Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WORDS THAT SHOULDN'T BE ILLUSTRATED


God separating light from darkness in the book of Genesis (Michelangelo)

Illustrations can enhance words, but not everyone is interested in having their words enhanced.  In fact, translating words into pictures sometimes provokes people to violence.  This reaction is a tribute to the power of illustration (although many illustrators, given a choice, might prefer the second prize). 

 Some reasons for hostile reactions to pictures are obvious.  Thomas Nast's political cartoons were more effective than written articles in ending the corrupt regime of William "Boss" Tweed of New York. Tweed is reported to have cursed, "Stop them damn pictures! I don't care what the papers write about me. My constituents can't read, but they can see the pictures."


Later when Tweed was convicted of fraud, he  fled to Spain where the authorities reportedly used one of Nast's cartoons to identify and capture him.

Another reason for objecting to illustrations is that they can seem more vividly offensive than the words they illustrate.  Norman Lindsay's illustrations for the classic play Lysistrata were censored although Aristophanes' words were not.


Similarly, the authorities censored Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations of Oscar Wilde's play, Salome.  Such pictures can cross the line even when their accompanying text does not. 

Readers are free to imagine anything words describe, as long as the images remain in their heads.  Once an artist puts those images in tangible form, he confirms his enemies' worst suspicisions about what goes on in his lurid mind, and provides them with evidence to use against him at trial.

Some argue that pictures are more dangerous than words because they are more accessible to young, impressionable audiences.  The slightly demented Frederic Wertham urged censorship of comic books in the 1950s out of concern that pictures containing plural meanings might corrupt America's youth.

When I first read Wertham's book as a boy, I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to be seeing here.  Now that I understand, he seems even crazier than he did back then.

But perhaps the most interesting argument against illustration is that certain subjects are too important to be pictured at all.  That's the topic I'd like to chat about this week.  According to this view, any visual form created by human imagination can only limit or debase certain subjects, no matter how talented the artist, no matter how moral, respectful or chaste the image.  We get this argument most often from theological circles, where true believers argue that drawing or painting a divine subject necessarily limits something that by definition is unlimited. 

The Prophet Muhammad is repeatedly quoted as saying that artists should burn in hell for painting pictures:
Verily the most grievously tormented people amongst the denizens of Hell on the Day of Resurrection would be the painters of pictures...." (Sahih Muslim vol.3, no.5271)

The painter of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection....'" (Bukhari vol.9, book 93 no.646)
Last year, gentle Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris, dismayed by growing censorship of drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, suggested a "Draw Mohammed Day."  She did not urge that the drawings be disrespectful or unflattering, only that artists exercise their right to draw anything, including Muhammad, lest artists wake up one day and discover that their rights had disappeared altogether.  Her impertinence earned Norris a death sentence from the thoroughly demented cleric Anwar al-Awlaki who instructed his followers, "her proper abode is Hellfire."

Pakistanis burning cartoonist Norris in effigy

While this position appears contrary to  
mainstream Islamic thought about pictures, the resulting threats against Norris' life were sadly real. 
Her employer reported that on the advice of the FBI, Norris was "moving, changing her name, and essentially wiping away her identity."

The notion that drawing an object can be a sacriligious act is not confined to Islam.  This is an age old battle, spanning many religions, between cataphatic and apophatic theology.  The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3) contain a pretty broad prohibition against creating likenesses:
Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 
Different versions of this prohibition recur throughout the Old Testament, where we learn that a wrathful God may go so far as to punish an artist's great grandchildren.

God creating the earth in the book of Genesis (Michelangelo)
The Commandment against making a likeness carried through to early Christianity; it's difficult to find Christian images prior to the third century, at which point many Christians seem to have accepted that illustrations of holy subjects could be an important tool in promoting the young religion.  Centuries later, there were still traditionalists who feared that images could violate the second Commandment, resulting in idol worship. Others became alarmed because visual depictions sometimes exposed apparent inconsistencies in church dogma. There were repeated periods when  religious leaders, believing that  "misinterpretation of religious images often leads to heresy, banned all pictorial representations and began a systematic destruction of holy images."

It is easy to understand Boss Tweed's resentment toward political cartoons, but are there any thoughtful observations to be made about this more impassioned view that certain subjects are just too important to be pictured?

