“There is no truth more esoteric (hidden) than the truth of art.”
That phrase has been resonating in my head over the last few weeks. On a recent walk I conjured a scenario where I was being interviewed by someone about what it meant.
“You think, then, that the truth of art is hopelessly hidden?”
“Not at all. Just because something is hidden doesn’t mean it can’t be found. The truth of art is dying for us to find it.”
“Then why doesn’t it just come out of hiding? Wouldn’t that be better?”
“No. It is in the finding that the real fun lies. Listen, if I invented a game called ‘sitting around a room staring at each other’ kids wouldn’t want to play it.”
“But if I invent a game called ‘hide and seek’ kids will not only play it, but they’ll pass the tradition on for generations and generations. There’s just something alluring about finding the hidden. The truth of art plays a game with us. That’s why it hides.”
I could go on, but the point is that one of the Poetic attributes of art is that its truth begs to be found. Art and its expression is one of the truly human things – one of the things our species alone can do. There’s a certain mystery to that. And that is why I am a Cyprian – a tradition that draws philosophical lessons from artistic practices.
In ancient Athens, the Knights and Sisters of Paphos (a “guild” of artists and sacred courtesans) used symbols that related to their respective arts to encode their philosophical beliefs. One such symbol was the palette and chisel (or paint brush and chisel). The palette speaks to the additive nature of some art. You build paint up on a canvas to produce the desired work. The chisel, on the other hand, speaks to the subtractive nature of some art. A sculptor removes parts of a stone in order to create his or her work. Combined, these two symbolic tools encode a rich depth of philosophical meaning. The chisel is my focus here.
So, how do we apply sculptural principles to our life?
Sculpture is a truly decadent art. On a civic scale, it has all the power of architecture and none of the utility. On a personal scale, very few people own real sculpture. While many of us own paintings, photos, prints – two dimensional art – it is a truly decadent practice to own works of sculpture. Having the space to properly display sculpture is, in itself, a luxury.
One of the aphorisms in The Seed says, “Because we are not stone, the chisel causes pain.” This phrase has meanings that work on several levels but the least hidden of them is this: when we approach our lives as a sculpture-in-progress we realize we must chip away the unwanted pieces of stone. As we do this, often for the very best reasons, it often causes some degree of pain.
The last year and a half of my life has been a fairly constant series of carving and chiseling. It has resulted in a great deal of loss and a fair portion of melancholy and heartbreak. But it’s also exposed some really Beautiful things and left me with a lightness I did not have before now. The sculpture of it all is beginning to emerge.
It has also been important for me to consider how an artist uses a human model for figurative sculpting. And for that reason I’ve had to apply myself diligently to visualizing the model of what shape the sculpture of my life should take, in order to try the results against it.
The master sculptor must consider every angle when producing a work. A painting or photograph has one point of view. It will hang with it’s back against a wall. But there are a vast number of options when displaying a work of sculpture. The true master is aware of this and applies his skill in leading the viewer to partake of the work in the desired manner. Like a hypnotist with the power of suggestion. However, in harmony with that, the connoisseur knows how to delve even further, to consider it from many – even all – angles. To take it in and turn it over, regarding it as the artist intended, but also in many other ways in order to tease out not only the esoteric truths but also invent new ones that speak to him or her personally.
That is truth of art.
This week, as if he knew I was writing about the Chisel, a dear friend sent me this old film of Rodin at work. Though in my practice, I have chosen Rodin as my Cyprian Master, I have never seen a film of him at work. I’ve seen hundreds of photographs, but never a moving picture. Watching this brought me to tears. It is so moving. The cheeky expression on his face, the pieces of stone in his beard, the aggressive chiseling of what is sure to be an elegantly flowing piece of finished sculpture. Just amazing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And may we all get stone in our beards (Thank you, Tony).