Monday, January 20, 2020

Mental Constructs

"Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the precise degree to which we are engrossed in our own work, and perhaps that is why we see in the increasing complexity of our mental constructs a means for greater understanding, even while intuitively we know that we shall never be able to fathom the imponderables that govern our course through life."

W.G. Sebald (1944 - 2001)

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Origins of Form

"The evolution of all things animate or inanimate takes place within a sea of forces. Some of these forces are dominant, some are scarcely there at all, but all exert some influence on the changing form. The force might be a necessity for the placement of leaves to maximize sunlight or it might be a compression of space, a surface stress, heat, infusion with another substance, vibration, or sonic disturbance, wind, torsion, electrical charge, gravitational pull, or any number and combination of other mechanical or chemical forces. The substance can only respond and its evolving form is a reflection of the forces, like a patch of froth on a slowly winding river revealing the currents and countercurrents. When the forces are complex and constantly shifting, the developing form is unpredictable, like an old pear tree that has been broken, pruned, and buffeted by the elements, or the skin of an aged elephant. But when the forces are more constant and predictable the forms evolve into rhythm, pattern, and symmetry."

- Christopher Williams
Origins of Form

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Wispy Living Metaphors

"We can express our feelings regarding the world around us either by poetic or by descriptive means. I prefer to express myself metaphorically. Let me stress: metaphorically, not symbolically. A symbol contains within itself a definite meaning, certain intellectual formula, while metaphor is an image. An image possessing the same distinguishing features as the world it represents. An image — as opposed to a symbol — is indefinite in meaning. One cannot speak of the infinite world by applying tools that are definite and finite. We can analyse the formula that constitutes a symbol, while metaphor is a being-within-itself, it's a monomial. It falls apart at any attempt of touching it."

- Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 - 1986)

As I've written about before (though it has been a while since I last visited these themes), a deep profound regret of my life - as a photographer and son-of-an-artist - is not ever having trained my camera on my dad while he worked in his studio (my dad passed away in 2002). I've rationalized away this grievous - really, unforgivable - omission on my part in countless ways over the years. I was too young; I was "afraid" of what he'd say if I asked; I was always "going" to do it, when I had a better camera; I was waiting for a chunk of time I could devote entirely to this series; ... none of it makes sense, of course, in hindsight, and the opportunity - opportunities! - are now lost in the mists of time. Oh, what I wouldn't now give to have a few precious moments with a camera in hand and my dad hunched over one of his canvases! 

The triptych above shows the only two images I have of my dad working as an art restorer (on the left, with a bonus capture of my mom - who passed away in 2017 - peering over the top left edge of the painting) and, in the center frame, as an artist - an image which I only recently "discovered" by chance while rummaging through old files. I could hardly contain my emotion when I saw this picture tumble out of one of my dad's old art books (that I still had wrapped in a crate I took from my mom's old house after she passed away, and hadn't seen in years). It was taken in the summer of 1984. The last frame shows what I believe is the image he was working on, on the easel (and appears in the watercolor section of the book my mom and I published on his art and life; note that the preview shows all of the pages in the book, in case some of you may may be interesting in perusing my dad's life's work). 

Which brings us back to Tarkovsky's quote. I agree, generally, with the sentiment that images are indefinite in meaning (were this not so, all photography would be reduced to sterile one-to-one mappings and transcriptions); and couldn't agree more that metaphors are an artist's preferred language. Indeed, my dad was — still is — a living metaphor for seeing, discovering, and communicating ineffable realities. And, just as all metaphors reach far and deep, but fall "apart at any attempt of touching" them, the images my dad gifted the world are now all that remains of his existence; the inexorable march of time turns even the brightest light into wisps of dust. Of course, my-dad-as-living-metaphor — as being-within-itself — remains undisturbed, forever tuned to ineffable realities, and timeless. For me, he is a metaphor for the creative spirit that permeates our cosmos.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Harmonious Order

"The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living. I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp."

Henri Poincare (1854 - 1912)

Friday, November 01, 2019

Sauntering in the Mountains

"I don't like either the word [hike] or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not 'hike!' Do you know the origin of that word saunter? It's a beautiful word. Away back in the middle ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going they would reply, 'A la sainte terre', 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them."

John Muir (1838 - 1914)

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Divine Paradox

"Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down."

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Island Nature

"No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other's tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or another, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes—forming patterns we have seen before, as like one another as peas in a pod (and have you ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There's not a chance you'd mistake one for another, after a minute's close inspection), but still unique."

- Neil Gaiman (1960 - )