Friday, 9 January 2009

Beauty, Truth and Art

Yesterday was the opening of my first one woman show of photos, in a real gallery founded for photography only. I've been feeling tired and disconnected from everything so it was a somewhat arduous undertaking. When I left the house a snow blizzard suddenly hit me hard and all my make up ran down my cheeks. Needless to say I wasn't terribly happy when I reached the train where my mother waited for me.

The photos were all taken a year ago in Kansas where there was little else to do but visit a big manmade lake and research all the quirky details that the creation of this lake had caused in the landscape. During that long period of cold winter months I also got to witness the land as it changed depending on the very unusual weather circumstances. The photos can be seen on my website or on Flickr. Just before the opening a journalist was asking me about it all, and all I could think of saying was that during this time, I went through an inner process as a photographer while nature went through its own processes. I mumbled something about the way abstract photography is fascinating because you know that it has reality as its base, and how the digital era allows you more easily than before to make a simple photo into something that extends into the arena of art. I'm not sure this really came across right. Another journalist called me today and I still didn't have the presence of mind to simply say: it's about the process of discovering beauty in unexpected places.

It does indeed require a special state of mind to notice something that you can capture or turn into a piece of art. First of all you have to be mindful. My cat Marius has now forgiven me so when I pet him he starts to pur. It reminds me how terribly important it is for me to witness my cats' happiness every day, and every time they come to me to spend quality time I make an effort to switch off my absentmindedness and be truly present to them. There is no knowing if I will still have this kind of moment tomorrow or next week... These moments make life worth living even when you feel disconnected and tired. Mindfulness is thus what makes life meaningful. Without it you have nothing. It may not make you into an artist, but you can at least appreciate the beauty inherent in all natural things.

I read and responded to an interesting topic about an experiment conducted in Washington D.C. Joshua Bell, who is a famous and talented violinist, played in the subway like any other street musician. The point was to see whether busy people running off to work would recognize the beauty in his performance and whether context creates art. You can read more about it here. The comments are also well worth reading. Some people did feel that the context was a bit unfair to those who didn't pay attention to the music - how much can you really ask of the poor Americans who are so busy making a living in a country where this is especially accentuated!

Anyhow, I personally think that context is always present in everything we do - perhaps I might even go as far as to say that context cannot be separated from the product because everything we ever do is dependent on a whole bunch of elements to do with time and space and things that are meaningful in relation to these.

It seemed to me that people confused beauty with art. I do not think beauty necessarily equals art. There is ugly art that provokes and helps people re-evaluate their lives. The object of art is to awaken people to something, and this can be about aesthetic values as well as concepts. However, I think beauty is inherent in life, it equals truth. Untruth, denial and deception cause ugliness unless this ugliness becomes intentional through the filter of an artist. I also think that people have more and more trouble being mindful about life, because of all the trivial obligations that we have been programmed to put our minds into. You have to clear your mind of preconceptions, theories and any other form of mind clutter in order to really look and hear. People are not educated to do this. The brain does get programmed into certain tracks very easily. Even I as an artist have to remind myself at times to be present to something really lovely, for instance the happiness of my cats when they come and want to spend time with me. I remind myself, that I may not get to see that beauty tomorrow, so I must not waste the moment. I am lucky to have time and education to do this, but how many people do?

I think that to some extent context helps to wire people’s minds into appreciating art, because they know to expect it. They are then more able to de-clutter their minds and pay attention. I think it’s obvious that the beauty in L’Enfant Plaza where the performance took place was there whether anyone saw it or not. The reference to the koan about whether or not a tree makes a sound when it’s falling if there is no one there to hear it is interesting. The beauty was there in the reality as we know it, though maybe in a deeper ontological way it existed only to the extent that someone was able to pick it up. (Ontology is the basic nature of reality). Let me extend this thought a bit to embrace ideas surrounding the nature of personal truths. But before I go on, let me just say this: stop running around making money like crazy and reconnect with what is truly essential in life! But it’s up to each and everyone to decide if they want to, of course… Perhaps experiments like this help people realize they may have a choice in this regard.

I think serious methaphysical studies and as far as I understand quantum physics and the like also agree that there really is no objective truth. In other words, there are only subjective filters of our subjective minds. We can agree on certain things and that makes them "objective", but ARE they really objective? What is the real nature of these things we can measure? Quantum theory tells us ultimately there is nothing but a field of potentiality. You could argue that science has proven this or that. Well... sure, there are measurable things. But there are also things that are still measured very badly if even at all due to a lack of proper tools. We are surely not at the height of human evolution (that was a Victorian idea, haha...). I'm not one to read much anymore so I can't say what the latest findings are, but it was pretty clear to me back during my student's days that there is no absolute unarguable proof of the existance of an objective reality. It would then mean that truth is relative to each human being.

