Sunday, November 2, 2008

October 2008 page 2

by Ross McCague
Toronto Ontario
The imaginative impulse acts on a sudden realization, dissociates images from their normal setting, and realigns them in associations that are largely derived from feelings. The intensity of such feelings in the realm of speculative thought is difficult for most people to understand. Whether these are unfinished acts that have never been played out in the artist’s life or the intense realization of what has, the internal dimension is unmistakable. The person who is engulfed by the world of circumstance and expediency cannot always disengage themselves enough to partake in this identification. The peculiar narrative string of imagery in lyric poetry, for example, is often forged under tremendous mental intensity. Any reader who has experienced similar associations through vivid meditation and the suspension of time, in its relentless amending of the moment, will recognize this intensity in the energy holding the lyric image in place.

The arresting of time in the perfection of the aesthetic rendering of the line, portrait, or landscape is one of the glories of painting and poetry. Having had this experience in one art form, it is not uncommon to experience an analogous realization in other artistic practices. The aesthetic contemplation of a scene would, I assume, be the precursor for a painter to organize a landscape work. In this regard, any deliberate focus on the beauty of a particular moment, if drawn deeply into the mind and examined in its many facets, will present a vision of things as they appear to be, or at least a sense of the potential of what is there. The experience of this effect is close to the experience of contemplating a painting, and I believe is the essential creative impulse behind the complex response of an artist to a subject.

The response may be so internal in its formation, however, that the external representation is largely lost in its three dimensional solidity. Hence the delirium we associate with non-representational art forms. This does not mean that the artist has lost a relationship to the essential elements of the experience that drew his or her rapturous contemplation in the first place. In fact, the attempt to represent experience is in itself an affirmation of life as it is lived in the world in a particular place at a particular time. The feelings that are associated with the imaginative engagement put a strain on the neutrality of our functional experience of day to day realities, and challenge the audience of a work of art to look more carefully at what their experience may involve.

The artist’s responsibility is to ensure that he or she has represented their ideas skillfully enough to be faithful to the initial impulse behind the work, and to have brought the
ideas through to a sensory representation independent of, but no less real to the reader or viewer, than the object of his or her concern. Perhaps what is filtered out in this process promotes the hallucinatory quality of some art as much as what is singled out for representation. The artist may be attempting to redress a balance that has been lost in our prejudiced view of an individual, place, or

situation. He or she could also be rendering what may not be visible to the casual observer who has not taken the time to allow a place or situation to truly manifest itself. The Buddhists suggest that ignorance has at its root an ignoring of what we need to be aware of in our environment. The individual who is merely functioning is not likely to see all the implications of a situation, nor experience a heightened sense of an object of contemplation in its particular beatitude. They may be blind to what is obvious to the artist as the qualities most demanding and worthy of attention. In this respect alone, the artist is said to redeem humanity from a deficient world view, or at least illuminate some neglected aspects of experience.

Others suggest that artists can more perfectly express what their audience have already recognized but are unequipped to act on. The role of expressing feeling in art has sustained its long association with the feminine domain. Certainly the power of feelings to shape artistic experience is equivalent to their power to inform our decisions and inclinations in life. Feelings not only help sustain the original insight and intention of the artist, but intense feeling is also the force behind the realignment of existing elements onto a metaphorical plane. I was first alerted to the power of compressing ideas into a singular series of symbols by the poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire. As a young man, one is hesitant to relegate too much of the authority of such writers to their emotional life. I’ve come to realize that emotional experience can help refract the essence that an artist seeks, and its absence will dissipate the intensity of the cognizance, realization, and representation of a work of art. Emotional intensity must certainly be brought to service the artist’s vision, without which the universality and poignancy of the work will be imperiled. It is the essential fuel of creation, and art can never be passionately engaging without it.

It is truly unfortunate that the representation of life in poetry, music, and painting no longer enlarges a shared view of humanity. In the absence of such common ground, we will never see the work of a Michelangelo or Shakespeare in our midst. Those who are willing to break with a religious tradition and accept the system of an individual imagination will find work that continues to express the extraordinary beauty of the world and our place in it. William Blake was the first to acknowledge the need to establish a personal system that raided the mythology of posterity to envision the Creation and its manifestations anew. If this tall order breaks the individual artistic mind into a prismatic refraction of disparate elements and associations, we must appreciate the heroic effort that has been made to fuse what one can from what is.

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