Art and Religion

Nepsis explores certain flexible qualities about human identity in nature and culture, using ‘the search for the real’ of the studio artist, the philosophy of science, and religious practice–yoga, monastic asceticism, et al–to identify and ponder salient issues in the construct of perception.

As each instant slips into the past, we form memories of that instant, spontaneously creating a form of historical fiction. Poetry and mythic operatives distill essential elements from that vast array of memories–personal, genetic, environmental–to form culture and personality. These are the play of spirit and matter investigated here…

When one is involved in social or institutional situations, it is necessary to ‘modify’ one’s ideals. No doubt, this is appropriate as one trains, learning the forms of the mind and culture. But, after long training, if one becomes a hermit or pilgrim, a sunnyasin perhaps, then one may indulge one’s ideals. One may wander the world, questing the archetypes of being, knowing the ‘powers’ of existence until knowledge and existence cease to exist, and there is only undifferentiated Being…

From that ground, one may consider action and stillness… May know one’s self and deity. May hope to address the human predicament and its resolution. For an investigation such as Nepsis, no tradition or taboo–religious or scientific–can be accepted in faith. But every major tenet must be tested and known for the deepest embrace, for final

Art objects, in a primary or religious function act as shamanistic fetish, i.e., objects of power/bridge to the ‘other’ world. In this vein, art develops as an icon, a window into the Spirit, or, as a mandala, a psychocosmogram. (See Ph.D. Appendix 4.) According to Abstract Expressionist tenets (Ph.D. Chapter Five), art is a means to explore reality. It is an expression of archetypal forces and forms in one’s mind and in the universe. Abstract Expressionist art, so influential in this study, is thus an action that reveals, liberates and integrates elements of perception, of reality itself–as far as one can see. Thus, in this presentation, art operates as a vehicle of investigation, catalyst of experience and insight that furthers and reveals necessary qualities of perceptive integration. Art here produces artifacts that mark the trail traveled and suggests future directions. And like the Animist fetish, the Christian icon, and the Tibetan mandala, the artifact carries the energy it indicates. The Sanskrit root of ‘art’, Ars, refers to a bridge between worlds, i.e., the worlds of matter and spirit. Here my art is also used to reveal, test and develop the processes of my own perceptive filters. Quid quid recipitur, recipitur secunoun modum recipientis. Thus, I hope to come to some deeper understanding of what satisfies human potential.

Since my Ph.D dissertation dwelt much upon aesthetics, its Introduction, and Chapters Five, Six, and Seven, would be helpful to read early. (See NEPSIS Sitemap for Ph.D. material or “Interstates Reflection I and II” in the NEPSIS Table of Contents, Section II.) NEPSIS, Section II also contains two other essays that treat a complex of topics as well heavily accented by art and religious theory. These are to be found “Interstates Reflection II and III.” There are two more essays and notes about Buddhism and Tibetan mandalas, plus a formal critique of one of the Nepsis art works in the dissertation Appendix. LETTER TO A BISHOP and INTERSTATES, A NOVEL, in NEPSIS Section II, attempt an integration of art works, poems, theology, chronology and personal narrative in a picaresque format of travel and adventure.

Captions with their paintings from the NEPSIS Master List of Paintings might turn out to be a most important element in this over all collection of stories, visual art, poetry and critical essays, since here the latent, but inextricable relationship between these expressive parts is drawn most simply. From 113 art works created for this project and represented in the Master List of Paintings, I recommend for first viewing Numbers 1, 6, 7, 23, 31, 33, 44, 67, 70, 85, 94, 97, 99, 104, 108, 110, and 111. In good Abstract Expressionist fashion, the captions and titles for the artworks of NEPSIS (can) indicate the locale or complex of themes and interests that are the aesthetic environment in which these works operate. To a great degree, it is in the progress of these paintings that the artist works out the theologies and philosophies of his concern. By using these artistic processes in addition to discursive thought, a method develops for expressing and catalyzing a broader and deeper experience of being. These captions and titles thus become directional signs for artifacts of a broader excavation.

To grasp the ‘bottom line’ of this study, one might examine the first 13 paintings and their captions in the NEPSIS Master List of Paintings from the Site Map. Then, compare those with numbers 93b, 94, 97, 98, 103, 104, 108, and 110 and their captions. (Some of these over the years have proven themselves to have a consistent appeal generally to Art audiences. But for several, such as numbers 103 and 104, ‘you had to be there.’ That is, one has to have had the experience (of the otherworldly encounter, in this case, to recognize the energy to be engaged in these otherwise abstract works.)

