The Empathetic in the Aesthetic
Painting gives the human capacity for empathy a place to settle, find coherence, and recharge one’s very humanity. One naturally slows down, enters the receptive mode, and hears the voice of silence. It has become a forgotten talent- this quiet listening with one’s eyes.
In painting there are no jokes or punch lines; that would only break the moment. Where there is sexual attribute, it is only the baggage that every soul must carry. Don’t misplace emphasis on why we commune with images. The density in intimate quiet is what holds us suspended. The lure of painting is this silent offering.
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As religious holidays fall within the ancient observance of nature’s seasons; so the portrait and icon attract a human response. If humans have declared the gods in their image; it illuminates the human need to commune with their likeness. That some scorn this attraction as bourgeois denies who we are. The eternal in man is irrevocable. It suggests the resilience in the hypnotic spell of the face rooted deep in the human Psyche.
Carnival was once designated as that time of year to let loose from the strictures of sexual morality. As an escape valve its deviation from normal behavior and mocking of authority provided a deconstructive critique of the status quo which diffused any real threat to the stability of the covenants by which society lives or, ironically, to those in power.
But a society can’t run the calendar year through in Carnival mode. Yet used as a mechanism to gain power, its permissiveness is the chimera by which the avant-garde has won allegiance to eclipse the social contract and channel artistic compliance. That it has paradoxically done so with the fervor of inquisition should be enough to question the culpability along with the hypocrisy invested in its squandered promise.
The shrill banter that explodes from the writings of its most distinguished proponents suggests bonfires for all they deem reactionary.
They will not acknowledge the necessary parameters that once defined Carnival nor the vanity in their posturing. Their crowing is a rather grotesque sort of farce that itself needs to be seen as Carnival. We could all laugh eternally if it weren’t for the mayhem that has brought meaninglessness without end.
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The aesthetic cannot separate from the empathetic, or its purpose be disinterested; otherwise it’s just design. The empathetic response dictates what the image conveys. Compassion attracts us. Without compassion we loose sight of the significance of our condition- our mortality.
As that must guide all our actions in the world; so need it be reflected in images of ourselves. All else pales. All our lives touch upon tragedy. As such, there is no image free of that consciousness. The portrait always carries with it the consciousness of time. We are all bound by its limitations. Even in the most sublime moments there haunts what is approaching.
Then how do we look upon the suffering of others as not our own, or view aesthetically the image of others’ suffering without that specter following us. If there is beauty in the horror, it is our horror as well.
The image of death compels us as we are compelled towards death. What we have remains always without surety; and however we pretend a mocking gaze, our turn waits upon its choosing.
Why all this fretting censure against the representation of suffering? Let’s face the subject with candor, and leave issues of censure to those whose distain of pathos sees cannibalism in others’ acts of remembrance.
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