Friday, March 6, 2015

Divine Madness


Plato defined philosophy by restricting questions of knowledge to a specific language of inquiry, a single method of dialectical reason (logos), which rejects the telling of stories (mythos) as a resource for truth. 

Poets and dramatists do not fare well with Plato as he essentially likens aesthetic talent to a sort of "divine madness" -- Aristotle, on the other hand, reduced the aesthetics entirely to a therapeutic exercise legitimated by its utility as a public katharsis


Let's test Aristotle's theory...

The aesthetics (art, music, poetry, stories) do veritably serve us in a therapeutic fashion. Take a look at these remarkably rich contemporary bursts of artistic rendering. Do they not daze and enchant your vision? Do they not tame your deepest rational concepts of the dome of the infinite? Do they not incline you toward something extremely awesome and essentially unrepresentable? 

Divine madness, as Plato describes artistic vision, is really another expression for describing the juxtaposition of elements not harmoniously found in nature. The execution of a painting, a musical composition, or a story indeed undoubtedly has its time consuming pragmatics with which one must contend, but those matters fundamentally lift the pedestrian drive toward the beautiful, graceful and sublime. Ideally aesthetic skills serve as a gateway out of the ordinary in human experience, to one that allows for the spread of the tentacles of aesthetic sense into nature and life. 


But how is it that artworks, such as those herein created by Michael Cheval, both negate the empirical world while simultaneously transporting us to a liberating space that actually heightens our contact with actual life? 

No doubt our species has been questioning the world of aesthetics since human beings first scratched bison and rudimentary figures onto cave walls. The arts is a "language of reconciliation" as Theodor Adorno (Frankfurt school) calls it, transporting subjective agency to actual embodiment and practical activities. 


What any one person sees in an artwork is directly proportional to what one experiences within. The visible world represents the primacy of perception in our invisible worlds, bringing sentiments that facilitate self-determination to life. 

The aesthetics give flesh to our ideas, produce our ambitions and totalize a given moment in time, inescapably capturing a sense situated within a human individual. Those who create inspire others to create. While some are resigned to sit back and take it (aesthetics) all in, others eagerly meet that which emerges within them, allowing practicalities of a given medium to connect their immediate sense of self with an artistic rendering of their becoming. 


Aesthetics facilitate access to a space of inwardness that allows for the juxtaposition of all the outwardness to come to life. Participation in this experience through the arts not only produces artifacts upon which others might ruminate or experience subjective sensations, but it also places the individual doing the creating into a type of practical engagement with the sublime. In doing so the artist becomes intimate with that space, with the empirical understandings that bring the conceptualization of thought to life, and with the intermediate stages between the two. 

In practical significance the artist emancipates his or her senses and unshackle their instinct. While the mind travels to the realm of the sublime, the act of separation is as radical and divergent as any other type of rejectionist thinking. In action art manipulates things and and gives up living in them. One might say the same thing of the genius behind science.   



How can we live conscious of the duality of that which we see -vs- that which we imagine? Critics on both sides of the argument might assert that belief in enchantment is an illusion, a mere katharsis ... whereas critics on the other side of the argument might instead react to the dangers of the restrictions our limited sensory perceptions place upon the world for subjective and/or social cohesion. 

It is not that aesthetics do one or the other, but rather glide from one space to the other, so effortlessly that it seems as if no movement was made. Thus the observer's frame of mind at the moment of observation defines the space. Only this space is temporal in nature. The inferences made are as simple or complex as the mind contemplating them. 


To avoid this difficulty and its consequences, we must ask whether we need to subscribe artistic production to some background premise which leads us to conclude, incorrectly, that the negation of our thinking about empirical objects must result in the negation of our contact with nature. There is no reason to believe that the negation of empirical thinking negates actuality, in particular if you associate actuality with that which arises in nature, including in the natural minds of human beings. 


