the perfect film to re-infuse that tried and now true-again phrase. The magic of movie making vibrates with every frame of this film from one of the last truly innovative film maverick masters alive. Every movie lover worth his and her salt should have a little altar in their heart for Alejandro Jodorowsky.”
Anti-100 Years of Cinema Manifesto
By Jonas Mekas
As you well know it was God who created this Earth and everything on it. And he thought it was all great. All painters and poets and musicians sang and celebrated the creation and that was all OK. But not for real. Something was missing. So about 100 years ago God decided to create the motion picture camera. And he did so. And then he created a filmmaker and said, “Now here is an instrument called the motion picture camera. Go and film and celebrate the beauty of the creation and the dreams of human spirit, and have fun with it.”
But the devil did not like that. So he placed a money bag in front of the camera and said to the filmmakers, ‘Why do you want to celebrate the beauty of the world and the spirit of it if you can make money with this instrument?” And, believe it or not, all the filmmakers ran after the money bag. The Lord realized he had made a mistake. So, some 25 years later, to correct his mistake, God created independent avant-garde filmmakers and said, “Here is the camera. Take it and go into the world and sing the beauty of all creation, and have fun with it. But you will have a difficult time doing it, and you will never make any money with this instrument.”
Thus spoke the Lord to Viking Eggeling, Germaine Dulac, Jean Epstein, Fernand Leger, Dmitri Kirsanoff, Marcel Duchamp, Hans Richter, Luis Bunuel, Man Ray, Cavalcanti, Jean Cocteau, and Maya Deren, and Sidney Peterson, and Kenneth Anger, Gregory Markopoulos, Stan Brakhage, Marie Menken, Bruce Baillie, Francis Lee, Harry Smith and Jack Smith and Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr, Ron Rice, Michael Snow, Joseph Cornell, Peter Kubelka, Hollis Frampton and Barbara Rubin, Paul Sharits, Robert Beavers, Christopher McLaine, and Kurt Kren, Robert Breer, Dore O, Isidore Isou, Antonio De Bernardi, Maurice Lemaitre, and Bruce Conner, and Klaus Wyborny, Boris Lehman, Bruce Elder, Taka Iimura, Abigail Child, Andrew Noren and too many others. Many others all over the world. And they took their Bolexs and their little 8mm and Super 8 cameras and began filming the beauty of this world, and the complex adventures of the human spirit, and they’re having great fun doing it. And the films bring no money and do not do what’s called useful.
And the museums all over the world are celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of cinema, costing them millions of dollars the cinema makes, all going gaga about their Hollywoods. But there is no mention of the avant-garde or the independents of our cinema.
I have seen the brochures, the programs of the museums and archives and cinematheques around the world. But these say, “we don’t care about your cinema.” In the times of bigness, spectaculars, one hundred million dollar movie productions, I want to speak for the small, invisible acts of human spirit: so subtle, so small, that they die when brought out under the Klieg lights. I want to celebrate the small forms of cinema: the lyrical form, the poem, the watercolor, etude, sketch, portrait, arabesque, and bagatelle, and little 8mm songs. In the times when everybody wants to succeed and sell, I want to celebrate those who embrace social and daily failure to pursue the invisible, the personal things that bring no money and no bread and make no contemporary history, art history or any other history. I am for art which we do for each other, as friends.
I am standing in the middle of the information highway and laughing, because a butterfly on a little flower somewhere in China just fluttered its wings, and I know that the entire history, culture will drastically change because of that fluttering. A Super 8mm camera just made a little soft buzz somewhere, somewhere on the lower east side of New York, and the world will never be the same.
The real history of cinema is invisible history: history of friends getting together, doing the thing they love. For us, the cinema is beginning with every new buzz of the projector, with every new buzz of our cameras. With every new buzz of our cameras, our hearts jump forward my friends.
This text was presented at the American Center in Paris, February 11, 1996 and first published by agnès b. as a large format, 8-page artist’s magazine in point d’ironie, no. 1 (Paris, 1996). Thanks to Pip Chodorov for providing his full-length transcription.
“I am an artist, you understand? For me, a picture is like poetry. When you make art, this is not coming from an intellectual place. It’s coming from the deep side of your unconscious, your soul.”
