Learning to See, Scratching at the Truth

“and the stones show me the way….”

I’m involved in a few conversations on the needfulness of art. This fragment of a quotation from Carl Jung seems an appropriate place to begin.

In a time when the hot-house strains of art criticism that have so long been the “High-brow” approach to questions of art join most other expert-led monopolies on thought in a growing irrelevancy, it’s important to begin again at the foundation of questions of art and its place. Andrew Taggart’s essay linked to above, and the thread it is a part of, is a good introduction to these questions and to how the current status quo has failed.

My own intuition has always led me to mutter under my breath that art exists in relationship to Truth. No matter how hopelessly unfashionable this has been, I’ve never let it go.

As with so many other impending irrelevancies, including the possibility that our existence as humans may be in serious question itself as a result of our machinations, what this does provide us with is the possibility of a moment of clarity. At least that is how I’ve found it within many spheres. While our deep concerns are buried under the noise of a surging and successful spectacle, it’s hard to give such faint murmurings their due. As the spectacle collapses into a state of increasingly dissolving cognitive dissonance – when it becomes almost impossible to continue believing the delusions required to continue to suspend our disbelief – we can begin to see the value of disillusionment and grow to welcome it for the clarity it brings.

Let’s get down to how this effects questions surrounding art. If we are in a quagmire of delusion, then it is essential that we look for ways to hone our abilities to see through delusion and make contact with Truth.

Before going any farther, it’s important to distinguish what we mean by truth, even before adding a capital T. Truth is the medium of wisdom. It is the field in which we distinguish aspects of our perceptual World that are riddled with blind spots and habitual assumptions so as to disillusion us of dangerous forms of conditioning that perpetuate dissonant confrontations with our reality and promote a new set of illusions – including a deep understanding of why we cannot exist outside of illusion, since the expectation of any independent absolute Truth is itself an illusion and one with a well-documented record of leading to all of the worst forms of abuse!

Illusions, a form of programming through viewpoint and framing and the establishment of habits, is how we function. When our prevailing illusions have some traction with the facts of existence – this doesn’t contradict the impossibility of absolute Truth, finding out how that can be is a great path to figuring out the rest of what may seem an arch set of paradoxical twists! When we have traction, life is ascendant and we find that our actions are met with the grace of effectiveness. When we are caught in dangerous and delusional illusions we are trapped and foiled, pursued by futility and every action only increases our complicity in destruction.

If this is the arena in which we are to work, then we need to involve ourselves in essential practices that hone our abilities and keep us mindful of what is at stake. This could be called a path towards wisdom, or it could be just called a path within life.

I’ve alluded to physical and meditative practices – for me it’s been Qi Gong – that connect us with aspects of our organism and its immediate place in the World to counter the slippage we feel when our intellectual pursuits have no traction in how and who we are. These practices form a deep foundation upon which to build, but alone they don’t give us much help figuring out what to do with our “instrument” once it is honed. This is where art and craft come into play.

I bring up craft, because there is much to be gained by looking at art and craft together instead of in isolation. They are distinct, but they exist in symbiosis, and it is in that relationship to each other and ultimately within us that they find their traction.

Art is useless and needful. Craft is useful, and its usefulness is fed by its relationship to art.

To say art is useless isn’t just a replay of “Art for art’s sake.” It is its relationship to Truth that makes it essential that it not be useful in any direct sense, including its use as a means to make a few artists rich! An investigation of Truth is fraught with obstacles, as many, if not most of these, are internal and deal with our susceptibility to justification. If we don’t isolate this endeavor from the pitfalls of the hunger after power then we are hopelessly compromised from the start.

This may be the place to introduce another unfashionable term, sincerity. Irony cannot stand for it, and those trapped within power-plays see it as a fool’s game. A funny, if it weren’t so damn tragic, reversal of the truth. Sincerity is where we, having introduced ourselves to ourselves and begun to see the morass of conflicting passions that lie there, agree to accept and forgive ourselves and to establish a relationship built on trust with our organism waiting there for us to recognize it behind the show put on by the forces of Ego.

So art begins with this attitude of sincerity. A choice made based on the clarity afforded us by our times and by the practices of a foundational practice like Qi Gong. Art builds on this because it affords us with simple direct means to confront our perception as a process and to objectify that interaction through the creation of objects that stand outside us. Any mark on any surface gives us the potential to begin this process. From the use of a visual medium to investigate our relationship to truth comes the title of this essay. We are learning to see and scratching at the truth as we work. The clarity this affords us is an opening into the way art’s needfulness can be appreciated for what it is and how we can begin to practice it and carve out a system of value in which it can reside.

This turns out to be quite a mouthful! Following through on all this implies and portends is beyond the scope of any essay, it is an aspiration for a life’s work that can never be exhausted! But it does, even for all its immensity keep us clear of the pitfalls of futility. As well as hubris, delusion, all the symptoms of power-mania.

This essay is a start at defining the parameters of an approach to art, its practice, and its learning – the process of interaction between practitioners at varying points along their paths that invigorates everyone involved. It lays out how the teaching/learning of art can be seen as part of a grand endeavor that casts the current poses of art for what they are, shadows of irrelevancy; and gives us an essential way of interacting with the internal and external World in which we are immersed.

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