What Price Freedom?

What Price Freedom?

School of Athens, by Raphael. 1510
School of Athens, by Raphael. 1510

Have been away, in limbo, on leave, out of sight and out of mind, for ages now. As you can see, the gears of Spinozablue have ground to a halt, and whispers fill the corridors. There may still be time for a renaissance of sorts, but it’s looking more unlikely by the hour. Though we will make that attempt and give it the old college try tonight and perhaps again very soon.

The reason for the painting is simple. It’s similar to the reason for my absence here. It reminds me of the disconnect between what we see and what remains hidden. Greeks have a beautiful word for truth, “aletheia,” which can be literally translated as the state of not being hidden. What is no longer hidden is the truth.

As the years have passed I have gotten closer and closer to the truth of the matter, at least for me. Though with each step, I see more questions come into focus as well, so there’s never really any cumulative advance, much less victory.

The truth is, I think we’ve all been living a lie, and I’ve known that all along. The truth is, when I think about things, I have to listen to music or read a good book or watch a DVD to avoid what I’ve known all along. And sometimes, avoiding the truth puts me face to face with it again, especially when I see the news or read about current events or some philosophical tract triggers the thoughts once more.

Aristotle thought that slavery was necessary in order to give the great minds of Athens the leisure time required to think deep thoughts, create philosophy and science and make that fundamental break with the past William Barrett talks about in his Irrational Man — which I’m rereading yet again. Today, almost 2400 years after Aristotle, most of us think we’ve left the issue of slavery behind, and that we’re no longer dependent upon the hidden ones to get through our days.

In America, there are layers and levels of power, wealth and privilege. From CEOs who make 430 times the rank and file worker, to workers who buy clothes made by the hidden ones in foreign lands, to all of the levels of power and wealth in those other nations, on down the line. Master and slave are still with us. What we do, what we buy, what we allow others to do in this country makes slaves and masters here and across the globe. Of course, it’s not really as simple as all of that, except when it is.

This, of course, is not a sudden revelation, and I’m guessing most people have an instinctive feel for what’s really going on. I think many people at least have doubts about our system and the way it distributes wealth and power, and they, too, put layers between themselves and reality to distract themselves enough to ignore it, avoid it, perhaps even run from it . . .

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Art is a hammer sometimes. It breaks the old locks and forces us to think of new metaphors to replace worn out stuff like hammers and broken old locks. And with Modern Art, we even find ourselves questioning the reason for any of it at all. Any art.

Since roughly the 17th century, one aspect of art as painting has been to democratize the subject, the medium and the message. We left the school of Athens for the school of hard knocks, and then left school entirely. We went from the “realistic” portrayal of the elite, with an attempt at three dimensions, to everyday people and things, and then to no attempt to represent anything other than the internal vision of the artist. The canvas itself became democratized, as each brushstroke attained the same importance, each shape the same right to exist. Negative and positive space became an anachronism, along with background and foreground.

Science advanced to new heights, but scientists discovered limitations they had never foreseen. Hubris took major hits in the 19th and 20th century, and all of that was reflected in art. We were leaving behind centuries of hierarchies and certainties, and this revolution augured great things for every day life.

Or so we thought.

Great art is always ahead of its time. It’s often a prediction, a prophecy. For thousands of years, it seemed that society followed many of those predictions and fulfilled more than a prophecy or two. But this time it’s different. This time the democratization of Modern Art, the move away from linear story telling in literature, the move away from Aristotle’s poetics of beginning, middle and ending, the breaking down of so many barriers between background and foreground, between the hidden and the obvious, have not resulted in a corresponding shift in our societies. At least not in keeping with the level of revolutionary change. Our predictions and prophecies have failed.

Why? Why the gap? I will attempt to explore some reasons in the very near future.

 

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