Sunday, May 3, 2015

Experience Crafters

The Heart of Art

Rembrandt brings you faces from the past,
 Chagall brings you abstractions, more recent.
Chefs bring you culinary delights, so delectable,
 Perfumers bring you fragrances in delicate array.
Salesmen bring you expensive clothes to wear,
 Designers bring you color splashes to share.
Novelists bring you the ancient gift of stories,
Poets bring you the deep inspiration of prose.
Career counselors bring you to steady income,
 Financial experts bring you the hope of profit.
Legislatures brings you the law of the land,
 The Bible brings you the law of the Grand.
Psychologists bring you to hidden tastes of self,
 Lovers bring you into secluded tastes of another.
Musicians bring you into fresh orchards of feeling,
 Reeking with vibrant sentimental colors; ripe for picking.
We surround you like lush mountains a valley,
 We bring you, we bring you, we bring you ...
We bring you ... what? Experiences vast n' varied.
 Surprise, you already know us by name, “Artists”!
Whom do you enchant with the magic of experiences,
 For whom are you regarded, yes adored, as the artist?

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I used to think of art as the manipulation of proportions to express emotions. Examples of such manipulations could be the use of exaggerations of features, as in caricatures.  This idea could be true of much of art. However, it’s not broad enough understanding of the topic to cover every possible version of art. For example, a creation of culinary art has little to offer in the expression of emotional states. Similarly, there are very cerebral professions (like psychology or accounting) which are described as being “an art, not a science”.

It seems to me that “art” is really the act of creating an experience. The Creator has given humans the capacity to create a wide variety of experiences for others and even for themselves. This is part of the role of being co-creators. So for example, a lone lounger flipping through an art-filled coffee table book has been given an experience by each artwork s/he paused to admire. Similarly, a well written book, a culinary creation, a well designed room and a civil law are all fruits of those who strove to craft experiences for others.

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While artists strive to craft experiences for others, a different kind of experience lies at the heart of the artistic process itself. The whole artistic process is a unique experience which the artist undergoes to serve up an audience with an experience. Sometimes, the artistic experience is so filled with flow and juice that the artist deeply craves the experience itself, almost to the point of addiction. There are spiritual energies flowing through the artist which bring along deeply pleasurable sensations. Artists will typically attempt to perch themselves in settings which arouse this nectarous flow. The ultimate art is the art of crafting the artistic experience itself. It’s crafting the art to craft art. It’s the veritable art behind the art.

It’s similar to the way I’d depict the style of prophecy designed to impart to humanity some of the deepest words of wisdom ever uttered. I cannot begin to fathom the pleasurable spiritual flow which coursed through King Solomon while giving humanity his deeply poetic, “The Song of Songs”. The same probably applies to every prophetic drop of ink released on parchment in the course of prophetically composing any portion of the Jewish Scripture.

The artistic process is an experience an artist strives for, hoping to bring back an experience for humanity. It may be a mere lingering echo of the ancient prophetic ascent into a mystical state in order to merge with the divine and/or bring back a deeply divine message for the masses. However in great art, an artist can attain a quasi-mystical state, known as “flow”, in order to bring back some taste of this deeper experience for the masses.

In the past, certain artists, sought to induce this flow state via what they likely considered “chemical sacraments”, i.e. drugs. Probably, the results were wild and uncontrolled, i.e. mixed. However, since the goal of ascent into flow is to bring back an experience, I would imagine that such results can be more consistently and stably achieved through the more controlled method of ascending into these states by use of meditation.

I think that training aspiring artists in meditations to achieve flow should really be a normative part of an artistic education. It can go the distance to dispel dry spells, resulting in gaps in artistic expression. Also, there must be specific meditations which lead to specific states of flow, which in turn will allow artists to design specific styles of experiences for others. Imagine an artist in meditation before engaging the craft. Imagine how both the voluntary and involuntary content of that deeply spiritual moment will end up informing the result.

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Jewish Mysticism teaches that everything is alive. Everything has a soul. This even true of souls themselves. Every soul has a soul. And even every soul of a soul has a soul. This pattern of soul of a soul of a soul of a ... continues up the cosmic ladder until reaching the ultimate of souls - the Infinite Light, which might be more easily thought of as the Infinite Life (i.e. Infinitely Alive).

The soul of anything is called “inner light” because it directly animates the entity - as if living inside. However, the soul of its soul is called “surrounding light” because it animates less directly - as if living in the surrounding outside.

The Zohar has a beautiful metaphor which succinctly describes the relationship between the inner and surrounding lights. The Zohar states that the way the soul wears a body can be compared to the way the body wears a shoe. Notice that while wearing a shoe only a small portion of the body’s very lowest edge actually enters into the shoe. Just like the vast majority of the body remains outside of the shoe, so too the surrounding light remains hovering outside. Only the very lowest edge, compared to the inner light, actually inserts itself into the entity.