The progress of this investigation can be also identified and gauged as well by the poetry associated with its development. See POEMS from the NEPSIS sitemap. In particular, the initiatory poems of 1972-73, “Skylights” from 1978, and the three conclusive poems in 1992-93: Himalayan Storm, Moraine, Cast the Spell/Come the Storm, which describe the ‘question,’ the ‘method,’ and the ‘climax’ of this project. All of these are lyrical free verse works ignited by the very substance and processes of this project.

I will leave a discussion of literary merit in the prose elements of this presentation to others. In this project, the art acts as an investigatory tool and record of significant sensation. To communicate at all about some of these topics is all but impossible. The fiction herein helps tell the story about a “normal to bright” intelligence exposed to some of the elements of science and practices of religion. But perhaps more importantly, it seeks understanding of issues that arise from exposure to the ‘solitude’ and ’emptiness’ in nature. Introductory works of invocation are found in NEPSIS Table of Contents, Section I. Narrative non-fiction, LETTER TO A BISHOP begins Section II. The themes laid out in LETTER TO A BISHOP are developed and explored in Section II fictions: FIRST FICTION: “The Company”, INTERSTATES a Novel, “ADAM’S WAY”, “CHRIS AND STEPHANIE”, HOW DIONYSIUS SAVED HIS MOTHER FROM HELL And Thus Saved The World. Book III of this last work, RESOLUTION, integrates fiction, non-fiction and poetry in a prose poem whose form suggests the conclusions of this over-all investigation of human identity and function in nature and culture. In NEPSIS Section III, “…’real’ characters stand here with imaginary characters and scenes from NEPSIS fiction and poems and other fragments from this collection, so as to draw together ‘internal’ processes of perception with ‘external’ processes. Thus, knowledge is integrated, history is transformed and the world is saved!” That is, if the various elements of this composition are the right elements in an appropriate composition of relationships.

Implicit here is a familiarity with highly developed, though ancient, theories of education and personality formation.(* See note #2) Here also is reference to theories of cultural and religious identity. (*Frost Ph.D. Panikkar Section, Chapter Four, page 80,)The function of art in this regard finds its origin in the stone age shamanism. (Frost Ph.D. page 22.) and continues as an integrative and educational device into Modern times.

My aim in this is to ‘tell the lie that tells the truth.’ In this artful exercise, I was able to evaluate topics not already covered in my thoroughly Apollonian education. I was already exposed to that which was grave, solemn, lightful–deeply joyful, scientifically valid. But virtue is not the problem of the human predicament, is it? What is the problem? Solution(s)? In the face of such realizations, the notion that reality is a list of problems to be solved is thought by some to be a problem. Or, the kind of thinking that believes logic and technology are the answer, become facets in the cutting of a larger gem. At certain points along the way, it becomes obvious that one’s own dissatisfaction might be the first issue that needs attention. But an initial observation of self reveals a severe paucity of self. It seems as if there is nothing there. But, isn’t it that very capacity for ‘nothingness’ that needs to be reconsidered. (In this, Death is one’s great helper according to both St. Benedict and Carlos Casteneda.) There is the nothingness of self, the nothingness of God, and the nothingness characteristic of empty space in which a Big Bang might happen, to compare the original, simple and ineffable with the complexity of subsequent consciousness.

NEPSIS tries to unveil ‘identity.’ (See Frost Ph.D., Section II, Panikkar, Chapter Four, page 80.) One early discovery therein was that self is the always present field of excavation and discovery–then, that the self has both absolute, ineffable aspects as well as concrete personal capacities. (See Paintings # 6 and 7 from the Painting Master List .) As self is conscious of both universal and individual qualities, self is also conscious of being conscious. But more than that, self discovers itself to be plastic, mutable, capable of impersonation and shifts of consciousness to effect the most dire of superficial identity patterns, as well as the deepest satisfactions and vaulting insights. One can identify with the whole.

