Dreams of Reality - The View, and the Point of View

Dec 16 22:00 2001 Sam Vaknin Print This Article

A Dialogue about Art - ... Roberto Calvo Macias and Sam ... What's the meaning of it? Its sense? Why did that Altamira Cave man paint those animals, Why? For magical ...

A Dialogue about Art - Excerpts
Between: Roberto Calvo Macias and Sam Vaknin


What's the meaning of it? Its sense? Why did that Altamira Cave man paint those animals,Guest Posting Why? For magical purposes? as a religious act? What was his proposition? To communicate his personal views? Was he mad, as Vincent, did he see something different, that others didn't? Did he see animals in the abstract? was he the first person to think in the abstract, was he the first man? Was it a kind of pastime, a diversion, a game? Moreover, can we measure it? are there good and bad artists? What defines a great work of art? The recognition of the public? In which way, its quantity or its quality?

I have always been a bit of a dreamer, with a facility to imagine in the abstract, but years ago, when I began to read some poets, and other writers like Borges, Jünger, Neil Gaiman, something strange changed my view. What happened to my eyes? Why did my sight get so clear? Was it something mystical, the beginning of madness? What is the dividing line?

I don’t know if it is schizophrenia, god’s gift or some other matter. Probably I am mad, but what does it matter with ART? Where is the relationship between order, hard work, etc. and the Quality of ART? Was Vincent a calvinist man?

Sam: Absolutely. Read his letters to Theo. Also study the last two years – especially the last two months of his life. The “madder” he got – the more diligent, industrious, hard working and disciplined he became.

Roberto: Which ones of this list, all of them manifestly anarchs, unstable and inconsistent, do you consider not to be great artists?

Thomas de Quincey, Baudelaire, Theophile Gautier, Byron, Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, Ken Kesey, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Mozart, Isaac Albeniz, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, John Lenon, Camarin, Michaelangelo, Rimbaud, Gaudi, Dali, Jimi Hendrix, Federico Garcia Lorca, Holderlin, Woody Allen.

Sam: This is quite a list. Still I think that it misses the point. Art, by definition, is the surrender of the anarchical spirit to the dictatorship of the format. A painter is limited to his rectangular piece of cloth or cardboard, to his paints, to the maxims of his language, however private. Art is the sad documentation of the capitulation of form to matter, of the subordination of the ethereal to the material. It is a white flag in the ever raging war between the eye of the spirit and the eye of the flesh. Even the most prodigious and insane of writers must sit down, face the sharply limited piece of paper, write in reasonably straight lines and succumb to the most basic rules of grammar, of syntax, of meaning, of alliterative or other resonance. Even the most deranged and non-calvinistic composer can use, as a maximum, the dodecaphonic scale. This is what I meant by order and discipline. They are imposed, inherently, in the very choice to engage in a work of art. Working habits are a natural extension of these spatial and temporal constraints.

Roberto: What about the work of art? for example, what about Dr. Jekill and Mrs. Hide? Is it a masterpiece, though it was written in just one weekend under the influence of great amounts of cocaine? Are the images of E. A. Poe, mercurial, abysmal, mathematical as they are, unfit to describe the century? Doesn't his Maelström mean anything to you, apart from a horrific picture?

Is it that my satanic images are just that? Were Michelangelo’s later sculptures worse than his first ones, unfinished as they are? Mention to me, if you please, great works of art from the Calvinistic land: Le Confederation Helvetique. I love this country, my aunt is Swiss, but what great art works have come from Switzerland?

