“Art’s Triumph Endures”, Party (people).

Art’s Triumph Endures watercolor 30″ x 30″ 1991

It looks like my pictures are sending me into a philosophical fervor, decidedly non-academic, but still, a particular school of philosophy; to ask questions and set up dialogues with the paintings standing in for my interlocutors. And so my dialogues are conversations with the pictures I have created over the 50+ years I have been at the project of “doing the next thing”—paying attention to what pleases me, trying to inhabit the “Thin Place”, the space between awake and sleep, between above and below, the surface tension of water, the Cambium layer just under the bark.

This painting is another time-machine sending me back 30+ years. I know when I painted it, I felt confident with watercolor painting, that brush bitten down with the fierce teeth of sure strokes of paint. I had been reading Henry Miller’s Paint as You Like and Die Happy and had visited his home/museum in Big Sur. No more fooling’ around! This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, I ain’t got time for that now (Talking Heads—Fear of Music 1979). I know at the time I was deep into my dedication for making pictures that were “readable”. I wanted to make an Art anyone could fathom—developing my project “Art isn’t for everyone, but Art IS for anyone.” I can’t find the exact attribution for the quote in the title, but somewhere in my mind poet Wallace Stevens said this, and whether he actually said it himself, it seems a truism. Linked to Stevens of not, Art (which is in the equation balancing itself toward the “PARTY” and those “PEOPLE” who party) is present on Planet Earth and at times, comes bubbling out into human culture with a powerful and pervasive influence that lasts. It’s almost like a tectonic hot-spot the Earth’s crust passes over, where the crust gets thin and the magma of the creative mind comes through—in this way new land is formed; new ideas come to be. Art seems to flourish in these thin places. But much more than Art comes bubbling out of all this free thinking—there is a ferocity, an animal energy—”…but now I know that twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, and what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” WB Yeats from The Second Coming. So, Art’s Triumph is obviously not all posies and pompoms. But it IS a triumph for those who choose to keep at it. And, we see like in the Yeats’ lines, dangerous, and a whip-crack causing havoc in minds made numb, lately in our silo-ed, algorithm-driven world of all-at-once.

You get the idea, right?

We’ve been reading Andrea Wulf’s compelling Magnificent Rebels about the University town of Jena, Germany in the late 18th Century when Goethe, Schiller, Fictche, Novalis lectured at the University there. That little town of 7000 people set the world on fire with enthusiasm for self-discovery. Das Ich (the I) was Fichte’s new concept swallowed down whole. Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther was a best seller shaping a generation of seekers for personal identity. This was the birth of the Romantic Movement coming on the heels of the Enlightenment. Rational thought had given us The Declaration of Independence with the self-evidence of equality as monarchies began to tumble. And then along came la Terreur with “Madame Guillotine” in charge of Robespierre’s head-lopping—in 1793 alone—17,000 public executions were a shock to that rational mind. Bloody heads rolling across the public square. Can you imagine? So is it a surprise that heart clamps a brush tight in its teeth? The Romantic Movement was one of those tectonic moments where the “Sublime” meant an examination of the smallness of human existence, like in this Frederich painting. Hurricanes, earthquakes, the Red Guards of Little Red Book cadres in the Mao Tse Tung era of the Revolutionary excesses of the 60’s 70’s era of China. Sublime can mean horror as in Edgar Allen Poe’s terrifying tales, so said my High school English teacher who regularly brought up the idea of the “Sublime”. Why are scary movies so popular? It puts us in touch with this idea of the Sublime.

Shipwreck in a Sea of Ice Caspar David Frederich 1824. Hamburger Kunsthalle. Romancticism ain’t all posies and puppies.

Now, think of Paris in the 1890’s with new paintings of reality, another hot spot leading to abstraction in Art and abstraction in the Sciences where a simple notation like E=mc2 could stand for the equivalency of mass and energy leading to atomic theory. The list goes on, from the Ionian Philosophers in the 5th century BC who brought THINKING to the marketplace, to San Francisco Bayarea in the 60’s-70’s, (the simple invention of the computer mouse by Douglas Engelbart allowed us to reach INTO the machine). I remember the excitement of those first days of the Web, now transformed into our robot masters shoveling “information” down our self-formed gullets in a cybernetic nightmare. Florence in the Quattrocento, Sung Dynasty in China. This is where the Party is, People. Maybe, this is enough said. The Party, the hot-spots bubbling into history to create change, and we all know change brings the underground of the psyche to the surface; dangerous, unpredictable, ungovernable. And then the natural events that create change, all subsumed into this party idea. Like the asteroid that struck Earth 65 million years ago shoved the party away from the 160 million year Dino-fest and toward the mammalian fluorescence.

