How to speak of the sublime.
How to wrap words around an experience so that it becomes intelligible to another person… ?
Imagine coming to the new world and tasting citrus fruit for the first time. Then try to imagine telling someone who’s never as much as smelled an orange, what an orange tastes like. Its textured lobes, the miniscule packets of juicy zest on the inside, the slight bitterness of the white lining the rind.
Shall we go on? How many mothers struggle to describe, and fathers fail to truly understand, the experience of child birth, or gestation.
Surely the point is clear. There are experiences that resist being parsed into the discrete units of language we use as handles to grasp so much of our world.
And so I come to the crux of things… In revisiting the past two decades of work I’ve produced, and its accompanying thoughts and experiences, the single greatest feature of it all is a search for a moment where the world clears, and the artwork in front of me pierces the melee of life, revealing a profound identification with beauty.
It feels like stumbling upon a scene, and even as you struggle to understand what it is that is happening, you find yourself convulsed into utter stillness an silence at the wonder that the thing in front of you reveals some secret truth about yourself. A truth which you sought, but could find not more than mere tenebrous traces, like a sound too delicate to define beneath the cacophony of your own thinking.
It is that stillness and awe, elicited in greater or lesser waves, that forms the ineluctable center of the artistic experience, for me. It is not that art cannot do a myriad other things – speaking of life and its journeys like words flowing over paper. … surrendering to the work, opening oneself to being wounded by the beauty, by the power, by the truth, of what is expressed … ultimately by the reflection of the human condition made incarnate as the work of art … and finally to be left in reverence of the hand of the artist in rendering a physical thing with such invisible power.
For a lot of artists the medium is largely language arts, or pseudo teleological exercises aimed at further narrowing or broadening the concept of art. But that heartless drivell is mechanics. It might be powerfully articulate, cunning, genius in every sense, yet, to this single observer the raison d’etre is lost if the work fails to electrify, even compelling against will, a sense of connection between the observer, the observed, the maker, and the humanity underlying them all.
I wish, here, to present something that evokes in you that experience, to give flavor to my words above. And yet I know I cannot. There are, to be true, works that seem to reach the masses, and yet I cannot speak to the qualities of that appreciation. There are examples in the written word, in film, in marble and clay and metal, in ink, gouache, oils, ochre and stone, glass and yes, even in silver salts on metal plates or paper. The sublime, another word for what I’m describing, is found in no entrenched or patterned way. It finds you as much as you find it.
To find that experience, to taste the ethereal fruit, you must make yourself available to it. First open. Then don’t resist the fall. Don’t worry, there is nothing in that unknown – that is not already inside of you.
I feel I must, here, insert a reference to Roland Barthes, even though the preeminence of his thought in the manner of artwork and its relation to the observer is canonical, and my thoughts above – provençal at best.
Stature notwithstanding, should there be a desire for more, then here it is: