Most people live their life as dead. It is human ethics that form the artist's self tombstone, burdening him with the mission to set humanity free from its lack-of-vision's horrible, horrible cage of residence.
Many people have their life settled. A job, passive income, a family, some kids and always food on the table. Even richness, a luxury car, a nice big house. Their life appears to be ideal to their friends, friends real or virtual. However, they feel bars around them. Iron chains that, although they cannot see, they know they're there. A canary is captured and put in a cage. Years pass by and, every spring, the canary knows there's something missing from its life, but it can't remember what it was. It's now safe, has food every day to eat and is able to live life until its last day. Now and then, a ray of light shines on the cage and reminds it that something has been forgotten.
What is it that separates an artist or even an art connoisseur from the average Joe? It is simple, actually common knowledge, one that many people don't actually grasp, just because most people do not have the capacity to take it in.
We all know the phrase that "the artist sees where others just look at", but this is just a catchphrase and difficult to understand, especially if you are on the side of them looking. I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all asshole here, on the contrary, when you get to the place where you start to "see", you find yourself landed on a new universe, one that is so vast that you just come to the natural conclusion that you know nothing.
This is the exact analogy of the bird in a cage example. Similarly, people who just "look" are as if they are confined in a small flat throughout their life. In there, there is a small window that can give the hint that there is something more. Think about it. Everyone knows there is opera, gourmet food, painting, architecture, poetry, sculpture and so on. That is the window. You know there is something outside your window but you cannot see clearly what it is.
From that point on, we all choose to take one of the following paths.
You can either stay inside the flat and build the window with bricks:
- Classical music is not for me, makes me want to sleep
- What do they find in this modern art, I could do that myself
- Poetry is silly and those people who like it just pretend so that they sound connoisseurs
You can stay inside the flat but look outside the window:
- Look at this painting, it is truly amazing. If only I could do something like that
- I've learnt photography. Now I understand all the technical stuff on my camera, look I even photograph in manual mode. I am a professional, there is nothing else to learn, I know it all.
- If only I had the means and the right connections, I could also have turned out to be a star
Or you may actually leave the flat and be outside.
- I really need to get a canvas and put colours on it
- When I listen to this piece I can't stop crying. My heart feels like exploding.
- I've been painting for 10 years now and I don't understand why there are people that stupid to put my work up in Museums and worship it. It's all shit, nothing, nada! I should destroy them all! Humanity should not have to face this kind of crap I've been making so far!
The latter is more politely referred to as artistic concern. Although it may not sound like it, it is a very natural and healthy process for any artist. Unless you cut off your ear's lobe or eat your colour tubes. At least Vincent knew he was a nut-job. But what a nutter he was. (For the ones with the bricked windows, that’d be Van Gogh).
Learning to appreciate art resembles the way you get to appreciate a good glass of single malt whisky. At first, you may hate the stuff. Then after you have had some, you start to like it. Maybe you first start with more commercially available brands and then go on and develop a taste for the more subtle tastes inside the liquor. Before you know it, you can easily distinguish between a whisky made on Skye island and one made in the Highlands.
The difference is that art can open a door, the door of your own cell to a world that was unknown to you. This is when magnificence commences.
This happened very profoundly to me when I was studying classical drawing. Even though I had a fair sense of the arts from the time I was studying playing the piano, this particular case of drawing was very exciting for me since it happened in my adulthood, so I was far more conscious about it. You see, when you are out there, out of your cell, you realise that there is now an infinite number of doors to open and look inside.
At first, I was really struggling with drawing. In my first lesson, my mentor placed a Hippocrates head in front of me and said, ok, begin. My obvious question to that was, well, how do I begin? only to get: start drawing what you see. His approach was similar to getting a child to learn how to swim by throwing it into the sea.
I really struggled with that for about an hour and I was really starting to feel good about my drawing. He then came to check on me, looked at my drawing and rubbed his hand over it, erasing everything. That's not how we draw he told me.
I thought fuck, what is this guy doing? I had spent an hour doing that and I really put a lot of effort into it. He then spent about 1 minute and what he did was already 100 times better than mine. He said you need to just see light and shadow. You don't draw lines, you just darken the places where there is no light. Just draw the large shapes first and then start carving the smaller ones. Think of it as if you were a sculptor.
After some time I was getting better and better, but still, nothing compared to my mentor. That was starting to frustrate me and I asked him when would I be able to draw without struggling and measuring and erasing and all that jazz. The answer was much different than what I had expected.
He said, well, don't worry. You just need to keep doing what you do and there will be a time, just one second that a switch inside your brain will flip and you will start seeing.
What kind of mumbo jumbo hocus pocus is that? Is that the answer? that sounded crazy to me at the time. But my mentor was one of those who inspire trust, so I decided to play along.
One day, I was drawing yet another head, still struggling to get it right, when at one point I just blinked and, suddenly, wait, what is that?
My eyes opened to a different parallel universe. I started to see, just in the blink of an eye. It is so magnificent yet difficult to describe. I could see the head in front of me as if it was drawn in three dimensions. I could see the shadows and the light separately if I wanted to. I don't think much about it now because it's my default way of seeing, but I do remember the way it made me feel at that moment. I just said to my mentor, I think I can see now, managing to make him crack the first smile I had ever seen on his face.
I was so overwhelmed by it that I later inclined towards photography, in order to be able to quickly document my own vision of the world. I wanted to communicate my way of seeing with humanity. In the same way that the blink of my eyes set me free from my own cage, the blink of the camera's shutter would share it with the rest of us.
This now takes us to our subject. Being able to see instead of look at the world around us gives us an advantage over the people who never manage to do this. This ability takes you out inside a beautiful world, endless and beautiful at the same time. Great anxiety rises now and that is to see more of this world and discover more beauty. Beauty now is a drug, something you cannot escape from seeking. You can now get high on beautifulness.
If you wonder, there is indeed a catch. Discovering this world comes with a great, truly unbearable burden. This is what is called the artistic concern.
Being now in the open air, enjoying the beautiful world, you also happen to pass through the flats of the ones who never got outside. But how can that be? How is it possible that those people chose not to leave their flats? It's because they don't know. The small window inside their flat gave not enough cause to make them open the door to the outside. So they stay happy and safe inside.
It is human ethics, driven by love, that come in the way, driving you to try and help everyone out of their boundaries. These two, love and ethics, are essential components of the artistic procedure. The only way to help people get out of their boundaries is by providing them with stimuli to make them want to do so. You can go outside their window and show them your art to make them want to go out. You can not unfortunately open the door for them. It is locked from the inside.
The only way is that your art is strong enough to do that. Do you follow now? You HAVE to make your art better. Your art is never going to be good enough unless the whole of humanity is set free and sees with their own eyes what a beautiful world we live in.
Nietzsche kept doubting ethics in his philosophy, which by itself is a significant oxymoron. Why dear Friedrich did you write down your philosophy for other people to read? Was it out of your own ego? Did you want to be worshipped as a very intelligent person? Or was it because, being deeply ethical, you wanted people to come to your light?
In essence, the driving force of art is ethics. It is the urge to help people discover and be brought into the light of beauty. This is such a burden, that artists lose their sleep over, day in, day out. It is this burden that drove not too few artists to insanity.
At the same time, it is the same burden, without which, artistic creation would have never been there.
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