For me, the Book of Job is one of the most profound poems about the human condition.  It speaks to both the religious fundamentalist and the dedicated atheist.  Job searches for meaning from the whirlwind, looking for answers in a form that could make sense to his poor human brain.  The whirlwind responds that there are no answers for Job, and that he'd better get accustomed to disappointment.  Job learns that God has no intention of explaining himself to humans until we are able to create a bird or a fish, as God does.  Discussing efforts by Job and his friends to understand the universe, Princeton's Michael Sugrue states, "the book of Job suggests that in a way, all theology is blasphemy because it seeks to make God comprehensible to the mind of man.... The answer to why God sent evil into the world is: don't ask."

I suspect opponents of sacred illustration are telling us, "don't ask" how divine things look.  Don't try to define God as having a long white beard and a white bath robe with a gold "G" on the pocket. Divine subjects are inscrutable and need to be defended against callow and presumptuous artists who believe they can define the undefinable with glib visualizations. 

But this seems a pretty shallow reaction to a pretty profound subject. By focusing on physical likenesses, they address the religious experience at its most superficial level.  Artists such as Frazetta or R. Crumb have done powerful, inspirational-- some might even say divine-- work, but it certainly won't be found among their representational pictures of deities, which are so lame it is comical to think they could alter anyone's thinking.

Frazetta's "King of Kings"

R. Crumb's God of the Old Testament

There may be much that is sacred in art.  (For example, some people claim that meditating on a large Rothko painting puts them in touch with sacred feelings.)  And some art may be legitimately unsettling to some religions views.  But those who claim to protect the sacred from physical likenesses may be more concerned with protecting the bureaucracy and infrastructure of  religious institutions (and perhaps the prerogatives of clergy) than preserving the experience of the divine. 


67 Comments:

Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
Fascinating topic. One of my most vivid childhood memories is that of growing up in a conservative Protestant church where one Sunday morning the pastor boasted of having no art in the church. I can't help but wonder if many traditional institutions have made a severe cultural miscalculation by not embracing and utilizing art to their advantage, many of whom are either self-acknowledged losers in "the culture war" or in denial. Certainly it was a strategy that Catholicism seemed to understand well at one time.

3/23/2011 7:53 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

There is no excuse for religious cults to censor artwork. None.

3/23/2011 8:30 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

Very inspiring post. I really never thought of it the other way around: How images are more powerful than words. I envy poets sometimes, as they can express emotions much less ambivalent. But it true - some images can be so strong, so hurtful, like words can hardly be.
Gives me a lot to think about - thank you.

3/23/2011 8:38 PM  
Blogger Sean McMurchy said...

great post!

I have been playing around with these sort of ideas in my head and a bit with my work and plan of doing it in a big way in the future. The idea of the power of images as propaganda or to convey emotions or ideas it can be too truthful and too honest or if not done correctly and with enough skill can pervert the propose of the image in a way that can't be taken back. We are a visual creature and I think our brains ability to interpret images is incredibly powerful even with an uneducated eye, witch like you said in your post can mean that its can be more powerful that text in some important instances. again great post, I hope there are more like this loaded in barrel with plenty of powder!

3/24/2011 12:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it too late to add Boris Vallejo's masterpiece of Jesus , as a bodybuilder , ripping himself free from the cross ?

Al McLuckie

3/24/2011 1:15 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

"If thou shalt not make any graven image of anything that is in the heavens above, then all these fixed notions of God are idolatrous. The most dangerous and pernicious images are not those made of wood or stone—nobody takes those seriously—they are the images made of imagination, conception and thought. And that is why, in the fundamental approach to the Godhead, both the Hindu and the Buddhist, and for that matter the Taoist, take what is called the negative approach. St. Thomas Aquinas said that to proceed to the knowledge of God, it is necessary to go by the way of remotion — of saying what God is not — since God by his immensity, exceeds every conception to which our intellect can attain. When of the Godhead the Hindu says, "All that can truly be said is 'neti, neti' or 'not this, not this,' and when the Buddhist uses such a term for the final reality as shunyata, which means voidness or emptiness, textbook after textbook on comparative religion by various theologians complain that this is terrible negativism, or nihilism. But it is nothing of the kind. If, for example, you have a window on which there’s a fine painting of the sun, your act of faith in the real sun will be to scrape that off so that you can let the real sunlight in. So, in the same way, pictures of God on the windows of the mind need scraping off, otherwise they become idolatrous substitutes for the reality." ~ Alan Watts

