Category Archives: Art

“STJ 86: Taste and Bee” – Process & Theology

This art piece – STJ 86: Taste and Bee – thinks through Anglican, Sarah Coakley’s, articulation of desire in a Mennonite context. Here are a few slightly edited excerpts of an essay I wrote for professor Jeremy Bergen this year at Grebel Uni.:

STJ 86 Taste and Bee

“STJ 86: Taste and Bee” by Lisa Obirek, December 2015

5 reduction linocut on stonehenge paper with added media: water soluble oil, paint pens, raw bees wax, nail polish, gold leaf

This piece is called a “print” and fits within the broader artistic medium of “printmaking.” The more specific term for this particular print is called a five-reduction linocut. This means I use a traditional piece of rubbery linoleum which is essentially just heated up linseed oil and I carve designs into the same block of linoleum in five different stages.  I use carving tools that are similar to traditional wood carving tools on a smaller scale. These carving tools have different ends, or “bits,” that make their own distinct cuts into the linoleum. Continue reading “STJ 86: Taste and Bee” – Process & Theology

Merleau-Ponty on “finished” works of art and other matters

My (recently footnoted) series on idolatry owes much to Merleau-Ponty. This is particularly the case in regards to my distinction between ‘finished’ and ‘completed’ works of art. For any interested readers and for further elucidation I’ve provided some of the relevant passages from Merleau-Ponty here. Continue reading Merleau-Ponty on “finished” works of art and other matters

Dylan the icon: a concluding footnote to the idolatry of genius

You never turned around to see the frowns

On the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you

You never understood that it ain’t no good

You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you

You used to be so amused

At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used

Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse

When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose

You’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal

A few years ago at the Winnipeg Folk Festival I was struck when three of my favourite performers on three separate occasions remarked that the only reason they were on the road making music was because of Dylan and the impact he had made on them. To me this announced the clear influence Dylan continues to command in much of the music making world. Even more striking, however, was the fact that those three performers were quite different from each other (different nationalities, genders, and of course musical genres and styles) and none sounded particularly Dylanesque. This impressed me: in an almost singular way it seemed that Dylan inspired musicians and at the same time inspired them to become distinct artists themselves rather than imitators. Continue reading Dylan the icon: a concluding footnote to the idolatry of genius

Jacek Yerka

I have a hard time really engaging in stationary visual art. I have to actively pursue interest in order to experience much that is interesting. Maybe that’s fine. Maybe not. But These fantasy paintings by Jacek Yerka engage me without any work on my part. I love the dialogue between the grand and the minute — small scale: books on a shelf. Large scale: they hold back a reservoir of water (knowledge). Small scale: lights of a city. Large scale: a volcano. It makes me think a little bit about a line from the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It goes something like this.

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

The significance of a star is not what it is made of, but how it is integrated into our lives. So on one scale: a star is a bunch of burning gas, on another, it can show the way out of a storm. And every time we look up at that star, we are reminded of what we owe it.

Here is the site where I discovered the work of Yerka.

The appearing of Heidegger’s beings in Badiou’s set theory.

Color shines and wants only to shine. When we analyze it in rational terms by measuring its wavelengths, it is gone. It shows itself only when it remains undisclosed and unexplained. Earth thus shatters every attempt to penetrate it. It causes every merely calculating importunity upon it to turn into a destruction. This destruction may herald itself and the appearance of mastery and of progress in the form of the technical-scientific objectifivation of nature, but this mastery nevertheless remains an impotence of will. The earth appears openly cleared as itself only when it is perceived and preserved as that which is essentially undisclosable, that which is shrinks from every disclosure and constantly keeps itself closed up.