What gives one the confidence that the empirical world, natural imaginary realm, and actuality can be experienced interchangeably? One possible answer is that it is the same mind contemplating each space. If the foregoing is correct, then critics are left with a stunted account of the lines of demarcation they so desperately wish to draw around each category. Instead they should pick up their pencils and draw lines where none exist, just to see what they create. 

This is precisely what an artist does ... juxtaposing lines that are not at present visible (or at least not artistically rendered) by others. It is not that others do not consider such thoughts, making their reality part of the natural world (human beings belong to the natural world and thus human thoughts are inherently natural by nature of their being held within that same nature 'space'), it is that someone must draw lines for them to be acknowledged by a wider audience. 

Someone must fly the golden fish ... 


Individuals unskilled in the art of complex analysis simplify the world and all its consequences into those mythos that most easily support their frame of mind, their preferred preferences and adopted biases. In doing so, a viewer only regularly sees that which is superficially presented and visible. 

Drawing lines where lines are not normally perceived as existing, viewing juxtapositions of concepts harmoniously represented (such as in these and other artworks, musical compositions, or epic stories) allows the human mind to stimulate an interpretation where one did not previously exist. 


Once we familiarize ourselves with the landscape of the sublime in nature, the sensuous character of artistic production delivers us to the very heart of our own aesthetic experience. Once it becomes clear that we need only commit ourselves to the acceptance of interpretation - both ours and that of others - the visible and tactile take on a new sense, a meaning that goes far beyond the generalizing concepts we ascribe to our rational understanding of a given sensation or experience. 

With the help of a more liberated interpretation for "natural life",  we then present our imagination as a wholly integrated aspect of what we currently perceive as "real life".  


It follows that the notion of "real life" exemplifies the particulars that help us retain spacial awareness of our surroundings and would naturally be considered in the hierarchy of needs as an imperative in understanding. However the human gaze extends beyond our instrument (mind), beyond the conditions that negate it; toward that which liberates it. 

The realm of imaginary possibilities where harps are constructed out of giant rubbery leaves, legs end in soft voluptuous points, and butterflies hover around the essence of a leaf illuminated in its vibrant tip is the realm of artistic rendition, the essential elements of personal embodiment in creative space. 


Juggling shapes atop a silk blanket resting softly upon flowing reeds shooting out of an otherwise calm lake is the feeling of liberation that arises in the process of making and witnessing works of art and design that bring us back to the basic elements of sensuous existence. Their appearance is the flesh of actual life juxtaposed on a new world canvas and forms the natural bases for subjective agency and choice which reveal the contingent character of the cognitive frameworks that structure our human understanding of the empirically real. 


It is surely perplexing to reconcile human subjectivity with natural life by means of a descriptive aesthetics that depends upon the principle of the mind allow for its existence. This path confounds our historical practice of associating disembodied reason with what is most peculiar and personal in finite human life. 

It supposes that aesthetic experience arises from contact with one's own nature, rather than an escape to the supernatural through a consciousness that transcends. This approach also suggests that the human individual is a transcendent being, more than that which is generally likened when categorized against the pragmatics of a barren landscape. 


Acknowledging the transcendent nature of all of nature does not by comparison negate any aspect of it. Those natural philosophers schooled in the mind-body oppositions of the modern era, will find it odd or contradictory to speak of a natural context beyond empirical knowledge. But yet this opposition persists, not merely as an illusion, but to show the interruption in any given train of thought when indeed the universe lays down tracks for many interpretations and world views. 


In "The American Scholar," Emerson sets forth to describe what he things should be the unique shape, task, and approach of a scholar formed in and working for America: "We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe." This is not meant to be an insult to the European scholarly traditions - within the essay Emerson praises Goethe, Carlyle, and Wordsworth, among others - but merely to point out that while studying and admiring the traditions of other countries can be useful and inspiring, trying to mimic or fit into those traditions is dishonest and unproductive. The problem is not, as Emerson sees it, in being influenced by a great European mind, but in feeling that one must be: "Men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books. (Maibor, Carolyn R., Perceiving the Sublime: A Look at Emerson's Aesthetics). 

