Tag Archives: art

Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams


In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”

The Orthosphere

flowers-in-pot-01 Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…

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My Shirt Imitates Art


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At the Museum Of Modern Art today.

Mondrian and My Shirt.

Bjork at MOMA


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This is Bjork, projected on a wall at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. At least two other short films at MOMA also involved the Icelandic artist known for her innovative music and ethereal voice. This past Tuesday, I saw the one called “Black Lake.” For that one, we entered a darkened room the size of a small movie theater. I wish I could say “Black Lake” accomplished something. Projected simultaneously on two screens in a darkened room, on walls facing each other, the only curious thing was the occassional differences between the scenes accompanying the same music. Bjork’s voice was at once lovely and unintelligible. Even the floor and ceiling speakers were under-used. Her performance-artist dancing brought nothing to the indecipherable message, or indecipherable emotion, or indecipherable indecipherableness. The landscapes and settings — cave, rocky passageway, green plain near mountains — redeemed some of the 10 or so minutes I stood stuffed amongst strangers wondering when I would have something to grasp mentally or emotionally. Oh, and among those landscapes and settings, not one black lake. I guess an exotic appearance and an angelic voice allows a woman to take over the MOMA for no apparent reason other than Bjorkness.

Ancient Imagination: A Roman griffin in the Vatican Museum


Updated with this preamble to the photo: I’ve been fascinated with winged gods, goddesses, monsters, and other creatures, mostly from the pre-Christian era. So I will share several upcoming photos, which will include sculptures and other renderings of pre-Christian gods, goddesses, monsters, and other creatures that look a lot like Christian angels yet originate in pagan classical civilizations.

I’m curious about imagination and how it creates unreal, or at least unseen, things. What is it about the human imagination, or about ancient civilizations, that brought about these winged beings?

Maybe it wasn’t much of a step for the mind to see wings and imagine them on human bodies. Maybe — although it seems very unlikely to me — these creatures exist in some other dimension or some Platonic realm of forms. Whatever the source or sources of winged things, through the course of the past 6 years, my curiosity drove me to take hundreds of photos of ancient and medieval art, sculpture, and architecture in England, Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Italy.

A Roman griffin in the Vatican Museum; photo by Colin Foote Burch for Public Work, https://liturgical.wordpress.com .

A Roman griffin in the Vatican Museum, photographed Oct. 10, 2014.

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Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, October 2014


Updated to correct the photo and add another.

Photo taken inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com.

Photo of the side of the altar area, inside Saint Peter's Basilica, October 2014. Photography by Colin Foote Burch for the Public Work blog, https://liturgical.wordpress.com. Travel. Italy. Vatican City. Rome.

Minerva or Victory, marble, 1st Century


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A pilaster statue of Minerva or Victory in a museum at Ostia Antica, Italy, October 2014.

Update, Feb. 6: I find this interesting because it looks so much like an angel from Christian art.

Using the language I know


I thought at this point I had made my sense of things clear: For several types of reasons, I’m just not sure about the Christian faith anymore.

However, most of my life, I have lived and learned within the context of at least four distinct forms of Protestant Christianity.

I find nothing inconsistent about being doubtful while critiquing Christian leaders based upon the inconsistencies between their public claims and their ministries.

Especially when those Christian leaders made my doubts seem more legit, not less.

I once read an interview with the man behind the band Iron & Wine. He said some folks had asked him why he uses biblical language and allusions in his songwriting when he is not a believer.

The thrust of his answer, as I recall it, was something like this: it’s the language available to me, and it fits the settings and characters of my songwriting.

I certainly see the richness of various Christian traditions. In a world gone gnostic, with so much of our communication taking place in disembodied formats, Christianity still has rich veins of language and symbolism and ritual, however despised by the new iconoclasts of both evangelicalism and atheism.

In a world gone gnostic, the thought of logos made flesh ought to fascinate anyone who appreciates tactile, sensory experience.

Beyond that, I would say to any young writers in my classrooms, use the materials you have — stories from your lives, images, settings, characters, cadences, symbols, archetypes, and songs.

Sometimes, if you’re diligent in setting the context, the truth will show up.