Saturday, November 08, 2008

Truth, Reality, and Literalism: Part Two

This painting by the Surrealist artist, Rene Magritte, intrigues me. It is a wonderful play on words but more importantly it causes the viewer to question his or herself. The title, which is painted on the canvas, is “Leci n’est pas une pipe” which translates to “This is not a pipe.” The viewer looks at it and says, “Of course it’s a pipe, I can see that, it’s very obvious.” What the viewer misses is the truly obvious that this is a painting. It may be a painting of a pipe but still it is a painting. What we actually see and what we perceive may be completely different. This is always the problem with beginning art students and why they have difficulty in what they are drawing. Most often they are drawing what they think they see, because they are not looking carefully, rather than what is actually there. Also because the logical side, which uses language the student substitutes, dominates our brains a symbol of what is there rather than what is actually there.

However there is more to it than that. How we perceive something is determined by the filter of our own personal history and even our personalities. The theologian and scholar, John Dominick Crossan, teaches that you can have four people standing together, all witnessing the same event at the same time and each of them will come away with a different perception and memory of the event. Does this mean that one interpretation is better than another or that very simply they are just different? Because something is real or meaningful to you does that mean it has to be that way to me? Being obsessive I can play with this idea for a long time. Regretfully, society is usually a little uneasy with those of us who think and act a little differently. Maybe that’s why I find it so much fun.

About 15 years ago I belonged to a co-op gallery in this area. We were putting on an exhibit with the nude human form as the theme. First of all because the nude is a beautiful subject but also because this is a conservative area and we knew it would generate some interest. Good or bad we didn’t especially care as long as we got people to react. Included in my work were some nude self-portraits. At the opening my wife asked me if I was troubled by the fact that people, complete strangers, were going to see me nude. I had to remind her that I was fully dressed and had no intention of taking my clothes off at the gallery. I had to remind her that there is a difference between the real flesh and blood me and a piece of paper hung on the wall. The viewers were not looking at me but looking at a drawing. Even though the drawing and I are both real we are not interchangeable. My wife and I, side by side at the same event each perceived the reality differently and that’s just fine with me.


There are many blogs that I used to visit on a regular basis. I haven’t visited them very much lately. Where we live there is no high speed internet or cable. Satellite service is too expense so I use my cell phone to access the web. As long as I am just viewing text it is fine. When I visit sites that have a lot of visuals and images my service stalls and locks up. I hope to resolve that soon and then I will be able to start visiting again.

I haven’t written much lately because I am going through some changes and adjustments. My doctor and I have been playing with my meds to find a better balance. The meds were helping somewhat with the OCD but there was a persistent depression and sense of anxiety. The meds for the ADD weren’t that effective so I went off of them to help save money. There were additional meds that could’ve helped with the depression and anxiety but are not available as generics so being on a fixed income and helping to support our grandson the cost became prohibitive. We finally went back to an old drug that had worked well in the past (Prozac) and increased the dosage. It has helped the OCD and the depression and put me on an even keel but at a cost. My world has become more bland. It feels like I am wearing a suit made of heavy inch thick felt that weighs me down and insulates me. I have to struggle to overcome my own inertia. I go into my studio and wonder why I even bothered to open the door. I remember reading about the painter, Edvard Munch who suffered from mental illness and was hospitalized on several occasions. His doctor offered him a treatment that would greatly help. Munch turned it down because it would affect his creativity. I think about this story a lot while trying to figure out what to do with myself. On the positive side I have better focus for reading. I am currently reading a volume of essays by the theologian, ethicist, and political analyst, Reinhold Neibhur, who was an influence on Barack Obama.

The images included here are a copy of the Magritte painting, “Leci n’est pas une pipe” and I do not know the dimensions but it is oil on canvas. The next is a self-portrait titled, “From My Point Of View.” It is graphite on paper and measures 10.5” X 13.5”. This drawing is about 30 years old and was included in the exhibit I mentioned above. The next is just one of my landscapes that reflect somewhat inaccessible areas. It is titled “Four Birch Trees” and is oil on prepared paper and measures 21.5” X 33”. The next is from my Nudist Series and is titled “Treading Water #2” and is colored pencil on paper measuring 33” X 21.5”. The last 2 are from a series that I’ve been working on based on torsos of average everyday people. They are done with artist crayon over tempera on paper and each one measures 19.75” X 12.75”.


