Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Finding Direction

Wherever there’s a well-worn path, there are the two lines made by the outer edges, lines that seem to converge as the path stretches away into the distance. This creates a wedge shape, like an arrow pointing in the direction we’re going. Since it’s “well-worn” the path implies regularity, the routine of living and the comings and goings of one or more people. Once there’s a path, others will use it. The more people using the path the wider it gets, evolving into today’s multilane highways. The more lines in the wedge the stronger the directional force as many wedges push our attention the same way. There’s a visual urgency when so many lines come together in one place and the speed of the perceived motion strengthens. You could say that the increasing pace of the times shows in the proliferation of parallel lines. Multistory buildings repeat the same lines with every story. The growth of cities is marked by more multistory buildings, rising higher and higher which creates another vector of directional power pulling the gaze skyward. As the number of lines increases so does the directional force. Maybe one of the reasons we seek out nature when we go on vacation is to be free of the relentless force of a world with so many lines pushing our attention around.

Any wedge shapes points. The life force of the species shows in this visual representation of direction. One visual signal of civilization would surely be lines. They signify the presence of intelligence. When people look at the photographs of the moon and the place where it looks like a pyramid, it’s the straight lines meeting in a wedge that demand explanation. This is why many use this as proof of a prior civilization.

When we use metaphors of direction it often refers to values and goals, like when a friend is going the same way in life or another takes a different path.  Life choices are tied to the direction we feel we’re going and are often referred to as the various turns and routes taken. Comparative mythology scholar Joseph Campbell called the archetype of “the path” as life journey the oldest of all the central images found across cultures. It reflected the idea of the inner life visible in the outer movements. When we speak of direction metaphorically we’re referring to ambitions. “Having a direction” refers to the idea of a purpose, or as the “I Ching” puts it, “having someplace to go.”. Lines are a sign of purpose. Being “aimless” means wandering without meaning. Where there is motivation the various elements in a situation become organized by the direction it’s headed. The need for a goal, even if a small one, is something for life’s energy to organize around. Inspiration is often a matter of being spurred to personal goals by the example of another that carries us in the same direction. In visual imagery when all lines converge in the same place there’s a sense of momentum coming from within, concentration on a single point. The whole picture plane is aligned with the focus of the viewer. The first person quality creates a feeling of inner directedness. When there are contradictory wedges pointing different ways there’s a sense of being pulled in many directions by external forces.

Choosing a direction is about taking an interest. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it heads into new territory. The horizon is always out of reach so the challenges and lessons are endless. Creating art can be like John Cheever’s description of writing as like driving in the night only seeing as far as the headlights reach. But that’s enough.

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