3/24/2011 3:08 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

If thou shalt not make any graven image of anything that is in the heavens above, then all these fixed notions of God are idolatrous. The most dangerous and pernicious images are not those made of wood or stone—nobody takes those seriously—they are the images made of imagination, conception and thought. And that is why, in the fundamental approach to the Godhead, both the Hindu and the Buddhist, and for that matter the Taoist, take what is called the negative approach. St. Thomas Aquinas said that to proceed to the knowledge of God, it is necessary to go by the way of remotion — of saying what God is not — since God by his immensity, exceeds every conception to which our intellect can attain. When of the Godhead the Hindu says, "All that can truly be said is 'neti, neti' or 'not this, not this,' and when the Buddhist uses such a term for the final reality as shunyata, which means voidness or emptiness, textbook after textbook on comparative religion by various theologians complain that this is terrible negativism, or nihilism. But it is nothing of the kind. If, for example, you have a window on which there’s a fine painting of the sun, your act of faith in the real sun will be to scrape that off so that you can let the real sunlight in. So, in the same way, pictures of God on the windows of the mind need scraping off, otherwise they become idolatrous substitutes for the reality. ~ Alan Watts

3/24/2011 3:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only religion in the past 1000 years that kills artists for this are those sick crazy fuck Islamofascists. Stop making excuses for them. That photograph shows them trying to drag the rest of us back jnto the stone age with them.

3/24/2011 7:48 AM  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

It kinda comes down to what is your god. If your god is art, draw whatever you please, just do it to the best of your ability. If your god is a god in the more literal or figurative sense, and you believe that god commands you to make no likeness of (him), then don't create a likeness of (him), and instead let the rest of your art sing (his) praise.

etc, etc, as one who is protestant, I find the boast of your old pastor strange. One might be able to argue for or against a likeness of God, but bibically art is supported. The descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant, and of the Temple (built to God's specifactions) demonstrate a God who loves art.

3/24/2011 8:48 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

As a dedicated atheist, I can assure you that the story of Job doesn't speak to me at all.

In fact, after you made that pronouncement in your blog, a judgement for everyone, you sort of lost me and I didn't really even finish the post, I scanned the rest.

I do find it fascinating however, that religion has such zeal over so many forms of hatred.

The product of all this hatred today? When people don't consider being an illustrator a real job, and ask you to work for free if they know you because "it's fun, it can't be work, right?"

3/24/2011 9:09 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Matthew,
As a child that was my perception of the pastor's statement. Perhaps "boast" is a bit prejudicial; he emphatically stated there was no artwork on the church walls, probably in the context of an anti-Catholic diatribe.

I think the beginning of Exodus chapter 31 is fascinating:

The LORD said to Moses, "See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

Clearly in this case, artistic ability was an expression of an active filling of the Spirit of God by God (no pun intended).

3/24/2011 10:54 AM  
Blogger Black Pete said...

As a person on a faith journey, I appreciated your post very much.

I'd say that visual representation in terms of spiritual matters can be like trying to draw wind: it is possible to draw wind's effects on things, but not wind itself. FWIW, same thing happens, in my view, in trying to capture spiritual matters in text--it's beyond language. And of course, we try anyway, and fail.

If there is a danger of drawing, say, God (however one defines that), it is the risk of anthropomorphism more than anything else. It amounts to reducing God to a human entity (which I think happened with the whole "Jesus is Lord" theology), and usually a human entity who magically mouths one's own opinions and supports one's own prejudices.

Thanks for this.

3/24/2011 11:58 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

How dare anybody in our country have bodily threats against them for what they say? Nobody should need to change their name for expressing a point of view. It is the violent psychos that should be changing their addresses. Is this a free country or not?

I can feel my blood boiling, so I should stop. But those who cower before these nutjobs, or pander to their sensitivities, are only shifting responsibility for the defense of liberty to others. This is moral cowardice of the most pernicious sort worthy of nothing but scorn. And heaps of it.

I think we need to start declaring atheist Fatwas on violent religious nutjobs. The world is getting too small.

So on the other point on the limits of art… I’ve always liked this bit from Henry Rankin Poore: The realist is a man of drawing and how to do it, of paint and putting it on, of textures and technique; he is a painter; and stops with that. But the maker of pictures would step to another point of sight. He would so aim as to shoot over the hilltop. He would hit something which he cannot see.

anyway,
kev

3/24/2011 1:59 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I’ve always liked this bit from Henry Rankin Poore: The realist is a man of drawing and how to do it, of paint and putting it on, of textures and technique; he is a painter; and stops with that. But the maker of pictures would step to another point of sight. He would so aim as to shoot over the hilltop. He would hit something which he cannot see.

