Aesthetics, Art, Artist, Bad Ideas, Dance, Drawings, Emotions, Erotic Dance, Literature, Movies and Film, Music, Paintings, Performance Arts, Photography, Poetry, Sculpture, Self-Pity, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing

Even Artists are Human. Even Artists.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  Paul’s thoughts on the notion that artists feel things more deeply than other folks.

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THE CRITICS ROAR: “Sunstone’s ‘Artists’ post puts me in mind of 1975 when the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco lingered on his death bed for weeks before having the proper decency to exit the world and take his damnable evil with him.  ‘Artists’ is by most common measures a short blog post, but Sunstone nevertheless manages to make it a long one.  You soon find yourself praying for it to end. Praying hard for it to end.” — Gus “Gunning Gus” Johnson, The Blog Critic’s Column, “Leper’s Gulch Gazette”, Leper’s Gulch, Colorado, USA.

Continue reading “Even Artists are Human. Even Artists.”

Art, Cultural Change, Culture, Dance, Drawings, Human Nature, Literature, Movies and Film, Music, Paintings, Performance Arts, Photography, Poetry, Quality of Life, Sculpture, Society, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing

Will They Bring With Them the Poets?

SUMMARY: Reflections on the future of humanity.

(About a 7 minute read)

I read a post yesterday on Bojana’s blog that got me thinking about the future of humanity.  That’s a topic that is more or less always in the back of my mind, but which I seldom write about.

I seldom write about it largely because it’s such a complex topic that I’m not sure what can be said about it that might someday more or less pan out as true.  Bojana’s approach to the topic was a pretty sound one — she mulled over her observations of her toddler and his friends as they were playing together.  The future, of course, begins with how we raise our kids.

Continue reading “Will They Bring With Them the Poets?”

Alienation, Art, Artist, Authenticity, Authoritarianism, Dance, Emotions, Guest Authors, Life, Literature, Movies and Film, Music, Oppression, Performance Arts, Photography, Poetry, Political and Social Alienation, Political Issues, Politics, Quality of Life, Sculpture, Serafia Alho, Society, Talents and Skills, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing

Creativity and the Artist

a-guest-post-by-serafia-alhoNote to Readers from Paul Sunstone: 

Serafia Alho is an amazing Finnish author and blogger who I have for some time wished would do a guest post for Café Philos.  Today, she has made my wish come true.  I am excited to post here a piece she’s written exclusively for this blog, and which explores in moving, almost poetic prose both the creative process as experienced by an artist, and the challenge to that creativity posed by the darkening clouds of our times. Please welcome her!

What does it mean to create?

To create is to experience pain: it’s a deep discontent with the world in its current state. To the artist, the only way to relieve that pain is to put everything aside and to focus all their skill and energy on mending it, either succeeding in their task or continuing to try until the magnitude of the task kills them. This is why many artists drink.

To them, every day is another wrestling match against the giant known as imperfection, and they’re constantly troubled by their inability to realize their vision — tormented by the feeling of muteness that comes with seeing something, but being unable to translate it to any other living being. Sometimes what they’re trying to achieve presents itself to them like a mirage in the middle of a desert — possibly attainable, but so intangible that only the foolhardy set out to seek it. Yet they do, because they have no other choice than to do so.

Art is fueled by emotion, and a member of the audience can catch a glimpse of that, however fleetingly, when being faced by an artwork. It is what we look forward to in art, and though the receiver only rarely gets to experience the full force of what the artist had to endure for the work to get completed, we always wait for it and when it happens, we call it Great Art and celebrate it long after the artist is already dead — often consequentially marring it in the process of doing so. True art does not rely on historians or tour guides to explain itself to us: it imposes itself on you, grabs hold of you, and speaks for itself. That ability to bypass our defenses is exactly where some of the struggle of the artist stems from. How can a single human expel all that emotion? What sort of exorcism is required to drive the artist’s passion into a form that fittingly represents the thing itself, in a similar fashion an idol represents the divine manifestation of a being — not becoming the spirit, but being of the spirit, inextricably linked yet completely separate?

Some artists are born with the genius of being able to capture the essence of a thing simply by looking at it. However, most artists are forced to spend years training their hands, their eyes, their mind to bend to the task of shaping the unwilling materials they work with: partly reality itself, partly the human psyche, partly their chosen mediums like clay and paper. One single brush stroke holds within a thousand hours; one book carries a lifetime. The craft allows no cutting corners: there is no deity handing down ready-made artworks, and the effortlessness we associate with inspiration is nothing but a lie, designed to cloak the ugly mundanity of the time the artist spent unskilled, unnoticed, and mocked. We prefer to see the divinity, and take joy in perceiving the artist as something of a mystic: not quite human — and somehow not quite deserving of being one.

We think of art as cheap, perhaps because emotion is a renewable resource, and so are artists. We’ve become so desensitized to the thought of creation as an act of destruction that we think nothing of it when an artist breaks. Neither does the act of creation have any inherent value to us — only a completed artwork has meaning. The artist him- or herself naturally never thinks like this, nor would it be possible for him or her to. They know that most of the emotion, the underlying value of experiencing art, the emotion that elevates great art to true art, is burned up in the very kiln that makes the artist. The audience only ever sees what comes out from the oven, and they have no interest in the shards and pieces making up the bulk of what’s needed to create single artwork.

What then is an artist to do when their source of creative fuel is suddenly overtaken by an even greater emotion, one that chokes or even cripples them with such a force that even creation itself suddenly loses all its meaning? It does happen — it has happened — it’s currently happening all over the world when millions of people have had to face the looming sense of doom that is the US presidential election.