Can we trust other people's perception of reality? What can we really say about other people's intuitions? I think, that many times other people are really off course: sometimes other people's intuitions are not intuitions at all but delusions and misconceptions that they and possibly a whole bunch of people take for "truth". So it's a tricky thing but it seems to me that truth is really relative most of the time and that absolute truth is forever beyond our reach until we have some experience of enlightment or something of the sort. In my opinion we are really in the dark here but I think we can know more, it's just a matter of learning, intuiting, being open, maybe the time period we live in...

However, who is to really judge that someone else is wrong? You may encounter a person who is totally intolerable from your point of view, who wants to convert you to their beliefs etc. And it may definitely be detrimental to you (and to them I may add) and a community could agree (though often doesn't) that it is not morally sound to try and convert others by way of superiority, authority, manipulation and the like. So the result is there is some kind of truth in that situation that is agreed upon by many but it may be far from the truth of who that person really is in a much deeper, wider or even ontological sense. (Ontology = the basic nature of reality).

Art is thus to a great extent about people's ideas as well as their deeper intuitions and perceptions about life. I think other people's intuitions can show us "something", and that it is often very valuable to our understanding of things as well as enjoyment of life and the creation. In this world, pondering, speculating and feeling is quite central to our existance and it's all very well and fun for many of us, but it doesn't mean it's the same in some other possible world. These intuitions also vary, so cannot be taken for "truths" in my opinion.

It's certainly a question of paths to the truth but that still doesn't make the "ultimate truth" that someone might arrive upon exactly the same as that of someone else. C.f. the idea of enlightment! As far as I know mystical experiences have similarities but they are not always the same. Who knows, really? There are many theories about how we are co-creators of the world through the subjective filters of our individual selves, and that is how "God" expresses him/her/itself. I've looked into it and personally don't see any contradiction there. I do think that we are truly all in it together in a fuller sense than what appears to be. I do think something can be real and unreal at the same time, but it depends what level we're talking about. If we're talking about the physical reality that we all perceive similarly (not quite the same, only similarly) things are more solid (compared to realms of a different type of frequencies or whatever you want to name it). The laws of nature make dualism have a strong hold. But what do we know about higher spheres - provided you believe there are any? Again, many report that they know of these higher spheres. If someone doesn't perceive them it obviously doesn't mean that they don't exist. We know that from history already! The same goes for both art and beauty. Just because people don't notice them or perceive them as such, it doesn't mean they don't exist. So in a paradoxical sense I'd say that even if reality is dependent on a subjective perception and we live in a reality that is agreed upon and in which we collectively contribute to the space of art, philosophy and scientific innovations, there are ways of seeing that are not available to all.

Artwork: "The Freak", digital photograph by authour, all rights reserved 2008
Visit this page on my site for more:


  1. - The desire is of good to transform and I make it… my part in this process! I was admired with its words and with its boarding in the subject, congratulations and one I hug of Brazil…
    - From now I am a follower of its blog and its work, its ideas, desire to it success and great a 2009.

  2. Oh, thank you so very much Eduardo, my greatest pleasure!! :-)

  3. I love following your present thought-flow and analysis through your posts. I am pleased I found you. Concerning art, true art is the art we create for ourselves. It is undeniable in that we are not seeking out approval, we are expressing in the moment of being alive.

    I agree that each has unique perceptions. The freedom arrives when we let other's live their lives as we deepen into our own.

  4. It's a great pleasure to meet you, Richard! I'm in awe of what you have gone through but also intrigued to see that we have had similar influences.

    I will dig into the question of art more specifically some day. Maybe it's a paradox, something we do for ourselves because we express our deeper self (otherwise it's not really art, is it) but we also want to / need to communicate it to others.

    I like how you express the idea of deepening into one's own life. However, it has to be experiential, so how do we get there? Maybe you have answers in your book? ;-)

  5. "It does indeed require a special state of mind to notice something that you can capture or turn into a piece of art...The object of art is to awaken people to something, and this can be about aesthetic values as well as concepts."

    As one who attempts art photography, I find the best part of this experience, whether or not appreciated by others, is awakening myself to something in what I photograph. There is that point when you feel a new significance to your subject, the initial experience. And just sometimes, I manage to capture that moment with my camera, and others can see it as well.

    I don't really know if there is any significance to this other than a kind of visual conversation with myself. I enjoy abstractions too, and look for something that is hidden in the obvious, perhaps as a way to see there is always something meaningful to the subtlest of moments in our lives--if we merely look? There is something "truly essential" to taking the time to see and reconnect to our hearts. I think art may be about that too.

  6. marin_explorer, you put it very well, once again. There's little to add, at least nothing I can think of right now. It's indeed a magical moment when you are able to capture something beautiful of a fleeting nature, for your own satisfaction regarding your find but also in order to communicate. It's about a kind of language, I'd say.