Thursday, July 23, 2009
Classical Art vs. Advaita Art
If my mom had it her way, I'd still be painting still lifes and portraits. According to her, I should be painting pictures of things, not ideas. People don't want ideas on their walls - they want to look at pretty paintings. For crying out loud, don't make people think - just make them happy! You'll sell a lot more art that way. Or so she says, and she's probably right.
Okay. Where to begin. I stopped making people happy long ago. I have a classical training in art, and although I don't consider myself a master by any means, I'm reasonably good at it. But somewhere along the way I lost interest in reproducing the world in paint. What's the point? It made sense in 15th century Europe, when it was the avant garde. Until then, no one had tried to paint the world around them with much accuracy, so this was a major achievement. But that was 500 years ago! It's a little dated now, and we have this new thing called a camera that does a nifty job of it. As for me, I just got ridiculously bored with realism. I felt that as an artist I was reduced to reporting what I saw, like a visual newscaster. Nothing sublime about that.
See, classical art is grounded in the presumption that what we see is 'true'. How can anyone deny these pears? This chair? They're right here in front of me, I can touch them, so by God I'm going to paint them! In so doing, I reinforce the wild assumption of their existence, and of my own being, since a painting infers a painter. (Isn't that interesting, btw? That a work of art is evidence of the person who conceived it? Like a leaf bearing witness to the tree. Next time you're in a museum, try to see the painter, not the painting).
By reproducing the world around them, the artist perpetuates the myth of separation. It's like we - all of us - are trying desperately to convince ourselves that our conception of the objective world is the correct one. When we as artists depict nature, even in an abstracted form (i.e., the Cubists), we cling to our illusions of the world of objects as being a solid, fixed place. And each time we look at a painting, we succumb to the preposterous delusion of our mistaken identity.
That's my definition of classical art: one which perpetuates the illusion of separation, or duality. Advaita art, otoh, is one which demonstrates the unified nature of reality. It doesn't just depict it or illustrate it: it IS it. The art is an extension of undivided existence. The artist and the medium are one, and the act of creation is carried out through complete synthesis of intention. There is no fragmentation, because there are no mental constructs to interrupt the creative flow. Which isn't to say that there is no concept. But the concept is subordinate to the expression of unity.
So. Back to pears and chairs. I guess one could find a way to paint them that expresses nonduality. I hope they do. But me, I'm sticking with my text drawings. They don't aim to reproduce nature, or reinforce some mental construct of my identity. Instead, they are a slice of nondual experience, and a gateway to the sublime experience that I am That.
Above: Pears, 1988, acrylic on panel. From the collection of my mother.