Sam: Art is the picture of the spirit shackled, furiously battling, striving to unchain itself, rebelling against the form imposed on it, mutinously attempting to reflect the world – no, to BE the world – with all its chaotic pain, convulsive features, horrific beauty. It is the spirit of God floating above the abyss, an act of creation, as detailed in Genesis. It is precisely this unnerving, unsettling, terrifying, melancholy, raging contrast that a great work of art makes. Order and discipline applied to order and discipline yield government regulations and other gobbledegook. Order and discipline applied to tumult, chaos, havoc, disorder, anarchy, decadence (ultimately to death) – yield art. You must not confuse the method with the content, the reagent with the substrate. For where do we find greater order and discipline than in the martial arts (they earned their title – “arts” – not in vain)? And where do we find more devastation, maelstrom, turbulence and disintegration of form than in war, their subject matter?

Roberto: If Art came from childhood, why must it require order, discipline... Is it not that every child is a little anarchist? Is that not true, that a child is like a terra incognita, plenty of anarchy, great views of the upper lands? Why should wild horses be less beautiful than domestic ones? Are we not talking about Beauty?

Sam: I am evidently less a romantic than you, Roberto, for I see no art in children as I see no art in primitive people (in the psychological sense, not in the historical or anthropological meanings of the word “primitive”). I see none in childhood but fear and anxiety, egotism and the curiosity to serve it, cruelty and malignancy. Indeed, we grow out of it the same as we pull ourselves out of quicksands. Children are incapable of being artists. They are manipulative Narcissists. Forever in the throes of the Big Bang of their personalities, embroiled in searing heat, unable to see a thing for the brightness of their own formation. To be an artist, one needs to die a little, to experience entropy, to be as barren as those rocks of our moon. One needs to combine that primordial fire with the cold formalisms of death. After all, our works of art are dead: letters are dead on dead, acidifying paper, paints decay, cloth frays and the greatest sculptures turn back to stone. The mystical tradition of the Jews (the Cabbala) says that the first, most comprehensive and hitherto best, act of creation involved divine light which was poured into vessels (again, the incoherent into the orderly). These vessels – owing to a cosmic accident – broke.

The light dispersed, attached to the splinters of the shattered vessels. These are our souls: a measure light, a measure the mundane, a piece of broken vessel. No, beauty has nothing to do with it. Anyhow it is in the eye of the beholder, a matter of judgement, of epoch, of cultural context, of tastes, too relative for art. We are not talking about beauty – but about the law. Creation is the law – art one of its manifestations. In its cold indifference lies the beauty that you are seeking. This is the maddening thing, this apathy towards our individual fates, as though we were its slaves, not its creators. This is what makes us children once more, awed by omnipotence and omniscience. This awe lasts until we overcome this sensation, dare to be Gods again and to create, dare to engage in art. Read Kafka, the most sublime and perfect of all writers.

Roberto: Admittedly, if we mix that powerful imagination, anarchy, with a superior order, then we surely will encounter the superior works of art: Shakespeare, Cervantes, Velazquez, Goya, Beethoven, Ernst Junger, Borges, Goethe, Leonardo, Brunelleschi. But it is not a necessary condition.

Art does not depend on anything. It has nothing to do with order or anarchy, with politics, with technical conditions, with perfection... with nothing. None of all this affects Art. It deals with the deepest reality. With the sense that is hidden beyond the Wall of Time. With the secret of human beings, their inextricable condition of being in the middle between matter and energy. That is what touches our heart like a knife when we see a superior work of Art: it’s a promise, a shared secret. It is the View of Something, that artist, going up the Wall of Time , sharing this with us. It doesn't have to do with the "mundane", it’s just its opposite, the other side of the coin. It’s the view which transcends "materia".

You said that feeling is incommunicable, but there is a kind of collective memory- aka Jungian archetypes. This seems quite correct. And, of course, it’s a plastic land, with degrees. But there are leaps - for instance, the genius. There exist some basic points: the mystical, the religious, the feeling of art. This is the reason for all the persecutions: Christians, Albigenese, Eleusians, Jews, Buddhists, Palestinians, Macedonians, etc... Here, sadly, cold alienated facts contravene you. Mystic questions are very near the line that separates human beings and causes massacres.