Art too, just as everything else, has a soul and a soul of its soul; its own inner and a surrounding light. With paintings, realistic art tends to be more of an expression of art’s inner light, while abstract art tends to be more of an expression of art’s surrounding light. Typically, museum galleries are divided into separate sections for abstract art and realistic art. The divide seems so strong that sometimes entire museums are dedicated to just one genre or the other. Some see impressionism as the stylistic bridge between the two. It’s my understanding that it just might be the historical bridge, the point in history when art was on the transition between realistic and abstract. So it might just be a blurred version of realistic art.

What I personally yearn for is a style of painting which combines abstraction and realism, both the surrounding and inner lights. Actually, humanity has been doing this for thousands of years, just not in the area of the visual, like painting. What seems so obvious to me that it escapes notice is that music (melody) is an abstract version of sound art, while lyrics are its realistic counterpart.  When hearing song, one is having a combined experience of this auditory art in both abstract and realistic forms ~ a combined expression of the art’s surrounding and inner lights; which likely took a union of an artist’s own surrounding and inner souls to produce, possibly induce by meditation or the like.

(Perhaps, the reason why this union is slower to happen with the visual arts is because the “shattering of the vessels” occurred with regards to the lights which emerged from the “eyes” of “Adam Kadmon”, i.e. Primordial Man. The “shattering” did not happen with the lights which emerged from his “ears”. If anything, the lights which emerged from his “ears” buffered some of the lights emerging his “eyes”, protecting some of their vessels from most of the damage. So though the inner and surrounding lights of the “ears” did not entirely meet on the “Adam Kadmon” level, to some extent they seem to meet on the earthly level because essentially they exist in a wholesome state.)

As we draw closer to the messianic era, a future of greater enlightenment, the inner and surrounding lights of the visible arts should begin shaking hands more often. They should begin appearing in the same painting, enclosed by the same frame. This way, while working upward from “a more earthly to a more spiritual perspective” a painting can portray a realistic subject while simultaneously pointing to something more ... something deeper which lends itself to understanding the subject in a certain light.  Conversely, a painting with a great emphasis on abstractions can work downwards to become realistically anchored for a better appreciation by the masses as well.

Being divorced of realism does a disservice to abstract paintings. Their meanings tend to be missed. The populace can easily mistake such art as either chaotic messes or nice designs. One can walk through a modern art gallery and wonder why some of these paintings couldn’t have been the output of a five year old. By morphing abstractions with matching realisms, abstractions will finally to able to be truly appreciated more by the masses. Higher soul expressions and must merge with lower soul expressions to build chains of contact with a more earthly (i.e. realistically) oriented audience.

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How would the union between realism and abstraction work in the art form I most engage in, namely writing? I heard that Arabic tradition claims poetry as humanity’s highest art. I am unsure whether I am in total agreement. However, something of the claim does ring true with me ~ poetry might be the highest form of the literary arts. As a pure outpouring of emotion, free of imposed or defined direction, poetry is likely to be the literary version of abstract art ~ the inked expression of surrounding light.  

In contrast, story is likely to be the literary version of realism ~ an expression of an artist’s inner light. This fits well with the Hebrew word for story, “ma’aseh”, which literally means “an action”. Of course there are other genres of writing as well, such as essays, articles, discourses, dialogues, plays, etc. I believe that all of these genres are somehow continuous with stories and therefore, are actually versions of literary realism.

They are really stories whose pace has been somehow altered. The pace has either been reduced or protracted in ways which may compromise some of the literary flow many would find necessary to recognize them for the stories they are, and enjoy them.  In these other literary forms, the proportion of detail can either bog down or quicken the flow, in ways that have an unintended consequence of cleverly disguising the underlying story; making it appear possibly like an academic dissertation or a professional article. Then at the end of the day, it only appeals to a specialty audience who can still appreciate the underlying story - either via a natural gift for picking it out, life experience or by special educational training.

This very essay too is really a story. Let me show you how. It’s a story about the underlying dynamics of art from a perspective influenced by Jewish mystical thought. Roughly speaking the story begins with how we, as humans, are co-creators. Like the Creator we constantly craft experiences for others. Then the story’s flow continues on with how we can improve on this endeavor. Very basically, we can improve our co-creative role by understanding whom we create these experiences for - our audiences. As a deeper stage we can further improve, by using the tools of meditation to tap into the wellsprings of our higher, more abstract, selves and then unify these flows with the more realistic side of the experience we attempt to serve up. It’s a story of artistic and personal growth which can apply to a wide range of characters: healers, lovers, poets, lawyers, teachers, writers, storytellers, musicians, painters, sculptors, architects, safety personnel, performers, accountants, salespeople, designers, etc. It’s a story which I hope you insert yourself into as the main character to chart your own course of further growth.

For example, when wrapping my torso in a chef’s apron, I can insert myself into the story of how I successfully unify the abstract and realistic by creating culinary delights which balance the abstract elements of fragrance and taste with the realities of nutrition. And then when I taking my pen to paper, I can again insert myself into the story by combining the abstract and realistic in the way I commence my expanded literary output with a core poem; one clearly designed to expose the raw emotional notes being strummed by my subsequent words.

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