The basic medium for most of my paintings is oil paint on canvas stretched in a rectangular format. Five hundred years usage of this material and format that developed into the various and variable tenets of Abstract Expressionism was transmitted to me as a spiritual grandchild of Ashile Gorky and Hans Hoffman through their students, respectively, Hans Burkhardt and Alice Beamish.1
As indicated in the Martland critique in Appendix 6, the wire, wood, and nails used in some of my sculptures evoke for me memories of growing up on a ranch north of Los Angeles. Much of my youth was spent building things on this ranch: fences, cages, gates, and buildings. These memories are woven into my series of sculptured paintings entitled, “Partitions.” These are generally large, free-standing pieces ranging in size from 4′ x 3′ to 12′ x 5′. “Window,” the work critiqued above, also represented in NEPSIS FOUNDATION: VISUAL ARTS on the Site Map, plate #51 is one such.
The black, viscous tar used in some of these works brings to mind sensations of both attraction and revulsion related perhaps in the unconscious to a primordial pit of death, disease, hatred, war, violence, and fecund decay. As well, being raised in Los Angeles County, the La Brea Tar Pit dig comes to mind me. But it is in such viscous mire that the lotus flower, paradigm of Buddhist perfection, takes root. These materials and references are used to fashion art objects, some of which become fetish objects potent with earth and sky deities,2 hopefully with deity3 itself, thus becoming for me, icons.
Obviously, use of “found” and “common” materials such as tar and wire to make art, in addition to the more traditional oil on canvas, is not innovative. This innovation, and many more were developed by the great artists of the last 150 years. Admittedly, however, it is in the psyche of the artist that these symbolic connections represented by the materials are made most clearly. In order to facilitate communication, the artist provided handouts at these exhibitions that contained quotes and other references to indicate the milieu out of which this art developed.
Most of the material in handouts at these exhibitions refers to the history of religion and the arts in general as well as my own experience in these fields. For instance, many of the major artists in the twentieth century were fascinated by archaic religions and art forms. Pollack was influenced by Tantra. Kandinsky, as well was influenced by the East, through Theosophy. Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Debussy’s “Afternoon of the Faun” are among many such references that indicate modernist fascination with the archaic. I came from a secular, American, Pacific Rim context. After art studies, I became a Catholic, then a priest. I studied Buddhism in America and with Tantric Buddhist Tibetans in India as well as Shamanism, which is perhaps the primordial religious epiphany. So, what next? Where are we now? Do we refocus from the vast vistas of world religions to something as small, yet essential, as theshift? Is mysticism our only ground of reference? A recently published book, A History of God by Karen Armstrong,4 posits that mysticism is the only solid thing that remains of religion. Panikkar has indicated a similar attitude. Is art as a religious phenomenon, by its nature, mystical? Or does art only sometimes contain religious elements?
These statements and questions are contextual reference points to indicate the character of that which is represented in the catalog’s artworks. These works do, without question, represent, perhaps carry, the ‘energies’ of the processes of the shift portrayed in “Nepsis.” “Nepsis,” of course, is a personal account, but it also makes a larger statement about its environment. The main story in my catalog begins when an art student/participant in that story’s events remarked on viewing the art, “that was our experience.”
Captions and titles in the catalog, like the handouts, describe the art work and endeavor to indicate the milieu out of which the art work develops. This is a major function of the catalog itself. In fact, the material in the handouts, titles, captions, the catalog itself, and the art represented in the catalog, are attempts to make this communication. These titles and captions are not arbitrary. Nor are they the product merely of free association. Rather, they indicate the energy or spirit developed in a work or a series of works. Some of these energies can be recognized best by people who have experienced them.
(For the following art references see painting #s 14-22 in the NEPSIS FOUNDATION: Visual Arts tome to be found on the NF Site Map.) Paintings II, III, and IV refer to the story, “EBACY ’91,” especially the concluding paragraph. Painting V is a acknowledgment of a forefather in the faith of art and religious interaction, T.S. Eliot. Paintings VI and VII refer to Gregorian chants, monastic practice, and Christian spirituality. The paintings numbered 8 through 20 from Part II of the catalog, as well as #I, the frontispiece of the catalog, focus on three themes: landscape and nature mysticism; mountain ascent as symbolic of spiritual ascent; and the human figure as an agent or vehicle for the spiritual interchange between God and the world. These paintings, especially those dealing with mountains ascent themes, figure largely in the story that concludes this dissertation. Painting #13, “Mountain Ascent,” results from and represents/carries the energy of the other world voyage combined with actual physical pilgrimage. This “mountain ascent” motif is repeated at the end of the concluding story of Chapter Seven of this dissertation. “Mountain ascent” is a primordial religious element.5
All of these titles refer, specifically or more remotely, to either characteristics of, or processes involving, the shift. The art itself is inextricably part of the other world journey, the shift of consciousness.
This use of titles that derive from and describe the milieu of my interests is consistent with Abstract Expressionist practice.
