Quotes and Questions from the Kingdom

QUOTES FROM ARTISTS come in handy as quick injections of encouragement and clarity for the artist and non-artist alike. An insight encapsulated in a few concise sentences functions much like an image in that it can be grasped in a moment, and also ruminated over for many moments. With instantaneousness  being a definitive operative of today’s world, short messages can be highly effective transmitters of meaning. This effectiveness is manifest in the longevity of proverbs from ages past, the short-lived posts on social media, the popularity of quotation websites, and the endless array of inspirational quotes set to generic background images on Google Images. In many ways, quotes from notable people of recent times circulating throughout society function similarly to passages in the Bible, with both at times being easily misconstrued and misinterpreted–sometimes with disastrous results.

Interpretations of meaningful messages–whether from the Bible or the latest pop star–act as catalysts for the unfolding and making of culture and history. Mass-awareness can be been altered by an influential person’s words–for better or worse. Horrible prejudices have been constructed and wars waged based upon negative interpretations of positive words. Individuals have been wrongly venerated or condemned based upon what they have said. What someone says within the narrow window of a few words can in fact reveal a large totality of their perspectives and understandings. And how that is interpreted by other people is a whole other can of worms. A few words strung together equal more than the sum of their parts–just as in art, a few colors on a canvas are more than just those separate colors: a total unique art piece is created upon their collaboration.

White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) / Mark Rothko / 1950 / oil on canvas / 81" x 56"
White Center (Yellow, Pink, and Lavender on Rose) / Mark Rothko / 1950 / oil on canvas / 81″ x 56″

The combination of warm colors juxtaposed in differing amounts and intensities in this Rothko has a unique effect on the viewer which is more than the sum of its parts. The colors in shape and composition are unified into a distinct, autonomous entity

Now with internet platforms like Twitter and Instagram, everyone can be spewing out their own quotations every couple of seconds to the world. This may be the culminations of a wide-spread triumph of freedom of speech. But I still find myself questioning: what effect does this have on the actual efficacy of people’s words? Can the virtual nature of internet communication reveal the unavoidable disconnect between words and reality: that what someone says (online or otherwise) isn’t always demonstrated by their actions? Are Twitter users actually saying what they mean, or are their chatty intentions coming from the push to get ‘followers’ (which is essentially how politicians now operate)? Does the internet make everyone into an authority based on what they say and on how many ‘followers’ they have (which reminds me a bit of cult dynamics)? Finally, does social media have the power to make everyone into journalists, politicians, celebrities, or even Artists? 

These are all questions which (as someone who doesn’t know the answers) I can’t help but throwing out there. I find it interesting if not disconcerting that it seems very few people today are questioning these currents which surround and often engulf us. We are consumed by the novel powers of the internet and social media–yet do we really know what we are engaging with? The unknowing and ever-questioning perspective of the child–and also of the Artist–can’t help but inquire into the underlying nature of things past, present, and future.

Picasso is famously quoted saying, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist one one grows up”. He also said, It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”. I assert (as do many other Artists) that the importance of retaining and utilizing the child-perspective is crucial to art-making–and perhaps living in general. “Growing up” in society essentially entails giving up one’s childhood perspectives in favor of a rational (i.e. limited, compromised, and standardized) understanding and acceptance of the world and existence. Being an ‘adult’ thus becomes a drab, tiresome, repetitive, and dampening affair. Despite expectations and appearances, I believe it is a type of psychosis: one afflicted by the ‘adult’ disease is out of touch with a crucial part of their own personal reality–an understanding and acceptance of the magic of the universe which is obvious to the child. Any sensitive ‘adult’ knows to never squash the magic awareness of the child–yet why is the ‘adult’ expected to give up their personal, inner reality in favor of a standardized, consensus reality based upon left-brained logic? Is it really necessary to give up one’s original, individual perception in order to ‘fit in’ and be a ‘functioning adult’ in society? (Perhaps!) And now, as the Postmodern and conceptual hoopla has been hammered into art for decades, nearly nailing the coffin shut, Artists have been subtly coerced into to giving up subjective awareness in their art in favor of presenting and proving objective, socially justifiable reasons for their art. Art at large has become mentally ill with the ‘adult’ psychosis, where institutional, rational, and politically correct authority reigns supreme, and ‘fitting in’ objectively trumps the expression of subjective, personal ideas.