In the same respect the visible world is not the only tradition upon which the aesthetic mind might contemplate novelty in rearrangement. Novelty comes not from that which is seen - or unseen - but rather that which is considered, mimicked, and rejected. Novelty comes from an intimate connection with a given space and all the thoughts that arise while in that specific space. Perhaps it is not that an artist is brining in teapots into his landscape but that the inherent energy that produces the atoms that form teapots is inherent in that space to begin with ... 


The implication of this thought is that the artist might not merely be creating something wholly new in a space where others did not previously perceive teapots, thus relegating the teapots to the imaginary realm. The possibility is that the artist thought teapots represented an imaginary realm because they - like others - failed to recognize that teapots were wholly possibly by nature of the possibilities of existence. 

Thus all art does is show a myriad of complex possibilities within the sphere of any given space. Just because they do not magically spring to life, does not mean they don't exist therein. After all the entire planet was just a landscape upon which we eventually crafted teapots. 


Perhaps these thoughts can be summed up as representing an artistic archetype, a fullness of heart that lies in a given source of inspiration, that which likens the illusory or imaginative realm to the same empirical realm we perceive while driving to work or brushing our teeth. Conceivably these thoughts are as antithetical as Mozart allegedly composing his 25th Symphony while writing out the score of the 24th. It could be that fullness of aesthetic experience lies not in inspiration, but also in the evolutionary potential of life itself. 


Are there then clues about how to best address our own "native genius", this inner Self that exists as real as the real world we claim to perceive around us? So long as we imprison the composer in a duality of reality -vs- illusion, seeking validation from novelty rather than inherent existence, we will continually liken "creative genius" to the realm of the "creative" rather than the "natural". 


Peradventure the unconscious demands from consciousness a work that can be done relegated as a servant of our creative inclinations. In practice I find this concept limiting, maintaining a responsive attitude to what occurs in dreams and meditations rather than in natural interpretations or thoughts. 

Each thought we have is a juxtaposition of a myriad of thoughts that came before it. Categorizing each thought as if it has no other inclination, reach, or function beyond those rudimentary patterns we initially recognized limits thoughts to the point that we do not even recognize our own ... in particular when they are presented in mirror format, i.e., in the reactions and movements of others. 


We must drink our own tea under many conditions to recognize it fully in a new landscape. Just like music depends more on silence than any other external force, for it is not the bravado of the trumpets or the tempest of amplification that we hear the authentic voice of the creator: it is in the silence afterwards that we become fully aware of what is really being said or sung ... 


The presuppositions herein are parallel to the celebrated ancient quarrel between logic and rhetoric, in which Socrates first contrasted the logic of philosophical inquiry in direct opposition to the rhetorical skills of the Sophists. But this penning cannot be reduced to rhetoric. For Socrates himself would have to give deep consideration to the preposition that that which one might call inspiration or "divine madness" might instead merely be another wholly natural aspect of human existence. 

The proposition may also be disputed or relegated to rhetoric, but that relegation does not negate its inherent nature. To argue that one could know the inherent nature of anything - including one's own self - is to purport that one knows the framework upon which so-called inherent nature rests. 

The musicians singing the universe's praises (forces) are many, and not always consciously interpreted nor unconsciously sensed, despite their presence. To define something by restricting questions of knowledge to a specific language of inquiry, a single method of dialectical reason, as stated above, is to highlight our ignorance - and thus the horizon of our vision - on such matters. 


As does Michael Cheval with his artworks, we must allow for the process of human growth in terms of aesthetic-social stages of development, which is also a useful model (among other things) for understanding the emergent interaction of mind and world. 