3/24/2011 2:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc wrote: "I can't help but wonder if many traditional institutions have made a severe cultural miscalculation by not embracing and utilizing art to their advantage,"

I agree with you, although so many religions seem to involve some form of abstinence from certain of life's pleasures (for example, from sex or from certain types of food), sometimes to good effect. So I guess self-denial of the pleasures of art should not be so surprising, but I think it is short -sighted.

MORAN-- they will do their best unless reasonable people exert counter-pressure.

Sean McMurchy-- I look forward to seeing how you work with these ideas in a big way in the future. They could use some big attention.

3/24/2011 3:58 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- that is one of my favorite paintings of all time, deserving a post of its own. Talk about clueless. It rivals Rene Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Ceci n'est pas Jesus.

Matthew Adams-- yes, art makes for a very interesting deity indeed.

3/24/2011 4:18 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Elder said...

Excellent and thought provoking post. I have never understood though, with people using the 10 commandments as a base to forbid imagery of Christian subjects. The verse you quoted is referring to creating images of created things and worshipping them. "Heaven" refers to sky in that context, not a heavenly realm.

3/24/2011 4:40 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jennifer wrote, "As a dedicated atheist, I can assure you that the story of Job doesn't speak to me at all. In fact, after you made that pronouncement in your blog, a judgement for everyone, you sort of lost me and I didn't really even finish the post,"

Jennifer, you apparently stopped reading before, rather than after, my reference to Job or you wouldn't say I was making "a judgement for everyone" when I specifically said I was making a judgment "For me." (By the way, if you'd said you stopped reading because this post was way too long, I would have agreed with you.)

But on the larger point, I would urge you to rethink your view of the Book of Job. If you believe in an existential universe, devoid of any meaning or benign deities, an empty void which requires every individual to find their own justification for putting one foot in front of the other, then Job should be your Book (minus, of course, the happy postscript which was attached by later generations). The Book of Job is as tough minded and unflinching as anything that Sartre or Camus ever wrote, and it makes Madalyn Murray O'Hair seem like a child at play. But you have to be willing to read it. Too many people use the lack of meaning in the universe as an excuse for impatience.

3/24/2011 5:04 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

an interesting post, david. many thanks :)

as for the power of images versus words: i am a bit with what thomas stated. words do have their advantages, as in they carry their meaning that then can be modified with all kinds of grammatical constructions, regardless whether the end result is a very concise description or a deliberate nonsense, hinting at something unwordable.

pictures, on the other hand, are bound to taking place in visibility. that limits them in a way, but also makes them more immediate as well.

re religion and imagery: its an interesting debate for sure. on the one hand, "banning" an entity like god to the visual must miss the point. to be fair, the viscerality of pictures probably does make them dangerous in terms of inviting mistaking the image for what it implies.
it also can be a danger to a clerical caste who is trying to guard their authority. its easier to guard against an abstract god that -at best- is nor questioned neither discussed (although it was medieval theology that had this strict systematic approach for trying to get an idea of god) than against a powerful picture.
and then, the act of painting pictures is a creative act in the most literal sense: through painting something, we do create this thing in the space we paint. in that way, its the closest you can get to the idea of the creative god, and i guess one could indeed argue theologically for the imago dei meaning the ability to create.

on an unrelated note: did you increase the font size throughout your blog? i found the text to be irritatingly large and checked whether i accidentially zoomed in with my browser.

3/24/2011 6:03 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

The issue is the control of information, Raphael. Words are known, everybody has the code book. A rat can be spotted by his words. But Art is unreadable, it is a language only an artist can speak, although all can read it, yet without being able to articulate its meaning. The tyrant, demagogue, or fascist thug is endangered by any communication not directly under his control. Art is powerful because it is a secret communication below the verbal threshold.

Words can change. Any given generation or political movement can wipe away the meaning of a word or "uncool" some thought. Art, as Dunn said, is its own definition. It is a comlpete package which says what it says and only what it says for as long as it exists. It is unchangeable... unless it is physically destroyed, marred or hidden away.

Good art is also solid and stalwart and difficult to make. It can't be spooled endlessly across the void like text across the internet. You cannot drown out a great work of art with lots of bad art. At least not for long. Quality in art broadcasts out from the surface. The same cannot be said of text, which all comes in dull gray blocks, whether replete with stupidity or genius.