“The unconscious is not something rational, it is surrealistic. It doesn’t obey the laws of daily life. Everyday life is surrealistic. I just read in the paper that a twin riding a bicycle was crushed by a truck two days ago. And two hours later in the same place his brother was crushed by another truck. It is absolutely surrealistic. Every day life is made of miracles, weird and inexplicable events. There is no borderline between reality and magic.” (*)
“I am not a normal filmmaker. What I am doing is making my masterwork, which is my soul. To make a picture, for me is to make my self. When I say my self, I mean the big self. What I am seeking is to make the experience and then to turn it into a picture.” (*)
“I realize it’s not that I didn’t want to make any more pictures, it’s that I wanted to make a picture only if I was free to do whatever I wanted. Because pictures are a business, and the most important part of the business is the producer, then the stars, and then distribution. Lastly comes the creator, the director; the poet who made the picture. In the industry, the director is only a component; they obey orders. You go to the movies, two hours of fun, and then you go out. [The director] is just a contractor. Nothing changes in you. I want to do something that opens the mind and gives a new vision of reality, to give something to you. A new way to see life.” (*)
“Today I turned 85. And what can I say? Looking back, I was known. I know a lot of people love what I do. Women? I can only have one. I can’t have more, even if I wanted. Can I eat more? No. My stomach is too big now. And I can’t drink. So what do I want? To have a lot of money? I have enough. So all that’s left is the love of the work. I love to make pictures. It’s an enormous experience to make everything work, it’s the love of the work, you love what you do; movies are the most complete art.” (*)
(Photo by Spencer Davis)
“Performance is art in motion; in the moment; both enactment and embodiment. This is exactly what nature herself is.” Gary Snyder
Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker has said of Meredith Monk that
“Her intricately planned theatrical spectacles awoke buried memories of primordial wailing, Neolithic rituals, Greek bacchanals, inscrutable medieval entertainments, and the folk songs of extinct peoples. More disturbingly, they prophesied the shattered culture of a post-apocalyptic future. Monk’s many-side art was rooted in her voice—a ruggedly beautiful, piercingly expressive, ever-changeable instrument, which cut to the core of emotion while largely bypassing language. She spoke of the “dancing voice,” of a “voice as flexible as the spine.” In passing moments, she could evoke an elderly sage, a wide-eyed child, or a shaman.”
“…she shapes her ideas to the grain of the voice and the contours of the body. For all the disparate elements that go into her work, she can’t really be described as eclectic or interdisciplinary: her acts of fusion are too organic, too logical. She harks back to a time before disciplines existed and categories were set in stone. Richard Taruskin, in his monumental “Oxford History of Western Music,” relates Monk to the very origins of the art form, the intermingling of oral and written practices in church music of the late Middle Ages. She represents a kind of reboot of tradition. She may loom ever larger as the new century unfolds, and later generations will envy those who got to see her live.”
Monk’s newest work, ‘On Behalf of Nature’ is “a poetic meditation on the environment.” In this program she creates an
“expansive sound world of different musical realms. Within this world, Monk evokes the Buddhist notion of the existence of different realm categories—the idea of joining heaven and earth by way of human beings.”
“Drawing additional inspiration from writers and researchers who have sounded the alarm on the precarious state of our global ecology, Monk and her acclaimed Vocal Ensemble create a liminal space where human, natural and spiritual elements are woven into a delicate whole, in order to illuminate the interconnection and interdependency of us all.”
In her artist statement for this performance she states that
“One of the early inspirations for On Behalf of Nature was an essay by the poet, Gary Snyder, entitled, “Writers and the War Against Nature.” In it he writes about the role of the artist being that of a “spokesperson for non-human entities communicating to the human realm through dance or song.” This act of compassion, of “speaking on behalf of nature,” embodies and gives voice to those forces that often go unrecognized. On Behalf of Nature is a meditation on our intimate connection to nature, its inner structures, the fragility of its ecology and our interdependence.”
Here is an excerpt from Snyder’s essay
“Last year a study was released describing the sudden decline of albatross numbers worldwide. It even prompted an editorial in the New York Times. This sharp decline is attributed to much death by drowning. The long-line fishing boats lay out lines with bait and hooks that go miles back, dragging just below the surface. An albatross will go for the bait, get hooked, and be pulled down to drown. As many as 100,000 a year are estimated to perish in this way, enough to threaten the survival of the species if it keeps up. What have the albatross, “Distinguished strangers who have come down to us from another world,” ever done to us? The editorial concludes, “The long-line fishing fleet is over-harvesting the air as well as the sea.”
“Out on the South Pacific in 1958, watching the soaring albatrosses from the stern of a ship, I could never have guessed that their lives would be threatened by industrial societies, turning them into “collateral damage” of the affluent appetite for ahi and maguro tuna species (my own taste, too). Yet this is just a tiny, almost insignificant example of the long reach of the globalized economy and the consumer society into the wild earth’s remote places. A recent book on global logging and deforestation is titled Strangely Like War. What is happening now to nature worldwide, plant life and wildlife, ocean, grassland, forest, savannah, desert—all spaces and habitat—the non-human realm of watersheds and ecosystems with all their members, can be likened to a war against nature.”
“Although human beings have interacted with nature, both cultivated and wild, for millennia, and sometimes destructively so, it was never quite like “war.” It has now become disconcertingly so, and the active defense of nature has been joined by a few artists and writers who have entered the fight on “the wild side,” along with subsistence peoples, indigenous spiritual leaders, many courageous scientists, and conservationists and environmentalists worldwide.”
“Art survives within modern civilization rather like little islands of wilderness saved to show us where we came from.”
“There is a tame, and also a wild, side to the human mind. The tame side, like a farmer’s field, has been disciplined and cultivated to produce a desired yield. It is useful but limited. The wild side is larger, deeper, more complex, and though it cannot be fully known, it can be explored. The explorers of the wild mind are often writers and artists. The “poetic imagination” of which William Blake so eloquently spoke is the territory of wild mind. It has landscapes and creatures within it that will surprise us; it can refresh us and scare us; it reflects the larger truth of our ancient selves, both animal and spiritual.”
