morality, art and science

Statue "Ava Gardner as Pandora" (Ció Abellí) in the municipality of Tossa de Mar, Catalonia, Spain - by Jitka Erbenová (cheva) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We always seem to find ourselves in collective predicaments, due to innovation or creativity, and we always seem to get a call for moral restraint as an answer to these problems. Problems we find with our new found freedoms and capabilities. Moral pleas for retraction, censorship, forgetfulness, an intentional return to a past: before porn, the internet, sexual freedom, technology, TV, cars … crop cultivation, the wheel.

This is essentially a religious response to our capacity to create, experiment, and innovate, and it can never work, because it is just not up to the task of addressing these things, which are so much more alive than it is. In the modern world, politics has largely taken on the mantle of religion.

Art and science are essentially without morality, for intelligence and creativity are basically amoral. That is why political art is generally pretty crap, and scientific problems and dilemmas (such as plastics pollution) cannot be solved by lifestyle choices or moral sentiment. The preachers will exhort us, but we know that it will be creativity and insight that solves the problems, not getting X number of people to refrain from doing something problematic. The answer needs to be on the same level as the problem, and numbers of people agreeing on something doesn’t change that. Creativity, insight and effectiveness are not democratic.

The impulses behind art and science are powers, and they defy control, while morality is predicated upon control and prohibition. It’s like asking people to have sex without risk, overwhelming lust, or loss of control. It just isn’t going to happen. You can get a peripheral compromise by ignoring the centre of the issue, but the situation itself is fundamental.

We have ethical higher needs, but these will not come into play on demand, or through a merely conscious choice. We are deeper and more troublesome animals than that.

The deepest human will and desire drives us to freedom and fulfilment, and recognises these powers. It does not let us retreat from our own nature without exacting a great price. The daemon must out.

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the little genius with teeth, claws and a desirous heart

Coming back to a painting I posted about here, just a little more on what I see it representing now.

IMG_0029 I was always touched by the image, the protectiveness of the demon, the trust of the little child.

I see this now as an image of the inner demon in a person, the divine, individual spark that can grow and flourish, pictured as a baby, black as night but etched in light, the hidden god.

The baby is held by a demon because it is itself a demon in potential, and because it is guarded by the discarded, the disregarded and the reviled within us, and because this very area, wild and beyond judgement, is what “looks after” our potential, while we are finding the way through life, and won’t let us quite forget our true nature.

For a similar reason, this scene is in the desert, the place of barrenness, loneliness and the harsh extremes of nature, clear and crisp and immense.

The Moon is waning, because the waning Moon has always seemed like an old friend to me, and as it wanes it accompanies those who greet it deeper and deeper into the night, at the most solitary and secret times, until it is itself a sliver of silver heralding the dawn.

On the horizon there is a glow, as of an intimation of first light, but the phase of the Moon makes this impossible, for dawn would be a long way off with the Moon in this position. This is not the light of day, but an unnatural light, and a reminder that magick is never only natural. Against Nature also has its place in magick, and self-realisation.

Little demon, hidden self.

saints, healers and beasts

I have written on this subject before, as well as about my limited experience of contributing to a certain kind of art.

I have great respect for porn, and for sex work, and sex workers. I view the latter as having a sacred function in a world that has trouble according Nature its due, and the former (potentially) as art that exists below as well as above the belt. And that’s probably why it is taboo, because we are all both vulnerable and blissful below the belt, and our society has a long standing stake in dividing our natures against themselves. That may be religious in origin, though its puritanism has been vigorously taken up by identity politics, or it may be an underpinning element of a wider authoritarian mind-set.

So I am very interested in the overlap between “pornography”, art and artistic creativity, and magick. I consider this to be a sacred form of art, one which certainly may not be achieved (or aimed for) in all porn, but it is implicit in the territory, just as a form of sacred service is implicit in the field of sex work.

We have a long way to go in living free lives as the human beings we are, though many people are bravely attempting to do so in their personal and private lives, while others are hoodwinked by politics into propping up more forms of division and fabrication. I thank anyone for honestly trying to be themselves at this deeper level of sexuality, being and relationship. Pornography and sex work are not ends in themselves (anymore than other forms of art or vocation are), but services towards the wholeness of life. Extrapolated to magickal spirituality this area has many resonances in our lives, beyond pornography, sex work, or indeed literal sex. This is some of what I was alluding to in my post on Babalon* also.

The real work is our being human.

painting2

landscape, person or art?

This post is dedicated to Freya, Babalon and Set.

* indeed Babalon might be one of the “saints” of the title of this post.

29th October 2016: post edited

old school art

It’s another beautiful day here, such that we can keep the back door open, which is always a good feeling. I’ve put out the rubbish, and started shifting house plants into the garden for Summer. Good!

I also realized, with a “duh!”, that I need to get back to drawing and writing, as in on paper and canvas, and scribbling in little note books with ink or pencil. Then maybe more painting. That is old, dirty magic, and nothing is like it.

