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.