But what is that party? Where the very figuring-it-out becomes your party favor, food for thought at the table. And who exactly are these party people? I want to examine the idea of the party and its people. We know the word comes from the root of a parting, a separation, a special moment evolving into the notion of political parties, as well as celebration. The Nazi Party, the Communist Party, the Republican Party, The Birthday Party—Harold Pinter’s wrenching play of that name. This is the Romantic Movement told in our Arts, all the bloody Sturm und Drang giving rise to high emotion, where the party roared, where the “Party People” threw off the constraints of democratic process and shaped the life of the Twentieth Century, the bloodiest Century in human history. By far. Lennin and Hitler were Romantics of the first order, creating their Revolutions.

Summary Judgement Henri Regnault 1870 Musée d’Orsay. Romantic? I watched a young mother hustle her child away from this painting. Yikes! Hadn’t they had enough head-lopping 100 years before?

Robespierre was also a Romantic of the first order, though his murderous excesses flew in the face of the Liberté, Egalité, Fraterneté—liberty, equality, brotherhood, an Enlightenment sentiment scoured with blood in the terror. Robespierre tried suicide before they lopped off his head. What is it about Romanticism that swings so easily toward mayhem and trouble? The people singing with one voice slides so easily into humorless blind action. Bronte Wells points out, “… further research into how and why the Nazis appropriated previous ideas might yield some answers on how they consolidated and kept power, and it might further dismantle the argument that Nazism is something that is anti-modern, and not created by modernity”, writing in her paper Nightmarish Romanticism: The Third Reich and the Appropriation of Romanticism. “Blood and Soil” hearken to a time of Romanticism as underpinning the National Socialist agenda as well as the Neo-Nazis of the Charlottsville, VA torchlight parade. Romanticism can put a full stop to the ideas of “Art’s Triumph Endures”, if it becomes manipulated and stretched. Goofy ideas abound in these totalitarian schemes. The Nazis claimed the Earth was hollow. You could get inside from the poles. So bazaar! And that the Jews were out to gather up every scrap of capital. Oy veh!

The hollow Earth.

Leninism as a utopian ideal, was Romantic too, really caused havoc, when as Stalinism, in the hands of idealists put up an “Iron Curtin” to put a stop to the “Party”. But for a while there WAS a party in the 20’s with Tatlin’s Tower. It always starts with the Arts as the weather front moving in. Art movements flourished in the first years of the Revolution, Supremitism, Constructivism, much of what we think of as the “Modern Art” project continued with the Russian Revolution. But Soviet Russia was a place where the needle had been lifted off the record. Zzzzzzit. Humorless bureaucrats in charge. The party’s over. In 1930’s era, Soviet Union kookmeister Trofim Lysenko, Stalin’s Minister of Agriculture, caused a famine that killed at least 7 million people with his ideas. “We biologists do not take the slightest interest in mathematical calculations, which confirm the useless statistical formulae of the Mendelists … We do not want to submit to blind chance … We maintain that biological regularities do not resemble mathematical laws.” The study of genetics was outlawed. Is there a more roaring good-time Party than in the DNA of each cell in our very bodies? He believed showing wheat what he wanted it to become would be an agricultural revolution, changing winter wheat to spring wheat. People starved. Kooks abound in revolutionary times, and State sponsored Art, is no Art all. Romanticism starts innocently enough, but quickly becomes a weather system of destructive power.

Trofim Lysenko telling the wheat what to do. People died.

And Trumpism as another Romantic Revolution has devolved into packs of murderous thugs. And like all cults has packed up all the jokes—have you ever seen a more grumpy bunch? A Trump rally is a place where the Party People are nowhere to be found. So, Romanticism is out, what we have left is the creative heart, a new world, where all you have to do, is do it everyday. Take the brush out of your clinched jaw and sling some paint, write a poem, build a business, dance, sing a song…you can do it, party people. We are now, as I write, hovering over a tectonic hot spot that has left Romance behind as the Arts are given it’s widest distribution in human history, come front and center to light a torch—let’s get this party started—Party People!

So, what is Art’s Triumph after all is said and done? Simply, it is splitting the horns of rational enlightenment thinking and Romantic whoop-de-doo. This is the place where art takes place. Between the horns.

From the Minoan Palace at Crete

The Minoan culture practiced the sport/Art of bull jumping as a way of actualizing this “splitting the difference.” What does it do to a psyche to be a witness to this sport? What does it do to YOU to know this?

From the book The Epic of Man 1961 Time, Inc.

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