It is important to acknowledge the playing field and continuance of inner experience. As children we make no separation between self and world: there is no world apart from consciousness. Gradually, there appears an hourglass ... reminding us of the nature of linear time. In a process of separation, we experience the identity of each chess piece, each glass of wine, each possible movement within our vista of perception. 


This process occurs in large part in contrast with, and in opposition to, the experience of an increasingly complex and independent environment. Little by little we relate to increasing levels of significance, until the experiential network of autonomous self and world is complete.


But is it ever complete? Are we not continually recreating, peeling off new layers of interpretation while the mystery of our dreams and myths gradually decline to articulate their meanings? Just as dreams do their work independently of the rational mind defining it, so too do the stories we tell ourselves about the rational world. 

With or without our conscious interpretation, we are continually providing access to either deeper or more superficial sources of knowledge aimed at control. Manipulating knowledge, recounting fairy tales, inventing literature and science and technological devices to serve as our distraction and entertainment, we begin with 'Once upon a time .... ' and end with that which becomes the fabric of our conscious lives. 


It may be that what the everyday world requires is more knowledge, more information, more overload ... or it may be that what the world requires is the sublime, the soft, the enchanted realm ... it is hardly surprising that different people seek different things, and that each person seeks different things depending upon their mood, or perspective from a given space. 

There is no deliberate intention to fabricate meaning for others, so why do we insist upon categorizing our thoughts and the thoughts of others as being more or less realistic, more or less imaginative or creative? 

Whatever purpose categorization serves, it does not serve as ultimate authority on any given topic. There is an instructive analogue in the deeper meaning of subjective experience which consists in "letting happen" rather than "making happen". 

If there is truth in art it is this ... 


Life and our inner worlds are not in opposition. They arise from a similar landscape. Conscious experience of either need not result in a fundamental conflict with the one not under experience. The world makes room for all experiences. Those experiences that preside are merely those which have been left alone, the default of individual consciousness, confronted with the empty fact of itself. 

The myths we tell ourselves are responsive to this break in human consciousness. Growing forth from silver teapots, enchanted by the music we play for its awakening. 


Why is it that some, more than others, are enchanted by stories, by fairy tales, and myths? Conceivably it is that these individuals live more in the present of their consciousness than do others. It is their feelings, focused in the moment, that hold dominion over the unknown biases or thoughts not yet having arisen. 

Typical of these conditions is subtlety and detail. Characters are black and white, powerful or weak, human or creature-like. Without going into alternative possible interpretations, clearly the goddess of time shares features with suspending moments so that we might enjoy them before they rush away, swept up in the momentum of wild horses. The workings of movement highlighted by the gears, which disappear into the freedom of a bird's wing flapping against the wind. 

What one reads into the visible story below is a secret thrill, a connection with a fully realized potential not necessarily or initially apparent when one first considers the movement of waves upon an ocean. But stand and stare at the ocean long enough and appears she does ... 


The existential problems associated with interpreting the world of aesthetics addresses our inherent need to find meaning, to superimpose our reality onto the landscape that surrounds and exists within us. The stories we tell ourselves are so overpowering that we believe them without leaving room for other thoughts to naturally emerge.

This deliberate embrace whether factive or fictive finds itself depicted in the many expressive forms of what we call creative expression. In the depth of aesthetic enchantment lies is own inner reality, its own natural world, which requires no analogy, no interpretation, and no excuse. In the words of George Sand...

"Art does not apologize."


We are the Cinderellas of our own making held in a landscape of movements upon which nothing can be known other than the stories we tell and remember. Art is not just a paradox of time and place that fascinates. By contrast, why can not the pragmatics of life enchant? Is it that dusting one's pumpkin is fact, not fiction, or that it is necessary, not enjoyed, that it does little to engage the imagination, or that id does so only in a marginal and literal and not figurative way? 

Even Cinderella sang while she dusted ... perhaps it was the dusting itself that led to her signing and speaking with animals rather than a rejection of dusting that led to an escape into an imaginary realm where only these things were possible. 



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