“The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once said something like “Art survives within modern civilization rather like little islands of wilderness saved to show us where we came from.” Someone once said that what makes writing good is the wildness in it. The wildness gives heart, courage, love, spirit, danger, compassion, skill, fierceness, and sweetness—all at once—to language. From ancient times, storytellers, poets, and dramatists have presented the world in all its fullness: plants, animals, men and women, changing shape, speaking multiple languages, intermarrying, traveling to the sky and under the earth. The great myths and folktales of human magic and nature’s power were our school for ten thousand years. Whether they know it or not, even modern writers draw strength from the wild side.”
“How can artists and writers manage to join in the defense of the planet and wild nature? Writers and artists by their very work “bear witness.” They don’t wield financial, governmental, or military power. However, at the outset they were given, as in fairy tales, two “magic gifts.” One is “The Mirror of Truth.” Whatever they hold this mirror up to is shown in its actual form, and the truth must come out. May we use that mirror well!”
“The second is a “Heart of Compassion,” which is to say the ability to feel and know the pains and delights of other people, and to weave that feeling into their art. For some this compassion can extend to all creatures and to the world itself. In a way, nature even borrows the voices of some writers and artists. Anciently, this was a shamanistic role where the singer, dancer, or storyteller embodied a force, appearing as a bear dancer or a crane dancer, and became one with a spirit or creature. Today, such a role is played by the writer who finds herself a spokesperson for non-human entities communicating to the human realm through dance or song. This could be called “speaking on behalf of nature” in the old way.”
“Song, story, and dance are fundamental to all later “civilized” literature. In archaic times these were unified in dramatic performance, back when drama and religious ceremony were still one. They are reunited today in the highest and greatest of performance arts: the grand scale of European opera, the height of ballet, the spare and disciplined elegance of Japanese Nô theater, the almost timeless dance-and-story of Indonesian Gamelan, the wit and hardiness of Bertold Brecht’s plays, or the fierce and stunningly beautiful intensity of Korean P’ansori performance. Performance is of key importance because this phenomenal world and all life is of itself “not a book, but a performance.”
“Poems, novels, and plays, with their great deep minds of story, awaken the Heart of Compassion. And so they confound the economic markets, rattle the empires, and open us up to the actually existing human and non-human world. Performance is art in motion; in the moment; both enactment and embodiment. This is exactly what nature herself is.”
(Live excerpts from On Behalf of Nature, performed at UCLA in 2013.)
(Bjork performing Meredith Monk’s ‘Gotham Lullaby’)
On the Pacifica Institute tribute page to James Hillman it describes Hillman as one whose
following includes an eclectic group of painters, poets, actors, dancers, filmmakers, philosophers, musicians, magicians, scholars, activists, and athletes. The composer Meredith Monk says: “As artists we’re bringing to life the invisible, and so are always working with something that’s nameless. I think that’s what James Hillman is also mining from.”
(Photo by Jesse Frohman)
This is Meredith Monk. As an artist her website describes her as someone who
creates works that thrive at the intersection of music and movement, image and object, light and sound in an effort to discover and weave together new modes of perception. Her groundbreaking exploration of the voice as an instrument, as an eloquent language in and of itself, expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words.
In an interview with Krista Tippett, she explains what she is trying to accomplish
“See, for me, well, there are the wonderful songsmiths and wonderful people that do put words and music together in such a beautiful way. You know, it is very enlightening to hear that music, but for me, the words get in the way, actually, of the heart-to-heart kind of expression that allows for each person to hear it and hook into their minds and hook into their hearts and hook into their memory”
“I think emotion or feeling, you know, we have so many more shades of feelings that we can’t label. And I guess ultimately as an artist I’m so interested in uncovering the invisible and uncovering, you know, the mysterious and uncovering, what would I say, [is] the inexplicable. So the things that we actually can’t label, that’s the kind of mentality.”
She describes how she came to collaborate with another artist to create ‘Songs of Ascension’, an attempt to combine music and space as a setting for worship. It took place in a 78ft tower with dual spiraling staircases.
“I think for many years, I’ve been trying to think how do I really keep on affirming that my Buddhist practice or meditation practice and my art practice are actually one? There’s no difference at all. There was a certain point — it was the early ’90s — that I did a piece called Facing North, which was very inspired by being up at Banff, Canada, and the silence in the snow and, you know, just this incredible environment. And I was very aware that I was making a very meditative piece and that it was like making a piece about sacred space. So that was, you know, what I was aware of at that point.
But when I started working on Mercy and I was collaborating with a wonderful visual artist, Ann Hamilton, we did a lot of talking about this, I started becoming aware of the fact that actually I wanted to spend the rest of my life working on pieces that I — it was basically making pieces about something you can’t make pieces about. So there was never going to be like a definitive statement about anything, but it was much more that the act of making artwork was also the act of contemplating something. So Mercy was the first, second one was Impermanence, and then the latest piece that I’ve been working on with this way of thinking about things is called Songs of Ascension.”
