Of Art and Freedom

Art is essentially an uncensored expression of human freedom.  Artistic expressions of freedom come from inside the artist.  Making art is something an artist simply must do, and must do with autonomous, soulful emotion.  Art’s essential spirit is connected to the mysteries of nature — nature’s way, if you will.  If given half a chance, art can help protect us from spiritual stagnation, even in the spectacular, secular wasteland created by rapidly-advancing technology, hyper-consumerism, materialism and voyeurism, to name a just a few of my favorites.

“Modern” art has been the subject of much discussion and anxiety since its rather rapid encroachment into Centuries-old “classical” art conventions and institutions.  However, the abstract art that emerged during the late 19th-Century, is, like all art, simply a reaction, reflection and/or harbinger of social and cultural values and conditions of the period.  Perhaps this new, “non-objective” art represents a continuation of previous conflicts we typically associate with Europe’s Renaissance – initial fissures between faith in God and church and knowledge and science.   Perhaps it began independently as technology and cultural change pushed humans further away from the solid (millennia-old) cultural base that relied primarily on natural instincts.  However it happened, a psychic gulf has been opened between new opposites:  Between realism and abstraction, between nature and the human mind and between the conscious and the unconscious.  The opposites describe the distinctive nature of the situation that searches for expression in modern art.

Art steadily disengaged itself from nature, separating from the world of things.  The surface, or appearance, of things is flat.  The more intensely we examine the appearance of a thing, the less likely it is that we will know its spirit.   Appearances cannot “speak” of the other-worldly mysteries that dwell behind everything.  Symbols help us accept “reality.”  A symbol is an object of the known world helping us make sense of the inexplicable.  Metaphysical anxiety is now a global phenomenon.

When painting gradually moved toward pure abstraction it left nothing concrete to connect the unknown to the visual image.  Without that link, people have no landmark, no map, and no compass to guide them.  This signals danger – emotional psychological danger.

Ironically, however, these later abstract creations, tapping the spiritual depths of the unconscious mind, look a lot like the atomic and molecular elements that create structures in nature.   The unconscious has led the artist right back to laws that restrict freedom of expression.  These laws are not those made by man, but the laws of nature and its subset: the laws of the human psyche.  The artist, unknowingly, has become another subdominant victim of the unconscious.

The unconscious always presents us with the paradox.  The interpretation of modern (abstract) art as a symbol of our era resolves nothing.  Although we are now more aware than ever of the mystical layers of darkness behind everything in our world, the sensory connection to things – powerful, sensual forms – we can feel through seeing, touching and hearing has dissolved into thin air.  Abstraction cries out the emotions associated with distress, despair, violence and fear.  But it can also express the secrets of natural processes and greater understanding of the mystical, or spiritual, aspects of nature.  What we do now with full knowledge of this paradox is our challenge as artists, as human beings.  Art can be the “way out” of our present state of excessive anxiety.  It will take a new willingness by artists to express these deep feelings in less threatening, more personal ways.  It will also take more open-mindedness on the part of patrons and art-lovers.  The walls must come down.  Artists must take the bit and move forward.

If this can happen gradually, it is time, I believe, for artists to look inward, with great imagination, in order to make conscious the present opportunity to heal the great divide between realism and abstraction, between body and soul, between man and nature.


21 thoughts on “Of Art and Freedom

  1. The aesthetics of Abstraction begin in pattern designs of nature. That is, Scientism’s ascent as arbiter of reality gave art the option of reducing a rose in bloom to its unseen but verifiable base elements. The base elements of a painting are surface and pigment. Energy, the artist’s effort, also becomes a base element of the creative process. Conscious meaning of the form is no longer required. The object is a painting, not a reflection of an idea contained in the symbols of the painting’s design. It is pattern for pattern’s sake.
    Realist painting is alive, at least here in San Francisco. The Academy of Art franchises teach it and student shows of the recent past have reflected an enthusiasm for the craft among the young generation. The problem for most folks is that it isn’t promoted and so they don’t know about realist trends nationally. But, the discipline is alive. To survive, though, these young artists go into advertising, if that. Most have their mojo boiled away by the novelty of new gadgetry and the stress of maintaining multiple part time jobs to make rent.
    PS: Wassily Kandinsky was one of the first heavily promoted abstract artists and it should come as no surprise that he was balls deep in the Blavatsky milieu, an operation Miles has revealed to be one of the country’s longest cons: the new age hoo haw.