[Die Farbe leuchtet auf und will nur leuchten. Wenn wir sei verständig messend in Schwingungszahlen zerlegen, ist sie fort. Sie zeigt sich nur, wenn sie neentborgen und unerklärt bleibt. Die Erde läßt so jedes Eindringen in sie an ihr selbst zerschellen. Sie läßt jede nur rechnerische Zudringlichkeit in eine Zerstörung umschlage. Mag diese den Schein einer Herrschaft und des Fortschritts vor sich hertragen in der Gestalt der technischwissenschaftlichen Vergegenständlichen der Natur, diese Herrschaft bleibt doch eine Ohnmacht des wollens. Offen gelichtet als sie selbst erscheint die erde nur, wo sie die wesenhaft Unerschließbare gewahrt und bewahrt wird, die vor jeder Erschließung zurürckweicht und d. h. ständig sich verschlossen halt.]

Here we see Heidegger making a statement about how the earth truly reveals itself. It reveals itself only when it is presented as undisclosed and uncalculated. When a painting or waterfall is reduced to wavelengths, it ceases to work upon one’s everyday experience of beings. It becomes one set of wavelengths among many, and no wavelength more important than the other, except as it pertains to the domination of nature. If all things are reduced to objective particles, then they cease to work upon our experience as they should, that is, as beings revealed. Beings revealed are those that work upon our view of things and give things their shine, like a Greek temple which reveals beings as they are and how they relate to us and to the temple, and vice versa. In contrast, the kind of calculation that he is talking about is one that seeks to dominate nature. It seeks to bend things to the human’s will to power. “Do I want this? Yes, then I will do it since all things are, are a bunch of particles and have no importance beyond that.Thus, I see all things as particles, as resources, waiting to be gotten by me.” — instead of beings that shine.

Let’s turn to Badiou. Badiou recognizes, and he thinks most agree with him, that Heidegger is the last recognized philosopher. Furthermore, Badiou is constantly in dialogue with him and grapples with his thought almost at every turn. Badiou also incorporates mathematics (the most rigorous form of making distinctions/calculations) into his own ontology (Being and Event) – something that has never been done before. at least with such rigor, that is. The result is often one that is less than inspiring. Often, when one reads Badiou, one gets an overwhelming sense of a cold calculative disposition towards the world (see Clayton Crockett’s critique — a rather superficial one, I think). But this is a gross misreading of Badiou. It misses Badiou’s constant praise of the poetic and the phenomenal. It would not be too brutal a statement, or proposal, to say that Badiou is a staunch Heideggerarian who has been able to incorporate a productive understanding of calculation.

I propose that Heidegger is misusing the term “calculation.” Or rather, he is giving it a bad name. What Heidegger is talking about is not really so much calculation as such. He is attacking a particular way of viewing beings. A particular kind of calculation. No doubt painters can be said to be calculating as they paint, or composers as they compose, or writers as they write. Each of them must focus in on certain aspects of composition at certain times of importance. They can organize material according to large structures, or small ones depending on how they are calculating, or in set theory/Badiou language: “how they are counting.”

Set theory does not calculate beings in the pejorative sense that Heidegger is addressing, but, in fact, it simply organizes them. It never presumes to reduce anything to a number. Things (or sets) gain their existence by being in a relationship with other things. In other words, set theory functions according to axioms and not according to defining, at bottom, what a being is. Set theory is a system of relations. It is not ‘out to dominate nature.’

So, is Badiou’s use of set theory too calculative, too nature-dominating? I propose that it is not. I propose that it merely organizes beings in terms of importance. And, is this not what art is? Is this not what Heidegger demands of the artist – to organize beings according to what is important?

The Idolatry of Genius, part 2

If what we tend to call genius is idolatry, can there be any authentic creation? If, as I suggested in my previous post, our geniuses are better thought of as workers, again and again making an effort at an incomplete expression while enmeshed in a world of influences and indebtedness, is there only ever context? Geniuses are those who break with convention, define a new era, and pull free from the world’s determining strings. They are where we can find what is new; they are the innovators, visionaries, and pioneers. At their most profound geniuses are those whose creations create, sustain, and define a world, rather than the world defining them. If we say that this image of genius is an idol, a perfect image held in front of us that thwarts good work, can we still claim a genuine and generative power in art? In this post, I hope to begin to indicate a way forward with Jean-Luc Marion’s descriptions of the icon. Continue reading The Idolatry of Genius, part 2

