“…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)
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)