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“…my feeling for the organic rhythm of all things…with
the trembling and the movement of blood in nature, in the trees,
in the animals, in the air…” Attributed to Franz Marc
by Reinhold Heller, pg. 58, “Hildegard Auer, A Yearning for
Recent personal experiences, observations and discussions
have prompted this essay about a very basic matter of some considerable
complexity, intrigue and subtlety…or, at least it seems so
to this author. That matter is the topic of whether works of art
are the product of mind or emotion, the brain or the gut, the highly
intellectual or basic deep “feelings”.
Obviously we have motivations for making art objects or they would
not emerge at all. Somewhere in our brains and bodies we are inspired
and then engaged, expressing the motivations in outward action and
material form. Call this process a “need”, call it an
“illness”, call it what you will…but it must be
clear to all that it is a creative act, and I suggest it is an extension
of the evolutionary process which pervades the Universe. So I believe…without
the need to bring a supreme being into the discussion.
We are using our brains and bodies to create art. Somewhere there
is a personal balance struck that melds our mind’s thoughts
and bodily “feelings” in order to produce work. By feelings
I mean the viscera, the gut, the subconscious, the primordial, the
instinctive and/or intuitive…perhaps that manifested in and
thru the enteric nervous system…and the yet unclear link between
it and the physical brain in our skulls.
Stimuli which arouse sensations and thoughts in the body unite in
what we know as the “mind”. That is not a physical thing
with bodily presence, but the diaphanous floating thinking and feeling
entity that is the result of some still mysterious and chemical
processes acting within the actual body. It is my belief that the
mind disintegrates when the body dies, for it cannot exist without
the supply of energy provided by the organized body.
To speak of a “soul” is another related matter that
I will not get into here, though I will suggest that the soul may
be another name for mind and/or feelings. Again, I will not enter
into the subject of a deity here…though the word “spiritual”
as it unites with mind and motivation might be an operative one…as
is the word “numinous”.
Suffice it to say at this juncture, the creation of art objects,
however defined, is an extension of our thoughts and feelings, an
organization of matter…and an expression of energy.
THE PRACTICAL MATTER OF POPULAR ACCEPTANCE
To relate this subject to the production of art, its creation, exhibition,
selection and “success”, I propose that we discuss visual
art as it is presented to the interested public.
Of course, most of the public will unfortunately not have much interest
in this subject, just as most of the crowd will not be particularly
interested in the workings of a car motor, the processes that go
on in the plumbing of our houses…or the techniques of brain
surgery. The percentage of persons attuned to such specialties is
small, while the public otherwise largely shows interest in popular
culture, including sports, income providing work, mass media and
other forms of entertainment.
A lack of appreciation and understanding of visual art has to do
with a sometimes unspoken opinion, in much of the public, that art
and artists are aloof, irrelevant to their lives, and at the fringe
of acceptable everyday existence. This undoubtedly has something
to do with a lack in the educational system plus the everyday demanding,
distracting and practical needs of people. But it also has something
to do with artists and art theoreticians who sometimes speak in
terms difficult for the general public to grasp with any immediacy.
Art talk can be off-putting to those not attuned or particularly
Also, as our art culture has evolved since the 1950’s, it
is the case that many more visual artists have come on to the scene
by the proliferation of art classes in colleges. The distance required
between observer and producer has disappeared that might allow and
inspire mystery and respect. Instead there is the possibility that
a layperson may be unimpressed with visual art objects if they are
the product of friends and associates. The familiarity brings on
a callousness and disinterest, and knowing the artist’s personality
and intimacies affects the view of the art.
This is part of the “experts come from out of town”
ART WITHOUT EMOTION
It is sometimes the highly intellectual and conceptual art that
arouses distaste for visual art. But art that arises from and arouses
emotions can also be alienating depending on how it is presented
and interpreted. Visual art is a form of communication, an expression
of the artist, and the interpretation of the statement cannot be
controlled by the person doing the expressing.
