Friday, March 4, 2011

Fear, Wisdom, Honor, Humility

Mural on side of a wall, downtown Trois-Rivières

On the lower left side, a passage from Proverbs 15: 33: "The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility" (King James version).  This is, I discovered, one of 11 "Fear of the Lord" biblical  pronouncements listed on the Internet regarding "End Times" prophecies.  I don't know if those thin orange spikes at earth's edge are meant to be souls being transported to heaven or missiles incinerating the planet (they could be fireworks or starbursts), or if the back of the man's head exploding out what looks like elongated, pointy blue pen-nibs, thin loopy wires and tiny crucifixes represents fear, wisdom, honor or humility.  Everybody who looks at it sees something different.  He doesn't look afraid to me. He meets the graphic disintegration of his skull with stoicism and resolve, exhibiting  no more than a grimace or gritty flinch. Whatever, this warrior can take it. 

Must art be interpreted? Absent the (explanatory?) reference scripted at the bottom of the mural, viewers, it seems come to entirely different impressions.  One bystander, who could not decipher the English words, thought it had something to do with racism. He saw "a red man running".  (Disclaimer: That I saw what looked like elongated, oddly formed pen nibs is only because I spent half an hour recently looking at pen nibs, all sizes and shapes, but none as uneven or exaggerated as those emanating from this painted man's head.  I did not make this connection when I first took this photo two years ago.  Which confirms that how we look at a thing, and what we see (of the same image or object, imagined or real) can change, over time.  And not just objects or images, but people, ideas, beliefs, even ourselves.)  Is that what they call 'evolving perception'? Perception that "grows", "matures", "evolves".  So if someone's perception is closer to the truth of a thing, does that mean another's (less-than close) is less 'evolved'?  And how, if at all, would that apply to the world of art? 

The words of that proverb could apply, not just to the painting itself but to the response to this artist's creation: i.e., out of someone's need to reference Fear, comes Wisdom; out of a painted face on a wall, a hint of what Pride (which is not the same thing as Honor) might feel like; out of amazement at the unexpected insights a stumbled-upon created work of art can bring, Humility.  (But somebody named Anonymous once said "When you become aware of your humility, you've lost it."  I meant to say that the impact random resonances of images have on us is sometimes humbling.  Hmmm ... Humility and humbling both start with a hum ... interesting.)  

In the painting a bald man's head spews forth a gush of steely rods (or pen nibs), tiny crosses and thin steely loops heading West. My fingers stumble over keyboarded sentences to express this perception.  Neither  the annotated biblical reference the artist appended as a possible guide to the 'meaning' of his brush-stroked mural  nor my probably quirky, very personal impressions have anything to do with evolution or truth, in the way most people think of those words.  It is what it is. Period.  (Why am I suddenly reminded of former Pres. Bill Clinton on the witness stand trying to debate what the word "is" is, ha ha.)  

I like art that makes me wonder, that invites connections, that appeals to the ongoing dialogues in my head, that expands my perceptions.  That draws me back to take a second, third, or fourth look at it.  This is one such example.  It is, if you're walking down the sidewalk in that part of town and hadn't seen it before, really very compelling.


Jim Murdoch said...

Considering how hard I look for meaning in poetry – and perhaps as a reaction to and to compensate for that – I tend to go the opposite way when it comes to art. I don’t look for meaning. What is important in a work of art is how it makes me feel. This is not to say that poetry doesn’t make me feel and art doesn’t make me think because I see these two reactions as intricately bound up with each other. I subscribe to several art sites and every day I must look at dozens upon dozens of images some of which I save and use on my desktop, My desktop is always black with an image framed in the centre; at the moment it’s a rather Escher-like image of a city with flyovers and underpasses but more often than not it’s going to be a picture of a woman – I love looking at women but the women have to be special, have character, have a certain look on their faces. A good example is this photo of Patricia Highsmith – just look at the expression in that face – or this drawing by Kent Bellows or this one by Dirk Dzimirsky. I guess the eyes have it.

Ironically my favourite artists are not best known for their figurative work: Magritte and Hopper. I think though what all these images and artists have in common is calmness. I’m not so fond of the Turners of this world although I do have a book of Turner’s art that my daughter bought me one year. Her best buys for me art-wise were a book of old images from photo booths and the book Women Before 10am which I memorialised in this poem:

The Wrong Nudes

My daughter bought me a book, an album,
with pictures of naked women in it.
Of course the wrong women were naked but
how was she to know that that might matter?

That said, realisation is one thing,
acceptance another and approval,
first tacit, then open, quite something else.

Nudity is such a disappointment.
I have never really understood when
nakedness becomes art or if indeed
openness is always a good idea.

She said the book had a dented spine which
is how she could afford it and then we
moved seamlessly onto other matters.

Monday, 09 March 2009

awyn said...

Hi Jim, thanks for your comment. I agree, how you feel about a painting/poem is you either like it or you don't, which can vary all the way from simple pleasure to boredom/disgust/repulsion to a mesmerizing affinity where you’re rendered spellbound. ("Either/or", though, doesn't take into account sheer indifference, in the absence of feeling.) What is it about certain works of art (or writing) that strongly attract us—for example, an otherwise mediocre painting you can’t stop looking at, because of its colors, or words in a poem whose metaphors you can’t grasp but that stay with you, or a haunting song sung in a language you don’t know—all of which seem to speak directly to you? Subject for a whole other conversation!!

Speaking of photobooks, I bought one from a street vendor once, its cover badly damaged, the binding falling apart—for $1.00. It contained about 20 large black and white photos of the streets and bridges of Prague circa 1930. I extracted and had them dry-mounted and they hung on the walls of my kitchen for several years. I have never been to Prague and dream of going there. Years later, when I left the area and was forced to downsize, I gave them to a Czech immigrant architect who'd spoken longingly about her former country (I kept two of the photos, which now hang in my reading room. Vicarious visits to places you’ve been to in your mind on whose streets your feet will never walk—but what pleasure imagining!). You said you liked looking at pictures of women; I am drawn to images of barren trees on stark winter landscapes (the white birch especially), figures sitting alone in silence on a park bench, beach or rock, looking out into the distance, and images of spontaneous eruptions of joy (like a kid frolicking in mountains of autumn leaves. Favorite motifs, like music, very subjective. (And certain shades of color). Thanks again for stopping by (though I suspect our respective comments may actually exceed the length of the post that engendered them!) :)