An ongoing theme in this collection of musings is the proper role of the intellect, if there is one, in the creation of art. As a photographer who has relied more on instinct than intellect in choosing how and what to capture, I am typically unmoved by conceptual art that requires the viewer to engage intellectually with a piece.
Painter Agnes Martin shares this sentiment:
The great and fatal pitfall in the art field and in life is dependence on the intellect rather than inspiration. Dependence on intellect means a consideration of observed facts and deductions from observation as a guide in life. Dependence on inspiration means dependence on consciousness, a growing consciousness that develops from awareness of beauty and happiness.
To live and work by inspiration you have to stop thinking. You have to hold your mind still in order to hear inspiration clearly.
Author Zadie Smith's recent short fiction in THE NEW YORKER -- Crazy They Call Me-- is a brilliant peek inside the head of jazz singer Billie Holiday as she reflects on the creative impulse as she perceives it:
...the surprise you feel in yourself, the sense of being directed by God, when something in the modulation of your throat leaps up, like a kid reaching for a rising balloon, except most kids miss while you catch it—yes, you catch it almost without expecting to—landing on an incidental note, a perfect addition, one you never put in that phrase before, and never heard anyone else do, and yet you can hear at once that it is perfection. Perfection! It has the sound of something totally inevitable…
"...there is no deeper desire than the desire of being revealed. We all want that little light in us to be taken from under the bushel. The first poet must have suffered much when the cave-dwellers laughed at his mad words. He would have given his bow and arrows and lion skin, everything he possessed, just to have his fellow-men know the delight and the passion which the sunset had created in his soul. And yet, is it not this mystic pain — the pain of not being known — that gives birth to art and artists?"
On creating art in a time of turmoil, Maria Popova, editor of the provocative blog "Brain Pickings" suggested that there needs to be:
...a commitment on behalf of the artist to serve not only truth but beauty by remaining in contact with the timeless and the eternal; to fortify us against the urgencies of a turbulent present and embolden us to transcend our primal reflex of fear, so that we may lift not only our spirits but the whole of our consciousness and continue to evolve toward a more humane humanity. This has always been the duty of the artist...
"Whether you are trying to be right, like the realists, or trying not to be right, like the Dadaists, …. the art you make will always be subjective and askew. If error is a kind of accidental stumbling into the gap between representation and reality, art is an intentional journey to the same place."
In art school, photographer Harley Weir pushed back against the predominant mind-set favoring intellect over intuition in self-expression:
“It was frowned upon to do something that was good looking or less considered, more intuitive,” she says. “But I don’t like the idea of coming to an art project knowing what you want — for me, I find photography a way of learning, to figure something out with an image.”
The aim of art is insight, understanding of the essential life of feeling. But all understanding requires abstraction. The abstractions which literal discourse makes are useless for this particular subject-matter, they obscure and falsify rather than communicate our ideas of vitality and sentience. Yet there is no understanding without symbolization, and no symbolization without abstraction. Anything about reality, that is to be expressed and conveyed, must be abstracted from reality. There is no sense in trying to convey reality pure and simple. Even experience itself cannot do that. What we understand, we conceive, and conception always involves formulation, presentation, and therefore abstraction.