poetry

Words of Encouragement by Chris Hall

Photo by Bob Mullen.

Photo by Bob Mullen.

“Artists are fiery, they do not weep!” - Ludwig van Beethoven

"What is to give light must endure burning" — Viktor E. Frankl


Life can be hard for artists, especially artists with an uncompromising vision.  But just remember who you are.  You are a force of nature, an artist!  Unlike others, you had the strength, the balls to pursue your artistic vision, irregardless of what other people think.  Many people wish they had your life, but they were cowards, and they followed other pursuits.  You dared to live, dared to fail!  Remember the poem “Self-Pity” by D.H. Lawrence:  

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

You are that wild thing.  You are that rare bird who delights in singing songs in the dead of winter.  Keep making art, no matter what happens.  Art is your weapon against death in life.  Always remember why you make art.  As Nietzsche says, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Finally, take comfort in Charles Bukowski's poem, “The Laughing Heart”:

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you. 

Now get up, and get back to making more art!

"Art" by Herman Melville by Chris Hall

Paul Gauguin,  The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) , 1888.

Paul Gauguin, The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888.

Art

by Herman Melville

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.


Melville is, of course, referencing the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel, a strange story found in Genesis 32: 22-32.  I’ve always loved Herman Melville’s writing.  Perhaps best known for his novel, Moby Dick, his writing is peppered with scatological and dark humor, only to suddenly shift to something highly philosophical or spiritually transcendent.  How right he is about art requiring the use of opposites . . .  humility and pride, instinct and study, love and hate, audacity and reverence.  The process of making art can be quite a struggle.  In the visual arts it can be reflected in physical technique (use of warm and cool colors, for example), studio practice thought and attitude, philosophy, and subject matter.  It might not be a full contact sport, but making art is definitely a form of wrestling.  Incidentally, did you know that Art was an Olympic sport for the seven games between 1912 and 1948?  

The Artist as Seer Shaman Healer Seeker Voyager Pioneer Visionary by Chris Hall

Many artists and art critics today have abandoned the notion that artists are somehow special.  Perhaps they are not special.  Instead, with art in the expanded field, we have artists taking on pedestrian pursuits – artist as scientist, artist as data collector, artist as food service, etc.  These artists do not soar . . . not like the old art heroes of old, anyways.  

What made these old artists special?  They were professional Shaman, Seers, Healers, and Seekers of ecstatic truths.  They were Voyagers, Pioneers, and Visionaries . . . Artists with a capital “A,” in service to the mystery.  The notion of the artist as Seer, in modern Western Art, dates back to the early German Romantics.  Before that it was championed by the Greeks who would use poetry, song, and art for magical and prophetic purposes.  Yes, artists are different from most people, at least that is the way it use to be.

Gordon Onslow-Ford:

The Unknown manifests itself through the open mind.

The closed mind is personal.
The open mind is impersonal.

When the mind opens, something original can come
In.  The open mind is not something that can be
Learned or switched on at will.  It happens naturally.

The Visionary Artist can access what some shamans call the Dreamtime, that is they can access realities where the past, present, and future co-exist simultaneously.   I often see this kind of vision manifested in work of the abstract expressionists.  Many lay people ridicule abstract expressionist work, claiming they can do the work themselves.  This is definitely not so.  It requires a certain type of vision that can not be taught, nor can the artist force the vision onto their work.  It is a gift and it happens, or doesn’t happen, naturally.  

“I say that the true artist seer, the heavenly fool who can and does produce beauty, is mainly dazzled to death by his own scruples, the blinding shapes and colors of his own human conscience.” J.D. Salinger

If there is a problem with abstract expressionist work, it is that it doesn't always translate to the audience.  Some people are just more sensitive than others.  Painting abstract expressionist work is the recording of an event, of a vision, more than it is a final product.  The modern artist uses the art making process to heal themselves, and if the end result, the finished painting, also heals an audience, so much the better.  The shaman, however, must use their art to heal their community.  Their work must translate their vision to a lay audience.  

The Seer by Alex Grey

From the caves of Altimira
To a New York studio,
The Seer has inspired the artist
With Vision’s unceasing flow.

The Seer is the soul of the artist,
Magus through ages untold,
Transmuting the lead of matter
Into bullets of spiritual gold.

The ego picks up the weapon of art,
Childlike, it plays with the trigger.
Blowing the head off it’s contracted self,
Awareness is suddenly bigger.
By slaying the ego and stunning
The chatter of thoughts as they rise,
Great art shuts out distractions
Delighting the heart through the eyes.

The Seer is the soul of the artist,
Revealing the Mystery as form,
Advancing our civilization
By inventing and destroying the norm.
The redemptive Sorceress, Art
Can heal the nausea of being,
Opening vistas of hope and beauty,
Revealing deep patterns of meaning.

The function of art is to stop us
And take us out of our skin,
Unveiling the spirit’s pure nakedness
Without beginning or end.

The Seer is the soul of the artist,
Gaze fixed on primordial perfection.
Radiance emerges from emptiness,
Each point of light etched with affection.

The boundless Void, open and formless
Is the basis of all creation.
Visions appear and then dissolve
Reinforcing this realization.

From beyond the vision descends
From within the vision arises
Coalescing in the divine imagination,
Source of continual surprises.

The Seer is the soul of the artist
The Maker is the artist’s hand
In the studio their conversations
Translate a timeless command.

These dialogues of Maker and Seer
Weave together matter with soul,
Consecrating the practice of art
As speech of the ineffable.

Art making transforms the artist,
And to any hearts truly under
Creation’s intoxicating spell
The Seer transmits holy wonder.