Blogger Philip said...

Perhaps the whole world will come out if its depression now Bush is leaving and being replaced by a breath of fresh air!

11:15 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

Yes, I agree, Philip. It is as if my country has been in a deep slumber and is now awakening to a new day and ready to rejoin the whole world

12:04 PM  
Blogger Philip said...

I think the question about being depressed being linked with being an artist is an easy one to answer. The answer is ‘yes’. I think it is not too hard to see the reasons for this. In my opinion, we all need to belong to something bigger than ourselves and feel that we are making a contribution which is valued in some way. For the artist – especially those that are interested in philosophy, religion, politics and the nature of ‘being’ – it makes it very hard to belong in a world where most people are employed mainly as functionaries and who are not required to think for themselves.

I remember in my early twenties being told by a senior manager at the place where I work that the organisation ‘does not require people who think’. This was a warning to me! As a young man this came as something of a shock as I took it for granted that my ideas and suggestions would be at least considered and possibly valued.

Now it all makes perfect sense to me. In spite of what organisations say they only really require people who fit in a box of some kind and stay there under wraps.

For those artists who make it big and are suddenly valued (too much perhaps) I believe it is in spite of the system rather than because of it. For most artists we are destined to lead a fairly solitary life as observers rather than participants. In a way the world is not quite ready for people who are capable of joined-up thinking and who have no difficulty seeing through the bullshit. I have long since come to terms with this and accept who I am. Yes, I would like to belong to something bigger than myself but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Society as a whole is still based on a functionary existence and only now are we beginning to see the stress that is causing in an increasingly globalised world. Am I depressed about it? Sometimes but there is nothing I can do other than keep on keeping on. I am glad that I think outside the box and enjoy a very different world even if, at times, it can be a rather lonely one.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Ed Maskevich said...

I am also glad, Philip, that you think outside the box. One of my greatest laments is that schools no longer teach students how to think. Thinking is a dangerous endeavor and leads to things like opinions and possibly to disagreements. As you say, "Society as a whole is still based on a functionary existence" and I think this is a major contributor to our (humankind) sense of existential angst because it devalues the creative human spirit.

It is, in my opinion, this angst which cause some to become drug addicts or alcoholics; others to be overly materialistic; some to become workaholics; finally some seek safety and meaning by becoming conservative religious fundamentalists (of any faith).

The Japanese have a saying, "The nail that stands above the rest will be hammered down."

2:16 PM  
Blogger grovecanada said...

When I was living in Cap Ferret, France, the french dentist who let me stay in his country house explained the pipe painting... " Faire le pipe " in french means to perform oral sex, it is a subliminal french inside joke...
Many artists suffered from various symptoms related to lead poisoning...Lead poisoning from paint manifests as ear troubles, balance issues, personality disorders, & if found, brain tumours...Though we are all confident that our paints are now lead free, I still suspect dangers...The three main detoxifiers are gingko biloba, periwinkle & butcher's broom, as well as B vitamins...It is possible that a metal detox might help you...

11:17 AM  
Blogger Megan Carroll said...

In my first year of Art History, we were presented with the "This is not a pipe", I hadn't heard the oral fixation theory before, but that is certainly not a pipe either. Without 4 yrs of school I would not be able to think as critically as I do now and for that reason I miss the academic environment. The institution is a great place for people to come together and share discourse. However, I am also of the opinion that 'it' (the institution) can only teach you so much and that it can hamper ones ability to think out side the box, conversations get boring if everyone agrees. There are those who believe that they don't need to draw what they 'see' that they can intellectualize it and it will be great art with out learning the process of 'seeing' what is really there.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Hi Ed -- hope all is well and those powerful colors of yours are singing on an easel somewhere... :-)

8:06 PM  

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