BORN: September 13, 1939: From John Wood: “No visual artist since Blake himself is better suited to illustrate the Songs of Experience than Joel-Peter Witkin, for Witkin is the most profoundly religious photographer in the history of the medium and probably the most god-haunted American artist of the twentieth century. His imagery, like Blake’s, is a direct outgrowth of his spirituality. Witkin understands that art and religion are made of the same things: sex, death, and God. In Blake’s own time few people could perceive the prophetic nature and spirituality of his work. Two centuries later we see him far more clearly, but in his day his visionary claims coupled with an art like no one had ever before seen or read made him an outsider. When artists see beyond what others insist on calling the ‘real’ world, when they shape new realities, such as Cézanne and Picasso did, or shape new mythologies from the very flesh of the ones we know, and then insist that the deity they reveal is historical, orthodox, and authentic, those artists begin to disturb us deeply. They undermine our security. They demand we look again at what we thought we had seen, that we look through their eyes, and that we look more deeply than we ever before had looked.” From the artist (Songs of Innocence): “If our first book was glorious, this one will be mystical. There is a Buddhist saying — To everyman is given the key to the Gates of Heaven — but the same key also opens the Gates of Hell. That is the difference between innocence and experience. It is what compels our desire to live. It is why, for those who can see it, Blake is God’s jester. Blake was so wise that he could see ‘nature as the work of the Devil.’ He stated that ‘The Devil is in us as far as we are in nature.’ It is only when we are disengaged from mortality — at death — that evil leaves us. Then, after Judgment, either our chains are broken or we are ‘his’ Evermore. Logic, the rational – these are options, the Soap Operas of Divine Belief. Philosophy is a soiled diaper… Darwin playing in guano some where in a Bosch landscape. The subjects of my work are not freaks, degenerates, or the grotesque. They are ourselves. In this violent and visually wallpapered age, I have chosen to evoke the darkness rather than the light: as Goya, Blake and Redon have. Because we argue for Divine Madness as an honorable choice in a society devoid of human honor. The themes of my work are the things which constitute human existence, history, beauty. The work has at its very core the evidence of conscience presented as photographic metaphor. I strive to create experiences no one has seen or felt before.”
OBSERVATION: In the realm of art, all is possible, limited only by the artist’s imagination and the control of media, tools, and technology. Truly original artists establish new boundaries for the definition of art, stretching their own capacity to imagine, forcing the audience to participate, or surrender.
“One night [ca. 1920] I was in my studio drawing my own portrait. On the ceiling, a light. All of a sudden I thought: suppose I were a fly. I could fly on to the easel, fly around me, go for a walk on my back, go up to the wall, etc…. In this closed space I projected the path taken by the fly: no more frame, no more Renaissance.”
“The old Chinese used to say: ‘It is better to feel a painting than to look at it.’ So much today is only to look at. It is one thing to paint a picture and another to experience it: in attempting to find on what level one accepts this experience, one discovers what one sees and on what level the discovery takes place. Christopher Columbus left in search of one world and discovered another.”
“‘Let nature take over in your work.’ These words from my old friend Takizaki were at first confusing but cleared to the idea – ‘Get out of the way.’ We hear some artists speak today of the act of painting. This in its best sense could include the meaning of my old friend. But a State of Mind is the first preparation and from there this action proceeds. Peace of Mind is another ideal, perhaps the ideal state to be sought for in the painting and certainly preparatory to the act.
OBERVATION: Mark Tobey (December 11, 1890 – April 24, 1976), can be defined as a genuine artist, one worthy of the name, who saw the known and the unknown, who held insight into the abstract world of the unconscious, being able to define and make real glimpses into the world of human capability. All of us benefit from individuals like Mark Tobey, in that he, and others like him leave a legacy of ideas, thoughts, and actions that open our minds to new vistas.
FROMM, Erich, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1973.
