problematically purposeless? absolutely not!

last of 7; blue tit, westward ho! 2 (pward 2011)

“With everything having life, with everything having speech, with everything having the power to breathe, with everything having the power to teach and guide, with that in blessing we live.”

from the Navajo Blessingway ceremony, recorded by Gary Witherspoon

Recently I was treated to a presentation of the Phd Research of Andy Webster, previously course leader for the Fine Art: Contemporary Practice program at UCF. It was with great interest and pleasure that I listened to the enthusiastic dissemination of Andy’s thesis in the dark and dingy Seminar Room C, but it was with even greater joy that I appreciated the revelatory (for me) pitfall in his approach that had brought him to the realisation of its shortcomings. Such reflection has allowed me to grow in the understanding of my own practice and methodology, and hopefully in my perception of the function and appreciation of art as a whole.

While Andy’s practice and purpose to explore and discover “A Fluid Form: A process aesthetic as a means to engage with the prevailing ‘entitative’ model of thinking in ecological art” filled me with excitement at the humour and good sense of his argument and artful manifestations, it was with great disappointment that I received his conclusory statement that despite his good intentions he still saw art, both process-led and ‘entitative’ as essentially ‘purposeless’ – an attitude not in contradiction of Clement Greenberg’s original modernist manifesto of the 1950’s.


” Of course, actual experience, not the limited abstractions of science, matters most in the conduct of our lives. It is our entire experience, including our cultural heritage, that links us to the world in which we live, not just the artificially limited aspects of experience that constitute an experiment or a scientific observation. If we are not to live double lives, split between an ‘objective’, impersonal, mechanistic reality and the ‘subjective’ world of personal experience, we need to find a way of bridging these two realms.”

 from ‘The Rebirth of Nature – The Greening of Science and God’ by Rupert Sheldrake

 dead heads – rose; westward ho! 1 (pward 2011)

So as I struggled sadly with this perusal of renewed futility, in contradiction of my own belief in art as an agent, medium and vehicle for social and ecological transformation and cultural challenge, I glimpsed the flaw of Andy’s meaningful methodology. By means of introduction to the process of examination he had stated that his ideological roots originated within an attitude of eco-socialism, a viewpoint that until now I would confess to intellectually share. However this ‘socialism’ is ultimately a modernist construct, a reaction and response to a capitalist and technologically materialist world view; a place ideologically exempt from the concepts of spirit and soul, from mystery and magic; entrenched within the rationalist age of empirical science where if it cannot be reasonably measured it does not rightfully exist, or is of no pertinence at least. And as Andy continued within the dualistic summation of the symbiosis between process and entity I wondered upon such scientifically reductionist over-simplification, that there might just be a third element, and even a fourth, beyond or within what our narrowed concept of reality has recently allowed. Thankfully with the progression of scientific understanding within the concept of evolution we have now come to realise that its practice has finite limitations; that it is not after all as omnipotent as originally hoped; that it does not hold all the answers at all, at all! We are beginning to hopefully believe in the power of the invisible, the un-measurable immeasurable, the place of the other view, the third point in the dualistic paradigm which melds all existence into a tangible, tactile and experiential whole…

“Finally, and most profoundly, this invisible medium, in which we are bodily immersed, is what provides us with the capacity for conscious thought.” 

from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

So where might this argument have gone if we had approached from a place of ‘Deep Ecology’, a perspective (and truth) that embraces the animate aspect of all our existences? To approach an ecological question from a modernist place of departure can maybe only lead to heartache, to futility and nonsense – to ‘purposelessness’ as Andy so eruditely construed – but to use the multidimensional perception of a truthfully ecological standpoint, interweaving elements from a plethora of place may, I believe, open our discussions about the efficacy and role of art to a place of intrinsic and inherent symbiotic power from which it evidently and experientially might come.

dead heads – rose; westward ho! 2 (pward 2011)

“Deep ecology is a contemporary ecological philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of other beings, aside from their utility. The philosophy emphasizes the interdependent nature of human and non-human life as well as the importance of the ecosystem and natural processes. It provides a foundation for the environmental, ecology and green movements and has fostered a new system of environmental ethics.

Deep ecology’s core principle is the belief that, like humanity, the living environment as a whole has the same right to live and flourish. Deep ecology describes itself as “deep” because it persists in asking deeper questions concerning “why” and “how” and thus is concerned with the fundamental philosophical questions about the impacts of human life as one part of the ecosphere, rather than with a narrow view of ecology as a branch of biological science, and aims to avoid merely anthropocentric environmentalism, which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by and for humans purposes, which excludes the fundamental philosophy of deep ecology. Deep ecology seeks a more holistic view of the world humans live in and seeks to apply to life the understanding that separate parts of the ecosystem (including humans) function as a whole.”

definition from Wikipedia

So, can there realistically ever be a marriage between such fixed political ideologies as socialism, capitalism and communism, as humanly attractive and logical as they may immediately seem with in our contemporary ‘entitative’ reality, and the ever evolving, miraculously mutating conceptual aura of ecologically deep thought? Or is such animate appreciation of our existential and experiential truth leading us to a totally new, appropriately agile, shifting sea of ‘synaesthetic’ political paradigms for all? Indeed, whether it is possible to conclude at all an ambient efficacy of art within the strict, linear and ultimately dualistic entity that is alphabetic language without the intrinsic inclusion of the invisible, the unfathomable and the ethereal, and the contextual complication of ultimate truth, is another question that may be raised. If we were to begin all our appraisals and analysis from an attitude of wholeness rather than that of fragmentation and conflict how might that affect our results?

last of 7; blue tit, westward ho! 1 (pward 2011)

 Long gone and thankfully so, is the time of superstition and manipulation by magical means (science has just put paid to that!) but now we might allude to invite a new place of mystery which acknowledges the non-quantifiable invisible, the energetically elusive threads which intermingle our imaginative dynamic, which might inspire resilience and resolution in the face of ever-changing obstacles and revolution. We forever are the instinctive power within the soil that tunes the trees, that knocks the seeds, that jumps the deer and swims the oceans; never disconnected nor disenchanted; never lost but found within an ambivalent fluid form.

“Some speak of a return to nature.

I wonder where they could have been.”

Frederick Sommer



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