(unfinished childhood piece) / 2002 / acrylic on canvas board / 16" x 20"
(unfinished childhood piece) / 2002 / acrylic on canvas board / 16″ x 20″

Before and after images of Unfinished Childhood Picture 7

Unfinished Childhood Picture 7 / 2001/2015 / acrylic on board / 16" x 20"
Unfinished Childhood Picture 7 / 2002/2015 / acrylic on board / 16″ x 20″

Above is a piece from my Unfinished Childhood Pictures, a series in which I resurrected 10 artworks I began between 1997 and 2002, but which were abandoned before completion. In 2015 I ‘finished’ these 10 works, including the one above, which depicts a rather naive interpretation of inter-species interaction. As an 11-year-old, it didn’t matter nor occur to me that zebras and tigers don’t exist together in the ‘real’ world; my awareness at the time was more focused on the (obvious) aesthetic relationships and also discrepancies between zebras and tigers. At that transitional time (from child into preteen awareness), with my creative perspectives being challenged by the impeding adult-minded demands of rational and responsible reality, I was unable to complete the work. When I returned to it nearly 15 years later, I infused it with the irrational rainbow-aesthetics common to (my) early childhood perception.

Evolving as a human involves going both forward and backward in time: it is a movement towards infinity, entering the Kingdom of Heaven. The Bible states: “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:45, 15). From an Artist’s (and mortal human’s) perspective, I suggest that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found within the earthly realm, and upon having the receptivity, curiosity, and questioning of a child, one will be able to see the wonders of the world as they are: mysterious, magical and wondrous beyond limiting comprehension. To quote the book I am reading (which, along with many other good books, was passed along to me from Michael Melville), Ego and Archetype by Edward F. Edinger, ” The child signifies the young, underdeveloped aspect of the personality, that which is fresh, spontaneous, and not yet fixed in rigid patterns” (Edinger pg. 144). For the child, everything is changing and new–the truth of the universe which creativity emanates from.

When I was (physically) a child, my desire to make art came from my interest and intrigue in the world around me. I am finding, after having gone through those necessarily weird, ego-seeking transitional teenage years, into ‘young adulthood’ attending art school, to being in the ‘real world’ as an ‘adult’ with ‘responsibility’, that my interest in making art still comes from the same place and same desires. Despite having endured four years of art school straight out of high school, where the pressure to make ‘responsible’ art–art that is historically logical (i.e. Postmodern), art that is ‘responsive’ to artistic issues (i.e. addressing inflated intellectual concerns), and/or art that is ‘politically correct’ (i.e. challenging racial stereotypes) –was paramount, I find myself desiring to return to the receptive (rather than contrived) perspectives of the child. This is generally discouraged in school, art-related or not, which I believe is a  reason why the school systems in America, from elementary to college, are failing. Children love learning, while adults already know everything–so naturally, if schools are teaching adult perspectives, they are shooting themselves in the foot. People who know everything already (i.e. adults) don’t want or need to go to school, right? And in addition, why would they want or need art, which ideally shows us things we don’t normally or already perceive? And since everyone already knows everything via Google search via their iPhone in their pocket, who needs to ask questions anymore? (Does Ask Jeeves still exist?!!?).

What Artists have to say in words is as illuminating as the art they make. It is undoubtedly part of their artistic practice and should be taken into account as such. More often than not, if one likes an Artist’s work, they will be interested in what they have to say. But can someone be an ‘Artist’ based upon their words–can someone be an ‘Artist’ on social media and have that also be the truth in the physical (artistic) realm? Can someone be an Artist just because they say so? Don’t they need actual art (which involves more than just saying a few words) to back up their self-proclaimed genius status and evidence of supporters (i.e. ‘followers’)? Does it really mean anything when Kanye West says “I am Warhol. I am the No. 1 most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh”. Does it really mean or do anything for an Artist to have 1 million followers on Instagram? Do people now, and will generations to come, equate Kanye with his word, or will we come to understand that words are no replacement for artistic efficacy in the tangible world? Will all the instantaneous tweets and spontaneous (though premeditated) instant posts add up to creating someone’s legitimacy or legacy? Will people of the future take an Artist’s words more seriously than their artistic output? Is Kanye Shakespeare in the flesh simply because he says so?

Of note, Kanye is also quoted saying, “The most successful artists are closest to who they were when they were 5 years old or 4 years old or 3 years old”. There is validity in that sentiment. And perhaps Kanye is speaking his truth: perhaps he was as self-interested and impulsive with words when he was 3, 4, and 5 years old as he is now!

As a conclusion, I must include the corrected version of a well-known proverb, which apparently dates back to the 14th century: “The proof in the pudding is in the eating”.