Simply, there are some art objects made and appreciated that appear
on the surface to be highly intellectual. Call them esoteric, sophisticated,
theoretical, abstract and/or conceptual.
Their creation and appearance are derived from intellectual consideration
more so than following an instinctual or intuitive motivation to
some conclusion. The physical growth/process and final product are
the result of a creative act, but the final appearance may be less
aesthetically appealing to some observers than an art object that
relies upon a manipulation/technique that is more instinctual and
The final product may reveal that it was produced with little motivation
to be physically pleasing in terms of color, shape, light, shadow,
line and form…the more traditional described elements of art
derived from basic text books teaching techniques of art making.
Rather the object exists due to an intellectual response and need
to explore an idea or ideas, to produce something more “of
the brain”, without concentrating on making that object physically
“pleasing” to the eye…or motivating an emotional
response. These intellectual objects may be intriguing…interesting…inspiring…but
they do not usually motivate an observer to laughter, tears, and
a variety of moods. They are “of the head” and in that
they at least appear to be removed from the visceral and mood provoking.
Such examples might be products from the Dada Movement, the “Fountain”
of Duchamp, his “In Advance of the Broken Arm”, the
Minimalist work of the 60’s such as Judd’s sculptures,
and subsequent work that explores use of technology, seemingly simple
“straight line” themes without emotion or sentiment,
and 2D or 3D work that relies on an austere imagery that is perhaps
sober and entirely temperate.
Dictionary definitions of “austere” come to mind as
useful in describing the highly intellectual: severe, astringent,
ascetic, cold, earnest, exacting, forbidding, formal, grave, grim,
hard, harsh, inexorable, inflexible, obdurate, rigid, rigorous,
serious, sober, solemn, somber, stern, stiff, strict, stringent,
unfeeling, and unrelenting.
ON THE OTHER HAND
It must be acknowledged that intellectual activity as experienced
by individuals can be exciting, giving pleasure and arousing emotions.
Who is to say that the form and content of a conceptual piece will
not strike some people differently, either arousing quiet contemplation
or deep emotion? Experience and associations are different due to
differing personal evolutions…and a mental “hunch”
giving a direction may be very intuitive.
It is an indisputable fact that the observer, the person looking
at an art object, brings a unique set of experiences and knowledge.
The observer interfaces with the object, considers, reacts…consciously
or unconsciously applies knowledge and learning, and responds with
thoughts and/or feelings.
The observer also responds to seeing art in a greater or lesser
degree depending upon the sensitivity level at the moment. If the
observer is intent, aware, open minded without troubles of the day
weighing thought processes down…without being calloused or
distracted, then the response might be intense and deeply felt.
Ideas and associations might surface easily without restrictions
or obstacles…no matter what the nature of the object being
“Art is not a matter of slavery to the emotion – or
even a matter of slavery to nature – or to the aesthetic principles.
It is a tempered and happy union of them all.” Marsden Hartley
as quoted in “Theories of Modern Art” by Herschel B.
OUR ROOTS…OUR NATURE
I began this composition with a quote from Franz Marc concerning
animals and flora. I did so because of my total belief that we human
beings have arisen with and alongside of fellow living creatures
on the Earth, and that we…the animal kingdom…often share
characteristics. Those characteristics are not just physical ones…they
are internal, unconscious…intuitive and invisible. They manifest
themselves and are recognized by our expressions and actions, our
responses to what we see and experience…and they figure into
our health and illnesses. Those ailments may be of physical or mental
nature, or both.
If the reader here recognizes that he is of a mindset believing
that humans and all of nature were created by some overseeing intelligent
creature…a god…and if such a reader is not willing to
explore in an open minded fashion the subject of Evolution as developed
by Darwin and subsequent scientists…then the reader should
just stop here. That reader is a stone, a lump of hardened concretion…unable
to see truth beyond the mythology that he subscribes to.
However, no matter what one believes is the truth regarding our
existence on this planet, one can find reasons to accept the idea
that animals have at least developed in some parallel ways to Humankind.