“The term “necrophilous” to denote a character trait rather than a perverse act in the traditional sense, was used by the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno in 1936 on the occasion of a speech by nationalist general Millan Astray at the University of Salamanca, where Unamuno was rector at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. The general’s favorite motto was Viva la Muerte! (“Long live death!”) and one of his followers shouted it from the back of the hall. When the general had finished his speech, Unamuno rose and said:
“Just now I heard a necrophilous and senseless cry: “Long live death!” And I, who have spent my life shaping paradoxes which have aroused the uncomprehending anger of others, I must tell you, as an expert authority, that this outlandish paradox is repellent to me. General Millan Astray is a cripple. Let it be said without any slighting undertone. So was Cervantes. Unfortunately there are too many cripples in Spain just now. And soon there will be even more of them if God does not come to our aid. It pains me to think that General Millan Astray should dictate the pattern of mass psychology. A cripple who lacks the spiritual greatness of a Cervantes is wont to seek ominous relief in causing mutilation around him. (M. de Unamuno, 1936.)
At this Millan Astray was unable to restrain himself any longer. “Abajo la inteligencia! (“Down with intelligence!”) he shouted. “Long life death!” There was a clamor of support for this remark from the Falangists. But Unamuno went on: This is the temple of the intellect. And I am the high priest. It is you who profane its sacred precincts. You will win, because you have more than enough brute force. But you will not convince. For to convince you need to persuade. And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: Reason and Right in the struggle. I consider it futile to exhort you to think of Spain. I have done. (M. de Unamuno, 1936.)
OBSERVATION: Freud’s theory of life and death instincts are rooted in the idea that man’s striving for life and death are two of the most fundamental principles in man. “Necrophilia in the characterological sense can be described as the passionate attraction to all that is dead, decayed, putrid, sickly; it is the passion to transform that which is alive into something unalive; to destroy for the sake of destruction; the exclusive interest in all that is purely mechanical. It is the passion “to tear apart living structures.” (H. von Hentig, 1964.) How is it that human destructiveness persists, after the recognition of the tragedy and horror it brings to human life? How is it that awareness, and the application of ethical and moral behavior have not become the standard by which all human behavior moves forward? Life, or Death?
OBSERVATION: The Philosophy of the Imagination in Vico and Malebranche, Paolo Fabiani, trans. George Pinton, offers insight into the use and function of the imagination as seen in early modern philosophy. The essay is thought provoking!
OBSERVATION: Collectors, and their legacy help maintain art as history. The Gulbenkian collection in Lisbon contains a variety of art forms, and of particular interest is a selection of the work of Rene Lalique, that many feel is the best collection of Lalique’s work in the world.
Conventional vs. Unconventional Superconductors, Michael R. Norman
“To appreciate these issues, we need to first understand what superconductors are all about, and how unconventional ones differ from their more conventional counterparts. Superconductors are not only perfect conductors (their electrical resistance drops precipitously to zero below a transition temperature Tc), but also exhibit the so-called Meissner effect (6), where they expel magnetic fields. As noted by Fritz London (7), this implies that electrons in superconductors behave in a collective manner. Bosons, which have integer values of a fundamental property known as ‘spin’, can behave in this fashion, whereas electrons, which are fermions that have half-integer spins, typically do not. This apparent contradiction was resolved by Leon Cooper in 1956 (2) who demonstrated that the presence of even an arbitrarily small attractive interaction between the electrons in a solid causes the electrons to form pairs. Because these ‘Cooper pairs’ behave as effective bosons, they can form something analogous to a Bose-Einstein condensate. Rather than being real-space molecules, however, Cooper pairs consist of electrons in time- reversed momentum states and consequently have zero center-of-mass momentum. Because a pair of identical fermions is antisymmetric with respect to the exchange of one fermion with another, the spin and spatial components of the Cooper pair wavefunction must have opposite
exchange symmetries. Thus these pair states are either spin singlets with an even parity spatial component, or spin triplets with odd parity. The spin singlet pair state with an isotropic spatial component (s-wave) turns out to be the one realized in conventional superconductors (3). Despite the fact that electrons repel each other because of the Coulomb force, at low energies there can be an effective attraction resulting from the electron-ion interaction. To understand this, note that a metal is formed by mobile electrons detaching themselves from the atoms that
form the crystalline lattice (these atoms then become positive ions). Such a mobile electron attracts the surrounding ions because of their opposite charge. When this electron moves, a positive ionic distortion is left in its wake. This attracts a second electron, leading to a net
attraction between the electrons. This mechanism works because the ion dynamics is slow compared to the electrons, a consequence of the fact that the ions are much heavier than the electrons. However, the interaction at shorter times becomes repulsive because of the Coulomb
interaction between the electrons; this retardation is what is responsible for limiting Tc (8). Up until the discovery of cuprates, the highest known Tc was only 23K.”
