A Dialogue about Art - Excerpts Between: Roberto Calvo Macias and Sam Vaknin
What's meaning of it? Its sense? Why did that Altamira Cave man paint those animals, Why? For magical purposes? as a religious act? What was his proposition? To communicate his personal views? Was he mad, as Vincent, did he see something different, that others didn't? Did he see animals in abstract? was he first person to think in abstract, was he first man? Was it a kind of pastime, a diversion, a game? Moreover, can we measure it? are there good and bad artists? What defines a great work of art? The recognition of public? In which way, its quantity or its quality?
I have always been a bit of a dreamer, with a facility to imagine in abstract, but years ago, when I began to read some poets, and other writers like Borges, Jünger, Neil Gaiman, something strange changed my view. What happened to my eyes? Why did my sight get so clear? Was it something mystical, beginning of madness? What is dividing line?
I don’t know if it is schizophrenia, god’s gift or some other matter. Probably I am mad, but what does it matter with ART? Where is relationship between order, hard work, etc. and Quality of ART? Was Vincent a calvinist man?
Sam: Absolutely. Read his letters to Theo. Also study last two years – especially last two months of his life. The “madder” he got – more diligent, industrious, hard working and disciplined he became.
Roberto: Which ones of this list, all of them manifestly anarchs, unstable and inconsistent, do you consider not to be great artists?
Thomas de Quincey, Baudelaire, Theophile Gautier, Byron, Orson Welles, Ernest Hemingway, Ken Kesey, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Mozart, Isaac Albeniz, Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, John Lenon, Camarin, Michaelangelo, Rimbaud, Gaudi, Dali, Jimi Hendrix, Federico Garcia Lorca, Holderlin, Woody Allen.
Sam: This is quite a list. Still I think that it misses point. Art, by definition, is surrender of anarchical spirit to dictatorship of format. A painter is limited to his rectangular piece of cloth or cardboard, to his paints, to maxims of his language, however private. Art is sad documentation of capitulation of form to matter, of subordination of ethereal to material. It is a white flag in ever raging war between eye of spirit and eye of flesh. Even most prodigious and insane of writers must sit down, face sharply limited piece of paper, write in reasonably straight lines and succumb to most basic rules of grammar, of syntax, of meaning, of alliterative or other resonance. Even most deranged and non-calvinistic composer can use, as a maximum, dodecaphonic scale. This is what I meant by order and discipline. They are imposed, inherently, in very choice to engage in a work of art. Working habits are a natural extension of these spatial and temporal constraints.
Roberto: What about work of art? for example, what about Dr. Jekill and Mrs. Hide? Is it a masterpiece, though it was written in just one weekend under influence of great amounts of cocaine? Are images of E. A. Poe, mercurial, abysmal, mathematical as they are, unfit to describe century? Doesn't his Maelström mean anything to you, apart from a horrific picture?
Is it that my satanic images are just that? Were Michelangelo’s later sculptures worse than his first ones, unfinished as they are? Mention to me, if you please, great works of art from Calvinistic land: Le Confederation Helvetique. I love this country, my aunt is Swiss, but what great art works have come from Switzerland?
Sam: Art is picture of spirit shackled, furiously battling, striving to unchain itself, rebelling against form imposed on it, mutinously attempting to reflect world – no, to BE world – with all its chaotic pain, convulsive features, horrific beauty. It is spirit of God floating above abyss, an act of creation, as detailed in Genesis. It is precisely this unnerving, unsettling, terrifying, melancholy, raging contrast that a great work of art makes. Order and discipline applied to order and discipline yield government regulations and other gobbledegook. Order and discipline applied to tumult, chaos, havoc, disorder, anarchy, decadence (ultimately to death) – yield art. You must not confuse method with content, reagent with substrate. For where do we find greater order and discipline than in martial arts (they earned their title – “arts” – not in vain)? And where do we find more devastation, maelstrom, turbulence and disintegration of form than in war, their subject matter?
Roberto: If Art came from childhood, why must it require order, discipline... Is it not that every child is a little anarchist? Is that not true, that a child is like a terra incognita, plenty of anarchy, great views of upper lands? Why should wild horses be less beautiful than domestic ones? Are we not talking about Beauty?
Sam: I am evidently less a romantic than you, Roberto, for I see no art in children as I see no art in primitive people (in psychological sense, not in historical or anthropological meanings of word “primitive”). I see none in childhood but fear and anxiety, egotism and curiosity to serve it, cruelty and malignancy. Indeed, we grow out of it same as we pull ourselves out of quicksands. Children are incapable of being artists. They are manipulative Narcissists. Forever in throes of Big Bang of their personalities, embroiled in searing heat, unable to see a thing for brightness of their own formation. To be an artist, one needs to die a little, to experience entropy, to be as barren as those rocks of our moon. One needs to combine that primordial fire with cold formalisms of death. After all, our works of art are dead: letters are dead on dead, acidifying paper, paints decay, cloth frays and greatest sculptures turn back to stone. The mystical tradition of Jews (the Cabbala) says that first, most comprehensive and hitherto best, act of creation involved divine light which was poured into vessels (again, incoherent into orderly). These vessels – owing to a cosmic accident – broke.
The light dispersed, attached to splinters of shattered vessels. These are our souls: a measure light, a measure mundane, a piece of broken vessel. No, beauty has nothing to do with it. Anyhow it is in eye of beholder, a matter of judgement, of epoch, of cultural context, of tastes, too relative for art. We are not talking about beauty – but about law. Creation is law – art one of its manifestations. In its cold indifference lies beauty that you are seeking. This is maddening thing, this apathy towards our individual fates, as though we were its slaves, not its creators. This is what makes us children once more, awed by omnipotence and omniscience. This awe lasts until we overcome this sensation, dare to be Gods again and to create, dare to engage in art. Read Kafka, most sublime and perfect of all writers.