Living with animals should suggest to us that animals have feelings…emotions.
There is clearly the emotion of fear. In many we see affection…love
for their offspring or mates. We can see rage and even joy…happiness.
These are basic shared feelings that humans have…either derived
thru the steps of evolution or because some creator saw fit to give
similar characteristics to creatures other than humans.
For god believers, one might think that god set down a “pattern”,
“model”, “template”, on which to create
living things, and there are only varieties based on the basic model
that was created. After all, perhaps even gods do not have unlimited
ways to design living things.
Beyond that, while some may see it as a poetic expression alone,
all living things depend on the “pulse” of electricity
that energizes them and which therefore is shared by all. Scientifically,
our hearts beat because there is indeed an electrical impulse. The
hearts of deer and dogs experience this too. Stop the energy supply,
and all things die.
THE PLANT KINGDOM
Plants and other flora, while not in the same evolved phylum as
animals, draw from Earth their sustenance…and respond to the
environment in a variety of ways. It is obvious that plants have
developed in very different ways than mammals and other species
of animals…and they do not seem to have an ability to think
as we do. However, plants do learn and modify to changing environments,
especially over the course of years and decades. We know we can
manipulate their genes and pass on or delete characteristics thru
our intelligent selection and breeding programs.
But as living things, Flora depends on the same underlying current
of energy that animals depend on. In that, we are siblings on this
whirling ball of space dust. Scientists also can look back thru
the millennia and postulate that all of us, human, animals…plants,
were derived from events in the galaxies that dispersed the stuff
of life…the energy and matter…the elixir of life. As
some have said, including the science popularizer, Carl Sagan, “We
are star stuff”. While we cannot link ourselves in a time
line very closely with vegetation, which has different sources early
in evolutionary history, we also cannot be blind to our roots in
an animal past.
There can be an exciting energized discussion arising from the fact
that we, humans…carnivores and vegetarians…trace the
source of our food back to plants. We either consume plants directly,
or we find the origins of our own energy traced to and rooted in
plant life. While plants may not exhibit the abilities, motivations
and emotions that animals, us included, do…we are intimately
linked to them.
“They tell us that plants are perishable, soulless creatures,
that only man is immortal, but this, I think, is something that
we know very nearly nothing about.” John Muir, from “A
Northwoods Companion” by John Bates
A CONTINUUM OF BRAIN AND MIND
Our physical human brain has been studied, and there is a nomenclature
regarding it. Its parts have been named, and the history from whence
each part emanated has been calculated…often by comparing
those parts to the physical parts of animals on a lower scale of
evolution. For instance, the “brain stem” can be seen
as a part derived from or parallel to the brains of reptiles.
We have devised means to measure the intelligence of animals, dolphins,
other primates, parrots, octopi, etc…and we have been surprised
as we gradually relinquish our position as the only intelligent
creatures on Earth.
The evolution of the brain and body after conception and while in
the womb, maintains some elements of the phases it has gone thru
over the millennia. The growing embryo reprises the physical make
up and characteristics of the various life forms through which we
have emerged over the millennia. The developing fetus takes the
forms of fish, reptile, bird…until it ultimately arrives full
term with over 99% of the same DNA as our relatives, the Chimpanzees.
(Macroevolutionists at Wayne State University
School of Medicine in Detroit announced key genetic material (DNA)
of people and chimps that is 99.4% the same, according to The Washington
Times (May 20, 2003). The paper quotes Dr. Morris Goodman who says
“We humans appear as only slightly remodeled chimpanzee-like
Both categories of visual art, the conceptual arising from ascetic
motivations, and the visceral imagery coming from intuitive sources,
are evolved from our animal ancestry. They are from the same source
but are different branches of the same evolutionary tree. Our brains
and intellects, and our intuitions and instincts, come directly
out of preceding creatures from which we have evolved. There is
a chain linking what we are to what came before.