I am reminded of certain ritual figures observed during my stay of several months among the Zuni. (On the Zuni reservation one finds a Native America culture that is one of best preserved since the European arrival.) These figures are the Shalaco deities and the humans that ‘impersonate’ them. Through a process of ascetical and ritual preparation, the individuals who ‘wear the mask’ (and in this case, a full costume of magnificent presence), after a lifetime of being part of this worldview and months of purposefully altering awareness by traditional means, become the deity–obtain a transcendental state of consciousness, or more… This understanding of deity might be more concrete and intimate than the highly abstracted and distant deity of popular, modern or philosophical religion. But it bears striking resemblance to the ineffability of both human and divine personality that one finds in Catholic and Buddhist doctrine, among others. This process demonstrates in brief the accomplishment of cultures and religions, the malleability and formation of human personality that Nepsis explores and tries to demonstrate in its conclusions. (See Nepsis Section III, especially #8, HOW DIONYSIUS SAVED HIS MOTHER FROM HELL)

“Symbol” from the Greek symbolon also is “the bridge” as in the Sanskrit root of ‘art.’ ‘Religion,’ from the Latin is ‘to bond’ or ‘re-bond.’ So, from this complex of etymological roots is derived the ground of this discussion about the function of art in nature, cultures and persons. I.e., enlightenment, realization, salvation, redemption, integration–of opposites in a trinitarian formula of a third salvific element that resolves the dualistic impasse– impersonation, identity and union. Mandalas and Icons with their associated devotions are symbolic means of access to these ineffable states. So is the choreography of ritual and liturgy. Since it is a universally human mind and body complex that is addressed in these processes, there are a number of comparable practices used to alter, convert, or develop the human person. For instance, there are basic patterns to religious ritual that can be found in many intentional formats. If one is casting a spell or celebrating Mass, one proceeds first along a path of preparation, perhaps purification, then the exercise of various techniques of identification with a tradition or deity, such as Scripture readings in the Mass. The liturgical function continues the process, until union is obtained in communion with the spiritual power sought. In a purely religious practice that ‘union’ is the goal. In a magical spell there is usually some particular intention that is ‘sent’ with all the emotional, physical and willful power of the practitioner in league with a spirit/familiar. There usually follows some denouement to exit the sacred space or condition safely. The power of ritual(s) is one of the great, ingenious inventions or discoveries of the “First Age” of human consciousness.(* See page 82.) Since one ritual is never enough–there is never just one day, but a process(ion) of days–annual cycles of feasts and solemnities that one finds in such traditions as Catholicism and Orthodoxy develop, such as the Divine Office and Liturgical cycles of the Mass. One finds one’s personality altered and one’s worldview formed according to these patterns of temporal/non-temporal integration.

(Even in commercial or decorative or illustrative art there are religious strains. The basic function of bridging, teaching, or creating a psychic environment still operates in these functions. Though, the fully integrated effect possible in the art experience is missing.)

Some say that poetry is my strongest suit and I should have stuck with it. I believe I have done so in the sense that poetic abstraction still exerts its power to organize, integrate and reveal the depths of this project project–after thirty years! It’s one of my painter friends that seems to think that poetry is where I should focus. Some of my more literary friends think I should stick to painting, as least as far as my prose style is concerned. I think in this regard that my real interest is liturgy. That is the larger category. Liturgical rituals can incorporate all of human faculties. Cultural examples of this would be the rites, theories, practices, devotions and yogic accomplishment involved in the making of a Tibetan sand mandala. The Navajo sand Paintings would be another example, though from a theological construct. Or, the Divine Office and the festal cycles of the Mass mentioned previously would be another example. The overall organization of NEPSIS, especially the conclusions in Section III, bridges the realm of fiction and non-fiction, popular and scientific or literary imagination, time and eternity itself. NEPSIS produces a metaphor for the flexibility of human personality formation, and operates under the valence of a liturgical intention to integrate and progress all the elements of perception.

The final prose fiction: HOW DIONYSIUS SAVED HIS MOTHER FROM HELL: and its prose poem conclusion, “Book III: Resolution”, recounts the substance of earlier fiction and non-fiction narratives in books I and II. Then, Book III takes us to the next step of the Nepsis initiation. Identity and liberation. This is accomplished through the creation of a golem in all its metaphoric grandeur; and the exorcism/expulsion of a beautiful demon. It is an orchestration of consciousness through a deft manipulation of co-incidence and the archetypes of the unconscious. Or, perhaps this is a process of being maneuvered by such influences to construe an appropriate worldview to this same end. In any case, in Book III, ‘satisfaction’ is made regarding the questing issues of the Nepsis awakening. The artwork at the top of the page of NEPSIS Section III , Painting # 44, is a depiction of a somewhat horrific aspect of one aspect of the guiding muse of this project. This is not the end, but an authentic presentation of the dynamics of serious religious initiation.

Next Chapter: Nature and Religion