Best-selling authors have had to ask their publishers to move their deadlines. Projects are stalled, professional creators drink themselves to sleep. All their motivations suddenly in ashes, the small insignificancies in life they’ve set out to express suddenly uprooted by the very real, and very visible, wrongs going on right under all our noses. To some, it’s felt like the destruction of the world as they’ve known it.

Art grows best at the edges of life, not in the rocky ugliness of unbending realism, and so it’s no wonder so many creators are grinding to a standstill. The conventional advice given to artists in times of hardship is to integrate it into their creation: to ingest it, stem and all, and to keep creating whatever happens. In that sense, artists are the shamans of the modern day: they take upon themselves the poison that others are unable or unwilling to face, and through doing so they bring order out of chaos, good out of evil, and share it with the world.

But it’s a risky business, being a shaman. Although they alone are said to have the skills to travel to the Underworld, not all of them come back from there. It is a terrifying feeling when your work suddenly loses its meaning, especially if that work is only half complete. The feeling of importance is not a voluntary act, and it leaves us artists with only one of two options: to toss out the artwork out completely, or to change, to drink the poison despite knowing some of us are never coming back. Time and again the birth of new art movements have been in parallel with the turning points of history, and maybe this time will later be remembered as the starting point of a yet to be explored form of human expression, one that better reflects the sense of alarming immediacy now coursing through our social media.

Pain will always flow with and from creation. May some day, when time has passed, only the beauty be remembered.

Art, Conservative, Courage, Cultural Traits, Culture, Ethics, Harry Potter, Liberal, Literature, Loyalty, Meaning, Memes, Morals, Movies and Film, Politics, Progressive, Relationships, Religion, Science, Scientific Method(s), Society, Spirituality, Values, Writing

How Has Harry Potter Shaped Us?

Do you think it’s possible that the Harry Potter books and movies have shaped the world views of a generation or two?  If so, how have they shaped those world views?  But if not, why not?

I’m especially interested in four aspects of the question:

  • Ethics and Morals: Has the Harry Potter series formed or changed people’s ethics and morals?  Has it propagated British values? Has it placed more weight on loyalty and courage than on intelligence?
  • Science and Reason: What, if anything, has the Harry Potter series shaped or changed about people’s attitudes towards science, logic, and empirical evidence?  Has it undermined their significance?  Will the world see more or fewer scientists because of the series?
  • Religion and Spirituality:  Has the series shaped or changed anything about people’s religiosity or spirituality?  If so, what?
  • Politics: What, if anything, has the series shaped or changed about the Left/Right, Progressive/Conservative political conflict?  Has it moved anyone Left or Right on the spectrum?

I confess that I have not been paying attention to the series.  That’s not because I’m opposed to it, but because I lazy when it comes to reading fiction.  But a question on Doug’s blog got me very interested in the influence of Harry Potter on our society.  I would much appreciate your help understanding that influence.

Movies and Film

True Grit

After watching True Grit the other day, I agree with those who say the lead role is Mattie’s; Rooster and the others are her supporting actors.  I doubt that’s how the Academy Awards will see it, though.

I thought it was a good movie, by the way.

Literature, Movies and Film, Writing

What Accounts for the Extraordinary Popularity of the Millennium Trilogy?

Early afternoon on Saturday, Don and I were downtown waiting for the start of “The Girl who Played with Fire”.  As you might know, that’s the second movie in the Millennium Trilogy.  The first movie in the Trilogy is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, which Don and I had seen ten days before.  We passed our wait discussing the extraordinary worldwide popularity of the Trilogy and speculating about the reasons for that popularity.

The first book in the Millennium Trilogy came out in 2005 and the other two followed a year apart each.  The Trilogy was written by the Swedish author and journalist, Stieg Larsson.  Larsson had planned to write a series of ten books.  Unfortunately, he died in 2004 of a heart attack at age 50 with only three of his books finished and without his seeing even one of them published.

No one guessed how popular his books were to become.   The initial printing was a respectable 10,000 copies.  But, as of last May, 27,000,000 copies of the books have been sold worldwide.  In some small countries, it’s estimated that half of the adult population in those countries has read the Trilogy.

One peculiar effect of such popularity is that tourists are flocking to Stockholm, which is the main setting for the stories.  The influx has amounted to a 20% rise in tourism, and it’s being called “the Millennium Effect”.

So, on Saturday, Don and I had some time before the movie in which to speculate as to why the Trilogy is so popular.  And we came up with two reasons we thought most important.  First, the character of Lisbeth Salander.  Lisbeth Salander is a highly intelligent young woman with a photographic memory and a knack for hacking computer systems.  But more than that, she is an exceptionally strong person who has survived horrible abuse while fighting back and without allowing the abuse to destroy her.

Second, we think the two main characters (Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist) are underdogs and thus some of the Trilogy’s popularity is accounted for by the attraction that underdogs have for many people.

Well, that’s what Don and I have come up with to help explain the popularity of the series.   But why do you think it’s grown so popular?

Capitalism, Economic Crisis, Economics, Movies and Film, Politics

“Capitalism: A Love Story”

Early last week, I saw Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story.  There’s an excellent review of the movie at the blog, Naked Capitalism.

I would add that neither the film nor the review explicitly states this:  We Americans seem possessed by the notion that rich folks know better than poor folks how to run the country — or at least the economy.  The theory is rich folks have more experience running things.   On the other hand, rich folks seem pretty challenged just to make their own millions, let alone look out for the other guy.  But someone objects, “It’s no one’s job to look out for the other guy”?  Then that person knows less of politics than an elected dog catcher.  Political power largely proceeds from convincing people that you will work on behalf of their interests.