  2. Is Art a Medium, an End or both? I have (totally lay) an opinion about the Arts in general. Besides, beauty is in the eye of the beholder or so it goes. Other than that, I value and praise Art for what it can make me get out of the hypnosis of this implacable logogram: “$”. Some say symbols and signs rule the world, not laws. In my very limited experience as a viewer (just focusing on Painting) I find Salvador Dali as the most striking, arresting of all Painters. I would appreciate a review/appraisal about Dali as Painter from fellow readers of this blog who are/were either painters or amateur/hobbyist painters.


    1. Art is to an artist a passion, a need, and/or an obsession to express freely, without self-sensorship, something inside that can’t be kept inside any longer. The medium is a free choice made by the artist, a tool that helps get the job done. To an art dealer, an art critic, or an off-the-street tourist, art is whatever they say it is. The commercial/commodity side of the “game” is right up there with in the rarified air of the high-sketchy with horse-traders, carpet sellers, and used car salesmen. I will leave judgments about form, value and marketability to others. I’m not sure about “an End.” Even after an artist dies, his work may live on, even if it only makes it to the local Goodwill store. To some artists this idea of immortality seems important, although I, personally, think it’s fool’s gold.

      Dali was a bigger-than-life character, and great painter in my opinion. Way off into the unconscious to the point of total annihilation of his subjects — apacalyptic surrealism. I just made that up, but I like it. If you ever get a chance, visit his musuem at Figueres, Spain, a short (40km) train ride North of Barcelona.

      ps. I’m a sculptor and painter. My wife (also an artist) and I owned and operated a contemporary art gallery in Bozeman, Montana for 12 years.

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  3. “Even after an artist dies, his work may live on”. Very true. In a certain way, the artists (they, you) extend their life through their work or Maximus Decimus Meridius dixit: “What we do in life echoes in eternity”. Visit Figueres museum, Barcelona. Added to my bucket list. Thanks for the input, Steve.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am slightly aquainted with a protégé of Dali’s, Nall Hollis, and spent some time on his art foundation in Venice, France. He has since lost his art foundation in a divorce settlement.


          1. I was obsessed with Dali in high school but was frustrated because I could not ape his technique. I turned to Manet. He seemed more forgiving- not just in subject but basic application of paint to canvas. In the end, I agree with a critic I can’t recall the name of who admitted Dali’s work was art, but it was diseased art. (‘Putrescence’ was one of Dali’s favorite words) One might liken his work in lower case parlance to a traffic accident you can’t take your eyes off of.
            Gala was, apparently, an insatiable man eater and Dali was impotent. A marriage of convenience and inspiration. Whatever it takes…


  4. It is reported that the great Gustav Mahler said the following:”If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music”. I think Steve would agree that is true to every artist in his/her own Muses’ inspired field. As for Dalí, whatever he knew, whatever he saw… a windows to other worlds, realities. Another favorite, many can’t help but marvel staring at this one from Francisco de Zurbarán: https://www.nortonsimon.org/art/detail/F.1972.06.P


  5. originally art meant a perfection of handiwork. Da Vinci or Michelangelo, just to name some of the most famous, did consider themselves craftsmen. Their handiwork reached a grade of perfection nobody else could match. The impressionism marks the end of that kind of art. All what came after that was not longer made by perfectionists but by some wannabe often without any skills of any kind and simply sold to us as art. This kind of selling crap as gold needs a lot of propaganda. It always goes with suggestions of the kind: if you don’t like it, you don’t understand it. It also must give an explanation of the purpose because there is none. Real art always explains itself. You will understand the purpose of the artist without any explanation and you will always be able to tell if the artist achieved his ambition even if you’re not interested in art. With modern art you never know what the purpose was. You will need an explanation from the “artist”, what made him make it. And the “artist” can always say, even if it looks like crap, it was exactly what I wanted to do. The maybe most important aspect of “modern art” is money laundering. They put some painted canvas into an expensive looking frame and sell it to each other for millions of dollars to put their dirty money into legal accounts. that’s why the law always has tax exceptions for selling and buying art via auctions.


    1. Good to see that you mentioned the money laundering aspect. It is probably a better way to make various transactions. Mathis probably already covered the genealogy of many famous “painters”. The artistic arm of the hydra creates useful transactions chips for various projects. Painting is only one aspect of art. Music has another role and people here uncovered many aspects of the music psyops. Volumes can be written about psyops in movies.


    2. I have acknowledged the corruption in the business end of modern art. I do not, however, have any reason to agree with the notion that “real art always explains itself.” There is an abundance of poor and mediocre art out there that demonstrates incredible skill and perfection of the craft, as you put it.