3/24/2011 6:32 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

D.A. ~ I think I might be in the spam can!

p.s. Does anybody have a shot of the picture Frazetta painted his Jesus over?

3/24/2011 7:15 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Great point Kev. This post really hits home David. Thank you. The mystic power of image beyond words was was ephasized in the book "All the Art that's Fit to Print (and Some That Wasn't)," by Jerelle Kraus. The New york Times, a bastion of knowledge and news, was often guilty of a double standard; biting written criticism but a certain visual timidity. Art is scary.

But I have to say that religious illustration was a part of my youth and to a certain extent influenced my choice to pursue art. Arnold Friberg's work gave religion a kind of heroic feeling for a kid who loved the work of Frazetta and comic books. Horrible propaganda but it helped spark something in me. Luckily I had other less than heavenly inluences like Crumb and a host of perverse album cover art to balance the scales.

3/24/2011 7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Exodus 25: 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. The Ark Covenant was ordained with cherubim. The Ten Commandments were for the Nation of Israel gentiles did not have the law (Romans 2:14. The commandment you are speaking of, is in reference to idol worship of images in place of worship of God. As for the images through the ages of Christ on the cross they are far off in their accuracy.Isiah give a description of the Messiah and His condition of His body on the cross and before being crucified. Isaiah 52:14 (just as many were horrified by the sight of you)he was so disfigured he no longer looked like a man; 52:15 his form was so marred he no longer looked human –so now he will startle many nations.Kings will be shocked by his exaltation, for they will witness something unannounced to them, and they will understand something they had not heard about.

3/24/2011 11:18 PM  
Blogger C B Sorge said...

Maybe these laws in Abrahamic books were instigated by those seeing artists render subjects realistically. Even if just scratching on the ground, suddenly the artist makes something appear where before was only dirt.

The switch from nonsense to realization of what someone is seeing, like those 3D eye puzzles, is a kind of magic.

If most people can't do it, it's a kind of sacred magic, a threat to a god indeed.

3/24/2011 11:21 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- you were correct, you and a number of other commenters were caught in the blogger spam filter. I apologize. That rarely happens... must be the angry gods intervening.

I understand your point about religions trying to keep the concept of the deity unlimited by referring only to what the deity is not, rather than what the deity is. I gather that is the difference between cataphatic and apophatic theologies. But I'm not sure where that leaves visual images; if followers of the apophatic approach want to avoid defining the deity with a visual image, what remains for the artist? I read that within some types of Buddhism, there is middle ground where you are allowed to make a descriptive hint of Ultimate Reality, achieved by using positive terminology. I like that notion of a descriptive hint for artists; some of the best art isn't much more than a descriptive hint anyway.

Etc, etc-- " I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs,"

The next thing I know, you'll have me believing there are inconsistencies in the Bible!

3/25/2011 5:44 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Back Pete-- thank you, I appreciate that kind of reaction from someone on a faith journey. I think that the R. Crumb and Frank Frazetta images are good examples of anthropomorphism gone astray. The awful Boris painting mentioned by Al McLuckie is another.

Kev-- sorry you got caught in the spam filter too. I see that you tried again without the word "nutjob" and your quote from Henry Poore came through just fine. But it would be a shame to lose the word nutjob, which may be the most appropriate term to use for these characters. That terrible injustice to Molly Norris is one of the primary reasons for this post.

Jeremy Elder-- it is an interesting point about the Ten Commandments, and probably worth going back to the original Aramaic to see if the translation can be cleared up. But I agree that after those first few centuries, the Christian church came through as a major patron of the arts (for example, those lovely Michelangelo paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

3/25/2011 6:02 AM  
Blogger Kagan M. said...

Great post, and topic!

3/25/2011 11:13 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Coincidentally, I had coffee with an Iranian friend last night who had grown up under the Shah and then left the country after the revolution (He characterized this regime change as going "from bad to very much worse.") Anyhow, we were talking about the freedom to speak one's mind and how liberating it is. And he said that growing up in Iran his father had a saying which he drilled into his children, which I think says a lot: Be careful what you say at all times, even in the house. The walls have mice and the mice have ears.

