Seventh Lecture

Delivered 20 April 1985

State Conference of the California Humanities Association

San Francisco, California

 

 

Terminus: Notes to the Music of Johann Sebastian Bach

on his Birthday

 

When I was asked to participate in this conference, to approach the topic The Future And You - Humanistic Values In A Technical Age from the viewpoint of a figurative artist, my gut response was: What future? Then I thought: Hey! But you're still working. Why?

Dag Hammarskjöld once remarked, "The truth is so obviously simple that we view it as pompous banality."

I continue working because, in the face of death, all things are equal. And, in the face of nuclear holocaust, all things on this planet exist not only as equal but in the same moment. A pompous banality, perhaps, but none the less true.

The process of technology that transmuted the city of Hiroshima into the denouement of human evolution in effect marked the end of linear time as a concept defined by the technological process, an endless series of hiatuses. Unfortunately, the change was so sudden and so horrific that misoneism has led us to enhance and enforce the old metaphors. We have chosen to live in a so-called Technological Age rather than to embrace the freedom of a new reality. Locked within the restrictions of a dead form, we have brought ourselves and our planet to the edge of nothingness.

The interesting thing about all this is that the new reality exists and has existed since its birth forty years ago. We need only become naked to reach out and grasp it. If we choose to define ourselves as inhabitants of the Technological Age, then we remain victims of and contributors to an atavistic attitude that has been with us since hand holding club became human-kind's reason for existing rather than its means for survival.

The Technological Age died with the transmutation of Hiroshima. It is only our continuing belief in "salvation through progress" which resists human-kind's transmutation as well. We have chosen to worship the technology which produced the bomb rather than to accept the change its deployment created. Can all those people have died in vain?

We can choose otherwise. We can choose to see technology as part of human reality rather than its whole; to choose to move on to other planes and planets because of our magnificent curiosity rather than to destroy this one through some blind adherence to process.

Transmute or die.

Isn't it possible that in and of itself the technological process is death oriented; that aside from missiles and bombs, the concept itself has brought our species to redundancy? One cannot help but wonder what it would have been like had not the technological process started out of threat of death. It might not have started at all.

Human-kind has never been a smoothly functioning component within the process of nature. We seem always to live in spite of rather than with, using nature as a model from which to abstract ways to protect ourselves and to survive.

As nature's way is to feed on itself in an endless cycle of kill and be killed - eat and be eaten existence through phenomenalistic time, man-kind in a blinding flash of consciousness, separated itself from nature's cycle, started the process of technology and invented the concept of linear time. He picked up a club. It was the beginning of the Technological Age. As one hand picked up the tool that began the process, one finger can now end it. The age has come full circle. One man equals all men (one woman equals all women). If we choose to survive, we must spiral rather than to allow the process to complete itself. The old ways must be jettisoned. We know the ending. Must we prove it? And to whom?

On the 6th of August, 1945, there occurred another blinding flash, a fitting conclusion to what was begun so many eons ago. The Technological Age has served its purpose. Let Hiroshima mark the beginning of a new age.

In this the year 40 A.H., to feel that this may be Bach's last birthday or next to last birthday or next to the next to last is to live in terror. And to be forced to live in terror so that the very process that is terrorizing us can go on functioning toward an already known conclusion is tyranny.

This conference should be concerned with revolution, not abetment. We must throw out the metaphors that abate our humanity and worth. The metaphors of nationalism, religionism, and culturism that protect and enforce subservience to a process, that by the inevitability of its own logic will destroy itself and all its components must be terminated before it completes itself.

Ideologists of communism and capitalism, the true terrorists of this age, care only about the game of winning and losing. With the kill or be killed - eat or be eaten consciousness that began the Technological Age, the same hand that picked up the club now has its finger on the button. Its metaphor is The world, my way or not at all. And the technology of killing rolls right along.

Our religionists would have us believe that we are part of a self- fulfilling prophecy and are machinating the climate of terror so as to be in the majority in some glorious afterlife. And is this not then really the logical conclusion of the technological process itself; to replace this world with a "better" one?

And finally, our culture's metaphor for art: Art is a reflection of its time. How marvelously simple and efficient. Truly, the best of all possible mousetraps for this bettering best of all possible worlds. Art is a reflection of its time. One of those frustrating, oh so usable, truisms for controlling thought, taste and, of course, consumerism. Who defines the time which artists are merely expected to reflect? And when, if ever, is that which is selected for "best reflection" not propaganda for the technological process?

No wonder the corporate form, bastion of technology and progress, has become such an influential patron of the arts and that art as entertainment for fun and profit has become the rage: a frenetic pursuit of the new and titillating, a progression of objects and "isms" which give the illusion of movement through linear time, from one controlled hiatus to the next, like a series of motion picture stills. The only sin is to not be always a part of the ever-changing reflection, a participant in each and every still, a smoothly functioning component in the process toward nothingness.

Beauty is truth - truth beauty That is all you know on earth and all you need to know.

Ah. Keats! Blasphemer and anarchist. With a metaphor for art like that, no wonder you have been tucked safely away and that we have been taught to smile tolerantly at the quaintness of your name.

During this period, this painful and delicate beginning of a new age, a new reality, I can only try, as a sculptor of human imagery, to somehow give saliency to the human form, to say somehow that we are valuable and worth saving, more priceless than any product or process we have invented.

You see, I think we are magnificent and believe we have only just begun.

What is art, anyway?

Simply put, it's the other hand; the hand that didn't pick up the club; the part of us that did not transmute that blinding flash of consciousness so many eons ago; the part of us that has gone on living with, rather than against.

In that blinding transmutation which began the Technological Age, our duality was born, a duality which has been conceptualized in differing ways from then until now: Masculine/Feminine, Yang/Yin, Body/Spirit, Actual/Real, Technology/Art - so very many ways for describing the conflict between wanting and having.

As the warrior-hand picked up the club and began his inevitable march through linear time, the artist-hand became a maker of non-practical images within phenomenalistic time, and from cave painting to comic strip has created a non-bettering alternative to the concept of "progress." A parallel reality.

Is Bach's music a better product than that of Praetorius and less than that of Stravinsky due to its occurrence within the so-called "evolution of music?" Works of art exist in spherical time and are always contemporary. They exist as transparencies through which we may glimpse that parallel reality. Art happens when we see through a work of art. It doesn't matter when the work itself was made.

In effect, as the Age of Technology ended on the 6th of August, 1945, the Age of Art began. Our old warriors have served their purpose. It is a time now for creating and accepting rather than producing and defending. A time for living with our world rather than against it. We have come full circle. And if we do not resolve our duality now within this first generation A.H., we will either disappear ourselves and our world or move into space as a cancer as ugly and destructive in its morbidity as any other urban sprawl inspired by technology's religion of expediency.

The true conflict is not between capitalism and communism - it is within ourselves.

May the best hand win...or not at all.

 

 

The original manuscript for the first of the seven lectures has been lost. All six of the others, in the artist's hand, are housed in the archives of the Fresno Art Museum's Robert Cremean Collection.

 

Link: National Gallery of Victoria

Fresno Art Museum

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