The artists seldom worked with programmatic intent, that is, they never planned their paintings as doctrinal or merely intellectual thesis. Titles were most often added after the paintings were finished–sometimes several months after in titling sessions with friends…
[The titles] can be from Greek myth, Native American ritual or nature… If one probes beyond the surface to the underlying, overlapping themes, however, the titles fall into place at different points along the thematic stream… The classic case is Pollack’s “Pasiphae” of 1943, which was originally entitled “Moby Dick.” It was retitled after the suggestion of a critic and friend, James Johnson Sweeney. Moby Dick was a symbol of the struggle with the dark animal nature of human beings in the period. The story of Pasiphae restates the struggle with the physical union of a Cretan queen and a powerful bull that leads to the issue of the Minotaur, half human, half animal. While not identical, the two titles address the same idea from different angles.6
Perhaps Abstract Expressionist’s method of assault on the unconscious was a form of suicide, since few died of old age. Or, perhaps their exploration was heroic action for the liberation of human knowledge. Whichever it was, it deserves to be followed up, because their experience, I believe, is one of the great insightful moments of human history. Here is a moment in the evolution of secular humanism that makes solid inroads into mystical consciousness. Generally, their ethic is humane, as represented by Barnet Newman. The action of their creativity demonstrates the conscious/unconscious moment at once, the union potent between the apparent and the mysterious, in a way that I think Panikkar would appreciate.
Yet, the Abstract Expressionist contribution is somehow incomplete. We achieve direct contact with the unconscious and by the gesture of direct and nearly formless creativity define our primordial being. Some survive such a glance of God, some do not. What is the value of an existentialist return to primordial consciousness? A consciousness that is free of, or ignorant of the cosmological nuance necessary for the conduct of culture? This is a nuance that has developed with civilization itself. Von Balthasar, a Roman Catholic theologian, as we shall see later in this chapter defends just such a cosmological schema as did Robert Cardinal Bellarmine against Galilao and from a very different perspective, so does Panikkar.7
Let us approach the topic in a roundabout way from the perspective of a few more comments about the seven paintings in Part I of the catalog and from that perspective, perhaps, come to a better understanding of these questions. One of the interesting critiques of the paintings at the Bade exhibition that I received was from an artist/art historian.8 It stated basically that paintings I-VII from Part I of the catalog, “seemed not deeply enough worked,” that I needed to spend more “hours, months working my brushes to the nub” to produce the sort of substance that one should expect from Abstract Expressionist work. This was one of the more thoughtful critiques of the “Interstate” exhibition survey questionnaire. But I am trying for something different than Abstract Expressionism per se, while still using some of their method and acknowledging their genius.
The production of the first seven paintings (NF 14-220 started out with almost an flippant self-confidence, made to impress and sell. But they quickly took on a spirit that was enchanting me at the time, that of Asian Catholic youth ministry combined with my own esoteric interests. There was in this an unintentional artistic detachment that perhaps derived from the use of an old format. The paintings became, for me, vigorous vehicles, quickly accomplished, not only true to our immediate experience but suggestive of the larger intentions expressed in the story, “EBACY ’91.” But the seven paintings in Part I of the catalog require a confession on my part. Sometimes we do valid things for invalid reasons. I knew when I started the paintings, that I was using a tried format that I had developed twenty years ago and that I knew would be attractive.9 However, they might be good paintings anyway. Does a work have as much merit when it is simply repeating the techniques and symbols of the past, or must we always be innovative as well? Obviously, I do not think so.
The basic format of the seven paintings is linear or geometric, hard-edge embellishments in a space of amorphic color that suggests a counterpoint of specific intent within a general or absolute context. Is this format only a convenience that I knew would be attractive? Did I follow this easy path rather than searching in the terrifying, or at least uncomfortable, Unknown: the Tremendum, to dredge up my expression? But I felt very comfortable with this revived vocabulary. It allowed me to express what I wanted to express rapidly and effectively. In the critique of “Window,” to be found in the Appendix 6, I lamented the vocabulary of symbols that I used was developed earlier and not uniquely or even most strongly used in that work. But, it is to my mind, a successful and independent work of art, none-the-less. So, perhaps my less worthy intentions of simply copying an earlier style are not important. It catalyzed an artistic process. Something of note within the overall project happened in spite of my integrity or the lack thereof.
If we were to follow the chronological development of the paintings over the last twenty years, we would find lines and other generally geometric embellishments in amorphic space and color. This was gradually replaced by human figures–under the influence of icons–in amorphic space. Now I’ve moved back, in these catalog paintings, to lines in amorphic space and color, but with a new addition, my person and my cosmology has changed. It now consciously includes very different notions of the other world, and a particular journey of spiritual realization, as described in “Nepsis” (LETTER TO THE BISHOP or THE ORACLE OF XIBALBA) and referred to in the catalog, that was other than a cultural and personal maturation process.
Because this project derives from so many sources and because of time and energy constraints, I adopted a mode of art production in the seven paintings guided by such restrictions in which the art was quickly accomplished, or its production divided up into short bursts of intense creativity, with long, non-art making periods in-between. This process tries to remain focused upon essential movements and gestures that none-the-less carry its content in a clear and effective presentation. The model for this was a Zen-like approach that regarded preparation–nepsis–as important as production. So, the pilgrimages, meditations, etc., became preparation for the action of and the energies in the paintings. The preparation for Abstract Expressionist Action painters was various. Sometimes preparation for some Abstract Expressionists was a quart of gin.10 I took an analogous approach. I altered consciousness by going on long, arduous, traditional pilgrimages, as well as in latter-day experiences by using mind altering substances within the context of Shamanistic experience. This scenario represents a specific ontology. Being can be transformed. Christianity falls into this category as well as humanist modernity.
