Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Old Masters. The transcendent moment.

It is Clara`s birthday, I have been taking photos of the celebration which overlaps with the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. You know the kind required at this time; the new outfit, the opening of presents, the blowing out of the birthday cake candles, the host of family well wishers who share the responsibility for her development. I am happy to comply.

Later, as I do a sweep through the images that I have collected, I find one that seems to speak to a larger question about the arts. Clara is about to blow out her candles but one is smoking badly and Tim, her dad, reaches over and snuffs it out. It will be relit and the ceremony will continue, but the moment of surprise that I have captured, the expression, the body language, while not up to old masters standards, sets me to thinking about all those paintings that grace the walls of museums and are our legacy from the creative people of the past.

What my image has in common with the great ones, the Caravaggios and Rembrandts, is the dramatic moment; the point of change when something unexpected steps into her life. Those great artists have captured that point of revelation in a much more profound way and have expressed it in paint or stone. An amazing leap of understanding for human beings to make. Yesterday there was an overlap of sorts when I listened on the radio to the creation of another saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The man in question, Brother Andre, had spent his life as a simple usher in a large church in eastern Canada and over a lifetime had developed a reputation for miraculously healing the sick and also for giving people the grace to accept what could not be cured. He incorporated the transcendent which, like lightening, passed through him into those that suffered. And the artists who wrought those images that touch us today long after their own lifetimes, what was it that worked in their lives? How was it that, despite often personally difficult and less that stellar personal lives, they were able to achieve such imagery, the tipping point in people`s lives?

As I write this, the first rays of the sun are picking out the tops of the trees in gold, the air is glowing, laden with autumnal mist. Nature itself is revealing a transcendent moment in the transition from night to day. Dawn is a normal morning phenomenon, but this moment is highlighted today and I feel dawn as a special revelation, I grasp its splendor! A Zen moment, you might say. Those artists, those saints, they got that to a much greater degree and the trajectory of their lives changed and took them into a new way of seeing and expressing . They themselves became the light and we are left with the brightness of their passage.


Ernst Göran Westlund said...

I'm sure there are people who, through their own spiritual enlightenment, can be great facilitators for other peoples growth. I cannot say I have met one, but I've read some books of great importance, written by such people.

Is it the same with the great artists? I'm not sure, really. It seems to me, that the work of the great artists transcend the artists personalities. Even if they where not ordinary as persons, rarely did they appear to be of any high moral or social standards. In that sense, they were probably quite ordinary. As my mother used to say, when you meet a great artist, you are in for a disappointment. Not the fault of the artist, of course, but a result of romantic expectations.

Still, many great artists have contributed immensely to our culture, our understanding of our reality, our world. I'm not thinking of a mental or intellectual understanding, though. Rather the sense of understanding. Or maybe it is about our way of relating to reality. But like the work of the great scientists, the work of the artists must be studied and contemplated, sometimes for a long time, before the message of the work is fully understood. At least, that is true for me.

When I work with the camera myself, it is not with the ambition to create great works of art, but to contemplate my relation to reality, my way of looking at what is. In that work I'm inspired by other photographers and their pictures. And usually not the great shots of nature or skillfully photoshopped images, but straight photography from the everyday life of people. Like the picture of Clara. I could comment on that picture from the viewpoint of how I probably should have taken a similar photo myself. You often see that kind of comments. But that seems to me to be rather petty. I could encourage you by saying: "Great shot". I would say that more than 99 percent of all comments on photoblogs are of that kind. It's nice to be encouraged, of course. But not a very creative way to comment on a great shot :-)

There is much more to say on this stuff, but for the moment I feel I have exercised my English writing enough for today. Please don't go so deep in philosophy too often, it will be just too much to think about :-D

Bill said...

In this piece I have compared ‘Art’ with a religious experience and when you think of the cave paintings in Europe you can see that this has always been so. The experience of the shaman is not so different from that experienced by the creative artist who is dealing with the same deep relationships. I found this quote about the writer James Joyce and the concept of an ‘epiphany’( a religious term) as it applies to his creative writing.

“He explains his concept of Art as an ‘Epiphany.’ A sudden illumination if not a divine revelation, A slight but definite insight into other lives, a fragmentary clue to the meaning of life as a whole. Even the stroke of the Ballast Office clock can have this effect, says Stephen, and we may regard ‘Ulysses’ as an extended commentary on his remark. God is manifest, Stephen now believes, as “a noise in the street”. The writer`s vantage-point is that of ‘Araby’: an acolyte bearing his chalice through the streets of Dublin.”

Editor`s introduction ( Harry Levine) to James Joyce. Viking Press.