3/25/2011 2:18 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

kev: i absolutely agree. art works very low-level and pre-rational.

regarding the danger of pictures to the totalitarian: there is the other side of that, too. the crucifix, for example, is a very powerful image. (i admit, its omnipresence over a few hundred years have diluted its effectiveness a bit – we have gotten very used to it)
also, soviet and nazi propaganda.

re arts immediate impact: id even say, its nature is below the verbal threshold, pre-rational. at least, thats the way of schopenhauers argument that imbuing art with a symbolic or syllogistic meaning – allegory – is fundamentally bad art. at least as soon as it leaves the ground of what everyone can read and transgresses to the viewer needing a code book as well.

3/25/2011 3:37 PM  
Blogger Lawrence Klimecki, deacon said...

Thank you for the post.
Traditionally the problem of depicting divine or spiritual things has been solved by using symbolism. A very extensive vocabulary of symbols has developed over the centuries and has been sadly neglected in recent decades. As for whether or not these things should be depicted in the first place this question was sorted out, at least to the Church's satisfaction, in the 8th century.
Anyone interested in the Church's justification of art and imagery might be interested in the writings of John of Damascus on holy or divine images.

3/25/2011 4:58 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David Apatoff said...
"The next thing I know, you'll have me believing there are inconsistencies in the Bible!"

As if internet discussions and debates change people's opinions! :)

I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but I don't find it inconsistent. I interpret the spirit of the proscription as forbidding the worship of idols. I have always felt a great degree of overlap between an aesthetic experience and some spiritual experiences such as King David's declaration that "the heavens declare the glory of God". For me, both are a conscious or subconscious awareness of a hidden or disguised rational order, and it isn't hard to imagine that some ancient and medieval minds would be unable to make distinctions between the two.

3/25/2011 6:59 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

D.A.

Hey old man, du inte förstår, the problem isn't the pictures, nor is it the inner thoughts of the artists, but the blocked minds of the viewers*. Here's to their awakening.

*blockheads?

3/25/2011 9:44 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael, I think allegory, given that it uses ready made symbols, (meaning it states rather than expresses its message) makes art into a kind of text... albeit of a highly illuminated order. This doesn't necessarily entail that it is crummy work.

However, text is always a tribal code and extra-referential, which is to say, political, and therefore does not have the same universality as Art that is wholly self-defined. And, to me, the didactic or sunday-puzzle nature of allegory has always seemed dumbed-down compared with the incredibly subtle methods of expressing ideas used in great images.

I do agree with you that wearing a symbol of allegiance to one order is de facto a defiance of another.

3/26/2011 10:04 AM  
Anonymous raphael said...

kev:
good call on allegory transforming a picture into a kind of text. that, in a way, is along the lines of the writing of a contemporary german philosopher, lambert wiesing (i have no idea whether his work is available in english - but i regard him as one of the greats in phenomenology today). in his work about pictures, he discussed semiotic theories of pictures, and came to the conclusion that, phenomenologically speaking, perceiving the content of an image means the visual presence of whatever is depicted, but in a mode where you are perfectly aware of it not being there.
a semiotic connection between signifier and signified, however, is nothing that itself can be perceived visually.

thus, wiesing concludes, it is entirely possible to use pictures in a semiotic manner (making them into texts), but a picture itself is not semiotic in nature. its always something added to it, an activity on the viewer/interpreters part.

of course, its very much like schopenhauer to bash everything that is out of whack with "the basics" of a medium as bad art. (he also bashed gothic architecture as bad art, and his aesthetics dont leave room for the beauty of the grotesque and deformed, either)
he was a most brilliant observer, but jumped to pretty weird and brash conclusions pretty often.

3/26/2011 4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kev is right when he says "I think we need to start declaring atheist Fatwas on violent religious nutjobs."

In David's last post we wondered how people could let the nazis come to power. The answer is by doing nothing when assholes pull shit like this. The community should have protected this woman, especially the sane muslims.

JSL

3/26/2011 9:06 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

"...but I'll wager he never got tired of seeing a pretty face next to him on the pillow when he work up"

to this and the current post, I shall just respond with; 'yes'

gruess
B

3/26/2011 10:37 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

atheist Fatwas

I doubt those would be taken seriously. I'd recommend an atheist Crusade.

3/26/2011 11:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael, I think it wiser to trust Charles S. Peirce on Semiotics here or John Dewey's Art As Experience. Pragmatists both, Peirce and Dewey were towering intellects, rigorous by nature, and were not force fed the mind-cracking gibberish of postmodernism during their formative years.