The interest of Abstract Expressionist and Surrealist artists in “automatic” writing and drawing is famous and comparable to the much more highly developed techniques for accessing the unconscious, such as Tarot Cards or the Chinese I Ching.11 Since Abstract Expressionism died out as a movement in the early nineteen sixties, perhaps their endeavor has failed really to influence culture generally in any lasting way. Just as the German Expressionists failed to influence German society sufficiently to forestall Nazi depravations. Though many artists still paint in the Abstract Expressionist style, perhaps in the end, the Abstract Expressionists only contributed to the ascendance of technological and capitalist dominance in culture and everything else. What is missing in their effort? Am I expecting something from the arts that properly is the province of other powers? In that regard, why has neither art nor religion been able to help more effectively to prevent the moral horrors of the twentieth century? That is, if either can make any real claim to moral stature or spiritual influence. Panikkar suggests that perhaps we went wrong at the very outset of the history of civilization by the shift of consciousness that civilization itself requires.12 But in stirring the cauldron of the universal unconscious, perhaps modern artists point the way for others to develop, not just imitate.13
My art, as I see it, functions as artifacts of the unconscious, objects of ontological reference, hopefully evoking power and meaning. Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists14 had certain techniques to access the unconscious by overcoming preconceived notions about reality. In learning to draw one might use the opposite hand of orientation in order to produce images out of normal control. Or at a more advanced stage, one faces a blank canvas without a preconceived idea about subject or image. One just paints. “Automatism” is probably the most famous technique.15
If I may speculate freely for a moment, perhaps Abstract Expressionism is the end of art’s possibilities given its development from the Renaissance.16 Perhaps, it is necessary to start over with the Shamanistic vision, an existentialist theme as is developed later in this chapter. The Western world, and therefore the world(!) is fast becoming a technocracy and increasingly rejects, since the end of the Medieval period in Europe, a theocentric, theocratic social structure. What is happening with the art and religion of my Catalog is that I have been rooting17 around in Shamanism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Abstract Expressionist Modernity–in the beginnings and endings of art and religion so to speak–so that we can understand more thoroughly what we have done in between.
Given that scenario, is the world view represented by a theocentric vision or a mandalic configuration simply something that develops to social levels that might find comparable examples in thirteenth century Europe or even in Tibet until the Chinese Communist invasion of 1959? And as such, is it simply something interesting, like the first pyramid or the first wheel? However interesting, it is something gone, never to return. Or, is there something more valuable, even threatening when unfulfilled, here, that is basic to being “fully human” as Panikkar would have it? Something that must be fulfilled in order to avoid universal self-destruction. The reasonable urgency of Panikkar’s perspective about the fragmentation of knowledge and the rhythms of Being are explored here in fiction and dissertation.
The parapsychological event recounted in the main story of the catalog’s Part I provides an important insight about spiritual experience and art.18 I remember all of the psychokinetic experience, recounted in the catalog, except the actual psychokinetic event. I remember walking down the hall and standing in front of the door, but not the door closing, as described on page 13 of my catalog. That was witnessed by another person. There is in the Appendix a letter from a witness who was present when this other person first told me about the psychokinetic event the next day. He had been constructing the language of his story for at least six hours by then. That he had seen something unusual, we had no doubt. We knew him well, and saw that he was bothered by something both unusual and frightening. But it is not the veracity of the story that is important here. It seems to me this event has potential on various levels. The one perhaps most pertinent to this dissertation was being witness to the origin of a story derived from an paranormal event with religious overtones.
But let us first approach this from a different angle by returning to Panikkar for a moment. He discerns that consciousness itself is participation in eternity. Then, reflection upon that conscious moment is always a temporal process within the vales of perception. The experience of both my friend who witnessed the psychokinetic event and his story about it, and my own as well, represent in the catalog two formats that help explain an artistic process. One is used in the Gospels. A miracle story is told, so that Jesus is proved to have divine powers. (Jn 20: 19-31.) Unbelievers say the power is from the devil. Believers say it is from God, as does Jesus himself. The other format is similar and refers to Panikkar’s perspective. Consciousness itself is the appearance of divine power. Everything after that, or reflecting upon that, is literature, art, myth, fiction, images, history or science. All of these might have equal veracity or be equally mythic, being once removed from the original experience. My friend constructed his story about my experience. From that, I constructed my own. A scientist observes a phenomenon, and uses a particular semantic to reference the event perhaps in relationship with other such events. Good science describes tangible phenomena in such a way that others may recognize the same experience of it, for whatever purpose. If one were to express this in an aesthetic hierarchy, it might be like this: Very good art, high art, is that which best reflects the eternal, original moment, or truth; the best of the best being that which re- engages most fully the original experience. This is religious art. This line of thinking is developed further in Chapter Seven, as its placement–another colored ‘bit of tid’ in the larger mosaic–helps construct a network of relationships clear enough to justify the concluding gesture of this dissertation, a poem, and clearly place the shift of consciousness in its proper perspective as regards art, religion and culture.
The following passage explores other influential ideologies and theologies that have contributed to the body of work represented in the catalog as that reflects upon the shift of consciousness personally and culturally.
My first, deep exposure to Abstract Expressionism was as a student of a well known artist and teacher on the west coast of the United States, Alice Beamish. She was a student of Hans Hoffman both when he was teaching at the University of California, Berkeley and at his famous school on the East Coast. As such she was definitely an exponent for Hoffman’s branch of Abstract Expressionist tenets. Art production was first reduced to its fundamental elements: line, shape, form (three dimensional shapes), texture, value (gradation from light to dark), color– then composition and theory. These are the elements that all two dimensional art styles have in common, from painting of totally representational work, to completely non-objective art. These are the technical tools that any artist would use. We received a classical education in art making by first learning to draw; primarily from still-life compositions, life (nude human figures), and nature (landscapes). Abstraction was considered as the process that distills essential form and content from life to represent and evoke the ‘meaning’ of the subject for the viewer.19 This particular format for training artists was much disputed at the time. Drawing was seen by some to be an unnecessary preliminary to art making. Making objects for sale was criticized as bourgeois, too materialistic, and part of the egotistical personality cults associated with Modernist artists, especially, Abstract Expressionists. None-the-less, I was trained in the more classical manner.