When you talk about drugs, you talk from the mundane side of things. You can talk about drug-addicts, their problems, you can talk about the effects of drugs on humans but you should never talk about drugs. The Shu´ar men, commonly known as Jibaros, or the head-shrinkers, experience time completely differently from Western people. It is impossible to explain it in brief, it has to do with a change in the direction of the flow of time, with dreams and future-past. But, one of the consequences is that they don’t know the meaning of luck. And, if we believe anthropologists, it seems to be impossible for them to understand its meaning. Same goes for drugs, or the mystical experience.

Art can make possible this miracle, to search deeper inside us to meet these unknown feelings provoked by the artist. To look below our surface, to take stock of childhood and its innocent anarchy, to access collective memories and dreams, where the material is already indivisible.

This, and no other thing is, if we may say so, what defines Art. The capability of getting trough matter to show us what is behind it. Here, there is no possible agreement. Not to see Art that way is not to see Art, period. It’s like music, if you don’t dig what it is about, that inextricable thing: "the real thing", then, it’s like eating only the skin of a banana, letting go of its flesh. Here lies my fanaticism, inasmuch as we all are fanatics: I do believe in Art.

Sam: This was a long dissertation in favour of the possibility to communicate from the vantage points of private languages. On the one hand, you admit that we are all trapped in our private hells, unable to communicate with each other except through massacres motivated by atavistic collective archetypes. You say that some experiences (drugs, for one) can not be communicated to the uninitiated. Than, in a magnificent reversal, you say that Art is the communicative bridge. It is through it that we, poor, isolated, humans can march to meeting points where a deeper sort of information is provoked by the artist in the art consumer. Moreover, you seem to claim that Art contains both a functional sample of the world and the rules of language (of connecting objects to its idiom). In other words, you seem to be saying that art is monovalent, it will provoke the same emotional reactions in its consumers regardless of their identity. This is to say that Art is a universal language. Wittgenstein said as much about natural languages. He denied the possibility that private languages with privileged access exist. He wrote that even the speaker of a private language will not be able to understand it. Your version is softer: we all do have semi-private languages and a modicum of privileged access. But Art is the great dictionary which contains the vocabulary of the human condition. Trapped as we are between the spirit and the flesh, between energy and matter, angels and demons, heaven and the hell which is our lives – Art comes to our help. It bandages our wounds, it talks to us in the ancient, unintelligible sounds of our
collective archetypes, it soothes us as our mothers did. It then continues to offer to us the possibility to communicate with each other through its objects, really through the person (or shall I say, persona?) of the artist. Art, therefore, to you, is a liberating act. It breaks through the glass containers of our very private existence which otherwise cannot be communicated benignly. I must say that I share your views with one modification, introduced by the “scientist” in me: there is no way of ascertaining that Art works.

That Art provokes emotions is undeniable. That it, therefore, must be connected to our private languages (=largely, our emotions) follows. To interact with our private languages it must gain access to what hitherto has been a shrine accessed by a priesthood order of one, ourselves. Art demolishes the privileged access maxim. Still, can we be sure that it MEANS the same to all its worshippers? Of course not. Rather it would be safer to assume that an object of art would mean different things to different people. Art resonates with our private languages precisely because it is a private language (of the artist). The affinity provokes empathy and the latter is misinterpreted as understanding. Art is as unintelligible as any other private language. Its relationship to the emotions that it evokes in its beholder – is equal to the relationship between a trigger pulled and a wounded, aching soldier. It resounds, it reverberates through us, in the process wounding us because it reminds us how IMPOSSIBLE it is to communicate, how absurd our existence is, how LONELY we are, how privileged our access is to a language which even we do not fully grasp or understand. Yes, we are sealed off from ourselves as well. This is what we discover through Art. The echoes of our very own languages perishing in the caverns of our minds.

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About Article Author

Sam Vaknin
Sam Vaknin

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, United Press International (UPI) and eBookWeb and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
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