Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beauty and Madness

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth, at least the truth that is given to us to understand. 
- Pablo Picasso

Behold that vision. What did you just see?

Did you see an ephemeral angel, an apparition of light and a metaphor for the beauty and transience of life? Or did you just see a coke-addled model, stylized and made-up, rigged on invisible wires and whose image was transmitted as a hologram, just another hi-tech gimmick to bedazzle a jaded audience?

It was both, and the capacity not just to perceive, but to create beauty from the banal realities of the world is the artist's gift. And to be able to hold two opposing ideas in one's head at the same time - such as beauty in an ugly world - is the mark of intelligence. Or madness.

I had written a lengthy, unpublished post about Alexander McQueen, about how his choice to end his sufferings by his own hand echoed the stories of other artists before him - Hemingway, Plath, Van Gogh. About how the souls who possess the gift of creating beauty are also often cursed with the torments of madness.

Any artist knows how fickle the muses can be - just like fate itself. I wonder if that which blesses us with flashes of divine inspiration also blights us with stabs of dark desperation? Is it the pain borne out of the conflict between these two opposing forces that produces great art and literature? If so, what a steep, steep price we pay.

But perhaps it is not just the artist's curse, but the general human condition itself. It is our lot to be capable of soaring to great heights, as well as plunging to unfathomable depths. Free will, the gift unique to man among all of God's creatures and what makes us capable of self-determination, comes at a price. To create, or to destroy. To cling to hope, or succumb to despair. To choose life, or choose death.

I do not identify with McQueen simply because I believed he was a true and tormented artist. But I do recognize the forces that finally drove him to make his final choice - as do you.

No, I identify with him and the ultimate path he chose because no man is an island, as John Donne wrote, and indeed "every man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind."

"As the heart grows older, it comes to such sights colder," wrote Gerald Manley Hopkins in Spring & Fall. But death is not the only blight man was born for. Life itself can be a curse all its own.

But there's the rub. Like that all-too-human angel up above, I suppose it all depends on what we can see, or choose to see. To perceive beauty amidst ugliness, and to reveal it like a sculptor, his chisel releasing an angel from a block of marble. Or to declare the marble a dead piece of stone and demolish it with a sledgehammer.

I am not a deeply religious man, but I suppose it's but fitting that I post this on Ash Wednesday.

Our bodies may have come from dust. But what we truly are came from light, and like that haunting and beautiful angel, to that light may we all return.


  1. Because there is a fine line between genius and madness, and those that trudge its voracious thirst for expression often find that one cannot exist without the other. Because the cost of genius is the failure of reason. Haunting.

    Your last paragraph had it spot on.

  2. Oh Rudeboy, I could taste your sorrow with this one.

    I'm not an artist. I am but a blogger and I understand that when inspiration strikes, it seems my fingers cannot type quickly enough. But when I've had a taxing week and it seems like there are no words for the thoughts in my head, it leaves me with a sense of mental and emotional constipation.

    Perhaps he felt sad about his mother. That's the convenient angle everyone wants to believe but it seems to me the guy was a true artiste, deserving of the extra letter and the slight change in pronunciation. Maybe he recognized that that was all there would ever be for him.

    Your McQueen is my Leslie Cheung. What is it about suicides that leave everyone depressed?

  3. ang ganda ng video!amazing!!!kopyahin ko to haha

  4. Rudeboy,

    At first you see a "coke-addled model, stylized and made-up, rigged on invisible wires and whose image was transmitted as a hologram, just another hi-tech gimmick to bedazzle a jaded audience."

    But then something happens. To paraphrase Adam Gopnik in his memoir From Paris to the Moon, the lovely sad music, the light and the dress suddenly create something touching… and even moving.

    "It's all too much, and that's where the loveliness --- the couture moment --- begins."

    I've always searched for these moments; when your mind and your heart becomes so full. It's like an overwhelming feeling of joy to be alive. I get it when I read a really good book, or see a beautiful film, or during conversations with friends.

    Gopnik says art is "symbolic of a common human hope that the world could be something other than it is --- younger and more musical and less exhausting and better lit."

    And maybe it can be. =) WOuldn't you agree?


  5. How I wished I have never read this one. Or have continued reading.

    Someone very close came to mind. Fudge.

    But thank you, thank you.

  6. sigh. why must all the good ones go?

  7. @ Herbs D : And yet, Marc Jacobs roams the earth.

    @ Manech : I'm sorry. I hope it had nothing to do with your latest blog entry.

    @ Kane : You captured how I feel so beautifully with what you wrote. Life is a series of moments - some prosaic, some sublime. It is those rare moments when you realize you are in the presence of something so beautiful it offers you a glimpse of the divine that make life worth holding on to. Thank you.

    @ MacAllister : It is, which is also why I wanted to share it. I am mesmerized by it on so many levels.

    @ citybuoy : Ah, poor Leslie Cheung. Suicides are especially tragic and painful because they leave us with so many unanswered questions. Even if we already know the "whys," we still scream "But, why? Why? Why?"

    @ red : I've often thought sanity - particularly for artists - hung by the thinnest of threads, like a tightrope stretched taut between fantasy and reality. The trick to staying sane, I suppose, lies in the balance.

  8. Rudeboy: Thank you, but you don't need to say sorry. I reread it, and it still had the same pang.

    No, this has nothing to do with it. Mine's fiction.

  9. "Even if we already know the "whys," we still scream "But, why? Why? Why?"

    exactly! (all together now) but why, why, why delilah?!

  10. Rudeboy,

    You're too kind. You know, I'd love to meet you one day. I think we're kindred spirits, in some way at least. I first thought of that when I read your "Your Light Up My Light" entry.

    I get you, and when I say that, I mean i get you in the exact way that you wanted to be understood. (Or at least that's what I'd like to think =) I hope I'm not being too presumptious.)

    You have a certain fascination with nostalgia, memory, meaning, life, death and transcendence, which I understand so well. You know the people I read (which was quite surprising!) and you know how to play with words. A wordsmith.

    Anyway, I'd love to hear from you =)