A recent conversation.
Friend: So what is it that you look for in art?
Me: The same thing that I look for in the world around me. The reveal.
Friend: The what now?
Me: The reveal. The thing that is in plain sight but gets obfuscated by too much thinking.
Friend: Ah… Ok, so what is this, ‘thing’.
Me: I told you. The reveal.
Conversing with me can be a little frustrating I’ve been told. The trouble with philosophising about life is communicating it.
Before I attempt to explain myself, I should probably explain the accompanying picture. The astute readers will have picked up on the fact that this is not a photograph. I’m fairly sure that I have no photographs left to share so I am resorting to drawing pictures, by hand via a mouse. I will state the obvious at this point and say that it is a much slower process than clicking a shutter but no less satisfying.
So, what is this “thing” that I look for in art?
I am not trained in art (in case the picture above didn’t make it obvious), nor in art appreciation for that matter. I just like art and have liked art for a long time. However, a deep appreciation of anything be it food, scotch, dance, Cuban cigars etc., requires an education, be it formal or informal, mentored or self-taught. With regards to art, I fall in the informal, self-taught category but despite many years of practice I remain at the amateur level. And I’m good with that.
When I first started to get interested in art I thought of art in terms of aesthetics. I either liked the look of it or I didn’t and as far as I was concerned that’s all my involvement required.
Over the years I learned some of the technicalities that go into making art and that became another way of appreciating art. I could approach an artwork and study its composition, its tones and colour arrangement, its lines and forms, the way it flowed, the way the various elements led my eyes around the scene, the use of textures and light and so on. In the end I would assess all those elements and I would either like what I saw or I wouldn’t. For a long time, that was the way I would view art and again, as far as I was concerned, that’s all my involvement required.
But over time it became apparent that there were many different levels of liking. In fact I even found different levels of not-liking. Why would an artwork make me teary, or lift my spirit, while another would make me angry or annoyed?
It was only when I noticed my reactions to music that I wondered if there was another way of looking at art. I know absolutely nothing about music. I cannot read music, I cannot play music, I cannot sing. I can’t even tell my do-re-mi from my mi-fa-sol. And yet, music can take me places like nothing else can.
The thing is that when I listen to music I give myself over to it. I come to it without preconceived ideas about tempo, harmonies, melodies, or whatever else goes into the making of it and that’s because I know nothing about what goes into the making of it. In fact, music often feels like a minor miracle to me.
And so, at some point, I tried to let go of my knowledge of art and give myself over to it. This took time. A lot of time. I don’t find it easy to let go of beliefs and opinions. I don’t find it easy to quieten thoughts when it’s just me and a photo or a painting. Music at least fills my head leaving no room for anything else but a picture, well, it just sits there, quietly.
Anyway, sometimes, mind quietens down enough. Then the picture’s whispers can be heard and some nuance, some aspect of the picture reveals itself. It does so in a wordless language. A language built up from years of experiences and circumstances that are only mine. It will connect with me in ways that I understand, ways that I can relate to and that’s rather nice to be sure.
But on even rarer occasions, when I am truly disconnected from all but the art piece, then, well, then the reveal is beyond any language, it is neither perceived or experienced. It is no thing, it is nothing, it is featureless consciousness. It is like the potential of bread in a grain of wheat, or a window pane in a grain of sand. It is like feeling the Northern Star while looking at the southern sky.
The reveal was always there of course, but it’s like the forest that cannot be seen for the trees; let go of the trees and there lies the forest.
Friend: Oh, ok.
Me: Too weird?
Friend: I would say you’re nuts. A beer short of a six-pack as Kierkegaard would have said.
Me: Did they have six-packs back in his day? But yeah, he wouldn’t get what I’m saying either. Damn existentialists. But that’s ok, I question my sanity on a daily basis.
Friend: You should.
A little later.
Friend: So, I’m afraid to ask…
Friend: To get this reveal thingy from the rest of the world, do you have to forget everything you know about the world?
Me: No. I suspect I would have to let go of everything I believe I know about me.
Some seconds pass.
Friend: You know, make that two beers short of a six-pack.