Sixth Lecture

Delivered 20 October 1970

Guest Speaker, The First Season of Performing Arts

Presented By

The National Gallery Society of Victoria

National Gallery

Melbourne, Australia

 

In this age - in this time, if an artist's inclination is to contemplate Being through the image of man, the tactile source, rather than to extend the historical linear development of culture, he is besieged with paradoxes, interior and exterior confusions, and a pointed, undisguised attack from the culture itself. To understand the dilemma of the so-called "figurative artist" at this moment in time is to understand, perhaps, the despairing frustration of many men who seek to comprehend not only their own individual situations but the condition of man, himself.

Through the ages, the chief social function of art has been to propagandize each culture's metaphor for man, i.e.: Man is God's Image, Man is nature's consciousness, Man is an animal, etc. In short, the vocabulary - the appearances - the means for individual men on all levels of endeavor within each social structure are given, through a presentation of culturally correct artifacts, a correct attitude toward the culture itself. The identity of any given culture remains intact and the propagandic control of its artifacts functions smoothly until there occurs within the intellectual hierarchy a challenge to the basic metaphor. Whether or not the new metaphor can replace the old depends upon timing and its practical applicability to the multi-levelled social structure. If it succeeds, art, having its impetus in the intellect and being a viable part of the intellectual hierarchy, adjusts itself automatically to the propagandic demands of the new culture in its eagerness to examine the potentials of a new life-metaphor.

Although it seems almost cliché to speak of Darwin's destruction of God, perhaps it is, after all, the true beginning of the contemporary dilemma for the figurative artist. The initial release from a worn out metaphor was for intellectual and artist a renewed vitality, and in its beginnings evidenced itself as a viable and life-enhancing explosion of penetrating insights into man's image of himself. But that was over 100 years ago and although "the child is father of the man" - his needs are quite obviously different: If we then view the past 100 years, which most historians consider the so-called "modern period," not in terms of linear sequence of logically connected identifiable "isms" but, rather, as the life span of a metaphor which reveals man's idea of himself, we see not a logical sequence of labeled "isms" but, rather, a controlled reaction and responding of art to life not directly, but through the intellectual control of the metaphor.

Again, back to the observation - the child is father of the man: It was preordained when the metaphor Man is God's image was replaced by Man is an animal that as the new metaphor aged, matured and became senile, it would exchange the exhilaration of its youthful freedom for the despair of having lived an unexalted life.

We are now experiencing the death phase of art's propagandic usefulness to a dead metaphor. As it was preordained that unexalted freedom would end in frustrated despair, so, too, it was preordained that the artist as visionary would be replaced by artist as technologist. Art and object have become synonymous - and, at this point, art can no longer function as propagandist for the metaphor under the power of its own autonomy. The dead metaphor can only be protected and preserved by enforcing correct cultural attitudes. The preservation of the metaphor lies solely in the hands of the critics and Culture-Makers. In short - the king has no clothes...the metaphor is dead...long live the king.

With the banishment of man's image from the realm of cultural correctness, the artist who finds his beliefs and contemplations of life centered upon the human being as the vortex from which all manifestations of reality spring finds himself in a very uncomfortable position. It is obviously untenable for the culture to accept man as the vortex because, of course, in terms of the metaphor, he isn't. If an artist persists in pursuing man's image because he is simply not suited to pursuing anything else, and out of comfort or belief accepts the cultural metaphor, he must posture himself as a satirist - or better still, as a mocker of those who refuse to submit to the metaphor. Pop art is, of course, our time's example of such collaboration.

If, on the other hand, the figurative artist persists in a "man is more" attitude, denies the demands of the cultural metaphor and still requires comfort and approbation, he most easily turns to "museum formulas" for his individual position as an artist and relies on methods and equivalents of the so-called "old masters" for the authenticity and provability of his own efforts. Strangely, in their own adulation of art, they become the most painful enemies - for they love art because they fear life - and, like all frightened lovers, they deny the real identity of the beloved to gratify their own sense of reality. These are the sensitive souls who find more pleasure in the museums and opera halls than they find in their own studios - who come away commenting and complaining about the way a painting was hung or lighted, the way an aria was delivered or an orchestra directed rather than exhilarating in the work itself. Knowledge replaces feeling, craft replaces transparency, culture replaces art - and art becomes a weapon against life...and therefore against itself.