Then, Beamish would use different techniques to free us from preconceived notions about what the art was supposed to look like, and to allow more of our subconscious or unconscious to express itself. This is one of the Abstract Expressionist tenets that influenced me the most. It resonated deeply with my own sensibilities:
The sub- or un-conscious perceives much, much more than the conscious mind is aware. These approaches allow it [the unconscious] to reveal its insights, its deeper understanding of the world… The unconscious takes in much, much more information from the sense organs than does the conscious mind…20
Beamish was also a Catholic of a Chardainian mode. She finished her life in a contemplative Catholic monastery. But she was also a latter-day Modernist who struggled deeply with the conflicts between traditional religion and the modern world.
Abstract Expressionism is a body of individual statements (works of art) created from an open network of ideas and events, relying on the metaphors or symbolic generalizations of the prevailing culture and its history. The particular cultural and historical influences operating in Abstract Expressionism are common knowledge and can be discovered in one of the many books on Abstract Expressionism now extant. Stephen Polcari puts it like this:
So much is shared and believed that open allusion is scarce. The repetitions of sources, forms, and subjects (themes, topics, and ideas) not only in their paintings but in their verbal statements bear subtle witness to the prevailing culture. As De Kooning said, “You didn’t talk about your paintings directly. You talked in aphorisms because you could see each other’s values.” Gottlieb concurred: “We had common assumptions, talked together, hung around and respected each other works despite differences.”
…Abstract Expressionism is a historical and public art that consciously addressed socio-psychological concerns and historical experience. Abstract Expressionism begins with and codifies American and Western Society’s responses to the crisis of World War II as eternal and timeless. It is in a sense, an art of crisis and war.21
The interests of these artists both reflect attitudes current in their circles of artists and intellectuals, but as well strongly reinforce the individuality of their American base as they struggle ideologically with the chaos of the post World War II era. Shamanism and sexuality become basic vocabulary for expressing the search for a common ground of reference in human identity. The Abstract Expressionist painter Clifford Still’s work developed from the totemesque to:
…nothing but large color shapes and area of thick paint laid down with trowels and palette knives as well as brushes. Figure and ground totems have become roughly handled matter that manifests a dark, glowering power. The pictures are, in one sense, metaphoric visualization of primitive man’s world of terrifying nature and its deities, of the all encompassing dangers and forces of the primordial world. Still’s original Color-field style is characterized by the fusion and expansion of human and natural spirit powers.
…the expanded figure shape is identified with and transformed into an entire field. The figure becomes the field, and the field inherits the psychic and creative force of the figure.
…In his use of a phallus as a symbol in PH–436, Still not only parallels similar images in primitive art, but also invokes the psychological idea of the phallus as a symbol of the libido and the numinous creative forces of the unconscious. Jung, fusing myth and psychology, wrote that the libido can be a generative force…
The phallus, furthermore, can represent general psychic and creative strength incarnate in humanity. For instance, Jung related the phallus to creativity and to the mythological seer or artist in particular:
The phallus is the being… which sees without eyes, which knows the future; and as symbolic representative of the universal creative power existent everywhere immortality is vindicated in it. It is always thought of as entirely independent, an idea current not only in antiquity, but also apparent in the drawing of our children and our artists. It is a seer, an artist and a worker of wonders; therefore it should not surprise us when certain phallic characteristics are found again in the mythological seer, artist and sorcerer.22
These references display a sympathy between archaic traditions such as Shamanism and Modern Art as products of an interaction between unconscious and conscious motivations that suggest fundamental issues of human interest. Generative powers associated with sexuality and the other forces, deities, found in nature become symbols that communicate between seemingly different states of consciousness about who we are and the meaning of what we do. In other words, these symbolic references and experiences explain ourselves to ourselves from different levels of consciousness made possible by the ability to shift consciousness. Such moments as Abstract Expressionism, the Italian and English Renaissance, the Hesychasm, Tantric Buddhism, and the Greek awakening around 500 B.C. seem to be gifted with such a spirit of catalyzed energies that explore and clarify elements of human identity and potential. It is interesting that as the traditional modes of religion and art pass away, essential elements re emerge, suggesting ontological characteristics, qualities of being, of importance for human function and meaning. Among these, might be found, sensations of an inner radiance in human perception; the human body as real symbol of personal and universal, even eternal unity; art as a process of spiritual realization; the shift of consciousness as a function of personality that allows for the integration of discursive and non discursive perception.
One element of such consideration that appears in many spiritual traditions is the symbolic issue of light and energy and its attendant cosmologies. From Casteneda’s “egg of light” that radiates from the human body and the mandalas of protective energies, nearly universally in mystic lore, is found this reference to light or radiant energy as a symbolic reference to the experience of God, or healing, or power, or clarity of Nirvanic “Clear Light” realizations.23 Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Catholic theologian, bases his whole aesthetical theology on an inner-radiance of self-justifying beauty and value as is treated later in this chapter. The value of Von Balthasar’s observation is not that it is a unique insight, but that it divulges inner wisdoms of his tradition most deeply. Such beauty is inextricably joined in radiance to goodness and truth. It is that from which the image, and images of God, and, therefore, the nature of the world are determined.