We have learned that animals use materials to build nests, dams,
bowers, and shelters, arranging objects to attract the opposite
sex, and to select objects with which to gather and prepare their
food. A bird drops a shellfish so it is broken on stones, a sea
otter cracks a shell on the rock balanced on its chest, a Japanese
monkey washes its food in a nearby stream and others follow. We
have learned that animals feel emotion, whether the fear of pain
and physical harm in order to avoid injury and death, or by a more
complex continuum evolved thru intellectual structures of primates,
elephants, dolphins, and so on.
The skill of humans in utilizing tools, in building shelters, and
in creating workable societies and cultures, did not emerge full
blown in the minds of human creatures. Rather there is a continuum
of development arising from the gradual successful establishment
of those characteristics as our ancestors wound their way thru the
evolutionary sequence. We keep being surprised as we learn about
various animals utilizing tools, to include Chimps, birds, elephants
and otters. We discover that there are some animals that have their
own cultures, as simple and humble as they may be in comparison
to our more evolved examples.
Art can be defined as having a horizontal linear gradation from
end to end, with art objects that are merely conceptual on one side,
to the art on the other end which arises from and is meant to evoke
emotional responses. Then, of course, there is all the expression
lying between the two extremes that blend the intellectual with
THE GODS AND SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
For humans who believe that some intelligent super intelligence
was involved in the creation of the Universe, and an intelligence
that still is engaged in it operation, it is important to consider
the emotional life this god or these gods might have.
In the many ancient religions gods have revealed their love and
anger in stories that are handed down to us orally and in written
form. There are instances in various holy books with gods expressing
emotions in various ways. The bible informs us of a god that can
be angry, loving, and even doubtful and insecure. Those societies
that we call primitive provide panoply of gods with characteristics
that arise from emotional lives.
The ancient Greeks and Romans had gods with very obvious human characteristics,
including human bodily forms, human desires and failings. Christian
religions tell of a god who “felt” and acted on those
feelings. Societies of Africa and South America, for example, have
animistic gods exhibiting all kinds of emotion.
When we as individuals deny our emotions, when we repress them and
fail to acknowledge and express them, we can become mentally ill.
It doesn’t take much psychological analysis and education
to figure that out. Most of us have had experiences of our own,
either personally or as witnessed in friends and family, of persons
exhibiting behaviors that arise from emotions…while all of
us try to find balance thru intellectual processes, sorting out
ideas, motivations, “feelings”, and establishing a reasoned
balance for understanding our needs and responsible action.
Our mythical gods, it seems to me, despite having great powers,
have either created humans in their own image…or have been
manufactured by humans who project our own characteristics unto
I have my own conclusion about that, just as I have my own formed
ideas about the links between us and the rest of the Universe. I
am comfortable with the shared pasts, the parallel evolution, the
sources of our intellect and emotions… I feel blessed that
I have other species as siblings that help me understand more about
myself and my fellow humans. I know, deeply, that at the very least,
I feel what is felt in creatures other than me. I am fortunate to
share the electric impulses that energize living things…and
in having the “star stuff” that molds my body.
Whatever thoughts and emotions that motivate us to “make”
art, the art making is the act of expressing, a glorious opportunity
to release and to contact other humans who may potentially respond,
understand, share and communicate.
Save for the mores’ of individual cultures and the popular
trends of any moment, there really are no rules to what can be expressed.
In fact, evolution and progress in art making arises when individuals
move beyond the mores and expectations of cultures. The following
list of topics, among others, is fair game to speak about, to contemplate…to
share and explore with others…and utilize in art making:
The intellectual; the intuitive; reason; nostalgia; sentiment; emotion;
right brain and left brain; fear of and expression of emotions;
animal roots; brains and the thread of evolution; gods and feelings…
“You feel this God in your blood, do you not? She asked…
The God that requires only our remembrance in extemis,
The gentle, the mature, the ever-young,
That demands nothing but our participation and growth,
The composer of the song of earth and all worlds.”
From the novel, “Serpent Mage” by Greg
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