Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How My Mind Works These Days

I've been spending a lot of time in my studio these days working on paintings of classical subject matter. On the one hand, these old things can come off as pretentious, pompous, and academic sounding (through no fault of their own). On the other hand, they're great compelling stories from the very beginnings of Western culture that still tell us a lot about the ideas at the heart of our culture. And indeed, they are doubly interesting viewed from this side of the 20th century when Western civ came catastrophically unraveled. Modern thinkers like Nietzche, and especially Hannah Arendt still play a large role in how I think about the whole Classical legacy. I think my classical fixation these days comes from thinking about what it means to be civilized, especially in an age that is so manifestly not a civilization; a society, a culture, a state, certainly, but a civilization? I'm not so sure. And what is that distinction? What makes societies "civilized?" Is it simply a matter of education, good manners, and generous donations to arts organizations? Or is the business of being civilized something more complex and profound? I don't know, I'm still working these things out. For me, the question is more urgent since we are surrounded by so much that is manifestly not civilized. So much of our public conversations these days are caught between the poles of religious fanaticism and nihilism, neither of which care a damn about anything humane, let alone civilized (I should point out that I include political ideology under religious fanaticism; I think it's very telling about the state of both religion and politics that two of the biggest influences on Al Qaida are Marx and Lenin in addition to the radical theologian Qutb). And there's so much that masquerades as civilized that brings us right back to those 2 poles (for example, the public artwork in the corporate HQ whose main purpose is not to expand meaning, but to tell the world that the corporation is not such a pack of rapacious bastards after all).
I'm currently working on the planning stages of 4 paintings about Theseus: Theseus recovering his father's weapons, Theseus and Procrustes, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Theseus establishing Athens. Plutarch describes Theseus as a foreign born bastard who founds the Athenian democracy.
I'm also planning a picture of the Tyrannicides, a gay male couple who killed the last tyrant of Athens and created the way for the democracy under Pericles. I intend it to be ambivalent; freedom fighters and terrorists. For this project, I'm looking at images such as these:
An ancient relief copy of a lost monument to the Tyrannicides by Kritios.

The assassination of Ineijiro Asanuma, the Japanese Socialist leader in 1960.


it's margaret said...

Oooooo !!! Yikes.

Be careful and deliberate Counterlight. You are dealing with distressing images, to say the least. And deep questions that require a distant perspective....

many blessing to you in this work. You will continue in my prayers!

fs said...

Sounds intense, Counterlight. Your sources are amazing. The self-possession of classic nudes is beautiful to behold. The assassination by shiv is not only horrible but intimate and ideological at the same time.

Hope you have good places to take your mind when you're not working.