Barnet Newman, one of Abstract Expressionism’s intellectuals, provides an interesting counterpoint to more organic perspectives from Still and Pollack. His attitudes radiate a type of humane virtue reminiscent of some aspects of Von Balthasar’s spirit. This contrast helps to clarify the shift of consciousness that has produced the contemporary artistic mindset as well as a contradictory inability to access the modes of consciousness that produced traditional religion, art, and culture. This is in spite of intense interest of twentieth century artist in archaic modalities.24 The very organs that enabled mystical religion to develop are atrophied in the modern mentality.25 This seems to be the direct result of a radically different understanding of “time” as treated in Chapter Three and Four of this dissertation. Modern art represents a mind-set fundamentally divorced from the very communal psychic structures that produced the archaic foundations of religion, yet at the same time maintains equally basic needs that are only addressed by such practices as ritual, pilgrimages, various yogas, ascetical disciplines and certain art making/doing, i.e., sacred dance, fetish, icon, and mandalas, in the context of unquestioned mythologies.
Perhaps, there is a certain similitude evidenced among humanist Christians and humanist artists that explains in part a contemporary culture cut off from its primordial roots and so frustrates the more organic and instinctive types like Pollack and Still. Von Balthasar and Panikkar as well react from very different perspectives to the major shift of consciousness apparent since the advent of the nova sciencia. Not able to free oneself from history, “to go back to zero”26 and having lost the capacity to shift consciousness from rational control deeply enough to connect with primordial satisfactions, one is pathetically frustrated and powerless. Are there perhaps exceptions of influence? Are there solutions for the tragic discomforts and amplification of the horror of history in the modern age that Joyce and so many others complain about?
A review of Barnet Newman’s work will help clarify these existential and teleological issues. His experience might be viewed as a slice of the modern scene that reveals much of its philosophical ethos. Then, we shall continue our topic in comparison with aspects of Von Balthasar’s aesthetic, some attitudes towards priesthood as a model of self-understanding, e.g., service or mediation, the preeminence of moral criteria in modern mentality and the resurgence of mystical consciousness that seeks expression on every level of human endeavor. Such mystical consciousness seems sometimes to be an element of perception nearly autistic in its inability to find sufficient expression in our age.
For Newman,27 art was most importantly an expression of the mind and its creation required an original, creative mental act. In this, Newman was strongly influenced by Spinoza. Spinoza sought to differentiate between of the different kinds of knowledge and their relationship to God. Spinoza believed that humanity accessed the divine when attaining knowledge. Intelligence is something conciliatory, just, and good; it was the principle of life. Newman similarly believed that the spiritual is mental, new thought giving rise to new spirit. Onement I, a breakthrough painting for Newman, may have been an epistemological act. The first mark is the first step in obtaining knowledge, in gaining deliverance.
For Newman Onement I also involved the issue of atonement. In Christian theology, atonement involved reconciliation between those who have sinned and God. More appropriately,Onement I and the issue of atonement could be tied more closely to Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of remembrance, since Newman himself was Jewish. This may be especially relevant in light of the fate of the Jews during World War II. Those who survived sought forgiveness for allowing this to happen.
Onement is significant in yet another context, in America’s belief in its capacity to offer new beginnings to those at its doorstep, the American dream embedded in this nation’s ethos. The reoccurring theme, Onement after sacrifice, discord, and a reconciliation with God, is seeking a new peace in the aftermath of world War II. Newman believed that the creative act redeemed the suffering and chaos in the world. Onement I is a declaration of a rebirth, a new order, which fills the void of social and historical chaos of the postwar world. It is difficult to say how much of this theme relates to his life. However, it serves as an important expression of this historical era.
Finally, one should note Onement I and its relationship to Existentialism. By 1948 Existentialism was gaining popularity in American intellectual circles. A key is the Alberto Giacometti show at Pierre Matisse’s gallery in February 1948. Like many American artists, Newsman admired Giacometti, and he noted that the sculptures “looked as if they were made out of spit–new things, with no form, no texture, but somehow filled… I took my hat off to him.”28 Giacometti narrowed the human form of the statue while asserting its linear presence in surrounding space, matching Newman’s idea of the form in a void or abyss.
The Giacometti catalog from the exhibition, mentioned in the previous paragraph of this page, contains Sartre’s “A Quest for the Absolute,” an essay which agrees with several of Newman’s ideas. For Sartre, Giacometti had created a man out of primordial materials, completely new. Newman believed that this iconoclastic style freed him of memory, association, legend, and myths of Western European painting.
In the 1950’s, Newman produced sculptures which showed strong influences from Giacometti and existentialism. Newman, however, was able to make works that were both symbolic and had the status as a real object in its own right, a long-held goal of Abstract Expressionism and modern art. However, as attractive as Newman’s approach might be to some, it does not drive to the heart of the modern dilemma deeply enough to relieve it. Abstract Expressionism and Existentialism seem to have both died out as cohesive movements. But then, neither has any other authoritative agent relieved the increasingly tense human predicament.
Could aesthetic systems such as Abstract Expressionism address enough of the human expressive need to realize the temporal integration of the eternal? Were they even interested to do this? Yes, since any effort to define oneself must deal with these issues. Could such explorations in self-identity follow through in any way significant to history or human values without a complex of cultural values that stretch from generation to generation? That is, without a tradition that preserves essential insights, can culture survive without a complex of values that cover the full span of social and individual life over long periods of time? How can art serve in such a complex when artistic method depends so much on individualistic experience, when the model of preference is primitive man standing alone in the face of a hostile world as perceived by Giacometti and Sartre? Can a culture survive without the guidance of some tradition that carries the highly nuanced, rectifying force of Tibetan mandalas? Such traditions can be oppressive, obstacles to the very goals of intended spiritual liberation. But, they also carry the wisdom of generations. Still, much of that wisdom might not apply in our brave, new, technocratic world. So, one is left, perhaps forced, to figure things out anew. Yet, has not this necessity become an addiction to the new and become a dangerously self-fulfilling prophecy in a cultural psychology, perhaps a pathology, that always demands new frontiers, fresh situations relatively free from the consequences or the wisdoms of various world traditions?