William Blake: Visionary Anarchist by Chris Hall

William Blake was an English painter, poet, printmaker, and visionary anarchist.  Both in his life and work he supported anti-slavery and feminist views.  While reverent of the Bible, he was hostile toward all forms of organized religion.  Blake was influenced by the ideals and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions and he maintained an amiable relationship with the Anglo-American political activist Thomas Paine throughout his life.  Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and mystical undercurrents within his work.  As an artist and poet, he had no predecessors, no peers, nor any successors.  His work remains a completely original, singular vision.  

William Blake, The Ancient of Days, 1794

I was first introduced to Blake via his collection of poems in Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience.  Blake illuminated his poetry by producing them as etchings, which he would hand paint with watercolor.  Later I would tackle The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which is filled with little bits of wit and wisdom that would have a profound effect upon my thinking.  Here some of my favorite extracts:

1. Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate are necessary to human existence.
2.  If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: infinite.
3.  The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.
4.  The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
5.  He who desires but acts not breeds pestilence.
6.  The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
7.  Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
8.  Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
9.  You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
10.  As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys. 

Below are some examples of Blake's work that I like.  Click to enlarge the image.


Uccello's Saint George and the Dragon with a Poem by Chris Hall

Paolo Uccello, Saint George and the Dragon, 1470

Not my Best Side by U. A. Fanthorpe


Not my best side, I'm afraid.
The artist didn't give me a chance to
Pose properly, and as you can see,
Poor chap, he had this obsession with
Triangles, so he left off two of my
Feet. I didn't comment at the time
(What, after all, are two feet
To a monster?) but afterwards
I was sorry for the bad publicity.
Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror
Be so ostentatiously beardless, and ride
A horse with a deformed neck and square hoofs?
Why should my victim be so
Unattractive as to be inedible,
And why should she have me literally
On a string? I don't mind dying
Ritually, since I always rise again,
But I should have liked a little more blood
To show they were taking me seriously.

II 
It's hard for a girl to be sure if
She wants to be rescued. I mean, I quite
Took to the dragon. It's nice to be
Liked, if you know what I mean. He was
So nicely physical, with his claws
And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail,
And the way he looked at me,
He made me feel he was all ready to
Eat me. And any girl enjoys that.
So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery,
On a really dangerous horse, to be honest
I didn't much fancy him. I mean,
What was he like underneath the hardware?
He might have acne, blackheads or even
Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon--
Well, you could see all his equipment
At a glance. Still, what could I do?
The dragon got himself beaten by the boy,
And a girl's got to think of her future.

III 
I have diplomas in Dragon
Management and Virgin Reclamation.
My horse is the latest model, with
Automatic transmission and built-in
Obsolescence. My spear is custom-built,
And my prototype armour
Still on the secret list. You can't
Do better than me at the moment.
I'm qualified and equipped to the
Eyebrow. So why be difficult?
Don't you want to be killed and/or rescued
In the most contemporary way? Don't
You want to carry out the roles
That sociology and myth have designed for you?
Don't you realize that, by being choosy,
You are endangering job prospects
In the spear- and horse-building industries?
What, in any case, does it matter what
You want? You're in my way. 

Six Pictures of Animals that Speak to Me by Chris Hall

1.  Unknown:  Lascaux Cave Painting.  There is something very primal and eternal in these paintings.  Discovered in Southwest France in 1940, the paintings are estimated to be 17,300 years old.  Represented are horse, bison, cattle, stag, feline, bird, bear, rhinoceros, and human.  Constellations are also painted.  The work is often reported to be a mystical ritual in order to improve future hunting endeavors.  What appeals to me is the mystery, that we will never truly know the intent of the artist, that, and the formal values, the color and the texture of the rock wall surface.

2.  Francisco Goya – The Dog (Sinking in Quicksand), c 1820.  One of Goya’s so called Black Paintings, The Dog is a whimsical work and piece of black humor.  It is somehow sad and humorous at the same time.  The formal qualities of the work are also an inspiration for my own work:  the limited palette, the large open sky, and the simplicity of the composition.  I love this piece.

3.  Edwin Landseer – Man Proposes, God Disposes, 1864.  Consisting of two polar bears, one tearing apart a ship wreck while the other chomps down on a human ribcage, this work shocked the public upon its release, who were still mourning the loss of the Franklin Expedition, sent to explore the Northwest Passage. The painting was later deemed to be cursed, reputed to make people who stare at it too long mad.  It currently resides in an examination room in the University of London.  They cover the painting up with a curtain during testing.

4. Henri Rousseau – Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!), 1891.  The ferocity of the tiger, surprised by the tropical storm, the streaks of lightning in the sky, painted in Rousseau’s unique style.  It is a charming painting and it never fails to put a smile on my face.  It always reminds me of the last lines of Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock”:

 Only, here and there, an old sailor,
 Drunk and asleep in his boots,
 Catches tigers
 In red weather.

5.  Winslow Homer – The Fox Hunt, 1893.  This sad painting of struggling fox in the dead of a winter’s landscape, being hunted by crows, it breaks my heart everytime.

6.  Joan Miro – Dog Barking at the Moon, 1926.  Ah, this silly little piece is wonder to behold.  The dark of night, the mysterious moon, the whimsical dog, and the strange ladder going up into the sky all make for modern masterpiece.   It is nice abstract antidote to the hyper realism seen in Miro’s other Surrealist compatriots, Magritte and Dali. 

Landscape With The Fall Of Icarus by Chris Hall

Pieter Bruegel, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c 1560

I’ve always rather liked this painting, so full of life when compared to a lot of Bruegel’s other works.  And the interpretation of the myth, the fall of a hero and nobody notices, almost seems contemporary.  It is not with any surprise that nearly a dozen poems exist riffing on this painting.  Of the lot, my favorite is William Carlos Williams poem, titled the same as the painting:

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned 
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning