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Art & The Absolute by Don Berendsen

Artistic ability is often equated with the skill to render accurately; but I think that although the ability to accurately render objects in the visual world may be a laudable skill, it is not in and of itself 'art'. But if art isn't just making a drawing or painting that looks just like what we see, what is it?

The Swiss Expressionist painter Paul Klee said:

"Art does not reproduce the visible, rather it makes visible".

That sounds interesting, but what is there that the artist can make visible?

The subtle realm of the mind provides many possibilities. In the late 18th century Romanticism placed stress on strong emotional content in work, such as the sublime experience of nature. The Expressionist art emphasized the communication of emotions, although seldom the cheerful. Conceptual art focuses on the concepts or ideas involved in the work rather than the aesthetics.

Other artists have attempted to delve more deeply into the mind and represent the subconscious. Surrealists use fantastic imagery and juxtapose contradictory elements to try to convey the invisible subconscious realm. Action painters such as Jackson Pollock sought to let the unconscious express itself directly and to communicate deeply in the subconscious of the viewer.

Is art limited to investigating and striving to make visible the jumble of thoughts, emotions, perceptions, desires, and everything the mind can imagine? Postmodernism seems to argue that there is nothing substantial to make visible, that change is all there is, that everything is relative. If this is true, it certainly simplifies things for the artist. If everything is relative there's no absolute reference, nothing REAL to 'make visible'. There's no need to develop artistic skills; art is just expression. If you allow any spontaneous expression to occur, your 'art' will be just as valid as anyone else's.

But what if there is The Absolute, the substrate of everything--not just the physical, or a physical 'reality' and a metaphysical 'reality'; but an Absolute that is beyond time, space, form, or any other manifestation out of which all the apparency of the physical emerges?

If there is an Absolute and it is knowable, the artist has a real opportunity and challenge. The Absolute isn't 'visible'; but perhaps the artist could somehow communicate some aspect of the Absolute and thus make it visible to a degree.

I think this is what great art does. The power, the timelessness, the profoundness of that art is a glimpse of the face of The Absolute.

Your comments are welcome!


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