People have two intrinsic desires; to know themselves and to find a place in their environment. We constantly search for better ways, a clearer image of who we are and continuously try to place that projection of ourselves into society and our environment at large.
But a lot of us make a grave mistake when conducting our search. A mistake we might not even recognise, but that defines and ultimately controls our inability to find our true way in life.
Predominantly it is the artists of any society that are at the vanguard of this exploration of self and as such at the mercy of the powers that command it. We do not adhere to any group, we do not belong to any tribe or to any one people, not even to those of our own kind — the other artists among us. We are the outsiders that dare to venture into the unknown, and look at society from the outside in.
In nature, the understanding of any closed system is done by observing it from the outside, never as part of the system itself. Because only when any happening is observed as a whole, does the observer have the ability to glimpse the intricate details of form and function that occur inside of it and that give it substance.
As the astronaut that ventures into space is usually struck with the totality of what our planet really is — and more importantly what it isn’t, namely neither the centre nor the entirety of existence, merely a speck of dust in the eyes of the ineffable universe — is he or she able to begin to understand the bigger picture.
Detail is of course important, without it life becomes dull, mechanical and empty of its essence, but similarly as is seen when we might first learn how to draw a portrait — when we begin not with the eyelashes and freckles of a face, but the crude form and shape of its entirety.
When we start to observe ourselves and begin exploring our bodies and minds, we therefore start to ponder what we think is the entirety of the universe. The newly born child cannot fathom the existence of anything beyond itself, even the mother is part of it, the same way its hands and feet are its own.
Only when the infant is taken from her, in the initial stages of its upbringing and the bond between mother and child is made physically more distant — for example when she puts the infant into its bed or when she has to leave for a longer period of time and the infant is left to its own — does this dream of being one with everything in the world begin to break.
Cracks in the surface of the known begin to appear and the child encounters immense pressure and resistance towards the fact that all it thought and felt was but an illusion. That the unbreakable bond between mother and child is but that, a bond made not of flesh and blood, but energy and perception, grounded deep inside the structure of both of their bodies but not physically connected as a whole.
While this energy or emotion cannot be explained by pure language, the same way love and hate cannot be drawn up in a diagram, other means of comprehension take place. The child will feel this bond, but never be able to fully explain it in such a fashion that would do it justice.
They say artists are people that were able to keep their inner child alive and attentive throughout their upbringing well into the age of adulthood. But what they sparsely mention is the actual power that such a person possesses inside of themselves.
Others, who “grew up” and melted effortlessly with their surrounding (small as it may be, compared to the entirety that life is able to offer us), usually lose this connection with their inner child, they give up their ability of attentiveness and are never really able to experience the power of reconstruction that those of us, those that kept our childlike awe, are able to command.
There really are only two basic human needs; expansion and the desire to overcome entropy. All beings need to expand as this is their basic purpose, their base code or their core instinct. It does not really matter what we choose to call this urge, that all of our personalities are built upon, the important fact is that we come to understand the nature and importance of this driver.
In the end it is the main force that makes us wake up in the morning and choose to go to work, rather than sleep, eat and copulate until we can no more. And when we truly understand the nature of this essence, we are able to control it.
While most people who forgot or stopped cultivating this power and perspective of the world would believe that it is their minds that are in the driver’s seat — manoeuvring the slippery slopes of life and guiding them to whatever they believe is their purpose (if indeed they have even begun asking this complex and important question) — the reality is, the conscious mind is but the servant of the body.
The real drivers are emotion, instinct and reaction.
While our minds begin their journeys as godlike totalities, as if everything is one and we are indeed everything there is, our bodies never behave in such a fashion. The lungs do not operate as a single system, dislocated form the heart or kidneys; all organs function as one unity and only through this reciprocity are we even able to stay alive.
In order to do so, all parts need to function on the basis that they are always connected, always in tune with the rest of the orchestra that plays the symphony of life that we call our bodies. If one part looses rhythm or is out of tune, the whole system suffers; an acid reflux does not only hinder the absorption of nutrients into the body, it makes the whole system unbalanced and destroys it over a longer period of time, eventually to the point where it cannot function anymore.
