Nov 2 2011

#186 “The Mind of an Artist”

From Arantxa in Colombia

Perhaps the greatest attribute of true art is that it defies any sort of definitive description or analysis. Keeping this in mind, we may examine a work of art and spend hours pondering its mysteries and eventually walk away empty handed, but if nothing else, we have at least had the experience of a short session of deep thought. And truly any time spent pondering, thinking, and analyzing is not time wasted. Any time that we don our thinking caps and set our brains to work is time that is spent most productively, even if the answers to our questions always seem to reside just outside of our grasp.

Such is the case with the illustration on display today. The observer will probably reach for transcendental themes of a cosmic connection that runs through all creation. This idea would be based on the depiction of the mighty planets swirling in a celestial soup which is then juxtaposed with the simplicity of the howling wolf and the evergreen tree. But there’s no real proof to back up this assessment, and even if this notion is true, it still only refers to the subject matter and not necessarily the message. Who knows what’s being said here? Maybe this piece is a commentary on our desire to explore the furthest reaches of the universe while still remaining rooted to this planet we call our home. Maybe the goal is to produce a feeling of unity between heaven and earth or to call into question traditionally held views of man’s place in the grand scheme of things.

Who can read the mind of an artist? It seems at times to be a pleasantly impossible task, for the mind of an artist is a thing capable of producing great beauty as well as images that are so disturbing that they may keep us from sleeping at night. The mind of an artist may be a place of playful whimsy or great seriousness. It may push boundaries. It may comfort us. It may teach us lessons or cause us to question. And in the end, the variety of its powers is the truest representation of its strengths.

In a short email conversation I have had with Arantxa, she told me that she had used the music video below for the song “Six Wolves” by Let’s Buy Happiness as an inspiration for some of her pieces. I think that the video is a fitting accompaniment for this particular illustration and is just as mysteriously appealing.


Jul 25 2011

#86 “Space Wolf”

From Peter in Honolulu, Hawaii

The vastness of space and time has always been a little unsettling to me. I have a very vivid memory of sitting on the side of my bed as a child as tears streamed down my face. My mother, hearing or perhaps just sensing my concern, came and asked me what was wrong. I responded by saying that I was thinking of Heaven and that I was scared. The thought of living forever, of eternity, was something so unimaginable that I became overwhelmed with the thought of it. It was illogical and seemingly impossible.

But you needn’t breach the realm of religion or spirituality to encounter concepts that are beyond human comprehension. Think about space. Just think about it. Think about how large this universe is and how tiny it is compared to what may exist beyond it. This thought is so sobering that my wife often playfully refuses to look at pictures of the solar system. Simply put, she says that she is scared by the size of the planets and the universe and her size in relation to them. It might sound silly, but there is something to this notion, for we often fear what we don’t understand.

On a related note, I have recently begun to read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. At the conclusion of the first book, the man in black discusses this notion with the gunslinger. Here are the words of the man in black:

The greatest mystery the universe offers is not life but size. Size encompasses life, and the Tower encompasses size. The child, who is most at home with wonder, says: Daddy, what is above the sky? And the father says: The darkness of space. The child: What is beyond space? The father: The galaxy. The child: Beyond the galaxy? The father: Another galaxy. The child: Beyond the other galaxies? The father: No one knows.

You see? Size defeats us. For the fish, the lake in which he lives is the universe. What does the fish think when he is jerked up by the mouth through the silver limits of existence and into a new universe where the air drowns him and the light is blue madness? Where huge bipeds with no gills stuff it into a suffocating box abd cover it with wet weeds to die?

Or one might take the tip of the pencil and magnify it. One reaches the point where a stunning realization strikes home: The pencil tip is not solid; it is composed of atoms which whirl and revolve like a trillion demon planets. What seems solid to us is actually only a loose net held together by gravity. Viewed at their actual size, the distances between these atoms might become league, gulfs, aeons. The atoms themselves are composed of nuclei and revolving protons and electrons. One may step down further to subatomic particles. And then to what? Tachyons? Nothing? Of course not. Everything in the universe denies nothing; to suggest an ending is the one absurdity.

If you fell outward to the limit of the universe, would you find a board fence and signs reading DEAD END? No. You might find something hard and rounded, as the chick must see the egg from the inside. And if you should peck through the shell (or find a door), what great and torrential light might shine through your opening at the end of space? Might you look through and discover our entire universe is but part of one atom on a blade of grass? Might you be forced to think that by burning a twig you incinerate an eternity of eternities? That existence rises not to one infinite but to an infinity of them?

…and I will leave you with that. But not before offering a sincere thank you to Peter from Hawaii. You’ve touched infinity with this illustration, Peter. Now, there’s no going back.