As I write this, I’m in bed watching a documentary called ‘The Trials of Henry Kissinger.’ This is based on the book of the same name by Christopher Hitchens. The proposition being that it is a case for a prosecution, charging Kissinger with crimes against humanity: The result of a man’s worldview being shaped by a desire for power, moulded through the destruction of innocent life rather than through acts of creation. Preceding this, I had watched a talk with Hitchens, which was mostly notable for his comments on the human condition in relation to religion, namely that man has a desire to be ‘told what to do.’ However, as Blake said, there are some who do wish to shake off the ‘mind forged manacles.’
As I walked down by the riverside
One evening in the spring
Heard a long gone song
From days gone by
Blown in on the great North wind
Though there is no lonesome corncrake’s cry
Of sorrow and delight
You can hear the cars
And the shouts from bars
And the laughter and the fights
May the ghosts that howled
Round the house at night
Never keep you from your sleep
May they all sleep tight
Down in hell tonight
Or wherever they may be
From this, I consider six paintings I had been looking at earlier in the day:
More than any other form of human expression, art is the barometer that lays bare a period’s view of reality, of life, of man. A work of art reflects its creator’s fundamental ideas and value-judgments, held consciously or subconsciously. Since most artists are not independent theoreticians, but absorb their basic ideas from the prevaling consensus (or some faction within it), their work becomes a microcosm embodying and helping to spread further the kinds of beliefs advocated by that consensus.
‘The Spiritual form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan.’ Man as a tyrannical warmonger in the biblical style. This one strikes me as being absurdly ironic. The destroyer as a saint. One could imagine a more modern inversion of this with someone like Kissinger. Incidentally, Leviathan appears in the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Job is an investigation of divine justice, which we will get to, momentarily.
‘Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils.’ This is an interesting painting. God is the creator of all things. God is the creator of Satan. Thus, there can no good or evil, as all is the creation of God, and all of God’s creation is good. There is an interesting passage in the New Testament. One also, that the cynic in me finds highly amusing. Paul to the Romans 11:32. ‘God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that he may have mercy on all.’ The concept of Hell, doesn’t appear in the Old Testament, it only appears in the New Testament. If there is to be a Hell, it can only be an extension of God’s creation and be entirely, mercifully of God’s own design. We move to the design image when we can begin to see God in all things. Further to this, Balzac said, Man is neither good nor bad; he is born with instincts and capabilities; society, far from depraving him, asserts and improves him, makes him better; but self-interest also develops his evil tendencies. Out of this, man created organised religion, which is a complete system for the repression of these very tendencies. It is also the most powerful element of social order. Curiously, therefore, from our view, Christianity can be considered both the best and worst thing to happen to the West. For example, Christianity created modern nationalities, and it is through Christianity that they are preserved. All the Gods have died of their temporality. So what will happen when these shackles of organised religion and the social order it brings are shaken off? History has shown, man will just create new ones in their place. This might be considered unfortunate. History is, or ought to be, what it was; while romance ought to be the ‘better world.’ For everything to stay the same, everything must change.
It was very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that. He tried to think what a big thought that must be; but he could only think of God. God was God’s name just as his name was Stephen. Dieu was the French for God and that was God’s name too; and when anyone prayed to God and said Dieu then God knew at once that it was a French person that was praying. But, though there were different names for God in all the different languages in the world and God understood what all the people who prayed said in their different languages, still God remained always the same God and God’s real name was God.
This is the inversion of the theme. Where woman is god and is responsible for all of creation and its manifestations. This one has its roots in the Garden of Eden, where the original sin was human consciousness. Woman as the giver of life is therefore responsible for the creation of consciousness. From reading the Old Testament, what I have taken from it is that Genesis symbolically represents the birth of human consciousness. Specifically, the tree and the apple represent the foundation of the central nervous system – further to this, consciousness and the ability to abstract is what separates man from nature, and that is the sin in the Garden of Eden. The separation of humans from nature via consciousness. We can try and impose order over nature with words and symbols but it isn’t possible to do so. Thus, ironically, it is our hunger for knowledge and desire to understand that causes us to lose touch with the essence. Incidentally this is also why I have an abiding interest in Taoism, because Taoism gives the reason why that it is. God is ineffable. It is impossible for any human to understand and know the divine source. We can only use symbols as a way to allow us a glimpse of the true essence of the divine. Hence in Taoism, once you refer to the Tao as Tao, it ceases to be the real Tao as words are purely man made constructs and symbols, thus they can never capture the true essence of a thing.
Here is more of my favourite theme: ‘The Promise’ and ‘The Sleeping Fool’ by Cecil Collins. Here we see the artist beneath the tree of life, the dawning of consciousness and the act of creation. Or, again, man as god or as the creator, through his art.
Here we have ‘Landscape of the Threshold’ by Cecil Collins. This one interested me as in this painting, the Holy Trinity act as a barrier to reaching the divine Godhead. Of course, despite the apparent protestations of the trinity here, the Godhead is always present. Heaven wheels above you, displaying to you her eternal glories, and still your eyes are on the ground. The Trinity appears across most world religions and philosophies. For example, in Taoism, the trinity comes in the form of the three treasures or, the three jewels which are compassion, frugality and humility. In Tibetan Buddhism there are three refuge formulations, the Outer, Inner, and Secret forms of the Three Jewels. The ‘Outer’ form is the ‘Triple Gem,’ the ‘Inner’ is the Three Roots and the ‘Secret’ form is the ‘Three Bodies’ or trikaya of a Buddha.