Have you ever leafed through a book of photos of Havana, Cuba?
If so, you might have found yourself exclaiming, “How beautiful they are!” But have you thought about what attracts you to these pictures?
OR WHAT ABOUT DETROIT? After years of financial mismanagement leading to bankruptcy, we enthuse over photographs of the destruction and decay of once useful properties.
AND THEN there is India as shown in such movies as Slumdog Millionaire or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
My next reaction might be “How can I call these beautiful when I know they rise up out of poverty and misery?” Then I feel guilty! Insensitively, I’ve judged the picture on the basis of aesthetics alone and ignored the suffering which produced it. What kind of devotee of the arts am I?
To my eye, an abandoned car or refrigerator can look like a sculpture or someone’s conceptual art project.
A wall with stains and markings from a flash flood or an explosion can look like the richest of tapestries in a free form design. But still– am I overlooking the tragedies which produced this art. Is the art significant for its aesthetic appeal or as a marker of some tragic human event? Or both?
But there might be another reason why we respond so positively to pictures of colourful slums while overlooking the human misery which produced them.
Art and everything we can see and hear, touch, smell and taste has the potential to create a sense of awe within us and inspire something new.
And what is awe? It’s the sense we are in the presence of something so great and mysterious that it dwarfs us. But what could possibly inspire awe in poverty and decay?
Whether it’s a painting or photograph of a slum in India or a mountain top after a disastrous earthquake, art can show us the fleeting, transitory nature of existence. Art gives us a sense of time and place, and with that, an understanding and experience of change. Maybe I’m not completely insensitive after all.
Consider why ruins draw us in. When we look upon a ruin which existed in its original, finished form hundreds or even thousands of years ago, we sense the sweep of inexorable change. We witness the passage of time as we see this change, decay and destruction taking place. We realize that the existence of anything is transitory. And surely that gives us pause to consider our apparent insignificance in the universe. Maybe we are even awestruck by this illustration of the ravages of time.
I often think we’re entranced by entropy— the disorganization of matter. Scientists tell us that our world moves from order to chaos that is— stuff always breaks down at some point. Entropy tells us that if there is any constant, it is change or decay. When have you ever seen the reverse? The machinery does not shake off its rust and our fruit does not turn from rotted and bug-infested into fresh food which is safe to eat. Only if we dissolve the rust with vinegar [so some say] or refrigerate or can our food, will we hold back the inexorable process of decay or entropy.
Only by the intervention of some human effort or natural process can we change this falling apart syndrome. The new building becomes ramshackle. It changes over time from order to chaos…a reminder It changes over time from order to chaos…a reminder that what we see before our eyes—the roads and bridges, the houses and cars—will crumble, change, breakdown or decay— one day. Chaos results.
Because we instinctively crave order over chaos we try to stem the tide. But our valiant attempts at maintenance and renewal only succeed for a time no matter how hard we battle against the tide of chaos. Perhaps this is where Sisyphus comes in. His unending labours illustrate our compulsion not only to maintain and preserve but also to create something entirely new in its place.
By seeing entropy and the passage of time at work, we become aware of a natural power and come face to face with our dislike [fear?] of chaos. We want and need to escape randomness and we want to create order with our art and our ways of living our lives.
These forces drive us to create.
Despite the fact that the world seems extremely solid, we know that eventually it will break down. A mountain will crumble because of an earthquake. A tornado will tear apart an entire town. I like to think that this destruction and decay give us an immediate sense of nature’s vast power. And that gives us an overwhelming sense of awe. It tells us that nature is a force far greater than us and its mystery holds us in its thrall.
If I am awestruck by such happenings, what might I do? In the face of all this shifting about of this apparently solid world, I just might want to create something which will last. At the same time, I might secretly admit that so very few works of art last one hundred years much less a millennium. But because I am a hopeful human being, I will paint that picture to capture or freeze a moment in time. I might compose an opera or symphony in hopes that it will still find an audience in hundreds of years. As a novelist, with a story of great meaning and significance to me, I won’t be discouraged by the poor odds of making a permanent mark. I will be inspired by the muse and driven by nature and the need to create something new. The artist will work throughout the night driven by his vision and passion.
Once we realize that much more than aesthetics are attracting us, perhaps we can look at such works of art and everything else in the world with less guilt and realize that they are a grand source of inspiration for ever more art. As Campbell said, “The creative act is not hanging on, but yielding to a new creative movement. Awe is what moves us forward.”
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in its entirety right here Wattpad.com