This is the reason why the holistic approach to life, happiness, health etc. worked so well in the past. Of course issues like the inability of many practitioners of holistic medicine to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries hinders their success in today’s society and throws a bad light upon them, marking them as charlatans or delusional hippies.
And this misunderstanding is what interests me a lot, as who else is the charlatan, the hippie, the outsider that still believes in fairytales and energies if not the artist? And as the contemporary healer that wishes to evade being called a fake, they must learn both the formal and functional aspect of the bodies they are studying.
Form is what reality seems to be. It is the embodiment of reciprocity; how a particular part of life is shaped and out of what materials, defines its ability to interact with all the other parts of the system it is part of.
The importance of anatomy, of colour theory and perspective for us artists, the indispensable knowledge of chemistry, nutrition, biology for medical practitioners and all the other fields of study that each profession is built upon — these are the materials with which we gain knowledge and power to interact with the systems we are part of. And only by knowing the form of the objects we encounter in life, the true essence of what they are capable of, can we begin to explore their functions.
Function, in contrast to form, is not inherent to nature; nothing in reality is ever made with a purpose or a certain plan of how it will be used. It’s our hubris and our impeded mode of operation that makes it seem as if all the life that surrounds us was made for a purpose, when in fact nothing is.
But this isn’t a melancholic or depressed observation upon the world, merely an objective assessment. We are programmed to see purpose in everything we do, because it is this ability that has secured our evolution into the most advanced species on our planet.
It is not something that is inherently false or a lie, because it is one of the most indispensable traits of human kind — our ability to see function in form is beyond anything in the world, and while this ability is present in most other animals, it varies in effect from species to species.
While a mockingbird will see function in sticks and other various debris when it is guided by instinct to build a nest, the ape will see the stick as a tool for hunting termites. We, on the other hand, will see potential firewood, or a tool to help us climb or walk or kill.
And yet, the stick stays the same object throughout its usage, its form does not change, because form does not command function, it merely provides the ability to embody it.
Function on the other hand is an illusion, a fleeting moment of any objects existence, projected upon it by the being that is interacting with it. Function is born out of perception and attention.
A quick stroll through a garden will provide little focus and merely an average amount of attention will be given to ones surroundings; the plant life may be examined to find the most suitable path to be taken, the flowers may be observed for their colour and shape, and beauty could even be found radiating from them, but the true form of the various plants, animals and other inanimate objects like stones and the earth beneath them will elude us.
Only if we stop and take our time and focus our attention on each singular piece of mater that resides in the garden will we be able to venture further into our understanding and explore the reality of the garden in more depth.
Rules and systems will appear; Darwin found incredible connections between the various species that resided on the Galapagos islands only by intently studying them and focusing his attention. Where a fisherman may see only the size of their pray, the type of fish and its ability to be eaten safely without causing harm to his body, Darwin saw a lot more.
From the various colourings of scales, different shapes of the head and fins to the slightest divergencies among the species he was studying — nothing was left unobserved, and nothing was deemed unimportant.
Only when function is not projected upon an object via any utilitarian demands of the object, to be assimilated into any already existing system — like the way coal is seen as fuel for the steam engine, wood as material for a wardrobe or table — only if all utilitarian aspects and preconceptions are put aside and pure fascination begins to take precedent, can the totality of form be revealed.
This is where artists operate and where the true function and power of art resides. Without the need to consume the material that surrounds us, only to play with it and learn of its form can we actually discover its true nature.
We question reality by exhibiting chairs as physical objects, as written statements and as flat images on silver halide paper, we create forms that never seem to really serve any actual purpose, merely serving themselves, exposing themselves in their true, natural from.
A form without function.
This is pure self exploration, pure observation without interference and as the nature of the human mind is to always interfere, always project its needs and wants upon the world, it is incredibly hard to produce.
