Prudence, the Green Heron, Talks About Existentialism.

Prudence, the Green Heron

Can we talk about embodied consciousness? That our living bodies contain all the wisdom necessary to live authentically? What is this consciousness? We can experience our essential nature by following the path laid out for our existence in authentic action—this brings us to the absurdity of thinking we may have an answer. Existentialists were big on absurdity. The play Waiting for Godot is the prime exemplar of absurdity at work. Not absurdity as funny, but absurdity as the impossibility of finding meaning at all. It’s just a big swirl of stuff going on forever. YOU are here to make choices. Existentialism was a big hit with the post WWII crowd. How could anything mean anything after Auschwitz, after Hiroshima? The philosophy that came in to limn this out, was Existentialism. Life was absurd and two artists that spoke to this were Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp who took absurdity into the marketplace. You can’t buy a Warhol original for less than $30,000.00. And you can’t buy a Duchamp for anything on the open market. NFS. The absurdity of Andy Warhol going on a talk-show and refusing to talk.

Nothing means anything or nothing is the meaning, right Prudence? (Being and Nothingness Jean Paul Sartre 1943) It was finding your personal authenticity, what held meaning. for you. The #1 rule from my child rearing days was, the simple aphorism..”the ball is always in your court.” It works to this day in my work life, in my marriage, in looking at the broad political picture; personal responsibility; THIS is all that matters. That and authenticity. My favorite bit of wisdom in that regard to Authenticity is:

From the movie — Jean de Florette: (1984) A city boy, a bureaucrat tax collector, wanna-be back-to-the-lander, moves to the country to begin a self-sufficient farming life on the farm he inherited. The naïf discovers too late, his country-folk neighbors César and nephew Ugolin are plotting to take his land away from him.

Uncle César to Ugolin-“What are they going to grow up there?”

Ugolin-“He says they are going to grow ‘Authentics’”.

Oh yes, in the so-called sixties we had adopted this idea of “growing authentics”. WE wanted to grow authentics, meaning attaching life’s work to something pure of heart. It was the Hippie dream. We were all striving for authenticity in the counter-culture revolution. What could a person do when the world suddenly seemed to be made of silly-putty? How ’bout we grow our own food? As an MFA candidate in sculpture at U Wisconsin, I took some courses in the Ag. Department. To this day we grow about half of what we eat.

Existentialism was a big hit with the post WWII crowd. How could anything mean anything after Auschwitz, after Hiroshima? The philosophy that came in to limn this out was Existentialism. Life was absurd and you stood alone with this thought; two more artists that clearly spoke to this were Jackson Pollock and Alberto Giacometti. Heroic abstraction—just you and paint standing firm in the gale of the absurdity of nothingness. Jackson Pollock painted this. Giacometti took off his surrealist boots and stood barefoot facing a model for his last twenty years, sculpting and painting the image of Alone. Just you, alone. Born alone, die alone.

Giacometti Bust of Diego bronze 1956

Prudence tells us, this feels pretty musty, like opening aunt Mabel’s trunk sitting in the mid-century attic, gathering dust, and along comes Maurice Merleau-Ponty to give us a fresh look with his idea of embodied consciousness.

Merleau-Ponty-Ponty’s diagram of embodied consciousness

Now we are getting to the heart of existentialism in the age of the algorithm. We are in this time where our masters, controlling our behavior, are the robotic devices we sit with everyday offering us just what we expect to see based on our recorded swipes and clicks. We exist in self-made prisons, a kind of enforced narcissism, self-created brick chambers. Embodied Consciousness which is were we started is the answer. Prudence suggests as a course of action, starting a creative practice. Sit with a piece of paper and write or draw, pick up that Ukulele you’ve been meaning to learn, draw up some plans for that chicken-coop, (chickens are so fun, and you can’t click away, only gather the eggs). And, BTW, write up that business plan for your next venture. Imagine! Imagine your life into a new form. Prudence says, “March on, my sisters and brothers, you have a mind made on the Savannas of Africa, you were born to a creative life.” THAT is existential salvation.

The image of “Prudence” was created first as a watercolor on paper, that little Green Heron I saw on a trip to the Galapagos, made a sketch, and then did the watercolor back home. I cut a blank where the bird stood and did the red background as a monoprint, inking the plate with red and made cutouts where those green shapes were placed and run through a press. The circles below the heron are pieces of cut paper. The swirls above Prudence were made as a separate monoprint and cut out. Like finger-painting. I like working in different media; the feeling is like I’m accessing different parts of being. Some are painstakingly, tightly rendered like the Green Heron, made over a few hours of work. The swirls above are done in a flash of seconds. This feels like the essense of embodied consciousness; differentiations of mind coming together in a single work. Existentialism QED, right, Prudence?

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