What’s the big idea?

The following is a continuation of two previous posts: Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing (1993) and The Paradox of Zen Drawing.  

Ideas are human constructs, but where do we get our ideas, from within oneself or from beyond oneself; and if from within oneself, is it arbitrary? 

It’s easy to make distinctions between occurrences which involve the material world, such as a vase falling or anything that can be objectively measured, and the many words/ideas used to acknowledge and speak of such occurrences; however, it becomes less clear when thinking of abstract ideas, such as Beauty.

Is Beauty a quality of an object which inspires us to give it a name? Or is it an idea which is arbitrarily distinguishable from other ideas? It seems to reside in objects that are apart from us, and yet we know of it only when we’ve seen it; IE, as apart of a response which inclines us to call attention to Beauty as an idea. Where lies this idea, in the object or in oneself? Or does it require both an object which is beautiful and somebody who can see it as beautiful?

Tentative answer: This space, a person’s response to what is beyond oneself does exist, but only as a thought and one that is fleeting, like the present-tense or anything temporal.

Problem: Is Beauty a thing in itself or only a product of one’s psychology? How true is “true?” If it is only a product of one’s psychology, is the beauty one perceives any less true than if Beauty is a thing in itself?

What is the essence of an object? Is it something that is beyond oneself or is the idea conjured from one’s own mind? Is the essence of a circle beyond all actual circles, or is it an idea we extrapolate from seeing a circle? Can we say a perfect circle exists simply because a person can imagine it in one’s own mind?

Well, yes, to the last question. If we define a perfect circle as being perfect, we can not be wrong in saying it is perfect if it is in one’s own mind. But does its existence require at least one mind to imagine it, or can it exist without anyone imagining it?

Is it only an idea, or does is it exist beyond one’s own mind? What about numbers and mathematical equations, even laws of physics. Hmm.. Certain natural laws only apply to what we can observe on Earth…

Eh, this topic is running away from me again.

Tentative answer: If by “essence,” you are referring to an abstract idea, one which you define yourself, then the “essence” of a thing exists. If you imagine a circle to have an essence (IE, that of a perfect circle), then it does.

Problem: How arbitrary are our definitions for what we have words for? Hmm… I think we’re moving away from Beauty again and into philosophy of the mind… (and the circle keeps getting bigger and bigger… and soon I will be a little speck in the horizon… all metaphor, of course.)

In any case, that is where I’m at, philosophically.

You may think these ideas are unimportant when it comes to actually producing works of art, but I think having an idea of what one believes is beautiful is at the heart of one’s approach to one’s own work. I know, this view is very out-dated. The art world has a scope that deals with… well, everything, and artwork is not required to be beautiful. Visual art, as is the case with all creative mediums, works on its own terms.

I remember a scene in a biopic about Basquiat, in which somebody comments on some part of a painting of his and says “Oh, that’s pretty,” and Basquiat immediately paints over it or modifies it somehow.

In any case, I think it’s harder not to think about Beauty than to think about Beauty when working in the field of Art, and therefore, if you are to challenge the above notion (that Art revolves around the idea of Beauty), you have to think about the questions in my last three posts more and not less.

Big Questions

1: If one’s art does not revolve around some idea of Beauty, what does it revolve around?

2: If you are using your artwork to challenge an idea and/or issue, how do you tow the line between art and politics? How political can you be with your art before it can be called propaganda? What is the difference between one artist (who has the power of social media) making political statements out of one’s own opinions and another artist (with some form of government support, whether it is financial, social or even political) whose work expresses ideas one believes in and which supports the status quo?

I think the answers to these questions may not be as obvious as one imagines. I think we’ve been given clear distinctions between right and wrong, and our being given clear distinctions between “right” and “wrong” was/is itself political.

Sigh… but the topic is getting away from me again.

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