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Sunday, December 22, 2013

CYCLES AND THE WIDENING GYRE

yayoi kusama
 
Today, the winter solstice was a still day of light fog with about fifty yard visibility. Trees in the foreground were dark and wet, and the trees faded into the fog with distance. The foreground had a white background like a watercolor. Light breeze rang the windchimes in sequences of four and five different notes every time. A good day to be at home with no schedule and nothing pressing. A good day to stare out the window in silence with empty mind and see familiar landscape as watercolor. A good day for a long winter's nap. A good day to ride a dugout canoe through a swamp in Botswana with author Laurens van der Post in his 1958 account of searching for the Bushmen, THE LOST WORLD OF THE KALAHARI. I'd read this several years ago, probably around 40. A few weeks ago I saw the documentary film, THE JOURNEY OF MAN, tracing DNA back to the original people on earth. It went back to the Bush people of the southern part of Africa, who are living in the Kalahari desert in this time because people all around them want to kill them. They're little and they're different, so kill them, the mind we like to believe we rise above in civilization, but never do. Sometimes I feel like this is the very mind that guides civilization. However, that's serving a temptation to take something incomprehensively complex, simplify it into a word or two and pat myself on the back for saying something erudite. I returned to van der Post after learning the Bush people of the Kalahari are the original humans we all come from. They have lived in the southern part of Africa for something like 200,000 years. What we call civilization goes back less than 10,000 years.
 
yayoi kusama
 
I've recently learned a word for my view of the world. The word is, apocaloptimist, someone whose vision of the near future is waxing worse and worse, and whose vision of the distant future is that everything will work out just right. We're in a difficult time in civilization, perhaps the most difficult ever, and perhaps the greatest renascence since classical times. Making sculpture of human forms changed from standing straight up with arms straight down to sitting, lying down, standing in varieties of postures, walking, running, realistic in the classic sense. In the 20th Century, we left reproductions of existing objects and human forms for more interior representations of mind. In the Dada period, 1916, Zurich, Switzerland, a handful of draft dodging artists from Romania, Germany, France, Norway, ran the course of 20th Century art in six months. Simultaneously, in Paris, Marcel Duchamp was working in the same spirit. The cycle repeated from then to 1969 or 70. A new cycle has begun in what we call the Post Modern. First cycle happened in Zurich for half a year. Second cycle covered the globe in half a century. Third cycle may last half a millennium, 500 years. The progression I see is raising of consciousness by way of Dada during WW1, Surrealism between WW1 and WW2, and abstraction from WW2 to 1969, when the avatar of the Age left the body. The Modern period. The Post Modern period began doing Dada again. That's breaking it down in broad sweeps, the best I can do for brevity. This span of Dada all over the globe may last fifty or more years, then Surrealism and Expressionism maybe a few hundred years, then the same period of time with abstraction in all its varieties. Then time to run the cycle again, a spiral that started in one place in one time, cycles that grow bigger and bigger to take in all of humanity over a period of at least 500 years, each cycle an advancement by way of what was learned from the cycle before.
 
 
yayoi kusama
 
As we have looked back on Greece and Rome as the foundation of art through the 19th Century, the future will be looking back to the 20th Century as the foundation time when collective human consciousness took a leap without knowing it. It will take a few more centuries for that leap in consciousness to reach all the people around the globe. This does not exclude the learnings from the Classical period or the Renaissance. They will continue and feel as far away conceptually as Egyptian renderings of people with straight arms and straight legs. I was fascinated to see my first Egyptian sculpture of a life-sized human head. No lines on the face. No furrowed brow. Smooth African round face. The classical age of reason, the breakthrough of the forebrain in the time of the Christ in Jerusalem, made sculptures showing furrowed brows, deeply lined faces, the torment of thought. In a way, that period was the introduction of rational thought to collective humanity. It takes awhile for it to get around. We can see in the progression of 20th Century art leaving the physical reality of the body, or what Marcel Duchamp called "the retinal," for an art of mind reality. Perhaps this is leading to the next big cycle of the spiritual. If abstraction and readymades are art expressions of mind, I'm wondering how art of the spiritual would manifest. Perhaps what I'm calling "mind" is the spiritual, and mind came with the classical. It's getting down to defining mind and spirit, which I can't get into at this moment. I don't even know that there is a line. I'd be more inclined to say they fade into each other the way light and dark do at sunrise and sunset.
 
yayoi kusama
 
This brings to mind the next book from the past I want to reread. Not all books from the past do I want to reread, very few. This one I just now picked off the shelf. AN ART OF OUR OWN: The Spiritual In Twentieth Century Art, by Roger Lipsey, 1988. Looking at the table of contents makes me salivate mentally. He walks from Cezanne through the Modern period, chapters on Kandinsky, Brancusi, Matisse, Noguchi. Lipsey previously wrote a biography of Ananda Coomeraswamy, a philosopher of Indian art. Lipsey's vision of art is through a western eye that has learned to see through the eastern eye. He is a scholar whose eyes see both ways. I am comfortable with his approach to the spiritual through the eastern vision. Eastern spiritual engages experience. I remember enjoying Lipsey's prose and insights. I didn't always feel like his interpretations accorded with my understanding of the subject, but that means nothing. He was teaching me. I wasn't teaching him. It's mine to take what I learn from him and weave with my own understanding. Lipsey pulled the whole of 20th Century art together as the dismantling of form, color, name, design, all the way to conception, 1969. I remember reading the 500 page book with the same fascination as a Patrick White novel, another one I'd like to dip into again. I could happily spend what time I have left in this body rereading books I have loved along the way. Another favorite is a biography of artist Giacometti by James Lord. One I must read the first time is the text with a big book of Brancusi's work, written by his closest friends, other Romanian artists living in Paris. And Stanley Weintraub's biography of Whistler. Now I get a logjam in my head and have to do like a dog, shake my head, flop my ears, throw pointless thinking off like water off my hair. Back to the Kalahari of Southern Africa for now. This is what I love about reading, that it takes me to places, times, people, understandings far beyond my own, whatever my own may be. I feel like I'm creeping up on a time to dive back into Lipsey's beautiful book and illustrate it with google images. A review of the Modern to look forward to with the same anticipation as for a cup of Ethiopian coffee.
 
yayoi kusama
 
 
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