ART TIMES online February 2012 Peeks and Piques !
I’VE BEEN TOLD that it is written in the Koran: “If you want to speak to God, go to the mosque; but if you want to hear His answer, go to the desert.” I’ve always liked that concept of going where no one else is to “hear” the voice of God — you know, “far from the madding crowd” and all. Having no nearby desert, I choose to go to my woods — to meditate, to let my mind wander, sometimes to paint. Truth be told, if I am in a mosque, a synagogue, a church, I cannot help but find myself surrounded by people — intrusive, talky, dressed to the nines (who can think of God when a woman looks good enough to daydream about taking her to bed?) On the other hand — isn’t there always another “hand”? — in the Pirke Avot, the Hebrew “Sayings of the Fathers”, we are told: “One who walks along a road and studies, and interrupts his studying to say, ‘How beautiful is this tree!’ ‘How beautiful is this ploughed field’—the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life.” Oh, my! What is a nature lover — a painter of landscapes, even — to do? Who has God’s inner ear? Ought I listen to the Muslim? Or to the Jew? Which one will keep me from Hell’s eternal fire? Is there a middle ground? Should I ask some devout Christian what he/she thinks? And who can tell if Christians really do hold the middle ground? Or have easier access to God’s ear? And how about a Buddhist? Need he tremble if he spies a beautiful sunrise during meditation? Now, at this point, my non-religious self steps in from stage right and says, “Man up, Steiner! You know that Nature consists of equations, balances, adjustments…all worked out timeless years before some wily prophet tried to put a name to it and then build a system that enthralled rather than enlightened its followers…making them worship rather than understand…so, go with the flow! Ignore such airy-fairy stories that all involve some super-being ‘up there’ who’s keeping track of your feeble attempts at your outdoor easel. Just daub and enjoy! Feel your soul as you lay on the paint and stop fretting about losing it.” OK. Yeah, but…there’s that forfeiting stuff, and all. But who’s to say that He laid down that Law? According to Otto Rank, artists and creative types were around longer than the holy Joes…. a lot longer than the spoken or written language, for that matter…priests, shamans, imams, rabbis and the like didn’t come on the scene until centuries after language of any spoken or written kind popped up in man’s evolution. Rank, in fact, called artists the first “priests”, called upon — divinely inspired, if you will — to reveal the unseen (but felt) mysteries of the universe through imagery. They were trying to show others that “something” was “out” or “up” there and they were doing fine until the lesser-inspired began copying what they could see — elephants, oxen, fellow men, drawing them on cave walls. But this brought men’s eyes downward. What’s so inspiring about making three-dimensional oxen look like two-dimensional oxen? Everybody could see them, for heaven’s sake! No mystery there. So here’s the problem, as I see it: Where does that spark of creativity come from? Inside or outside? Upside or downside? And why all the mythologizing and fear mongering about it? Jeez! This makes my head hurt. Why don’t I just go outside, take a deep breath, and paint a little?