If an artist, then, believes in man as the vortex from which all reality springs, knows full well that this belief is historically labeled and untenable to the cultural metaphor under which he lives and knows also that that which is provable is not necessarily that which is real, he must, somewhere along the way, consent to the actuality of his own solitude...and not only consent to that fact, but create joy in it.

Let us then invent an artist - a solitary, one who seeks to live and create without cultural metaphor or reliance on historical artifacts. Let him be one who believes that man is the vortex from which all reality springs and is drawn into, and that all levels of man are essential - including his image. Through the ages and changing metaphors, we have evidence that this artist exists - he has produced works that we casually term "masterpieces." They exist not in any historically provable timespan, but rather through the power and perfection of their capacity for transparency - windows through which man's reality is revealed. Not through words or structural analysis, but through that wordless vehicle called ecstasy.

To go further, then, let us say that there are no great artists...neither are there great works of art, but, rather, that there exist transparencies and those artists capable of creating them. If an artist capable of creating a transparency does indeed create one and if this transparency is perceived by one capable of perceiving it, at this instant all actualities are destroyed: historical reference, the material from which it was produced and even the authorship of the creator himself. It floats free from all identification and exists solely as a touchstone for human ecstasy.

Let us then place our artist in the "Now," and let us assume that through the joy of solitude he has disregarded the cultural metaphor Man is an animal and rejected the concept of great artists and great art. Holding the unshakable belief that man is the vortex from which all reality springs and realizing that he is in the "Now," he must contemplate man's "Nowness." Believing, too, that one does not set out to produce a transparency (for that is as naïve as one who, suffering under the concept of great artists and great art, sets out to produce a masterpiece), our artist knows he must work only out of what he knows and he knows only that he is.

If we can conceive of the inner "isness" of such an artist, let us now look out on what he sees and must relate.

Hypothetical Quote:

By this time, the significance of the bomb has been internalized...its destructive actual meaning, as well as the positive potential of its philosophical reality. (It is impossible to believe in the cultural metaphor Man is an animal when, philosophically, through the absolute control of his own destiny - man became god.) But it is frustrating to view the cultural-philosophical timelag wherein our culture-makers are determined to cling to and defend an already dead metaphor.

The visionary continues to be replaced by the technologist, for within the timespace that exists between changing metaphors, science seemingly retains its powerful hold on the minds of men...and our culturally "correct" artifacts continue to pay homage to it.

In 1913, Clive Bell wrote:

Much as he dislikes mentioning the facts or hearing it mentioned, the common man of science recognises no other end in life than protracted and agreeable existence... He declines to believe in any reality other than that of the physical universe.On that reality he insists dogmatically. Man, he says, is an animal who, like other animals, desires to live; he is provided with senses, and these, like other animals, he seeks to gratify: in these facts he bids us find an explanation of all human aspiration. Man wants to live and he wants to have a good time; to compass these ends he has devised an elaborate machinery. All emotion, says the common man of science, must ultimately be traced to the senses. All moral, religious and aesthetic emotions are derived from physical needs, just as political ideas are based on that gregarious instinct which is simply the result of a desire to live long and to live in comfort.1                                       Clive Bell

As we wallow within the putrification of this dead metaphor, we come to grasp that the most devastating single problem that faces man is not violence, racial prejudice, war, over-population or air and water pollution - but, rather, the complacent acceptance of his exploitative behavior as 'natural' within the structure of Nature; and there exists the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps man's notion of himself as a 'superior animal' is the built-in device by nature for his own destruction.