Impermanence is another important theme for Monk
“I lost my partner of 22 years, so that was a very — in a sense, that was the biggest wake-up call that I ever had in my life up to that point and probably from that point on because I think that, when you have that kind of loss, nothing can ever be the same. It was a blessing. I also saw the blessing, not the blessing of the loss, but the blessing of being part of life and the blessing of being aware of the billions of people that go through loss all the time.
So what happened that was really interesting was that, about two months after she died, I got an email from a group in England. They called themselves Rosetta Life. What they do is they go into the different hospices in England and they work with the people that have had the diagnosis of terminal illness and they say, “Well, is there any kind of artwork that you would like to do? You know, would you like to write a poem about your process or about anything? Would you like to make some music?” Then they’ll get an artist to go in and help them. So if somebody wants to make a painting, but they’ve never painted in their lives, but they feel that that’s the way they’re going to express this process, somebody comes in and helps them. A painter comes in and helps them to make a work.”
She worked with the hospice patients to try to create a music project for them to participate in.
“So what I ended up coming up with was that the piece began with hearing them sing a melody called “Mieke’s Melody #5,” which was a melody that my partner — she used to like to just improvise in the studio even though she was not a singer. And I happened to come upon a tape of some of these improvisations. So what I did was I notated one of them and then I actually changed it a little bit and, you know, made it more into a form and added some of my own phrases. So it was a little bit like a collaboration through time and space.
So I wrote out the melody because they said, “Oh, we love to sing.” So I wrote the melody out for them and then they sang it, but they couldn’t really carry a tune that well. But each of them sang it, so the melody goes like [singing]. You know, that was the melody and then they’d be like [singing], so each of them had a different way of doing it. So when the audience came in, they heard their voices and then I had a film of just their faces just looking straight out at the camera very, very, very close.
And so when they came to see it, the ones that were still alive by the time we did Impermanence, it just meant so much to them and then also their families for the ones that had passed before we ended up doing the piece. It meant so much to them.”
(The melody starts at the 90 second mark)
“I think that making art is actually about questions and that you never take anything for granted and you’re in this slightly dangerous situation, which I think is really good. Then I always say that I’m scared to death and I think, you know, what we learn in Buddhist practices to tolerate the unknown, you know, because that’s reality. The reality is that we don’t know anything, and we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the next moment. So you learn to tolerate that discomfort of not knowing and fear. I mean, I really — I think, every time, I’m just terrified. I’m actually terrified. I realize this even now working on this piece.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of Coyote who is so in tune with its surroundings that it dances to everything, from the rustling of the grasses to the rotating wagon wheels. The others think it drunk and crazy but Coyote is aware, awake, listening, feeling, dancing, living to the sounds of life.
Alfonso Cuaron in talking about his latest film, Gravity, said that there is no sound in space other than the sound the astronauts hear inside their suits from the vibration of their movements. His challenge to Steven Price, the composer of the sound track, that while using no percussive instruments he was to immerse the viewer in the environment of the astronauts, in every experience they faced. Here is an example of one scene that is done to great effect. If you have seen this film, this audio track can transport you back into this particular moment (headphones are great here)
The sound design team’s construction of this film is designed to place the viewer in this filmic space. They literally and with some irony (to me) ungrounded the sound so that any object creating a vibration or sound is traveling all around the viewer. Quite an amazing experience!
Back on earth, when listening to and experiencing the work of John Luther Adams, a contemporary composer, you can also find yourself immersed in a landscape (or seascape) that can be overwhelming, delightful, frightening, calming, awe-inducing, peaceful, evoking dread.
He explained in a recent interview,
“If we’re listening deeply, if we’re listening carefully, if we’re listening with our broadest awareness, both noise and silence lead us to the same understanding, which is that the whole world is music.
…everything we human animals do — everything we think, everything we speak, everything we are — derives from the world in which we live, and the deepest, most inexhaustible source for my work is the world in which I live. And yet, I’m not trying to reproduce anything that I hear or experience in the world. I’m more interested in the resonances that a bird song or a peel of thunder or the dance of the aurora borealis or the noise of the traffic on Central Park West might evoke in me. That meeting of my listening, my consciousness, my awareness: that’s the music that’s happening around us all the time.
I can’t separate my music from my life. Music is not what I do; music is how I understand the world. I hope that if I find myself in a singular place: wilderness, urban, indoors, outdoors, real, imaginary—doesn’t matter—if I find myself in a real place, a true place, and I am paying attention, then maybe I hear something that becomes music. If that happens, then I hope the music floats away, takes on a life of its own, and becomes something else to you when you hear it.”
Molly Sheridan, who conducted this interview for New Music Box says,
“Adams has a careful, considered way of speaking which, by all indications, is quite similar to the way he works in the solitude of the small cabin he calls his composition studio in Alaska. In a pre-concert discussion before Inuksuit was performed, Adams noted that it wasn’t a site-specific work, but rather a site-determined piece. Listeners are invited to find the music in the space, wherever that may ultimately be. This takes his work beyond the idea that it is music that is about place and makes it music that is place. As an audience, we are invited to listen with him, hearing the world through his ears and also our own.”
