Welcome. This blog site places before you a remarkable man, Charles Beck, an artist and teacher. This monthly series of stories begins by describing Charlie’s ways of being in the world, through my encounters with Charlie in the last decade of his life first as my colleague, then mentor and finally or rather for ever as my dearest friend. Year two of this blog expands to include my own hopefully and enduringly perspectives on art, on teaching and of a certain slant on life inflected by Charlie. ~ Peter London

Concerning the Spiritual in Art

"The language of ultimate concerns is art." ~ Peter

There is a premise that over the years I have come to hold ever more firmly, one that keeps on shaping the evolving course of my work as an artist and now has become the central organizing principle of this exhibition. It is this:
That the work of art (and its ultimate contribution to the development of the self and to society) is to demonstrate that this world, as thick and convincing as it is, is neither the only world, nor the highest. And that our ordinary consciousness is neither the only consciousness nor the highest.   ~Roger Lipsey,  An Art of our Own

Allow me to tell you one incident amongst many that caused me to think Lipsey correct. It is a true story. It is about the night a refined, elderly, most proper gentleman and neighbor of mine, died. It was told to me by his wife, equally if not more so reserved and proper. They were both elderly but not very, and she had a progressed state of M.D. so much so that she slept downstairs in a hospital bed while he slept upstairs in their bedroom. He was an active and esteemed citizen who saw to his wife's requirements completely and respectfully, always. A day or so after her husband's funeral, while there was a lull in the visiting, she asked me to sit by her side and told me this.

Here's what I make of that.

When matters of ultimate concern are upon us, the language with which we ordinarily negotiate with life reveals its limitations.  At these pivotal moments we spontaneously yield to tears or laughter or silence ... or song.

At these high moments, reason no longer feels sufficient, is too slow, too pedantic.   

We rely upon song to console us, we believe in song to hold us, to carry us past or carry us closer, we rely upon this flimsiest of things, song, to save us.  I say song, but of course by that I mean any art form, music, dance, theater, all the visual arts.

Moments and issues of ultimate concern are sacred moments and issues.
And the language of ultimate concerns is art. In this way, in this fundamental way,  the arts are a sacred language.  No matter how art is misconstrued, made shallow, made to serve the manufacture of only pretty things, no matter how weak and merely entertaining a thing much art has become, ( religion and love have suffered similar fates)  in the great moments of life, when the ordinary shudders under the weight of the sheer wonder and mystery of being  and non being, when in moments of profound intimacy, desolation and joy, we simply cannot help ourselves but to sing and dance and gussy up, we simply cannot help but to do art.

Art is the natural human response to life's high moments.

And, it is even more than this, if you can imagine a "more than this."
Art is not only the spontaneous means of expressing our reactions to great and high and deep encounters with life.  Art, the creative process, is a powerful vehicle with which we can encounter the great and high and deep dimensions of the world.

"A Walk by the Bog," oil and mixed media by Virginia K. Freyermuth
And more than THIS!  Art, the creative process, is an equally powerful means with which we can encounter and cultivate the higher and deeper dimensions of our Selves.  In other words, you don't only sing and dance and hoot and howl when you "get there.” Art, engaging in the creative process can get you there.

But, only if you realize this potentiality of art. And my contention is that this function and power and contribution of art, has NOT been taught to us. Those who have instructed us, have in the main, failed to tell us this and failed to show us how it may be accomplished.  It is not as if we weren't shown examples of such art objects, our art history books are full of examples of "Primitive Art." But what was not portrayed, or insufficiently described, was why these things were made in the first place.

We were instructed in why these objects were beautiful and historically important, but we weren't sufficiently advised as to the purpose and power of these objects, which was not merely to embellish the lives of their makers and users, but to empower, to transform, to heighten their lives, to align their lives more closely with the requirements and advice of their gods.

There we have it again, art as sacred speech.

Well, one might say, what has all this to do with us modern folks living in these modern times. We, after all, are modern people interested in modern ideas about, amongst other things, Modern Art.  Well now here is a most interesting point; just what does  all this concern about the sacred have to do with the issues of modern art?

The answer, surprising as it may be, is this; the same exact views of our "primitive" cousins,- that this reality is neither the only or the  highest reality, and this ordinary consciousness is neither the only nor the highest consciousness,  and the art is a vehicle by which we may access this higher dimension of the world and of our selves.-  are the same exact contentions that made up the central project of modern art itself, and was the driving force behind the creation of a new iconography necessary to explore this undertaking.

The advent of Modern Art derived from the desire to escape from old and tired forms of art, but why?  It was not for Formalist, Art for Art's sake alone. In fact, quite the opposite. It was no less than this; to transform the world. To transform the world by creating a new language for the community of artists to speak about and for a new world order, unhampered by an old language that derived from an old and despised social system.

The concern of the founders of Modernism was not merely to seek the elements that made up the vocabulary of art: line color, form, texture, pattern, etc., and free them from their bondage to visible forms such as pears, trees, dogs or sunsets.  It was not only to seek the circle in the apple. It was to seek the fundamental elements that underlay all manifest life, and even more, the patterns, which underlay all Being.

Not art for art's sake, not art to re-present what we already have.  The Modernists were seeking more wily game, they were seeking what the wise have always sought; the forces that underlay the surface, the patterns that connect, the harmonies that reside beneath all things and hold this damn wiggly world in place. This ambition is not strange for the religious and the spiritually minded, nor is it strange pursuit for artists who know. 

As absent as the spiritual dimension, the "things of ultimate concern" may be in much of art and its teaching, the yearning after things of ultimate concern has not been drained from all of art nor the ambitions of artists. The artists represented in this exhibition, by no means a full or even fair sampling of this still rich vein of art, are testimony to this.  Here and now, just as others in other times and places; the Olmecs, the Toltecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs Aztecs, Anastazies, Navaho, Cheyenne, Nez Perce, Mohawk, Inuit, Dogon, Bambura, Catholics, Chasids, Baptists, Mormons, Buddhists, Animists, Shintoists, Deists, Agnostics, Ethical Culturists, Witches, Crones, Druids, Deep Ecologists, Platonists, and all the innumerable rest of our rag tag bunch, all yearn for a sense of unity, of a deep and universal companionship, a reciprocity, a role to play with dignity along side of the rest of creation.

We are all drawn to the same questions; Where do we come from? Why are we here? What is our place in the scheme of things? How may my life be of service? What the hell is going on here? Is anyone in charge?

Whenever this class of questions is raised, the arena of ultimate concerns is addressed.   

At these moments:
a deep and satisfying order reveals itself,
and the artful way of expression emerges.

The viewer of this exhibition and reader of this catalogue will find themselves confronted with art forms that may raise the question, "What does this have to do with the spiritual"? Here's what. The artists invited to participate in this exhibition work in a diversity of media and visual language systems. They must. And that is because when issues of ultimate concern are upon us, we must respond in kind. That is, we must bear witness to only and exactly our own truths. We must say nothing more or nothing less than what we know. Wherever this may take us. We don't seek novelty in our expression, nor do we seek to be creative. We seek only the exact way to portray what we know and wish to become. The work so produced may look novel, seem creative, even appear beautiful. That's what we end up with from time to time. But it's what or rather why we start out that's the real heart of the matter. And for the most part it is just as Roger Lipsey says it is; to explore the very real and awe full compelling notion that this reality is neither the only nor the highest reality, and that our art and our life can be a demonstration of this. 

~ Peter London

[Thank you Virginia Freyermuth for letting us publish your artwork.  Virginia's current website is www.PollyParkerPress.com]

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