      For example, last evening we went to a local art opening that featured a landscape artist. His “realism” employs meticulous use of technique, and all the proper hues to render likenesses of places familiar to many local residents and tourists. I have known this artist and his work for over 20 years. He seeks perfection. He works hard, with great purpose. He’s a great guy. His work has not changed in all that time — his choice, obviously. What I find most lacking in his art is, for lack of a more appropriate word, is “soul.” It is “flat,” not in a visual sense, but in a way that is hard to describe in words alone.

      This is where I will make another plea for “open-mindedness.” Give art another chance, if you can. There is more there than meets the eye, and way more than meets the strict definitions arbitrarily thrown down to disqualify, or diminish, all that is not like some standard set in place before machines, before WWI and WWII, and before anyone began serious inquiry into the workings of the human mind. We artists of today can only function in the times in which we all live. Context is as important in art, and for artists, as it is in any pursuit of truth.


      1. @sk: you said that yourself, it was flat. I don’t know your local artist, I’ve seen some local artists of my own and I know some of them personally and I always will be polite and respectful. But their art is not impressing me much. They just make a living making sculptures or paintings. I don’t see there any difference to my car engineer. Who by the way is a genius and always finds what’s wrong in my car. What made Michelangelo great was not the ability to reproduce details but to reproduce emotions. It’s pretty easy to paint a face in a recognizable way but to make it look angry or sad, its a completely different thing. We all grow up under the suggestion, that being an artist is something different to being a car engineer (to use my previous example). But it’s only a suggestion. IMO everybody who seeks and reaches perfection, no matter in what area, is an artist. Sometimes is not easy to recognize perfection. If you don’t play any instrument, everybody who plays some accords may impress you, but to recognize a perfect instrumentalist, you must have some experience in playing instruments yourself.


        1. Well said. For the artist it is difficult to accept that in a lifetime of producing art there may only be a select few that satisfy that standard (of perfection). Nobody’s harder on a true artist than the artist themself. Part of why I’m writing about this at all is to motivate me to move on to the next chapter in my own life/art journey. The knowledge of all the corruption, double-standards, and vile manipulation of art and artists as a cultural weapon leaves its mark. I suppose the good news, in my case, at least, is that I plan to dust myself off and bushwack my way a little further through the thicket.

          The thoughts, encouragement and criticism of all the readers/commenters here is always appreciated.


  6. Wonderful work SK ,
    I think humanity made be too far gone , a watered down collective consciousness
    to discern the sacred from the profane , we have been taught to see around such things ,
    to the next thing , a ten second thought cycle . Like adding swamp water to sixty year old scotch .
    Quite a few years ago I would get chinese takeout and see an eight year old boy sitting and drawing
    very intently , he specialized in horses and kids running and playing , his drawings lined the walls ,
    all of this was from his head , he was not copying , it was he and the paper and his colored pencils
    , many many horses in each running , other horses in the background standing ,
    incredible motion and perspectives , was I looking at another Picasso obsessing with his dove ,
    I talked with his mom as she was very proud and had high hopes . The place changed owners
    and I never got to see what happened to them . Could all others see what I was seeing ,
    I think perhaps they did not look away from their phone to even see .
    I did enjoy Tim Burtons ” Big Eyes ” film for it’s judgment of Art vs. Criticism
    and would recommend it even if one sees all hollywood as propaganda .


  7. It’s really great that we can now look at this painting but art was then truly the plaything of the uber wealthy .
    Check out the bloodline of this “Holy” “Cardinal” , I’ve been reading about a lot of these people in Peter Cain’s Aly book.
    He chose a greek myth instead of something biblical , in his residence , ok I get it .

    “The Choice of Hercules is a painting by the Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carracci. Dating from 1596, it is housed in the Capodimonte Gallery of Naples. The subject is the Choice of Hercules. Carracci, who was in Rome from the late 1595 or early 1596, was commissioned this work by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese for the ceiling of his camerino in his family’s palace.”

    Cardinal Odoardo Farnese – “His patronage of architecture was less extensive but included the Casa Professa, the !!!! Jesuit house !!!!! adjacent to the church of the Gesu in Rome, by the architect Girolamo Rainaldi.[3]”



  8. If this Cardinal is the grandson or nephew of the King of Spain , the royalty of Aragon ,
    and when you see the word Beatrice of Portugal , think SLAVETRADE !
    this wealth also came from stolen gold and silver from the south american / caribbean colonies ,
    murdered/enslaved natives and stolen treasure , importing African slaves to work the sugar .


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