The internet, and digital technology, is great. It lets us see stuff we wouldn’t otherwise. It helps us make contact, find each other (I think that is honestly the biggest thing about the internet), and that is tremendous. It transcends space, but it also transcends physical substance. It transcends a certain kind of work. It’s a very Geminian medium astrologically. Fleet, quick footed, eclectic, various, ephemeral, everyday. But just as it transcends space, it sucks away time. It makes some of the hard work seem unnecessary, but that’s actually a lie. So Mercurial – communication, commerce and theft, but also insight potentially. It could be deskilling a generation at coping with physical reality (though some of us were never that good at that anyway!), though I think that is only temporary at worst. The internet had its radical social heyday during the Neptune in Aquarius years (1998 – 2011 basically), the glamour of technology, when it seemed to be a mind expanding drug. But that time has run out, and the internet has just become a substandard replacement of libraries and newspapers and books (it’s Geminian, not Sagittarian), and largely a kind of organ of gossip with a skewed sense of globalisation, plus a fantastic shopping opportunity. Social media are so successful because they correctly divined the internet’s inherent nature. Pictures of my breakfast and my pets are just what the internet lends itself to, as does chatting with my friends, and posting extended open letters, finding porn and shopping. It’s also why blogs have become a big thing. Web log. Dear diary. Today I ……. That is basically what every blog is, even when it pretends to be a news site. That’s the medium, even if it sells itself as a different message.

And what it basically is, is all fine, but it’s all it is. Enjoy it, gain from it, but don’t expect too much from it, because it isn’t real life. It transcends physical substance in order to transcend space, and life without physical substance is not the same.

Which brings me back to the subject of this post, which is art. The other day I started writing a poem in my head while I was on the computer, and rather than open up a text program, I looked around and found an old notebook I had bought years ago and never used. Just the act of opening up the notebook and writing in it, the committing of ink to paper in the private little book, the need to cross out if I wanted to change it, to write in my own handwriting, in a book I could take anywhere, transmitted back to me the magic of doing stuff for real. It doesn’t matter if it’s crap, it’s your fucking art. It’s messy, unresolved, alive. Every revision you see, like a scar on skin. It is art without plastic surgery. And this is how you do stuff, intimately, for real, throwing yourself at it, with a real, uneditable trail. Like life.

And then I got out my sketch book and started on a new picture of an old demon. Let’s just see. Let’s just try. Let’s open up the wound.

You can find the grimoire of desire and fulfilment, as Austin Osman Spare used to indicate, between the hand and the eye.

Just not online.

It’s dirty.

Old.

Magick.

notebook

 

 

a preliminary thought on the Symbolists and art

When I did my blog post on Pamela Coleman Smith, I came across a wonderful website dedicated to her. PCS is a bit of a hero of mine, someone who led a unique life, followed her own vision, and contributed a lasting, immensely appreciated and influential legacy in the form of her tarot designs. These brought tarot to the masses and at the same time shaped the form (and meaning) of popular tarot. They are also multiple, card sized works of art that thousands of people have been able to own, handle, meditate on and use. It would take years for her deck to really reach the public, with a shifting culture and a boom in the interest in magic and mysticism, but the work was basically done by 1909. Simply by virtue of the nature of tarot reading, it also forms a constantly shifting and recombining, composite work of art, and one which spills over the borders of art, mysticism, and everyday life. You could not invent this stuff; it is the kind of lateral artistic thinking which artists would kill to pioneer, but here she was doing it in the very early 1900s, and it wasn’t even recognized (still isn’t), because it was tarot cards and occultism. And tarot cards didn’t work like this, not before Pamela Coleman Smith.

Amongst all the other details on the Pamela Coleman Smith website, what stopped me in my tracks was the statement that PCS is often classed as a Symbolist artist. This immediately took me back to the art which I instinctively gravitated towards as a teenager, and which, when I think about it, influenced the art I aimed for in my twenties. I loved the Symbolists, and I always remember the book my sister got on them. They really meant something.

The writer of the PCS blog (I only know her as “Holly”)  went on to enumerate common features of Symbolism which suddenly made so much sense to me. The reaction to determinism, naturalism and materialism, ok I get that, sure. Focus on the internal rather than the external and empirical, yes, that’s beautifully clear. Primacy of “spirit, soul or imagination”; what can you say but bravo! But when she notes the place of

“Personal and enigmatic visions and mystical themes expressed through private symbol rather than public, consensual allegory or metaphor”

well something really clicked.

That is the key. That is what you don’t expect from the name “Symbolism”, with its associations of wooden, set archetypes and pre-set meanings (a kind of visual ritualism), but what you do see in the intimations of the art, with its personalizations, its idiosyncrasy, its suggestiveness, innovations, deviations and ambiguities.

The reason that Smith’s tarot designs work is not because they follow a Golden Dawn lexicon of symbolism, but because they deviate and personalize enough to make the designs live. And the opposite tendency is what kills some modern Pagan inspired art. Even where it is accomplished, it can fall into a pseudo-literalism and replication, as if symbols existed as literal, definable objects, without any stretchiness, without that ungraspable trans-dimensionality, without the sovereign subjectivity of both artist and viewer, without the life blood and breath of ambiguity.