Best,
kev

3/27/2011 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally apropos of nothing, David, I just realized I haven't seen any posts from Rob lately (I assume Kev is glad of that). Know what's up?

ken meyer jr.

3/27/2011 9:31 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

I have to say that, given their "towering intellects", I find the achievements of atheists in the visual arts underwhelming in the extreme.

3/28/2011 9:51 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3/28/2011 11:11 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Peirce was not an atheist. And obviously intellect is not the same as talent, although all people with talent are enormously sensitive people, and those who have assiduously cultivated their talent are intellectuals in the best sense. Those intellectuals who have isolated their ruminations from reality are subject to what Dewey called the Intellectualist Fallacy... those are the worst kind of intellectuals and the ones that have been the most popular since the rise of nihilistic philosophies.

The real divide in art is not between atheist and believer, but between the brute materialists and those who have the sensitivity to apprehend the metaphysical. This ties in again with the mistaken notion of brute materialists that metaphysics is supernatural or necessarily based in religion.

I wish Rob the best and hope he is well.

3/28/2011 11:26 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

I did not say Peirce was an atheist; I did insinuate that all atheists claim intellectual high ground.

Intellect is a talent that produces insight, and insight when coupled with practice will eclipse artistic talent without practice; I've seen it happen many times. Are atheists just lazy? Atheism has not only failed to produce art, it's nihilism has destroyed it.

3/28/2011 11:33 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

My understanding is that intellect is deductive, whereas insight or epiphany is inductive, arriving from unconscious processes which correlate with talent. The ability to pronounce insights is talent feeding the intellect. The intellect alone does not make connections and it certainly can't make decent art.

I think you unnecessarily conflate atheism with Marxism and nihilism and a thuggish brute materialism which rejects metaphysics.

I can't speak of "all atheists" or what their attitudes are. It is not arrogant, however, to point out that Religious metaphysics is lacking in concrete proof for some of its basic contentions since faith, after all, is the very thing which provides the metaphysics with substance.

3/28/2011 11:55 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

kev ferrara said...
My understanding is that intellect is deductive, whereas insight or epiphany is inductive, arriving from unconscious processes which correlate with talent. The ability to pronounce insights is talent feeding the intellect. The intellect alone does not make connections and it certainly can't make decent art

And you're accusing me of unnecessary conflations? That's ironic; at least I have some empirical evidence.

3/28/2011 12:37 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Annnnnd.... the train derails.

3/28/2011 12:57 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

No, Kev. The train of antitheism is accelerating, destroying art and spawning entitled, homosexual communists. Bon voyage.

3/28/2011 1:06 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Annnnd... the train keeps going after it derails, into a ravine, and then somehow into an abandoned mineshaft.

3/28/2011 1:37 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

since the train is now helplessly derailed, id point out that i strongly disagree with putting phenomenology with postmodernism, kev. thats a decidedly angloamerican point of view, which i find somewhat interesting, since your interest for metaphysics would be rather atypical for that. ;)

if there is a tie-in in methodology, the its the parallels between husserl and schopenhauer, and the basic motif of descartes.

3/28/2011 2:12 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Raphael, it's the relativism that is loosely derived from phenomenology that I take issue with, not phenomenology itself. Because it's the dogma of relativism that results in the abandonment of the idea of quality, the agency of the individual, and the worth or necessity of principles, morals and ethics. It is these factors which are the very things that make worthwhile art... worthwhile work of any kind, I would say, including the maintenance of civilization.

3/28/2011 3:00 PM  
Anonymous raphael said...

i dont see how youd derive relativism from phenomenology. if by relativism, you mean any kind of dependence of the subject, what would be the approach of choice to avoid that?
youd either need to go pre-descartes, avoid anything hume, avoid kant, etcetera... or you do some kind of watered down philosophy thats more social sciences in disguise, never even questioning how any kind of value comes to be, or what it is.

IF the question for the nature of things is posed (and it should be), there wont be any way around the fact that the most basic epistemologic source is first person view.
that, however, does not necessarily mean everything concerning values, etcetera goes out of the window. the role of the subject is very much weaker with husserl than it is with, f.e. kant.

3/28/2011 8:33 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

ugh... blogger ate my post.

I was just going to say that while I don't derive relativism from phenomenology, those aestheticos who are fixated on subjective experience rather than transactive experience have. And again this raises the specter of the Intellectualist Fallacy which leads to our modern mire of theory divorced from experience.