Once again, according to Panikkar as treated in Chapter Three of this dissertation, the scientist rushes to speedup time in order to escape its consequences and the old shaman and the monk and the yogi try to stop time entirely for the same reason. As discussed in Chapter Four of this dissertation, Panikkar sees a way through such curious confusion with his evaluation of the temporal moment open to the encompassing moment of eternity. Still, it is clear that not only is some modern art, and specifically Abstract Expressionism, comfortable with philosophy and religious thought as well as psychology, but also magical theory. In a certain sense, this Abstract Expressionism sums up art history and anthropology in that it explores consciousness from its early glimmerings to the contemporary scene. Such art is a practical method for exploring the realms of the unconscious through its particular techniques and it can lead to religious experience. Perhaps, that is a significant thing that has happened in the last thirty years since the demise of Abstract Expressionism. There seems to be a sustained interest in the world religions that has many artists devoting their lives to a serious investigation and practice.29 That has, at least been the aspect of my experiences that responds to the void I felt when I realized that Abstract Expressionism had died out as a dominant influence, just as I began the study of art.
It was some of the more spiritually minded among my art teachers who introduced me to Catholicism. Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk and contemplative writer, son of an artist, was a classmate and friend of artist Ad Rhinehard. My first teacher among the Benedictines, Fr. Yang was an artist. The Blue Rider group of German Expressionists explored spiritual themes. Kandinsky’s involvement in theosophy is an example of such an interest. Ashile Gorky (who taught painting to my painting teacher, Hans Burkhardt) and Matta explored the mystical realms of Surrealism as it leads to an Abstract Expressionism, whose methods I believe to be useful in gaining access to the other world.
Explorations into the practices of other spiritual disciplines yield much reference to a certain inner radiance of energy and light. This is true from such disparate realms as Christianity to martial arts, sorcery, Shamanism, and Tantra. The light is further reference to certain kinds of visionary consciousness that involves not just imaging but imaging characterized by different kinds of light radiance. These seem to be universal in major cosmologies predating the scientific revolution. This leads to a body of further speculations. Though seemingly arbitrary, the next six paragraphs contain speculations that are a subliminal aspect of the context of my catalog that influence the conclusions of this dissertation .
Art is a vehicle and expression of ontological investigation for modernists–a mode of operation to access realms of absolute meaning.
Priesthood, as a sacramental symbolism, is a vehicle and expression of a visionary consciousness, a shift of consciousness, if you will, as well as a central symbol of Christianity that implies an attempt to access realms of absolute meaning in order to obtain or maintain a unity of worlds. What is the vision? The vision is an experience of that divine/mundane mediation as an actual reality often characterized by self justifying radiant light. Sacred Scripture, for instance, then can be viewed as an art form inspired or produced by visionary consciousness in the shift, and in which sacrifice and mediatory priesthood are central conceptual elements and experiential agents. Does not such literature qualify as sacred because of the radiant light of spiritual beauty associated with it, as well as having qualities of social, cultural, and individual justice and compassion including the promise of eternal bliss among other characteristics associated with religion? It is not my purpose here to make substantial pronouncements about issues that other specialists with greater authority debate at length. But here we reflect upon reasonable speculations that influenced the body of creative works represented by my catalog.
The Buddha as purveyor of enlightenment is the means and Clear Light30 of the shift in meditation that leads to Nirvanic states. Is this not the same capacity as an anthropological category that leads to the Beatific Vision, as well as the inner-luminosity of life, the radiance of being associated with the eternal moment discussed by Panikkar.
These are experiences that some might still like to consider as metaphors for God. Can the shift be distinguished from the experience? Is not the shift of consciousness a function of consciousness that sweeps across all cultural barriers and literature to connect with its estranged other self called eternity? Is not the Shift the salvific agent inherent in consciousness? Next to the eternal moment of consciousness of which Panikkar speaks, all other perception and expression is so much literature and art, for as soon as we reflect upon our original consciousness we are telling stories about a remembered sensation. Unless, of course, if the story and the moment are, like the truth and the way, the same–nirvana and samsara in union, heaven and earth reconciled–which is the action and meaning of the Christ.
Perhaps traditional societies manipulated the shift more satisfactorily than modernity does. But not well enough apparently, since the modern scientific mode has gained ascendance and is in the process of reconsidering the temporal and atemporal values necessary in a thorough reconstruction of consciousness. We would, after all, according to the Old Testament, rather “be gods ourselves.”(Genesis 3:5)
Modern art was part of a secular movement that is reconsidering the constructions necessary in the new order and now plays an influential role in its progress.
Traditional religion in both the Occident and the Orient are deeply rooted in a world view that includes the energies of a visionary consciousness associated with the self justifying inner radiance of ineffable mystery in individuals and in the world. This is how Hans Urs von Balthasar, a representative Catholic theologian, considers the evolution of our modern situation in connection with an inherent luminous Consciousness:
..truth [is]… a transcendental property of Being, truth which is no abstraction, rather the living bond between God and the world.
We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order to more easily to dispose of it… The nineteenth century still held on with passionate frenzy to the fleeing garments of beauty, which are the contours of the ancient world as it dissolves… The world, formerly penetrated by God’s light, now becomes but an appearance and a dream– the Romantic vision–and soon thereafter nothing but music. But where the cloud disperses, naked matter remains as an indigestible symbol of fear and anguish.