OBSERVATION: We must be thankful to all great thinkers who inhabit our planet. Questions arise when pondering ideas about materials that redefine what we know about matter. What are the limits of the physical? We live in an era of great scientific expansion, and the future will allow us to observe the abstract nature of the human imagination in retrospect. The known, the unknown, that which will be known…………………
Humans have extraordinary capacity for abstract reasoning. Through the years they have developed religious awareness, spiritual life, and assorted elements of mythological, and metaphysical belief. Additionally, the ability to appreciate aesthetic, moral, and ethical behavior have become part of the human psyche. Through self-conscious discipline humans have been able to harness the will. While it is easy to recognize the genius involved in all of these capabilities, humans also function without conscience, building horror upon horror in the lives of others, and in the natural world.
In aesthetics, artists delve into the mysteries of the human capacity for imagination, intuition, expression; a world of the yet unknown. This is the place where art bridges the instinctual with the conscious. At the instinctual level, the human mind invokes, reacts, and processes ideas in an immediate (pre-conscious) way. Prior to the mechanism of conscious intervention, the instinctual creative mind brings to the surface ideas, organizing thoughts from the many regions of the mind, the intellect, the emotions. These processes of inspiration, intuition, instinct, and imagination, all contribute to the ability to foresee that which is intangible. In bringing forth ideas from these complex regions of the mind and brain, the artist transforms idea into a fashioned, constructed manifestation (the form). The medium takes on the characteristics of that original thought, allowing material to act as a cohesive device, a kind of matrix holding ideas in place.
Aesthetic encounter takes the art further, when a viewer, or participant interacts with the concept using powers of perception to draw the idea into the self, merging mind with mind. As the perceptual mechanism absorbs data, feeding the information to the higher functions of the brain, a new impression forms in the viewers mind, perhaps, nearly identical with the original moment of creation, perhaps different, but at the very least becoming a tool, an experience for new and uncharted mental ideation. Art is the catalyst, the enzyme triggering a cascade of secondary responses in the viewer’s mind. Perhaps this is the greatest function of art, where the mind of the viewer takes on new characteristics, new capacity to learn, understand, and feel, becoming immersed in the aesthetic experience.
Each viewer enters this action of aesthetic encounter with unique criteria; perceiving, processing, and making new the art put in place by the artist. Here we find the power of communication evident in the language of art; the tangible, the unknown, beauty, horror, complexity.
Harold Bloom, How To Read and Why, Scribners, 2000.
“Because my ideal reader, for half a century has been Dr. Samuel Johnson, I turn next to my favorite passage in his Preface to Shakespeare: This, therefore, is the praise of Shakespeare, that his drama is the mirror of life; that he who has mazed into his imagination in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him may here be cured of his delirious ecstasies by reading human sentiments in human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world and a confessor predict the progress of the passions….Let me extend Johnson by also urging us to recognize the phantoms that the deep reading of Shakespeare will exorcise. One such phantom is the death of the Author; another is the assertion that the self is a fiction; yet another is the opinion that literary and dramatic characters are so many marks upon a page. A fourth phantom, and the most pernicious, is that language does the thinking for us…..I urge you to find what truly comes near to you, that can be used for weighing and considering. Read deeply, not to believe, not to accept, not to contradict, but to learn to share in that one nature that writes and reads.”
OBSERVATION: Certain individuals help us understand the process of profound understanding, they help us see with the mind, perceiving realms beyond the commonplace, unmasking the mysteries hiding behind various surfaces.