Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 14

Buddhist Mandala
That the earliest exemplars of anything that even approaches the balance found in the Altamira boar are seventeenth century in the west and tenth century in the east is highly significant as is that the latest examples in the west appear around 1960. That, in contemporary times, there is nothing at all and this situation might be compared with that of the Medieval period is downright chilling.

While in the Medieval period, art was in the service of religion and not very good, today, art either continues the styles of previous art movements or is completely varied; is of far greater originality; and has little to no unconscious content. People actually expect paintings to have meanings that can be expressed in words. The Medieval art is subservient to religious dogma and today's art is subservient to irreligious dogma. Even the word "myth" is taken to mean "false".

When I first saw the slideshow of "looted" ancient art on this CBS site. I burst into laughter. Not a single object there is genuine. The mosaic is a really shoddy fake that would have had me laughing as much when I was fifteen years old, and one of the other items was likely a half decent souvenir shop item, but the rest are abysmally poor tourist souvenirs. Yet not one of its subscribed commentators spotted even a single fake and swallowed the story hook line and sinker. One fake almost got me when I was fifteen: it was a southern Italian red figure pot that seemed to me both right and wrong. I insisted that I would buy it only under the understanding that I could return it for a refund the same day. The British Museum told me that the pot was genuine, but the painting was modern It was quite well done at that). News organizations used to have fact checkers, apparently they do not do that anymore. I left a comment on this blog and its owner claims to teach at a university. As it is moderated, I am still waiting for my comment to appear. That was days ago, perhaps its owner is away somewhere. You would think, though, that he would actually ask someone before posting such a thing...

The psychological state of a society can be easily measured by the aesthetic content of its art, because aesthetics lies in an area of the unconscious which contains no language or any linear sort of system. It can thus not be tampered with by the con man because it will only transmit a vague feeling to even the most introverted artist. You can also measure the society's overall intelligence with that too. Art is considered "improper" by just about every religious fundamentalist group in the world, Yet religious fundamentalism does not even exist prior to the nineteenth century and in the time of the Bible not a single person would have imagined any religious story to be literal fact. They would have thought a person crazy to even think such a thing. No single story in the New Testament is even original. How could it be? it is a system based on metaphor alone. The psychology of the fundamentalist is actually the same as that of the atheistic skeptic who frequently says "There is no scientific evidence that..." They are both philosophical materialists who need solid things that they can count or measure and are very uncomfortable with anything else. It is as if they only possess just half a mind.

But why East and West? You will never guess. We will start that tomorrow. Also, good news! Two Chinese men collaborated on a translation of the poem on the painting by Shi Ke. I had spoken to one of them on the weekend, and my friend Robert had printed up the poem and we had arranged that the man I spoke to who was one of Robert's customers, would go to his shop and attempt the translation. By a stroke of luck, another Chinese man, just recently from China, came into Robert's shop at that time and the two of them eagerly collaborated and debated on the best English words to use. They had to see the painting first. of course.  Some of the words have no direct English translation at all. They came to an agreement, but neither of them could quite understand the poem because they knew nothing of Chán Buddhism.

Chinese is a contextual and holistic language. One word can mean many things, and meanings of complete phrases can only make real sense within the context of other phrases. Not only that, but an entire poem can provide little understanding without its philosophical viewpoint being understood. This latter problem is what happened with my two translators. They did such a good job with everything else though, that I understood the words and knowing what Chán Buddhism is all about, as Robert read their translation to me I understood it completely.

These were both very modern men, you see, and Chán Buddhism is very old. It started to change not long after the poem was written and it had become a different sort of Buddhism completely by the Ming. Also poems like this were often written by a much later owner of the scroll and that is also significant to its meaning. Mi Gyung Kim knows Chinese history before Chán Buddhism, and has a feel for earlier times and her translation, which she seems to think has some error is actually extremely close to the real meaning. I have to share it with her and some others too, before I give it here. I will give the exact translation and then attempt an English language equivalent without the metaphors of the original. It is a really beautiful poem. Every line made me gasp in joy. I doubt that I can convey the beauty of it without metaphor, but rereading the original (translated) version should take care of that. Still, it is not going to be easy for me. I can hardly wait.

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