New additions to Spinozablue include poems from Kyle Hemmings and Howie Good. Both bring the uncanny and the marvelous to the fore in unique ways. Two things sorely lacking in Art, to our great sadness.
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A few days ago I mused about The Other and difference. The foreignness of things, of certain subjects for Art, of their magnetism. In a sense, that could be a sign of my backsliding from the Zennish path, because Zen teaches the overcoming, the transcendence of difference. It teaches mastery over the process of discrimination and segregation, two of our biggest delusions:
That we are essentially different from one another. That we are not one with the All.
Aside from the magnetic draw of the Other, there is an equally strong temptation to dwell inside that zone as if it is not an illusion. To feel a sort of comfort, and a sense of pride, in our ability to celebrate and elevate the difference in others, especially in light of negative, even virulent prejudice and xenophobia. To raise up is greater than its opposite. But in Buddhism, killing those opposites in our minds, ending opposition itself, is the higher goal.
There are, of course, a myriad paradoxes to sort our way through. For instance, in Buddhism, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and no-thing is anything without all of the rest of existence. Nothing is anything in and of itself. We are all necessarily relational beings, connected, entwined, within and without, a democracy of forms holistically dependent upon each other. But the creation of Art involves choices. It involves composition. It entails leaving this or that out, because the universe is too vast. At least on the surface, it involves discrimination.
There is no form, there is nothing in the world which says nothing. Often – it is true – the message does not reach our soul, either because it has no meaning in and for itself, or – as is more likely – because it has not been conveyed to the right place.. ..Every serious work rings inwardly, like the calm and dignified words: ‘Here I am!’ — Wassily Kandinsky. 1913
We favor the simple expression of complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth. — Mark Rothko. 1943
So, how to overcome the limitations of composition to go beyond mere choice? Is it possible to transcend Otherness, Difference, avoid hierarchies and the privileging of one cultural frame over another? Is it possible to make Art that does not separate or subjugate?
In short, is it possible to free oneself from everything but mystery and miracle?
When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything. Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect. When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.
— The Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. Translated by Stephen Mitchell.
Composition as Cipher, or Number. The work after his ninth, or a painting to represent all paintings. Whatever his intentions regarding the title, the painting strikes me as musical, like pretty much all of his art, and he wanted that music to come from within all viewers so that they could become seers like Kandinsky. The inner artist meeting the work on the wall and turning it into a tunnel back to themselves. A tunnel with ears.
In your works, you have realized what I, albeit in uncertain form, have so greatly longed for in music. The independent progress through their own destinies, the independent life of the individual voices in your compositions is exactly what I am trying to find in my paintings.
— letter to Schönberg, 1911, after the performance of Schönberg’s second string quartet and the “Three piano pieces.”
George Spencer brings us a new poem below about things that perhaps shouldn’t have a name, like poems, and things that could or should populate those works. Riffing from a work by John Ashbery, he plays the meta-game and finds a few new twists. Here’s an audio clip of Ashbery reading the poem within the poem in question, with a short intro:
And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name, by John Ashbery
My poem from yesterday was about many things, but chiefly about fighting the inability to write. Poems, prose, in journals. The painting above is about something else, though it ties some things together for me. Kandinsky, in this work from his Der Blaue Reiter period, was painting in part theoretically, putting theories into his paintings, arming his colors with monads of thought. Color as spirit. Spiritual color(s). Color to invoke the spiritual. And music as the bridge of bridges.
“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammer, the soul is the strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.” — Wassily Kandinsky
He, too, would paint improvisationally, in a way similar to my poem In Medias Res. But it is often easier to paint musically, spontaneously, and make it effective as a composition, than to write in that manner. At a loss, the painter can still make visual poetry from nature, internal and external, even in the midst of flailing. At a loss, the poet can make a mess of things.
The choice of the painting by Van Gogh was complicated. Memories of my own visit to Arles, and the recognition of his suffering there, combine with the tragic lot he noted in others. The patrons of the Café de l’ Alcazar. The patrons of the night. But he translated that tragic vision into art, again and again and again.
“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”
“I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.” — Vincent Van Gogh
Sometimes when I think about writing, I think words wound that vision, that dream . . .
Kandinsky heard colors. They sang to him. His notes were colors, his colors notes. I see Jazz in the air, Bebop tickling the cerebral cortex, trailing after the watcher and the painter and the singer in all of us. I see blue notes, sharps and flats, choruses and improvs. The sun kisses that music and carries it through space and time. And there’s something not quite right, or unfinished, and waiting. There’s something ready to come into view on the right, like an unfinished symphony, an old Jazz or Blues number found in the papers of a known or unknown master. I see a natural mysticism, cool, making its own groove, its own geometry of pleasure. I see blue notes on a summer day, moving into glassy nights.
I hear colors. I see the Jazzy music of the spheres.