June 6. Afternoon, Oakland.
Remembering the nasturtiums climbing on the fence:
The generations shine, each after each, gazing glowing into the sun.
Several years ago, one of
my sons gave me three coffee mugs for Christmas. One said, “Go to your
studio, guilt is gravity,” and had a picture of a paneled green door
(remembering the early porno film Behind the Green Door?). Another
said, “Creativity is Timeless.” And the third said, “Good Art will never
go over the sofa.” Wondering where my art might go, and thinking maybe
over the sofa is better than the dump, I came across the following studio
From my studio
notes, June 22, 1985.
Oakland, early morning.
We are a tangle of vibrations searching for harmony. Beauty is
harmony. A work of art can give beauty, harmony to its owner. That is,
in a sense, the purpose of the collector, to find harmony in himself and
in his world. That, too, is the purpose of the artist, to make the things
that are the signs, the key signatures, the talismans, the crystals, the
aeolian harps for harmony in the world.
I am an artist, my work
is a gourd full of the seeds of harmonies of the world. My purpose is to
serve my world with the gift of these harmonies.
What about art, Fred, what about art? How does it work? Art
touches our strings, it makes them to sound in harmonious chords. How
does it do that, Fred, how does it do it?
Art does that by touching
the strings of perception—the neurons—of sight, sound, touch (and taste
and smell) in such a way as to harmonize them—key relations in the scale
of notes, in the spectrum of all light, the certain colors in a scale of
colors, in the universality of all space, the certain intervals (the
“cuts”) in the spaces of up, down, left, right, front, back—art brings the
strings of our physical bodies into harmony by stimulating them to vibrate
in harmonious intervals.
But art stimulates more
than only physical vibrations. It stimulates memory of harmonies past,
and longing for harmonies which might come… thus art stimulates longing,
which it may share with nostalgia. Art stimulates associational networks
of images in the mind, and these, like the physical networks of sensation
in the body, have their harmonic structures, their “intervals,” their
patterns of associative energy… the “wholeness of the self,” in Jungian
Thus art makes two
separate systems, the perceptual and the associational, of possible
vibrations in the human being resounding harmoniously within themselves and
…and that is why we
hunger for art, because that resounding whole then resounds both inner and
outer, the self and the world.
…some people call that
…some people call that state “beauty”
…some call it “prayer”
…alchemists called it “the work”
…artists call it “art”
What, then, can a little
picture do, hanging on the wall, looked at seldom, becoming part of the
furniture, the decoration of a room? It can remind of harmonies that once
were, and in reminding keep open the opportunity for those harmonies to be
again. In that sense, the little picture on the wall is nostalgic, and in
that same sense it is prophetic… and in that same sense, because past and
future are always present in us, the little picture on the wall is the key
to the doorway of now.
What about museums, Fred,
what about museums? Museums are storehouses of objects of art. Objects
are the inert things of art; works of art are our experiences, our working
with the vibrations those things can cause in us. Museums display their
things so we can catch their vibrations. Museums can make great symphonies
of those vibrations. Even museum buildings, to house those things and
their symphonies of sounds, are objects which can become works of art…
worlds of vibration, perceptual and associational… worlds of art in which
we can enter.
What about dissonance,
Fred, what about pain and horror? What about all the art that is ugly and
painful in the world? And what about insipidity, and sweetness, and
falseness in art? Men and women work together to make the art of their
age; that art resounds with the vibration of that age as they know it. It
has both that which they wish to escape (and their art shows those
vibrations as repulsive), and that which they are and that which they wish
to become (and their art shows those vibrations as desire). A period in
human culture grows old and dies, much of its art vibrates only worn out,
irrelevant, false or even by then dead and broken strings. Those strings
have been kept because once they worked, and it is at this time that
nostalgia becomes strong in the hope that those strings may work again.
It is at this time also that ugliness and horror become strong, as new
strings never before touched are stuck, new muscles used and old, weak,
exhausted and dying flesh is torn away. Then ugliness and horror in art
may become health; then, in the time of the muffled, flaccid, weak strings
of the old order, then cacaphony may become the secret of the harmony of
the new, the vibrant, the alive. The true harmony always hurts just a
little, always reaches into a few raw nerves never before touched, a few
associations almost too painful to remember, to expect or to bear. That
is the ugliness buried in every beauty (and the beauty, too, buried in
every ugliness: that the vibrations are reaching toward harmony and it is
our work to help them toward their goal.)
What about healing, Fred,
can art heal? Art gives the vibrations of harmony: the well person and
the well society are in states of harmonious vibration. Can art heal the
person, can art heal the society? Art can contribute to health for person
and community, but person and community must do other work in other modes
as well. (Art is only one mode among the many modes of being in the
world. Some art may guide some modes, but, finally, for righting the body
you must also work in the body—medicine—and for righting the world you
must also work in the world—politics.) Art may help to heal, may even
sometimes guide—and always remind; but in the contest of this world in
time, Death will always be at last stronger and will triumph, just as life
is strongest and will triumph in the timeless world of eternity.
Art works, then, by
touching in us, in our physical and mental bodies, touching in us the
paths of energy and looping and joining them into harmonious patterns and
vibrating those patterns until we resonate into the whole… resonating the
whole or ourselves and ourselves as part of the whole resonance of the
world. Because this pattern was in us from the beginning, because this
vibration and wholeness is waiting always to be sounded, that is why Plato
said, “All learning is remembering.”
What, then, can a little picture do, hanging on the wall, looked at
seldom, becoming part of the furniture, the decoration of a room? It can
remind of harmonies that once were, and in reminding keep open the
opportunity for those harmonies to be again. In that sense, the little
picture on the wall is nostalgic, and in that same sense it is prophetic…
and in that same sense, because past and future are always present in us,
the little picture on the wall is the key to the doorway of now.
June 10, 2003. Oakland, sunset.
Sun and shadows flicker and shift on the glass of the dining room
window; the last light caught in the crystal fruit of the chandelier is
steady, shining, clear, bright.
Art is a crystal shining in the sun.