As Adams continues, how he frames his life’s work, as an introverted creative person, certainly resonates with me.
His music is his muse, and he allows the process of discovery to take him where it will.
“My primary relationship with the work is still very much an introspective, lonely, solitary experience. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve always had this kind of bipolar life, but it’s a matter of keeping the internal and the external lives in balance. I can’t get enough of these wonderful performances by these incredible musicians, and it’s nice to occasionally get paid now for doing my work. It’s lovely that some people are taking note and writing about it. But I think as far as the rhythm of my life goes, the balance needs to be very much sort of 80/20, you know, solitary versus extroverted.”
“No one ever told me that I could have a career as a composer. No one ever told me I couldn’t. I just didn’t think in those terms, and I made all the wrong choices every step of the way. I made all the wrong career choices and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I think the music knew where it wanted me to go. By a series of happy accidents, and a few conscious choices and maybe the peculiarities of my own psyche, I kept making all the wrong choices, and that’s turned out to be the best possible thing that could have happened for the music and for the composer. If I’d come to New York as a kid and had been that hotshot young composer, I think that would have been a bad thing for me.”
“I retreated into the woods, and I started listening to birds. I listened for six months, learning the strange syllables one by one before I began writing things down. That for me was the beginning of the life’s work that’s continued ever since. That would have been 1974; I was 21.
As I’m teaching at Harvard now, and I’ve been teaching at Northwestern, I’m starting to understand how unconventional a path it’s been. I wasn’t aware of that because it’s just my life. And I still don’t know what I’m doing, and I hope I never do. When I find that I know what I’m doing, I’ll know I’m doing the wrong thing. For me, it’s this continuing process of discovery and exploration and taking on new things, following the curiosity, the fascination, and occasionally the wonder of creative work. I don’t think that’s something you understand while you’re doing it.”
More about his latest work and what the implications of what the music is saying through him, in Part 2.
Charlotte du Cann in writing about the most recent and last of its kind Uncivilization festival, touches on ideas that echo inside me, touching something that longs for the same level of purposefulness. I do not want to follow in her footsteps but her story as someone who walked away and found an old/new way to be in this world is like a beacon. She is a way-shower. Her words are like a battle-cry, to those who attended and to those of us excited by the possibility of navigating in the dark. She speaks of writers here but I also take it to mean any creative expression. The following are brief excerpts (Bold emphases mine)
“To navigate the wild world, and to navigate the realms of the imagination means you can’t stay in the tight blinkered form society has trained you to live in. You need to break out and move in all directions in space and time: up into the realm of sky, into the underworld, from the left to the right hemisphere of the brain, back into the past, forward into the future. Writers learn by their art to make these shifts. They know it is not enough to experience phenomena, what you see in the dark has to be brought into the light and articulated, grounded in our everyday lives. That’s the work. It is our function as creative beings to give words to everything we see.”
“Writers bridge time by placing events in a circle, rather than a straight line. That’s when you realise, whatever you are doing now has happened before and it’s time to make your liberating move. Time and transformation are the deep mysteries of the earth, which is why the Empire hates the changing nature of the breathing planet, and all who follow its wild contours. It wants to keep its ancient timeless grip on life.”
“What is the fabric that holds us together and yet does not bind us?
…Mostly it’s a culture at a crossroads, caught in a paradox: because it knows nothing in its reasoning mind, and yet knows everything in its heart and bones and sinews, of how things need to be. Knows that at this point not to give your gift, your words, your song, your presence in the space, feels like a betrayal. A culture that does not disappear into its mind or become mute in the face of everything falling apart, including the story of the person you once were. A culture that puts itself on the line and does not go to sleep, though the lullaby of Empire entices us to forget ourselves at every turn“.
“That’s how a network works. It is invisibly connected through the powerful memory of the heart. Everything we experienced is within us, as we inch our way down the mountain, feeling the unknown territory with our bare feet, the roughness of the stone in our hands, moonbeams spiralling through the trees. That’s what I came to say: a people who see in the dark are a people on their way home.”
“I’m not sure I told you around the fire when I was dancing, when I was running from place to place, when I was standing outside in the rain, watching your faces, sitting beside you at that stream, but I can say it now. Now I’m not rehearsing.”
“The story starts at the end of everything.”
