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.
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.
Dougald Hine, Dark Mountain’s co-founder, in a recent post discusses how several writers associated with the Dark Mountain Project have found their work spread throughout the internet, more so than in the recent past, perhaps as a result of the increasing disintegration of the bedrock of old stories that are no longer integral to the way the world looks today.
As the Dark Mountain Project moves forward into a new phase, Hine reminds us that a journey into the liminal may be a key to discover or re-discover within ourselves and our communities the dangerous change needed to face the challenges.
“Art can hold a space in which we move from the arm’s-length knowledge of facts, figures and projections, to the kind of knowledge that we let inside us, taking the risk that it may change us. Art can give us just enough beauty to stay with the darkness, rather than flee or shut down. Like the bronze shield given to Perseus by Athena, art and its indirect ways of knowing can allow us to approach realities which, if looked at directly, turn something inside us to stone…Art can teach us to live with uncertainty, to let go of our dreams of control. And art can hold open a space of ambiguity, refusing the binary choices with which we are often presented – not least, the choice between forced optimism and simple despair.
These are strange answers. For anyone in search of solutions, they will sound unsatisfying. But I don’t think it’s possible to endure the knowledge of the crises we face, unless you are able to draw on this other kind of knowledge and practice, whether you find it in art or religion or any other domain in which people have taken the liminal seriously, generation after generation. Because the role of ritual is not just to get you into the liminal, but to give you a chance of finding your way back.
Among the messages of the liminal is that endings are also beginnings, that sometimes we need to ‘give up’, that despair is not a thing to be avoided at all costs – nor a thing to be mistaken for an end state.”
Please read his entire post here which includes links to some of the recent writings mentioned previously.
“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.”
“…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)
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)
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.”