What Does Art Do—(Anyway?)…Anyway?

As the great actress, and intellegent beauty, Gene Tierney said to me, “It finally comes to just wanting to be useful.”*

The image above, came to me while watching some music video. It flashed on my screen and I was able to capture it. Sorry, I can’t find the source to give attribution, but this is the way of the world of NOW, this is clearly an artifact of our time and place. It points to my wondering if Art is a storehouse of memory, memory of a certain order? The memory of states of mind? The dances we make, to remind us of somatic memory. Architectures we build to expand the sense of the body into gigantic proportions, into spirit itself. (Been to Chartres Cathedral lately? Just thinking of that space can lift the spirit). Look at a painting or sculpture you don’t quite “get” and watch it unfold into a treasure map leading to “X marks the spot“, and a chest full of gold doubloons is yours. Curiosity takes us everywhere and maybe that’s the key. Mammals and birds are curious critters, dogs sniff, cats prowl. We saw, just yesterday, up the hill, a Blue Jay and a Grey Squirrel tussle over an acorn. What did the Jay want with an acorn? They don’t eat acorns, or build nests with acorns. The anthropomorphic take says, the Jay just wanted to see. “what is that fascination squirrels have for acorns”. Who knows? But, MY curiosity was notched up seeing that, and it lives on as a picture in my mind…describing…something…picture-ing the world is something artists do, wether it is depicting the visual world of eye+brain (or the sound+world of music, or the taste+smell world of intentional cooking, or the body+space world of the dance, etc.)—then, there is an internal sense in our bodies as we experience the smorasbord of life.

Our Art Mind Park project is centered on cherishing this two-way street. For example, our sculpture called The Shrine of Amaterasu: The Kundalini Elevator is of basically of two parts, (plus the many constituent parts) but you can see it as a dialogue of the inner and outer experience. This dialogue is called Philosophy (as we have said earlier). Here’s a piece from 1984.

Philosophy, watercolor, pencil, faux-finish on masonite, 48″x 37″ 1984

The outer supporting structure of the “Shrine” is in homage to the #1 Shinto shrine in Japan, Ise Jingu. That shrine is ritually torn down and rebuilt every 20 years, and has been for 1050 years. Some serious devotion—hard to imagine in this flash! age. The year would be 960, back to the birth year of Abu Nasr Mansur, the Persian mathematician who gave us Trigonometry (just sayin’). Japanese culture is based on these long lines of dedication, if you ask me. Did you? Anyway, I like the look of that structure, which is based on the traditional rice barn of Japan. At the shrine environs they plant a field of rice to honor the sun goddess, Amateratsu, the diety they are propitiating. This is a very practical-pointer work of art, meaning the sun-goddess brings us food; hence the rice-barn, and rice field. It helps us focus on the long-term interest we have in the science of metabolism. The Cliff-note version of this piece IS metabolism, at least, thinking about the stunning fact of metabolism—the transfer of sunlight into useable energy for the body. As food, metabolized substance, is the dancing ground of being alive. This is the outer world of physiology, how our bodies take Amateratsu’s gifts and make phenomenological life possible.

My wheat “field” next to the outer structure of the shrine. 4 feet square

It was my early fascination with the loops and swags inside the bodies of the creatures I dissected as a biology student, the bones and neural wireing, skin! for pity sakes. All that brought us to make this sculpture. So, the outer structure of this sculpture is clear in its intent. Any confusions may be raised with the Committee.

The Committee Would Like to Discuss Metabolism, watercolor, monoprint, home-grown corn 38″ x 42″

Humans live in a world of the work-a-day rational. We live in the imagination as well. We make love, we fight, we think, we have ambition, all aspects of life best expressed by the inner structure of the shrine—The Kundalini Elevator. It is our understanding of this Kundalini idea, that when the aspects of inner life are lined up, purpose becomes more purposeful. “Set ’em up Joe, we got to take these folks to the top.” The idea of the Kundalini originated in ancient Vedic India, Who knows when, but way back in the day, a couple thousand years back and more. There is a Kabbalistic, Jewish version, Tao-ist versions, Buddhist ones, even some Christian mystics had a system like this for identifying centers of living focus in the body. The Vedic, Indian version is the simplest, with seven nodes; centers of awareness.and the one that suits me these days. In the Vadas they are called Chakras.

And that is the point: bringing to the front of the mind an association of what is happening in the imaginal mind with the life as it is lived. When I first heard of a system like this Kundalini, it rang a bell back to a time when I was sick from food poisoning, age 10. The sudden rush of that violence was followed by an airy, floating relief. As a 10 year old, I had a mental, rational sense of my physiology and concurrently of an internal feeling, heavenly, floating on a cloud.

Sketch from a notebook c.2004

I had been reading Harold Morowitz, (a self-described thermo-dymatician, specializing in the chemistry of metabolic pathways). In his The Emergence of Everything, He goes from big-bang, to quarks, to rocky planets, to first life, and on to the Noösphere of our current interconnected culture. He discusses the emergence of the neuron, which gave such a boost to evolution—fast communication in the body means great advantage. I got to thinking about the first neural organization in the jelly-fish clan and how that ring of neurons around the mouth/anus of those creatures, may have stretched into our alimentary tube over the eons. Think of that erotic first kiss and the pulse of the orgasm.

When I first heard of this notion of the Kundalini, I was in college, in a survey class of World Religions. It just made such sense, it made me think of that moment of sick/relief as a 10 year old; that first thought of inside/outside. At that same moment, in Freshman Biology we were dissecting fetal piglets. Man, oh man! the world is a curiously wonderful place. Over the years, I’ve made several iterations of a Kundalini-like art work. In my bath/shower I installed a line of mirrors to be a reminder of the seven chakras as they are called in The Vedas. “Line up y’all, it’s time to go to work.”

A little goofy, but we like it.

Teaching watercolor in France, I made this painting as a teaching demonstration for painting en plein aire. It’s a great way to focus travel, to paint on the tour-trail. This painting was painted in the garden of the looney-bin where Vincent Van Gogh found himself. Saint-Remi. Back home I felt that tree had a body presence I could relate to: The tree in a landscape expressing a somatic (body) reality. Painting outdoors in front of a class—it is showtime, people! Performative. So there is that inner solidity and competance at my task coupled with all the feelings associated with Van Gogh’s tragic life. (What a painter! A painter’s painter!) To feel all that makes an idea like the Kundalini palpable, showing up in something like the seeing the tree and the act of painting of that tree.

Mr. Big at the End of Either-Or watercolor, 2002


* I met the famous (though faded from the general ken, and the Fig. A of the term femme fatale) Oscar-nominated, Gene Tierney on a plane flight from Houston to SFO. We wound up seated together in coach because of the crush of Christmas plane travel. Normally, she would have been in first class for a person of her stature. We seemed to hit it off, because I was a fan, having seen her films, and knew something of her tragic story of mental health issues and the horror-movie electro-shock treatments she’d endured. And, I knew who she was. She now spends her days as a great advocate for the humane treatment of mental patients. Have a look at Laura, if you want to see her at the apogee of her heartbreaking beauty and stardom. On that plane ride I knew who she was, and after, I know who she IS.

Gene Tierney c. 1975
Gene Tierney c. 1940

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s