I do think there can be, absolutely, a spiritual dimension to the language of form. Two corresponding experiences during the April pandemic lockdown here in New York City amplified this topic in my mind.
First, I chose to re-visit Kandinsky’s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” (1914) while tucked into my quarantine cocoon (coincidentally I was reminded of the book by Taney). This had been a book of profound influence on me as an undergraduate student and played a significant role in me declaring my concentration of study in the fine arts. That 20-year-old version of me was allured by words such as “spiritual” but after years of reading as much as I could on the topic, I realized the word conjures such a wide variety of definitions that its use has become quite limited. It is useful to get a general idea, but with a realm so necessarily nuanced, I hoped another word would come about. It hasn’t.
Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And as I re-read Kandinsky, if I updated terms to satisfy that definition, the text came alive and indeed still seems vital one hundred and nine years after being written. I had parted with the notion of “spiritual”, taking the concepts and methods of science in its stead. Yet science with all its crowning achievements still leaves us in a world with plenty of room for improvement. We need science to solve problems like the coronavirus. We need art to find meaning. (By that, I mean the type I referred to in an earlier post.) Without the moral compass provided by the arts, the future tools of science create a scenario akin to toddlers playing with blowtorches.
Kandinsky uses the metaphor of an inner world and I find this more apt. Practicing the examined life is a very personal realm where we quietly acknowledge we all have room for improvement. One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of how callous and mean humans can be to each other when inebriated with power, greed, tribalism, and ego. Therefore, we can see that growth within this inner world is an absolute necessity if we as a species hope to navigate the stormy seas of our collective adolescence. The language of abstraction serves as functional vehicle of this inner world. Visual abstraction has the capacity of carrying no temporal, societal baggage and thus possesses the capability of being pure metaphor for those jewels of human experience that are ineffable. Visual abstraction then becomes a mirror for the viewers mind, recording and revealing a symbolic version of our inner world. It can then be examined as a complex web of tendencies, good habits, bad habits, emotions, intellect, etc.
Second was my experiment of making a chalkboard drawing a day during quarantine here in NYC. This proved to be of crucial importance for me during such a stressful and anxious time. For me, the drawings are inner work made visible. The process of their making, and the reflection aided by them, were an anchor for me as my family and I recovered from the virus. Below are the exhibition notes for a video montage of these drawings recently on display and also a link to the montage.
“As the coronavirus tsunami poured through New York City in Spring 2020 and we all hunkered down in the caves of our apartments, it became apparent that short of contracting the virus, successfully coping with the fear and anxiety produced by this extraordinary moment was absolutely essential. We were told to wash our hands, eat well and exercise- but no one mentioned our minds- that most important of elements. As an educator, I tell my students that a practice of seeing and making can benefit them in surprising ways. If such practices are not of indisputable value at a moment such as this, then their place in a future society is truly in peril. No longer able to go my studio and make paintings, I salvaged my kid’s old “Melissa and Doug” chalkboard slated for the garbage in order to make room for our new cramped quarantined existence. In a spark of intuition, I decided upon a daily ritual: I would make a chalkboard drawing a day while in quarantine and post that drawing on social media everyday whether I liked the drawing or not. During one of the most difficult three week periods in memory as my family and I dealt with coronavirus-like symptoms (we later all tested positive for antibodies), this chalkboard ritual emerged as a fundamentally grounding practice which instilled doses of discipline, reflection, and meditation so necessary during this very stressful time.”