“EVERY WORK of art,” writes Leo Tolstoy in chapter five of What is Art?, causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.”
More than a decade ago I found this quote and printed it, cut it out, and toted it around the world in a failing backpack I got for Y3000 at a flea market in Tokyo.
With this trusty pack nearby at all times, and the patch of words, too, I felt ready for anything.
They were both part of me.
The aesthetic part.
Weeks later, I sailed from a Himalayan cliff, with a great kite keeping me afloat on sheets of air.
This was it.
The senses and the ego
Academic discourses on aesthetics with professors and intellectuals have more or less led to brick walls.
Conversations with colleagues in design, too. People aren’t really awake yet, I think.
Maybe this is because I’m not an academic or trained in design. I’m not one of “their camp.” Or maybe it’s simpler than that, and I’m guessing it its: people aren’t ready, willing, or able, to climb over their own mental boundaries of Ego.
Egolessness is a topic that comes up a lot around here.
I spent a year in Kyoto and married a man from Japan. I’ve listened to the quiet spaces between so many conversations in the languages of India and Japan, getting to know how to let silence be the lines. My art is white space, mostly, and that’s on purpose. It’s also not fancy, just paper and pen.
What is going on, I wonder, and think to myself, as I move from seven years of Design Kompany into the next layer of thinking and being.
Because we are in a new era now.
Time is making this clear. So is getting older. Putting the puzzle together.
It’s not about design, or argument, or philosophical trails that lead to reason versus emotion—it’s not any of those things.
What’s going to hold our hearts now is the new era that’s upon us.
The very beginning of the letting go of assuredness, a cockyness tied intimately to “I” that blocks us from seeing anything at all.
What am I talking about?
The era of enchantment.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and a discussion about quality
I didn’t read this book in college, like a lot of people. I skipped it even when people loaned me their copies for months. I always gave them back, unread.
I am reading it now.
And it’s making me think. For the first time in a long while, I’m getting past the middle of a thick, fat book. (Still haven’t finished You Can’t Go Home Again, two years after resolving to finish after visiting Thomas Wolfe’s Asheville home.) But it’s not just because the words are carrying me.
It’s the time to pay attention to it. To notice the details there about life, art, quiet spaces, reason, aesthetics, and classic versus romantic points of view. What it doesn’t talk about yet, and what I’ve been talking about this year and see myself folding into any conversation that begins with ZAMM, is how everything is really everything. More about that in a future post.
For now, I’m writing to a lot of people right now trying to get a grasp on the idea of what counts as “Quality,” a question posited in Robert Persig’s book ZAMM. It’s important to think about.
Because if we don’t live a life of quality, what will it all have meant, anyways?
The stuff of what DK professes to do for people is tied intricately with this thought.
Yes. We design legacies. But the design can only be as good as the clarity of intention behind them.
Our job is to dig that out. But there’s more.
Legacy design starts with thinking about an authentic self, but before that, we have to outline what it means to have quality authenticity.
You see medium authenticity. You see ho-hum authenticity. You especially see “this is the bandwagon and here I am talking about it” authenticity. What counts as real, though? Where and what can we believe?
This is where the dialogue opens.
A twelve-year one that’s brought me full circle to Tolstoy, to the happened-upon fragment that now is in my front shirt pocket. An oversize purple-plaid shirt I wore in college, preserved since in the closet of my parents’ house, where I retrieved it. And with it, the quote.
A stretch of quiet morning, combined with that, is exactly what I needed to round back to where I’m right now, about to share the thing that comes next. DK’s own take on Hegel’s subject, the Aesthetik.
A mountain, a glide, and a resolution
Art-making, I thought, would be my calling. After the 1999 trip to Himachal Pradesh, where I would not only sail from the clifftop to sense, quite richly, a glimpse of truth that I’m expounding on in a memoir, Flight of Pisces (Kismuth/2013), I also discovered a Russian artist who spent his final days amongst the same crests, painting the Himalayas.
If you go to the museum that contains his paintings, in an unassuming building by Riverside Park in Manhattan, you’ll see the things that I saw there. If you’re paying attention and your heart is open, you may even cry.
I’m going to talk about Roerich in a second.
To begin a conversation about aesthetics, I have to look back on piles of notes as well as query people who know a lot of things about this, and that’s what I’m doing.
And I’m going to the library. A lot. I’m revisiting biographies of one of my heroes of natural philosophy, James Clerk Maxwell.
Both Maxwell and Roerich had fathers who were lawyers; both sons’ financial future was of concern to their dads. Yet, both Roerich and Maxwell found ways to not only pursue their lines of inquiry with prolific attention, but teach and found new schools of thought, too.
They were undeterred by the practicalities.
So, too, must we be as creative expressionists, each and all of us, in this new era, The Era of Enchantment.
JCM, born the year that Michael Faraday discovered induction, would later write the paper that gave us neat, beautiful equations that explained Faraday’s observations of electromagnetic lines of force. (‘On Faraday’s Lines of Force’ would be the paper that reached its namesake a full year after it was formally presented).
Maxwell, gifted in spatial relationship-finding, had written to his father as a young student and said: “I have made a tetrahedron, a dodecahedron, and two other hedrons whose names I don’t know.” This before he’d formally studied geometry. (James Clerk Maxwell, Ivan Tolstoy).
And later, Maxwell wrote of happiness:
“Happy is the man who can recognize in the work of today a connected portion of the work of life, and an embodiment of the work of Eternity. The foundations of his confidence are unchangeable, for he has been made a partaker of Infinity. He strenuously works out his daily enterprises, because the present is given him for a posession.” (Ibid)
I find it really interesting that a man of science talks of such things as eternity, infinity and connectedness to something bigger than the moment, more insistent than the now.
I’ll keep going about this in the next instalment of Aesthetik. I’m planning to post these on the first Thursday of every month.
I’ll also share what I learned about butterflies from a recorded conversation on metaphysics between a quantum mechanics physicist and a spiritual leader, in a spectacular book that is the best I’ve read this year…