…in such a world [without beauty] good also loses its attractiveness, the self evidence of why it must be carried out. Man stands before the good and asks himself why it must be done and not rather its alternative, evil. For this too, is a possibility and even the more exciting one: Why not investigate Satan’s depths? In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency.
…But this is to raise the question of the great radiance from within… the question of splendor. We are confronted simultaneously with both the figure and that which shines forth from the figure, making it into a worthy, a love worthy, thing.31
At the heart of the material represented in the catalog, is a particular understanding of the human body/personality and its potential for such spiritual consciousness. This understanding represented in my catalog is central to Von Balthasar’s critique, but requires some background to understand.
A whole system is necessary, a cosmology, for full visionary consciousness initiated by the shift. It is just such a system the Cardinal Bellarmine defended against Galilao.32 Art is an important part of the complex that produces this holistic vision. Art is the major element of such systems that survive in the “fragmented” consciousness of contemporary society.
Different complex systems of self-identity are tied to different attitudes about human experience symbolized in such a way as to indicate something about the cosmos. James Joyce offers the technician or the artificer, the hero/artist/priest operative in the ineffable modality of being, as the model of identity, such as in his main character, Stephen Daedalus. Catholic priesthood is also such a model. The purpose of the chosen people, or person, is to perform whatever sacrifice unites the two worlds of time and non-time. This is a priesthood derived not only from the drama of Holy Week, but itself through the symbolic access of a mythological figure like Melquizedek. Melquizedek in whose line Catholic priests are still ordained, could be considered symbolic of the evolution of religious consciousness. As both priest and “sacred king,” he would be a central symbol to much of this evolution.33 Buddhism offers the meditator, the archetypal monk, as our model potential for Nirvanic Enlightenment. But it is the human body as central symbol in a cosmological approach that is a most universal symbolic model. The body/mind complex depicted in the art forms of two mystical traditions; Christianity and icons, Buddhist Tantra and mandalas, will serve to illustrate my point:
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- See Appendix 8, p. 374, of this dissertation for Beamish Curriculum Vitae. [↩]
- That is, objects or figures whose nature it is to represent and give access to states of consciousness described traditionally in terms of heavens or hells, powers, revelations, union, integration, etc. [↩]
- Panikkar’s article on Deity from Encyclopedia of Religion, (Mircea Eliade, ed.): “As a symbol, deity represents the human struggle at its highest; it represents man’s effort to discover his identity in confrontation with the limits of his universe. Deity is the symbol of what transcends the human being and the symbol of what lies hidden most deeply within him…”, p. 264. [↩]
- Karen Armstrong, A History of God, (London: Heinemann, 1993.) [↩]
- See M. Eliade, Shamanism, for ascent dynamics associated with the Cosmic Mountain, p. 266, and with the World Tree, p. 269. [↩]
- Stephen Polcari, Abstract Expressionsism and the Modern Experience (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1991) p. xx. The author continues on the same page, “They [titles] often can be interchanged from painting to painting. For example, Lee Krasner’s “Gaea and Combat” of the mid-1960s with their dramatic, swirling, mythic biomorphic forms, or Adolph Gottlieb’s “Voyager’s Return” with its sailing ship imagery and “Untitled–Heavy White Lines” with its ship-rowing forms, both of the mid-1940s–as long as the intended underlying associations are recognized. Such associations originate from the artists’ and the culture’s themes. That a critic suggested “Pasiphae” as a title to Pollack also indicates how widespread were particular themes and associations in the period. As Lee Krasner once said of Pollock’s titles, Abstract Expressionists titles ultimately had to agree with the artist’s “thinking.” [↩]
- R. Panikkar, “A Christophany for Our Times”, Bellarmine Lecture, 1991, p.1. [↩]
- This respondent’s comments can be found in Chapter Six, designated as #9 on p. 149 of É dissertation. [↩]
- This style of painting also produced other works less than five years ago that are associated with India and a series of paintings that dealt with mandala themes, not documented in the catalog. However, one painting from this group was included in “Nepsis” which was an element of this Ph.D.’s comprehensives. [↩]
- Stephen Naifeh and Gregory Whitesmith, Jackson Pollack, An American Saga, (New York: C.N. Potter, Distrib. by Crown Publishers, 1989) Re: drinking habits of Abstract Expressionist artists. Also, compare with my catalog story involving inebriation, which, by the way, was a technique engaged by the priest in that story only after 20 years of more normal practice and engaged for specific reasons. [↩]
- Ellen Landau, Jackson Pollack, (New York: Abrams, 1989) p. 89ff. [↩]
- See Chapter Four in this dissertation, p. 86. [↩]
- Fr. T. Yang, my first monastic teacher, when responding to my question about the stripping of Catholic liturgy during Vatican II of so many of its ancient symbols and actions, said that ‘…we need to develop a new system of symbols around the basic sacrament that speaks of our own lives and times. This might take several centuries….’ Fr. Yang was well-versed in the liturgical changes of Vatican II. Panikkar disputes the Teilhardian passivity of such evolutionary patience. But perhaps Fr. Yang is just more fatalistic that Fr. Panikkar. [↩]
- Landau, Jackson Pollack, p. 27ff. Also see to Enchurian Matta in this reference. [↩]
- Polcari, Abstract Expressionism…, p. 23. [↩]
- In this regard, the artist is critical commentator rather than anonymous illustrator working for the Church or other patrons. Artists in traditional Tibetan culture are also “guided” by the dictates of lamas or other patrons which fixes their status as artisans. Art becomes a weapon in what Rothkrug’s perspective sees as the battle for control of Europe’s spiritual vision. See note #26, Chapter Four, p. 87, of this dissertation. [↩]
