Sunday 25 August 2013

Art and the Transformative Vision

I'm on my favourite soapbox again: if one is blessed with artistic talent, should our art (by that I mean writing, movies, paintings, anything creative) offer a vision of something greater than ourselves, or - under the name of creative freedom - does "anything go"?
I've covered this topic in various guises in the following blogposts:

What Good is a Book?
Today I came across a beautiful article from Odyssey Magazine which provides an interesting take on the subject. The author is Andrew Dilks, who writes on culture and politics at and is the author of "Goliath" and "Flow."  Here is Art and the Transformative Vision by Andrew Dilks:
It’s hard not to look at the contemporary art market and see it as superficial and transitory – much of it comes across as the self-indulgent product of egotism; self-conscious attempts at irony that degenerate into meaningless banalities; a smug postmodern sensibility obsessed with its own cleverness without saying anything insightful. “Art” – however debased and misapplied the word has become in today’s materialistic world – is no longer interested in offering a transcendent vision of something innate and timeless. Instead, at best it serves as a loud, demanding punctuation mark, as immediate as the latest Google trends – a reflection of the short-term memory of the digital age more concerned with what is “in” than what is “within”.
Art, in this sense, can be seen as the culmination of mankind’s regression away from a unified psychological attitude in which reason and emotion – left and right hemisphere thinking – are fully integrated, towards the complete domination of the cold rationality of the scientific age, with no room for unfettered creativity, only the sanctioned “art” of the marketplace where the artist themselves have become commodities, personalities every bit as disposable as TV celebrities and pop stars.
José Argüelles refers to this duality in the history of human artistic expression as “techne” and “psyche” in what is perhaps one of the most radical and significant books on the subject: TheTransformative Vision: Reflections on the Nature and History of HumanExpression. It is an ambitious work, to say the least, spanning the course of history and examining the changing role of art in the context of history, culture, psychobiology, Jungian psychology and the sciences. For Argüelles, the forces which have defined the development of the Western world are responsible for nothing less than the near-total detachment from our ability to make contact with the “transformative vision”; a world where mankind has become trapped by the ideologies of reason and science which limit consciousness and thereby the ability to express that which stirs beneath the rational mind.
An illustrative example of this process is the introduction of the single-point perspective in painting and its proliferation during the Renaissance, coinciding with the rise of the “Great Artist”. As perspective-based art stands for the growing perception of mastery and domination of the world by mankind, so too does the rise of the artist as commodity – those with the wealthy and influential patrons in the church or, more tellingly, bankers and merchants such as the Medici family – mark the beginnings of what was to become an almost complete rejection of the archaic, psychic forms which came before. As the artist began to master nature through painting and sculpture (albeit it in a subjective sense in which the position of the viewer was paramount) so too did Western society seek to dominate and exploit the environment under the guise of progressive humanism as it moved towards the industrial age.
At the same time, the subject became mired in the human experience – the “great men” of the ages – be it the grand portraits of men of influence or the neoclassicism which characterized the Age of Enlightenment. This drive towards historicism – dictated by the linearity of time and the causal nature of human history – further embedded the Western mindset in a tradition at odds with ancient modes of thinking and was consolidated by the establishment of academic artistic institutions, rendering “art” the preserve of elite intellectuals and depriving the masses of legitimate access to their own creativity. These academies, as Argüelles puts it, were “the basic conditioning factor of visual perception in the Western world” – not until the Impressionists was art reluctantly and somewhat tentatively dragged in new and bold directions.
There were notable exceptions throughout this period – men who achieved something of the transcendental in their art and could be called visionary: William Blake’s mystical prophecies and cosmological visions in response to the deadening effects of the Leviathan that is the technocratic state; Goethe’s alchemical works inspiring a reunification of the feminine and the masculine (just as Blake created his Illuminated Works, so too did Goethe end his life with the words, “more light!”). But these visionaries were the exception, destined to live on the margins of a world dominated by materialism. Some, such as Vincent Van Gogh, would be perceived as so radical by the forces of artistic reaction as to be “suicided by society”, which subsequently, without a trace of irony, decides to worship them posthumously, almost apologetically for failing to appreciate their vision while they were alive.
Ultimately, The Transformative Vision is about a final return to the archaic in which the transcendent, spiritual goal of art and its function in the process of individuation comes full circle; where techne and psyche are reintegrated in a process of complete unification. As Argüelles puts it,
“[the] modern techno-historical society abolished the right to vision as well as the ritual for gaining it with a fearful and self-righteous vengeance, thus ensuring its own fantastic rise to power but also sealing its own doom. In denying the validity of the vision and the vision-quest, modern society denied itself any rebirth short of the apocalypse – an event its own shamans and visionary prophets, exiled to the sidelines, have continually foretold and prepared for.”
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Bish Denham said...