In order to survive, man can no longer regard himself as a superior animal. What a degrading and destructive metaphor it has become! He must face the fact that as a species he is inferior, to be regarded with terror by other species as a perverted predator whose violence upon his environment is comparable only to the outrage he has committed upon himself.

And so to hell with "Darwinism," And to hell with Man is God's image. And to hell with the tyranny of all dead metaphors. Man is beautiful not in comparison to past nostalgic images of himself any more than he is beautiful because he is a "superior animal" whose scientific prowess assures the immortality of his species by enabling him to move on to another planet after destroying this one. No, man is beautiful because he has the choice to "do" or not "to do," and because his hands and feet and head and heart and genitalia are beautiful, and because he is in control of his own destiny, and because he is the vortex of reality, and because he is all of these things - he is. And because he is, we must learn to sing his praise.

In this age - in this time, if an artist's inclination is to contemplate being through the image of man - the tactile source - rather than to extend the logical linear development of culture, which is the continued adulation of a dead metaphor through technological mimicry, he must face man's "Nowness " with the decisive purity of the anatomist. As all tissues, organs and members of the physical organism are found beautiful by the anatomist - so, too, must man's multi-layered complexities of drives, desires and instincts be found beautiful by the artist. And they are beautiful quite simply because they exist and because they are real and because there is nothing more beautiful than reality.

An artist, if indeed he be an artist, has only one responsibility to his culture - and that is to destroy its metaphor. Through the creation of transparencies, man is enabled a glimpse of himself; pure, total, unshattered by metaphorical interpretation. Whether or not an entire civilization can exist and function within this state of reality is beside the point - what is the point is that men capable of experiencing the ecstasy of a "man is Man " non-metaphorical transparency will not be dominated by their culture's metaphor...no matter how seemingly convincing and seductive the artifactual propaganda. These are the culture-changers.

And so, at this moment in time, the so-called figurative artist, he who is capable of producing transparency, must, through the joy of solitude, have the courage to sustain his belief in man and begin to view his stance not as a vestigial left- over from a forgotten past (as our culture-defenders would have us believe), but rather with the passion and conviction of a revolutionary.

The metaphor is dead - the time is now!

      End, Hypothetical Quote

Unlike a previous generation, which had a Darwin to move it conscience-free into the Industrial-Technological Age, we, as yet, have no such dramatic revelations or factual pronouncements to lead us out. Seemingly, we stand trapped between what could be and what is - between that which is real and that which is actual. We stand as in a valley - a valley of Astonishment - overshadowed by a decadent and destructive image of ourselves - a dead metaphor seemingly too powerful to simply put behind us and move into the light.

The following lines written in 12th Century Persia seem equally pertinent today:

He who enters the Valley of Astonishment has enough sorrow for a hundred worlds.

There are sighs like swords, there is lamentation and a burning eagerness. It is at once day and night. There is fire, yet a man is depressed. How shall he continue his way? If he is asked: Are you, or are you not? Have you not the feeling of existence? Are you in the middle or on the border? Are you mortal or immortal? He will reply with certainty: I know nothing, I understand nothing, I am unaware of myself. I am in love, but with whom I do not know. My heart is at the same time both full and empty of love.

     And I, a figurative artist of the 20th Century, existing within this Valley of Astonishment, observing, experiencing, and contributing to the agony and chaos which exists in this time of changing metaphors, seem only able to relate what I, living now, see and feel. Hating the cynicism and despair that often occur in my work, struggling to believe in Man's beyondness - and myself believe in the hypothetical quote, can only hope that my desire to believe will, somehow, in some small intermediate way, if not create transparency in my own work, at least lighten the shadow.


The Sixth Lecture was based on a paper delivered by Robert Cremean in conjunction with a one-person exhibition of his sculpture at Wisconsin State University, Eau Claire, in 1969.


1. From Art by Clive Bell. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1958. Reprinted by permission of The Putnam Publishing Group.

 

 

Buonarroti's Bath

Collection: The National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Photograph courtesy: Robert M. Sarkis

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