Read the rest of her amazing post here
Art by Kirsti Ottem Langeland
Wedged between the masterpiece of ‘Hejira’ and her dive head first into the world of ‘Mingus’ came this continued exploration and experiment with theme, harmonics, rhythm, and lyricism. It didn’t hurt that she had a wizard accompany her into this double album by the name of Jaco Pastorius. He along with the other musicians helped propel and translate the genius coming through Joni Mitchell’s ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’, which remains one of her favorite albums for me. Listen to this 1st track (with headphones if you can, to hear all of the richness of her harmonies and the dancing bass of Pastorius) as it lays the groundwork for one of the themes of this 2 record set. It is as if swirling spirits hovering over the earth come crashing down and begin to play in some funky little town. (Perhaps a jazzy percussive version of the colder ‘Wings of Desire‘, Wim Wenders meditation story of an angel who falls in love with a circus performer)
Joni turns 70 this year and back on June 18 and 19 at the Luminato Festival, a tribute concert was held in her honor. She had not performed in public for quite some time due to illness. It was announced she would appear and read a poem set to music, accompanied by Herbie Hancock, but she surprised the audience by performing a couple of songs. Her illness has greatly reduced her vocal range and it must have been quite a courageous step for her to give it a go. As you can see in the clip below, she crosses her fingers as the 1st song begins but she pulls it off. Acknowledging the difficulty she was having early on, the audience’s enthusiastic cheer seemed to energize her. To me it is magic to see her up there still phrasing like the accomplished artist she still is, with lyrics that read like poetry (Pawn shops glitter like gold tooth caps in the grey decay). Reaching the 70 year mark in this life is still an accomplishment as one begins the apprenticeship for the great departure, as David Whyte puts it, but to me, though diminished by age and illness, the spark that comes through Joni is still there, still vibrant, still distinctly hers.
“Dear Mr. Watterson is a documentary film about the greatest comic strip in the history of the universe: Calvin & Hobbes.” IN THEATERS November 15th! http://www.dearmrwatterson.com
Read more about this artist and his tribute to Bill Watterson HERE
(All photos by Paul Caponigro)
“I think the first step is the realization that each of us has [a calling]. And then we must look back over our lives and look at some of the accidents and curiosities and oddities and troubles and sicknesses and begin to see more in those things than we saw before. It raises questions, so that when peculiar little accidents happen, you ask whether there is something else at work in your life. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve an out-of-body experience during surgery, or the sort of high-level magic that the new age hopes to press on us. It’s more a sensitivity, such as a person living in a tribal culture would have: the concept that there are other forces at work. A more reverential way of living.” – James Hillman
Hillman in The Soul’s Code fleshes out the idea of the acorn theory or acorn myth. This is the idea that each of us has within us the kernel of a calling, a gift, a way of being that grows into maturity much like an acorn grows into an oak. It is an effort to explain what drives each of us to live the lives we feel compelled to live beyond the deterministic boundaries of genetics or social conditioning. In his book he gives examples of how this can be seen in the lives of several well known public figures like Judy Garland or Martin Scorcese.
Paul Caponigro, who would become an accomplished musician and photographer, as a child began to exhibit clues as to what this ‘calling’ would look like for him. Caponigro – “My father’s brother was a pianist. And so when we went to visit the relatives, I could not wait until Dad brought us to Uncle Jimmy’s. And he’d open the door and greet us, and I would run right through his legs – I was quite small – and sit at the piano, knowing he would play eventually. And so I’d wait until he played. I couldn’t wait to hear it, you know, because the piano meant something. This is age 3, 4, 5, thereabouts. I knew there was something in the piano for me.”
Sometimes a mentor appears, as in the story of the Hero’s Journey, to help guide or to give one tools so that you will succeed on your mission. Sometimes this mentor is a parent. Many times it is a teacher, as Hillman recounts in the lives of James Baldwin or Truman Capote. Caponigro remembers one man who noticed his latent talent. Regarding his parents,”They were very hard-working peasant types. And it was more [of] keeping a family together and making a living. There wasn’t enough time and space for them to look a little bit deeper, you know. It just was a major outer structure they were trying to keep together. And they did a fabulous job. They took care of us. They gave us love. They gave us a house to live in. You know, I mean, they really did well. But the subtler things of seeing a little deeper, that was seen by Arthur Gavin, who lived across the street with the principal of the high school. They eventually married. He was the art director for that city, the city of Revere. And he caught on that there was something going on with me. And he would feed me paper and colored crayons and pencils and inks and, you know, tell me to have a good time. And he’d do it in front of my mother, who didn’t understand what was going on, wouldn’t have seen that I had an artistic nature, and that it was supposed to have an outlet. So he caught on that there was something going on, and he tried to help my artistic nature.”