The unseen and the ineffable can be brought through by means of art, music, literature, and speaking of visual art, by means of the individual inner experience of the artist communicating with the viewer. It is intensely personal and relational. This is not a colonizing of the unseen with a series of structures and rules that mimic the known world, the plastering of a map over invisible waters, as an inexperienced occultist, or a devout theologian might try to do.

The water in this cup is actually wet. That is why I love it so much.

Island of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[28th March 2014: 4th paragraph – “interpretiveness” changed to “suggestiveness”]

painting

As I said previously, I’ve got the message to get back into painting and drawing, and I just completed a preliminary work on paper, which is the first I had done in years. I’m very happy with it, and will probably do another version on canvas. I really would encourage anyone to follow their own tastes and inspirations, whatever your supposed training or “talents”, and just do the stuff you want to, in whatever medium calls to you. You’ll learn, and if you keep the creative spark and juice, the raw stuff, that is what is important.

What I wanted to do with the post is just share the stages of this painting happening. It’s like how the shell cracked, and the chick started to hatch. Or maybe a lizard in this case lol.

first sketch

first sketch

First sketch was pretty much the image as it ended up, but without background or surroundings, and the child in the picture at this point was a little goat headed child, reflecting his “daddy”.

second sketch

second sketch

Second sketch basically got all the main features of the finished picture, baby had become a human baby, but retained the affectionate, reaching hand. The right wing assumed a protective curve. Horizon, Moon, clouds.

first outline of painting

first outline of painting

Transferred to painting outline, protective wing accentuated.

figure colouring

figure coloring

Initial coloring in of figure, left wing modified, left foot made visible, Moon now waning.

initial ground coloring

initial ground coloring

Next I added a tail, eye color, and worked on the color of the ground, shading into the distance, but none of the ground color really stayed in the finished version.

background and baby

ground,background and baby

This was the biggest jump in the process: ground completely recolored, night sky, Moon, clouds with shadow and light, horizon, baby colored in blue-black, highlights on figure from moon light.

almost finished

almost finished

Shadowing added to figure and a bit more texturing, intensified darkness of wings and sky, more work on highlights, sky horizon, baby outlined, facial features and star added in white (quite crude in this version, but it works for me).

completed

completed

Shadow added on ground.

I hope you enjoyed that! I love him :0)

If you have any drive to be creative, just do it. It does not matter what anybody else thinks, it does not matter what your training or qualifications are. Be punk about it – it’s for everyone that wants it. Just make sure you share it :0)

PS: the images in this post are obviously by me, of my own work, and can be shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License which covers the blog as a whole, credited to Mo Batchelor.

naked and nude

The other day, while discussing the unlikely New Age representation of angels as Farrah Fawcett style models in pastel garments, complete with immaculate big hair, I ended up looking up an old post on the Men in Full blog, which is now inactive, but did a valiant job of representing a love of the larger male form for quite a few years, thanks to the lady who ran it.

The post I looked for was called Cherubic Fire: The Fat Angels of David Addison Small, and I do like the artist’s work, and his bearish, older angels with  their full forms and deep red wings. Then the blogger notes:

“These massive figures seem to me to be more ‘naked’ than ‘nude.’ One reason is because there is little stylized imagery for the fat male body in Western art (outside of cartoon or caricature.) To paraphrase art historian Kenneth Clark, the ‘nude’ is by definition stylized and abstract; the ‘naked’ shows us flesh as it is. In some ways the ‘nude’ has lost its power to move us. But because we literally don’t have a common visual vernacular for fat bodies, to us they look ‘naked,’ and thus intrinsically ‘shocking’ (not in a moralistic sense, but in the sense of riveting our attention.) Only within the gay bear aesthetic have stylizations of the beautiful and/or erotic fat male body begun to emerge”

And whether it is fat, hairiness, age, maleness, or some other quality which might endow a human form with the quality of nakedness, it is a treasure, because it brings us into contact with a living, breathing reality. The nude is what we are expected to value. It clothes itself in an aesthetic language. It becomes in a sense synthetic, refined. It could be a statue, a sculpture, a form in service to something else. The same abstracting, emptying process also occurs in some professional porn. Nakedness by contrast is candid, open, seemingly honest in appearance. It is unconsciously the subject itself.

I think it is this that makes it beautiful and real. There is nothing wrong with it also being erotic, but that is just one frequency in an entire sweep of self-evidence.

To an extent, despite things like nudism and naturism, there is a tendency within our culture to judge a nude as maybe good or justifiable, but naked as suspect, embarrassing, or somehow “bad”.  But everyone knows that people crave (or fear) nakedness, not a “nude”.

Maybe that’s part of what those naked, bearded, red winged angels carry with them. A spark of truth that wakes the senses with genuine, real presence.

Chögyam Trungpa used to say “all things are symbols of themselves” – a saying which I always found lovely and profound. In the realm of the physical, nakedness is the quality of that self-evident thing, and self.

Such generosity and candour deserves our gratitude and appreciation.

photo of the cover of "Angeli Terrae" by David Addison Small, which you can buy at http://www.blurb.com/books/1309534-angeli-terrae

photo of the cover of “Angeli Terrae” by David Addison Small, which you can buy at http://www.blurb.com/books/1309534-angeli-terrae