Tuesday, January 22, 2019
At the beginning of my illusionism class I often quote the line from Pablo Picasso,
“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth…The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”
Just like in literary fiction, the inventive fabrication can build a way of looking at things that promotes insight for the reader or viewer. The cubist portrait evokes an aspect of being, considered more deeply, perhaps closer to a truth about what a person actually is. The integrity of the truth is in the honesty of the observation.
Art of all kinds takes us beneath the reactive surface to a place where contradictions are the yin and yang of all motion. Truth moves with the scene and situation, always evolving and adapting. Art can give form to what goes unseen but alive beneath everyday concerns. Recognition of the power of art to stimulate insight in the viewer was acknowledged in the recently published letters of Alan Watts. In one, he ended a passage about the difficulties of expressing the realizations in spiritual experience with, “Perhaps the artist can show this much better than the philosopher.”
What the artist shows is not an explanation but a set of relations and qualities that can have the power to open up realization by the viewer. The artist filters the essence to show the viewer something they already know but have never recognized. Many kinds of things can be built on the same armature. The structure resonates with the viewer’s personal experience of that feeling offering a glimpse of the interior world that normally lies hidden. Associations from the past develop the meaning to the individual. A connection vibrates between the emotional state of the artist and viewer.
Younger generations already know the efficiency of showing rather than telling, Instagram builds banks of visual information expressing individual lives. That a picture conveys more information is a given. As visual communication becomes more widespread, education would benefit from spending time with the most developed expression of visual intelligence, fine art, to cultivate understanding of the language of emotional intelligence. Sensitivity to what might be wrong or what fits in a situation are based on concrete expectations about how the world behaves. It is easier to see when something’s out of balance than to read the data. What we can tell is barely a cipher compared to what we can show particularly when it comes to feelings.
The way that images open thought gives a sense of how visual relationships can contain so much which is why philosophical questions can be posed and contradictions integrated. Rather than choose sides, adding new information to the big picture, enlarging perspective.
The skills of illusion give more power to “convince others of the truthfulness of your lies”, to have the viewer enjoy the game of being fooled is momentary release from chronic preoccupations and open the brain to new thoughts.
Saturday, December 22, 2018
Early in our marriage, I interrupted my husband Michael while he was practicing guitar, to ask what was the meaning of life.
“To find out what we’re capable of” He answered without hesitation.
When I told that to my class of excellent art students in our last discussion, there were murmurs of agreement all round. Whatever it is we have to offer we should find and develop in whatever form it takes. We feel that in our heart. It’s what the brain rewards to keep us growing.
My brother Bill has an ability to connect with people, make them feel at ease. He radiates goodwill and empathy, so the fact that now, in his retirement, he’s going to be a hospice volunteer is a beautiful next step in building on that capacity. Each aspect of ourselves we choose to develop offers a window into deeper layers of personal possibility that wouldn’t be seen without new challenges opening new questions. We don’t know what we’ll find, the compass of the heart just gives direction about what matters to core being.
People might not think of self-development as a gift to others, but it is the particular capacities of different individuals that enriches the world. This is the part that’s not manufactured, that’s not an algorithm, but the sense of individual flourishing led by what we love best.
Not using up time finding out what others think of us opens space to build a skill or learn about something that tugs at curiosity. Our pleasure in a task signifies the presence of the brain chemistry meant to encourage us. The more actively we pursue something the more we appreciate it. This actively combats the things that pull us down. When Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Homo Deus”, says that google will know us better than we know ourselves, it assumes that like the rat with the pleasure lever, we’ll just keep clicking likes and checking for them all the time. We don’t have to behave like the rats.
Consider the real world experiences that give you the most pleasure as a starting point.
Getting better at something builds understanding of the subject but also of who we are. This is learning about ourselves through what attracts us. The life that is not on the computer is not known to the computer, it may know many of our interests as well as what we buy and who we know. But if we have a life off screen we can have a private space and an enriched sense of what we can offer.
Thursday, November 22, 2018
Sometimes a tradition will have been repeated so often that our capacities for automation get involved and detach us from the holiday. Like the woman last night as she seated us at a table saying Thanksgiving is such a bother, there are many that feel it as an intrusion, a set of obligations that like Christmas, cost time and money.
The rituals we observe are just the shell, much of the content hollowed out by repetition. The conversations about how much better the holidays were when we were kids are symptom of the need to reinvigorate the Thanks at the middle of the event.
Recently, the TedTalks Radio hour did a program on joy. What stuck in my head afterwards was what one speaker said of the present-centeredness of joy. Where happiness is a sustained state, the quality of joy attends a particular moment, the way the light hits the greenish bird singing on the wire, the deer that emerge behind the house at just the moment when I’m feeling down. Joy accompanies the fleeting harmonizing of the world in a moment of sensory perfection. A different speaker talked about clouds as providing so much variety in collaboration with sunlight, so many opportunities to see something beautiful.
Our thoughts often keep us from full attention to the sensory world. Thanksgiving could be a day of alertness to what I tend to call moments of grace which as the speaker on joy said are around in abundance all the time. Attuned to not just taste and smell but where the spirit lifts at the sight of what fleetingly captures full attention.
“Beauty, in glimpses and flashes, that is what the soul required.” (Anne Enright, The Green Road). Nourishing the deeper self is about attention. For Thanksgiving, gratitude for the good that we’ve received and attention to the possibilities of joy at any moment in the tastes, smells, sounds and sights of the day. A sunset that takes your breath away is such a frequently available moment, why not spend more time looking up?