I also pointed out that my main interest in philosophy is for the sake of actionable aesthetic theory. The stuff you paraphrased from Weising, besides being either obvious or wrong in a particularly pomo way, is not actionable. Nor is Descartes nor most of Hume. And in the end, phenomenology is more science than aesthetics. It just doesn't offer anything substantive.

Art as Experience, however is filled with insights for the artist, as is much pragmatist aesthetic theory.

This is just my opinion of course.

Best,
kev

3/29/2011 12:06 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Also: I am not familiar with Husserl's work, so I can't comment on it. I'm on a killer deadline at the moment, so it'll have to wait.

3/29/2011 12:08 AM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

Kev do you believe in God?

3/29/2011 3:48 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Can you define the term God as you mean it?

3/29/2011 8:00 PM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

I didn't define it because I figured it'd be part of your answer.

3/30/2011 9:25 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Due to the enormous variances in concepts of God among everybody I've ever read, met or talked with about the theory, I simply haven't been able to pin down the meaning of the concept. So if you can't define the concept either, what are we even talking about? If you can define the concept, then maybe I can answer the question.

Whether you actually have an idea of what you are talking about or not, why did you ask the question? What's the line of thought you were pursuiing?

3/30/2011 10:55 AM  
Anonymous raphael said...

kev:

fair deal - phenomoenology isnt something to get (much) directly practical stuff out of. i do find the insights interesting, though, because they dont take any heed towards practicability. its pure focus on getting to know what is really knowable.
(btw: "obvious" is probably the right word for good philosophy)

its obvious as well, that phenomenology isnt the means to all ends and very obviously not the answer to all and every question.

good luck on your deadline!

3/30/2011 2:09 PM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

Kev, I just wanted to read something intelligent. The topic seemed to veer in that direction. What's God?

Well, there are several aspects people generally consider a requirement. The primary ones are:
1.creator - self-explanatary
2.controller - dictating what happens in our lives/the world/the universe.

A couple other commonly assumed aspects are lives eternally, all powerful, a being of perfection, creator of everything ever made, a single entity, father and guiding hand in everything that happens in our universe, oh, and giver of rewards to his faithful, etc.

3/30/2011 2:35 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

You are mostly describing what this concept does, not what it is, TA. Your references to what the concept actually is, is the notion of "a single, perfect being which is in a state of being forever."

But then the essential question immediately arises, what do you mean by "a being?" How would you define something that is being? And how do you distinguish something that is being from something that is not being?

For instance, an idea is something that is, yet which has no substance in itself. Are you suggesting that God is something in the way that an idea is something?

3/30/2011 4:44 PM  
Anonymous Rich Powell said...

Really enjoyed this.

3/30/2011 7:03 PM  
Blogger Robin Cave said...

Loved seeing work by the maestro Norman Lindsay again. There isn't a lot to censor in that picture as the figures aren't even made up of lines just tiny little dots...

3/30/2011 8:09 PM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

Kev, I wasn't going to say too much about God as a "being" beyond being self away, sentient, and hopefully really smart.

So, what do you believe, Kev?

3/31/2011 12:13 PM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

*aware*

3/31/2011 12:14 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Kev, I wasn't going to say too much about God as a "being" …

Unless I understand how you understand the being-ness of God, the sense in which your concept of God actually is, I can’t answer whether I believe in God as you understand the concept.

So, what do you believe, Kev?

That’s a different question, isn’t it?

3/31/2011 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Art From Books said...

What a fantastic topic, such a great thing to read!

4/07/2011 9:08 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

raphael-- Thanks for an interesting comment. On your point that "words do have their advantages, as in they carry their meaning that then can be modified with all kinds of grammatical constructions, regardless whether the end result is a very concise description or a deliberate nonsense," I guess the ultimate question is whether you view this as an undiluted advantage or not. Words do lend a precision which can be a great advantage when you are looking for precision, but when you are looking for creative ambiguity I don't think even the "deliberate nonsense" of words can compete with the flexibility of images.

You also write, "on an unrelated note: did you increase the font size throughout your blog? i found the text to be irritatingly large." Yeah, in a weak moment I clicked "accept" on blogger's invitation to migrate to their new format and somehow ended up with this larger font size which is a pain in the ass. I know I need to devote time to formatting this stuff, the way real bloggers do. Someday soon I am going to hunt through the html and figure out how to reset the original size. In the meantime, I apologize.

4/13/2011 9:28 PM  

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