Not that making an object without function is hard, one needs to merely take a stroll in the wild to find innumerable amounts of functionless objects; from the trees and bushes to the stones, leaves and dirt that are scattered around the forest. Nothing has any purpose, merely form.
The true issue is not with the matter that creates reality, but with the spectator that observes and egotistically judges it on the merit of functionality. This is why the most important element of any artistic object is the spectator, not the object itself nor the artist that made it.
If those that view and experience art cannot let go and do not possess the necessary mental tools of observation needed to truly try to comprehend the artistic experience, they will falter and end up seeing what they want to see, not what is really there.
A painting of a single boat in stormy seas is not just a depiction of a boat and of a sea, but it also isn’t merely a metaphor for perseverance, resistance or entropy either. Neither is it just a collection of pigments and oils or plastics, smeared skilfully onto a woven piece of cloth that has been stretched onto a wooden frame.
It is all of the above and innumerable things more, all at the same time. While the average mind may not be able to discern more than a few traits of the material, the skilled and knowledgable spectator will see more — but never the entirety.
Because, even if we’d like to, we cannot delight in seeing the world as it is, we cannot just decide not to observe matter without the embedded functions we project onto it and take pleasure in it, and thus we never really see reality for what it is.
Not because it’s impossible to look at a stone and only see a stone, but because seeing a stone as what it really is does not provide us with any stimulation, excitement or even interest.
Reciprocity, as the base stimuli of any being is guided by emotion, by all the various receptors in our body, the myriad of hormones, nerves and other cells reciprocating and communicating with each other in order to provide us with the incredibly necessary information about our surroundings.
Information, that alerts us about danger, food and other vital traits of our surroundings that we as beings need to be constantly aware of, in order for us to function and survive the clutches of entropy for as long as we can.
But even such rudimentary perception as reciprocity — the ability to perceive, experience and react on a purely emotional level — does not show reality for what it is, because even our existence as beings is a force; we are never still, our minds constantly demand growth, change, anything at all to not be bored.
Boredom or a lack of stimulation kills the mind and as such, our perception projects function onto reality in order to be able to function properly inside of it. Without this projection we could not see the use of anything, we could to imagine what a spoon is for or why one would wan to own and drive a car. All functions would elude us and with them we would lose all of our control over nature and life itself.
Try an experiment and seek to experience any object in your surroundings by only looking or feeling it intently while emptying your mind of any thought about the experience itself. You may get images, that pop into your mind about its shape, your feelings towards it (especially if it is dear to you or holds any other emotional value, that is specific to you).
Whatever the effect that object has on your thinking, let your thoughts wander away the same way they came — like waves of ideas, slowly subsiding back into the unconsciousness and focus on keeping the sea of the mind absolutely still.
You will still feel the object, you will still reciprocate its shape, when you touch it. You will still smell its scent when it is near enough and all of your other senses will still operate and provide information about it, reacting constantly but never really exposing its true materiality, only your ability to respond to the various stimuli that you can physically experience and comprehend.
Pure form cannot be seen, because it is hidden beneath all the various layers of ideology, utilitarianism and even our own biological functions of perception. This doesn’t mean though that the ideas of prominent thinkers like Kant are true and that reality is invisible to us; we all see reality, we all experience matter and time and we do so truthfully to the extent of our abilities.
The illusion that one can never really see reality does not lay in the observation, but in the lack of one. We may feel and think about a certain trait as if we understood it, but are never able to really grasp the meaning of it. It changes constantly and when we change — and with us our desires, wants, wishes and demands of life — objective reality changes with us. The function of reality changes.
Only by understanding deeply that reality bears no function to itself, only form for the sake of form and its capacity to be, can we actually see reality. And such a reality is completely empty. Void of anything but itself.
This is what Buddhism teaches about the path to attaining enlightenment, and what all other religions in their own fashion and style preach about the highest understanding of ourselves. But it is also what many of us artists are constantly searching for.
And this is where the conversation about finding your place and making a stand actually begins, because even though power and understanding are so disparate, most of us never get to grasp the real differences and struggle all of our lives crudely grasping for both, but attain neither.