When we pay coaches more than we pay teachers, there is an imbalance about what is truly important.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

BISH: that seems to be a worldwide problem and, as you say, a symptom of the imbalance in the world today.

Anne Gallagher said...

if one is blessed with artistic talent, should our art (by that I mean writing, movies, paintings, anything creative) offer a vision of something greater than ourselves, or - under the name of creative freedom - does "anything go"?

I think in the broader sense of offering something up, if you have a talent, that indeed does come from God. Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, etc. were mere mortals, however, had such "talent" as to be godlike. or rather touched by God. For them not to use their creativity would be a sin.

In today's world of "creativity" I do believe that some artists are just in it for the money and don't care what they write or paint as long as it's worth a zillion dollars. However, I think with those people, their talents and/or "genius" dies a little each day.

I watched the movie "Pollock" recently (Ed Harris starred, wrote, directed) about the artist and it was so nerve wracking watching it.

He was such a great artist -- okay, he wasn't really, not by my standards, just little blotches of paint any 4 year old could do -- but the hype that surrounded him MADE him a "great" artist and as he got more famous, his work suffered, his inner psyche suffered and everything around him suffered.

(However, Ed Harris did a fantastic job with this movie, and his "art" of making this movie was definitely a love. you could tell.)

Anyway, I don't believe we as artists can achieve greatness. Or find that which God has bestowed upon us. Unless we're living on a small island somewhere. In this Twitter filled, fast paced lifestyle we live there is too much outside influence. No one stops to see the beauty and grandeur of the universe anymore. Life is too fast. From birth to death is only a moment away now, whereas you used to be able to "live" for 75 or 80 years. How can we offer something of greatness if we're not living in the "real" world.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

ANNE: What an insightful and interesting answer! Yes, I think the hype that surrounds living "great" artists (whatever their medium) does come with a huge huge price attached. I've just rushed off to Amazon to order Pollock - I love Ed Harris, he is a superb actor! The movie blurb reminds me of the 2008 French movie (also true life about a scullery maid who painted amazing images she said came from God) called Sera Here is the link to IMDB page with more info on

The acting was also superb and the downward spiral very sad.

Also, as you say, in today's world I think technology and the internet is a double edged sword - while it does makes us as artists (especially writers) more technically proficient (we learn quicker because of the overload of info) but you are so right when you say life is just so fast we've lost the ability to see the beauty and grandeur that the universe offers us, even in the tiniest things - sometimes it feels as if we've lost our souls, and that loss is reflected in all the art around us (with a few notable exceptions - have you read THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS by ML Stedman - that's transcendent writing indeed, and it's a debut novel!)

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Sorry that was supposed to be the French movie Séraphine

Misha Gerrick said...

I still think it's "everything goes".

Whatever someone's opinion about art at the moment and the effect of modern society on our approach to art, one fact remains.

It's the artist's prerogative to create what he/she wants. And it's a consumer's prerogative to decide whether or not the artist's creation is good.

And the consumer's choice will determine what's remembered and what will be forgotten.

Not what one person or group of people decide should be produced as art.

And the fact is, if all artists only produced what some groups wanted to see, true creativity would be gone and civilization (as I see it) would be shot to bits.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Thanks for your comment Misha. The more I learn about cymatics, the more I believe that we, as creative artists with the power to influence (not control or censor) the world on which we release our art, should approach our creativity with an awareness - a deep consciousness - of our responsibility towards the growth and evolution of humanity.