This inner calling can sometimes be so strong that it can filter out other responsibilities. What society deems successful can, to this calling, be seen as a failure (or vice versa), or at the least a major conflict. Caponigro – “I was poking around the photo supply stores, and I’d look in the shop windows. I’d go in and just look at things…in those early years, I was not interested in school. I did not want to do the work…I…could not wait for the bell to ring to dismiss us, and I would head out, not go home but go straight to the ocean, which was very close by, or the woods, and hang out there and listen to the birds and watch the waves come in and pick up shells. At an early age, I realized nature was my teacher. I didn’t want all the reading and arithmetic. I couldn’t give it my interest. So nature was really my teacher all through school, up to must have been the eighth grade. At which point I remember coming back from one of my forays to the sea – – – I remember coming back from being in nature, picking up some shells, get some stones. And I was passing right through the school yard where I was going to school, on the football field. And I was stopped dead with a realization: I had to get a camera and photograph this stuff that I see out there in nature…”
Caponigro discovered that his emotional reaction to certain kinds of music or to what he saw in nature was going to be his guide. “[It is] as if the cosmos itself arranged that I would not be a good student in school…in order that the emotional realm that I worked with would flourish and develop…I saw it as a gift that I did not do well in school… in that the excessive intellectual activity subdued my emotional activity. I saw that my emotional activity could get fed and would function quite easily, and was very perceptive that my emotions would do the perceiving. When that happened and I got information, I always felt confident about what that information was…”
At one point he became aware of who he was and what he wanted to do. “In the same way that I got this burst that said, get a camera and photograph what you’re seeing and what you’re working with…In the same way – it was at the age of 11 or thereabouts – I was walking the streets alone. Came from the center of town to go home. And I remember exactly the corner that I turned to get up the street. And again, this burst of something came in and said, oh, my God. I’m an artist. I recognized that I was an artist. And I had a double kind of whammy which said, what a wonderful thing and what a responsibility, the two of them simultaneously. I go, wow. What am I going to do with this? I’m an artist.”
So the choice becomes a question of what is this life going to look like. How does one honor the gift one has been given. How do you stay true to the calling. Caponigro – “So it didn’t take too long for me to realize, no. You know, I don’t want to go through what these concert pianists go through. Sure, I’d love to play at Carnegie Hall, and I’d love to thrill a big audience, and that would all be great. And to this day, I could still think of doing that. But I realized that that turning of the corner when I was 11 years old and saying, my God, I’m an artist, and the other half that said, it’s a responsibility, not merely a joy, and that part really was connected to the idea that art was a sacred act. It wasn’t until I had studied more and more of the Egyptian art and early ancient works in the museums, and certain of the modern pieces that you could tell were permeated with a man’s soul and real being – it wasn’t until then that I thought, my God, yes. This is – this could be a man’s religion. It did not have to be the organized religion of those structures and burning candles and incense and the rituals and the ceremonies. This could be a path to sacred experience.”
“Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth is a feature documentary film which tells the compelling story of an extraordinary woman’s journey from her birth in a paper-thin shack in cotton fields of Putnam County, Georgia to her recognition as a key writer of the 20th Century.”
“Alice Walker made history as the first black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her groundbreaking novel, The Color Purple, which has been transformed from a novel, to a Hollywood movie and latterly to a successful Broadway musical. This universal story of triumph against all odds is not that different from Walker’s own story.”
“Born in 1944, eighth child of sharecroppers, her early life unfolded in the midst of violent racism and poverty during some of the most turbulent years of profound social and political changes in North American history. Alice Walker’s inspiring journey is also a story of a country and a people at the fault line of historical changes.”
“Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth offers audiences a penetrating look at the life and art of an artist, a self-confessed renegade and human rights activist. In 2010, Yoko Ono honored Walker with the LennonOno Peace Award, for her ongoing humanitarian work.”
“On Sunday 10 March 2013 Women of the World Festival held the exclusive world premiere, in London, for ‘Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth’, a feature documentary film by Pratibha Parmar about the life and art of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of ‘The Color Purple.’ The screening took place in the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre.”
“In a triumphant and memorable evening 1,800 people roared and applauded in two sold out screenings.”
“After the screening, Mariella Frostrup was in conversation with Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar.”
We Are Never Without Help
©2013 by Alice Walker
We are never without help.
Look for it always
to surprise you.
There is no end to the joy
just as there is no end
Those who give their lives
for truth and bread
for the triumphant
flash of a vivid
even as they
or whose last notice
is of a simple daisy
in a corner
a drying lawn
have never taken
A Poem for Celia Sanchez
March 27, 2013
“In my years of photography I have learned that many things can be sensed, seen, shaped or resolved in a realm of quiet, well in advance of, or between, the actual clicking of shutters and the sloshing of films and papers in chemical solutions. I work to attain “a state of heart”, a gentle space offering inspirational substance that could purify one’s vision. Photography, like music, must be born in the unmanifest world of spirit.”
On the 30th of September 2011, in front of a sell-out theatre at the BFI in London, Charlie Kaufman delivered the final lecture in BAFTA’s 2011 Screenwriters’ Lecture Series. Director/Editor Eliot Rausch extracted five minutes from Kaufman’s speech, and cut over a video titled What I have to Offer.
Charlie Kaufman imdb.com/name/nm0442109
Full 70 minute Lecture: guru.bafta.org/charlie-kaufman-screenwriters-lecture-video
Images Captured & Edited: Eliot Rausch
(H/T Cinephilia and Beyond)
Jerry Uelsmann studied under Minor White, a photographer whose interests leaned toward mysticism. White mastered and then taught the Zone system, a process to manipulate photos starting from the exposure of the negative through the chemical development of the film and then through the printing process to achieve precise predictable tones along a grey scale in the finished black and white print. Along with a focus on a more traditional subject matter in landscape photography like Ansel Adams, Minor White also concentrated on a more interior vision.