The Idolatry of Genius, part one

We’ve had some discussion recently on genius and the possibility for authentic art. Most recently, Lisa (using Woolf) called the term “genius” into question, suggesting that it does not adequately account for the extent to which those reckoned “great artists” are in debt to those who came before (teachers, colleagues, mentors) and to the social conditions that made possible their position as an artist. In this way, genius functions as a sort of privileged male illusion that allows the most indebted to consider themselves self-sufficient and authentically creative because of their self-sufficiency. I agree with Lisa’s critique and would like to push it further. I want to use Jean-Luc Marion’s analysis of the idol to suggest that much of what we consider the marks of “genius” indicates idolatry and illusion. Nevertheless, I would still like to claim that not all art is absolutely determined by a stifling immanence; in other words, that there is more to art than its context. To do this, in part two, I will draw on Marion’s understanding of the icon. Continue reading The Idolatry of Genius, part one

Pascal on greatness and vanity

I’m currently working on some further thoughts on genius, in response to Lisa and Joel. It will probably be a few days yet, as I’m currently scrambling to complete grad school applications by their Feb. 1 deadlines. So, for now, here’s a great quip from Pascal that speaks nicely to some of the problems with pursuing genius – at least, to the extent that our conceptions of genius are linked to an achievement of glory. Enough of me. Here’s Pascal.

“That something so obvious as the vanity of the world should be so little recognized that people find it odd and surprising to be told that it is foolish to seek greatness; that is most remarkable.”

Woolf on “genius”

The rhetoric of Genius is a tricky thing. What constitutes genius? Some kind of transcendence where authorial context  need not be considered? What kind of spaces are required for someone create a work of genius? On this blog, I’ve read about the genius according to Proust and Madmen. All this is to say, the language of genius doesn’t sit neutral with me and it appears to carry some weight with both Joel and Gerald.

On the silliness and sadness of genius Virginia Woolf writes this piece describing what it might have looked like if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius:

Let me imagine, since facts are so hard to come by, what would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say. Shakespeare himself went, very probably — his mother was an heiress — to the grammar school, where he may have learnt Latin — Ovid, Virgil and Horace — and the elements of grammar and logic. He was, it is well known, a wild boy who poached rabbits, perhaps shot a deer, and had, rather sooner than he should have done, to marry a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than was right. That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had, it seemed, a taste for the theatre; he began by holding horses at the stage door. Very soon he got work in the theatre, became a successful actor, and lived at the hub of the universe, meeting everybody, knowing everybody, practising his art on the boards, exercising his wits in the streets, and even getting access to the palace of the queen. Meanwhile his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers. They would have spoken sharply but kindly, for they were substantial people who knew the conditions of life for a woman and loved their daughter — indeed, more likely than not she was the apple of her father’s eye. Perhaps she scribbled some pages up in an apple loft on the sly but was careful to hide them or set fire to them. Soon, however, before she was out of her teens, she was to be betrothed to the son of a neighbouring woolstapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in this matter of her marriage. He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat, he said; and there were tears in his eyes. How could she disobey him? How could she break his heart? The force of her own gift alone drove her to it. She made up a small parcel of her belongings, let herself down by a rope one summer’s night and took the road to London. She was not seventeen. The birds that sang in the hedge were not more musical than she was. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager — a fat, loose-lipped man — guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting — no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted — you can imagine what. She could get no training in her craft. Could she even seek her dinner in a tavern or roam the streets at midnight? Yet her genius was for fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women and the study of their ways. At last — for she was very young, oddly like Shakespeare the poet in her face, with the same grey eyes and rounded brows — at last Nick Greene the actor-manager took pity on her; she found herself with child by that gentleman and so — who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body? — killed herself one winter’s night and lies buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle.

That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius.

From Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Chapter 3.