an achievement

After some serious pondering, I decided that the reason my wonderful blogs are never featured on the WordPress Freshly Pressed page is that I never have pictures up here anymore.
So, for my 301st post at Paradoxes, here is a picture of a happy cookie:

That should do it.


Impressions, in blogalectic with Jenna St. Hilaire and Masha

The secret of art, what might be called the caprice of art, invokes beauty through mystery. You’ll find it in the wonderful, daily imaginings Jenna and Masha have written about this week. Jenna describes growing up an artist’s daughter, and the attentiveness to beauty that taught her:

Art never seems far from me now. It’s in bookshelves and arias, dreams of gardening, and in wondering whether I can cut and hem my red and gold curtains to fit our new living room windows.

Masha replies in kind, describing with her usual grace ‘the rich art that comes from the happy soul’ and ‘the art of living well.’ For both my compatriots, art flows in to embrace and create and arise from life. The art of living well is transfusing the idiosyncrasies of our days into beautiful things.

My own impression of art is rather different. I see beauty in these words, and see the wonder and mystery of these entrancing rituals of the everyday, but living well and art itself remain distinct for me. I don’t know why.

But the word ‘Art’ brings me to Trafalgar Square, the long, crowded stair up to the National Gallery. You’ll find, if you read my writings about writing, that when I talk about art, I talk about paints and lines and canvas and stone. Art, for me, is visual art. And this day when I’m climbing the stairs up to the Gallery is a large portion of why.

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Mononoke Tachi dake

In response to Jenna St. Hilaire and Masha.

Today the blogalectic is doing something different. Masha, if you didn’t know, just had a baby. Jenna is by her own confession ‘all kinds of crazy right now’, and I’m about as busy as the world’s last bee. So the question before us is simply this: where are the places we find beauty?

This is in many ways a difficult question for me. I know where those places are, but I’m not generally inclined to go saying where they are. Beauty strikes me in strange ways, bursting round on me when I least expect it, assuming forms I wouldn’t look for, lurking and crouching in the crossways and corners. A well turned phrase can leave me spellbound. A familiar place is rendered strange and wonderful.

kodama. this forest is healthy.

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playing poetics

A blogalectic

This week is something different.

No, I’m not going to quote lengthy passages of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite at you. Although I do realise that’s a disappointment.

This week, my compatriots in the blogalectic are attempting to find a degree of common ground by discussing, as Jenna St Hilaire explains, ‘the beginning places that set us together as likeminded artists even while starting us in certain different philosophical directions.’

Jenna goes on to discuss her starting point as being a sort of self-imposed stopping point. Not knowing when to stop striving, she says, she looks instead for a centre between giving up and self-destruction, which is to say, for grace: a contentment (if I can put it this way) that the ability to be oneself is somehow attains the connection to the other the artists strives for. An recognition that the I is eternally wrapped in Thou.

Masha summarises this initial difference between her and Jenna quite well, whilst embedding it with an element of challenge:

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othering beauty

A blogalectic with Jenna St. Hilaire and Masha

We’ve been talking about Beauty, what it is and what it isn’t. That leads us to some very strange places, and long words like kataphasis, apophasis, and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagate. Apophatic thinker that I am, I see this simply as a human predicament: the less we’re comfortable with something, the harder it is to understand, the more we take refuge in
very long words.* So there is something startling, something radical in its simplicity, when Jenna find the chutzpah to write this:

All I can say is that beauty can be found anywhere on this earth, and in wildly different things, if one only troubles themselves to search it out.

This underlies, I think, the core disagreement between Jenna and Masha. Whereas Masha directs us to the Good, the universal, Jenna directs us to the immediate, the particular. This is the distinction that divides Western thought between itself. The line may be a fine one, but it seems my compatriots are on opposite sides. (For myself, if you’re interested, I explore the particular and the apophatic, and I think that probably tells you more about me than either of us think.)

Masha draws from Jenna’s subsequent, and eloquent, discussion of beauty to reemphasise the role of the individual artist:

In so many ways, the role of the artist is similar to the role of the prophet, a "necessary other" existing and creating, not in "untrammeled freedom" but in an "exacting form of discipline" (Kathleen Norris) that submits the Artist to the demands of his vocation and demands from him not only talent, but devotion and commitment as well. It is a communal role, a social role – creating the "lie that tells the truth" (Picasso) and presenting the world as it really is, in all it’s intimacy, passion, failure, and ultimate, glorious beauty. That is why, when the artist fails to call forth the riches of his world, when he calls his world poor, empty, and uninspiring, he fails to create art.

I don’t know the source of the Picasso quotation, but I’m not sure I like it. A lie can’t tell the truth. A lie is just a lie. The truth may look like a lie if we’re not ready to perceive it, but a lie is a lie. My difficulty may be semantic but it’s there.

More important to me is this idea of the artist as a sort of prophet. This is a concept that’s intrigued me for some time, owing partly to how it was put forward by Novalis, and its subsequent influence on George MacDonald. But there’s another parallel I’m exploring, which I’ll explain, somewhat, below the jump.

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