Archive for kabbalah

Max Beckmann on the Artist and Danger

Max Beckmann Triptic
Max Beckmann is one of my favorite artists. I grew up a few blocks from the LA County Art Museum and there was an utterly stunning Beckmann show at some point during my childhood. Such a revelation! I sensed something in those paintings, a deep connectedness that I yearned for in my own life. As a child I felt these paintings were holding my hand leading me someplace I dearly wanted to go. Beckmann describes his work this way:

What I want to show in my work is the idea which hides itself behind so-called reality. I am seeking for the bridge which leads from the visible to the invisible, like the famous Cabbalist who once said:’If you wish to get hold of the invisible, you must penetrate as deeply as possible into the visible.” To penetrate is to go through. (p. 94)

This quote is from a wonderful book, Max Beckmann and the Self by Wendy Beckett. Another quote which struck me forcibly is:

[drawing] protects one against death and danger. (p.28)

Of course, and thankfully, there is no escape from physical death, but death by failure to live and danger are another matter. The idea that making art can protect the artist rings true to me. Certainly drawing helped be battle a fear which was over powering my life.

When an artist isn’t creating they loose their connection to the Divine and their connection to the physical word. They their life force and the resulting fear and /or depression deprive the artist of the their ability to act. For the artist, there is only a shadow life without art. Their life becomes about damming up the Divine creative wellspring instead being a channel for it to flow through. The artist loses their trust in the world, their ability to see and act for their own higher good. This ultimately drives them to make poor choices and poor choices bring danger.

If the artist does their work, they form as Beckmann puts it, a bridge, a deep connection between heaven and earth. This happens in the present moment, a mystical space which is always here for us to tap into:

O living always, always dying!
O the burials of me past and present,
O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever;
O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not, I am content;)
O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, which I turn and
look at where I cast them,
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the corpses behind.
Walt Whitman

This is the state where art is created, sacred space and in which we are connected to our true Home. A sense of trust and goodness permeates us. All is right with the world. Connection to this state allows us to make clear decisions for our own highest good. It allow us to travel uncharted paths safely and this the artist true job: to chart the uncharted. Although it may feel more dangerous actually leads us out of danger.

Reading up on Spiritual Artists

Alex Grey paintingI’ve decided to expand my reading list. I’m never going to abandon the succor of the medieval mystics, but I just ordered a dozen books by and on modern & contemporary spiritual artists. The first to arrive is Alex Grey’s The Mission of Art. Grey is an interesting artist who charts the spiritual energies of the human body in a very technical way (see image on right). His work has value and power, but much of it seems very cerebral and controlled. I don’t believe God can be controlled so I am excited to see what he has to say. I’ll report promptly, but for now, he begins his book with this amazing quote from Beethoven:

There is no loftier mission than to approach the Godhead nearer than other people, and to disseminate the divine rays among humanity.

Beethoven’s work is so clearly suffused with the Divine. However, I’ve always questioned the metaphor of traveling nearer to the Godhead. The early Kabbalists used this idea interestingly. They meditated on the chariot of Ezekiel to make the mystical ascent to God. I guess because I suffer from over thinking this metaphor, beautiful as it is, engages my brain too much. I would rather say removing the veils or polishing the mirror to reflect the Divine more clearly. How’s that for cheek- arguing with a genius!

The Moonlight Sonata