As Peter Marshall writes, “White was strongly influenced in his early landscape photography by the photography of Edward Weston, but in the 1950s he developed a much more individual approach. White’s work moves away from the reality of the landscape into a dream world of unreal tonal values, whether by filtration or the use of infrared film.”
“It is a world (as in dreams) where unusual connections are made, where the shadow of a telegraph pole leads across a glowing field towards a small light shed standing next to a larger dark shed with a white rectangle, all beneath a dark sky with unusual streaks and clouds (‘Two Barns and a Shadow in the Vicinity of Naples and Dansville NY, 1955‘). Or where a brilliant white lines of poplars in bright grass line a black road leading into the distance, or a dark barn points up like a the end of a signpost into a black sky with light clouds. The whole body of work from this area has a powerfully surreal quality.”
White incorporated a concept from Alfred Stieglitz called Equivalence. (from Wikipedia) “The “equivalents” of White were often photographs of barns, doorways, water, the sky, or simple paint peeling on a wall: things usually considered mundane, but often made special by the quality of the light in which they were photographed. One of his more popular photographs is titled Frost on Window, a close-up of frost crystals on glass. However, in regard to an equivalent, the specific objects themselves are of secondary importance either to the photographer or the viewer. Instead, such a photograph captures a sentiment or emotionally symbolic idea using formal and structural elements that carry a feeling or sense of “recognition”: a mirroring of something inside the viewer. In an essay titled “Equivalence: The Perennial Trend”, White described a photographer who took such pictures as one who “…recognized an object or series of forms that, when photographed, would yield an image with specific suggestive powers that can direct the viewer into a specific and known feeling, state, or place within himself.” (Gantz)”
White’s mysticism is reflected in his ‘The Three Canons’
Be still with yourself
Until the object of your attention
Affirms your presence
Let the Subject generate its own Composition
When the image mirrors the self
And the self mirrors the subject
Something might take over
Jerry Uelsmann is an idol of mine. I had the chance to hear him speak and present some of his work about 10 years ago. I found him to be personally engaging and delightful while mesmerizing the audience with images of his work. Some have called his work surrealist. There is definitely a connection to the world of the unconscious and the dreamworld.
He is a master craftsman and his image construction is amazing considering that he did all of this pre-Photoshop. This work is the result of hours in the darkroom using a series of enlargers to create the composite imagery.
I had the pleasure of being at another presentation of his work a couple of years ago, this time accompanied by his wife, Maggie Taylor, an artist of comparable talent and depth. Combined they create startling images that, although different, touch on similar themes that could be found in any Jungian library dealing with the dream world.
While Uelsmann uses the darkroom to create his work, Taylor relies on the computer, using a flat bed scanner and Photoshop to create her colorful portraits.
Below is a link to a website that has a 90 minute documentary on this artistic couple along with over an hour of bonus material showing them discussing their techniques and the processes they use to create such striking images. It is a subscription site so there is a fee involved if you want to watch. If not, then please enjoy the 2 minute trailer linked to below to get a taste of what is offered.
Dark transformation: a scene from the Handspring Puppet Company’s production of Ted Hughes’ Crow. Photo by Simon Annand
Jay Griffiths is a wondrous writer. In this essay she weaves in and around in 3D linking her healing trip to the Amazon seeking relief from suicidal depression to the shamanic power of poets and artists, all the while referring to the dark transformation that so many have undergone. It is rich with historical and cultural reference and a reminder of where we have come from and to what we are still connected to.
She writes, “During one ceremony in the Amazon, I had the sensation that one of the shamans had sent his soul out to find mine. Although I was lost in the dark forest of depression, suddenly he was there, in a bright clear pool, healing and sunlit. Shamans use the term ‘soul-loss’, not an expression I had heard before, but exactly what I felt the moment mine was found. A good healer of any kind can find people who are lost in the forests of the mind.”
She continues, “Halfway through his journey in life and lost in a dark forest, Dante began his poem-path. By naming his lostness to his readers, they, if they are lost themselves, may feel understood — found — by him. Artists send their soul out into the world in a parabola, thrown from the heart of solitude so that in the arc of its return it can comprehend and speak to the loneliness and separateness of other minds. A book, as Franz Kafka said, must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.”
“The shamans I visited used a metaphor common in the Amazon: you have been struck by arrows, they said, poisonous darts designed to kill the spirit. It was a perfect metaphor for what I — like so many artists — had experienced. And, they said, they could suck them out of my mind. So, like powerful dramaturges, they dramatised the metaphor, embodied its meaning, staging the powerful sense of cure, sucking the poison out of my head. It made me well.”
“Placebo effect, a cynic may might say. Absolutely. The word has its roots in ‘pleasing’, and good medicine like good art should please in order to heal: the placebo’s success is evidence for the power of metaphoric medicine to heal mind. ‘My project,’ says the magus Prospero in The Tempest, is ‘to please’. In the Amazon the shamans sang songs over me called icaros, half-whistled, half-voiced, half-heard, half-imagined: exquisite Ariel music, in themselves mind-medicine, curative music sung by these curanderos.”
Read her entire essay here – Forests of the Mind