- As Fr. Adam’s young jock guards in Adam’s Way, p. 108, are rooting around the roots of the Tree of Life as another such assistant struggles to fecundate the great goddess spider whose web is spun in the branches of the tree. What Fr. Adam’s puerile assistants discover under the roots are a larval brood of dragons waiting to metamorphose in the age to come, as well is a beautiful crystal skull containing the essence of sentience, a delicious, soft ruby red substance that satiates all appetites. (Eating, with religious intent, the brains of one’s enemies has its roots as early as Neanderthal times. Eliade, History of Religious Ideas, vol. I, p. 9.) This also is a reference to sci-fi fantasy imagery while it also references one of the most primordial religious icons– the Tree of Life. The ascent of the tree can be compared with the mountain ascent theme and can be found universally in myths that depict a transcendence of the earthly plane in many forms, even climbing a sacred pole. This, of course refers to a ritual shift of consciousness. See Eliade’s Shamanism or note #24 of this chapter. (Fantasy fiction utilizes almost entirely archetypal images, which along with its popular format is the reason for its reference in “Nepsis.” See “engaging archetypes” in “Nepsis” summary in the Appendix 1 of this dissertation, p. 221, re: “hero.”) [↩]
- Art-making in Part I of the catalog is mixed with spiritual practice, as well as the qualifying trials of doctoral comprehensives and a demanding youth/young adult pastoral ministry. I mention this only because such ‘ascetic’ pressure is the specific context that produced the contents and parapsychological subject matter of “Interstates: The Catalog.” [↩]
- When I graduated from college, after 5 years as a studio arts major and English literature minor, and the same five years intensively involved in a respected poetry workshop, I felt competent to make serious art in the forms of poetry and painting. This was backed by letters of recommendation from art professors, one of which stated that I could do “anything in the arts.” This is the background that provides an important point of reference as I was then about to enter a Christian monastic milieu. I mention this because, along with Shamanistic and Buddhist studies, this indicates the practical basis for the process of assimilation reported in this study, represented in related works of fiction created in this project, and repeatedly mentioned in Panikkar’s opus as one of the major operatives in the formation of personality and culture. Along with Cardinal Bellarmine, I begin with self-knowledge in order to comment upon larger categories. (See Section II of this dissertation, the Panikkar section, especially “mutual fecundation” and “fragmentation of knowledge” in the modern era outlined in his “Christophany for Our Times”, Bellarmine Lectures, p. 6.) [↩]
- Alice Beamish, 1969. This remains the principal methodology in both art and research for the artist of the catalog. Perhaps, it is this approach that so disturbs some critics. It seems entirely appropriate in the arts but is sometimes met with hostility in more discursive circles. See Borden’s critique in Chapter Six. p. 155, of this dissertation. Yet, when used well, I believe that this method offers the means for resolving the problems identified by Panikkar as the “fragmentation of knowledge.” [↩]
- Polcari, Abstract Expressionism…, p. xxi. [↩]
- Ibid., pp.. 99, 105. [↩]
- Carlos Casteneda, The Eagle’s Gift, (New York, 1981) p. 176 ff, or note #1, Chapter Five in “Nepsis,” for an abstract of Don Juan’s whole schema. [↩]
- The angst of modernity is not so much a lack or confusion of identity, or even impotence in the face of the hostile universe, but an inability to successfully throw off or replace 2500 years of Greek, Christian, and rationalist values. The angst of modernity is an inability to return to ground zero, to the model of primitive man courageous in the face of a hostile world, without returning to the traditional practices and values that developed along with civilization to deal with its stresses. [↩]
- Conversation with Panikkar, Spring, 1980. [↩]
- Sartre in response to Giacommetti art: “A glance at Giacometti’s antediluvian face reveals his arrogance and his Desire to place himself at the beginning of time. He… has no faith in Progress– He considers himself no further advanced than his adopted contemporaries, the men of… Altamira… The man who first had the notion of carving a man from a block of stone had to start from zero… It is necessary to start again from zero.” Polcari, pp. 195-200. [↩]
- These six paragraphs review Newman’s art in its relationships with certain of his European artistic and philosophical compatriots. The information in this passage is taken from Polcari, p. 195-200. [↩]
- Ibid. p. 196. [↩]
- Though this may be an overstatement, it is certainly the case with many of the artists I know personally, such as Kent Twitchell, the famous L.A. muralist who became a fundamentalist Christian, or Coron Colvin also an L.A. artist who became a Buddhist nun. Many other artists have embraced the secularity of our age about which Panikkar has identified various religious elements discussed in Section II. As the spread of respondents in the Chapter Six survey suggests, many people have taken advantage of the many vehicles of religious expression now available. The art community is no exception. For a survey of religious sentiment among famous artists, see the Ph.D. dissertation by Craig Vista Svare, “Theology and Visual Art–Faith and Art Making: A Theological consideration of Interviews with Artists Stephen De Staebler, Robert Irwin, James Melchert, Manuel Neri and William T. Wiley” (Graduate Theological Union, 1993.) [↩]
- Clear Light realization is an important Buddhist reference in this process. See essay on the mandala in Appendix 4, re: “cemetery circle’ , p. 288. [↩]
- Hans Urs von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord vol. 1 p. 18-20. [↩]
- Panikkar, “A Christophany for our Times,” Bellarmine Lecture 1991. Saint Louis University, October 9, 1991. Beside defending Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, Panikkar here distinguishes christophany from Christology and outlines his “christophanic novena” as a guide for a Christian approach to the third millennium. [↩]
- Melquizedek also stands as patron of pilgrims in that he blessed Abraham’s wanderings. [↩]