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
- 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I had written a lengthy, unpublished post about Alexander McQueen, about how his choice to end his sufferings by his own hand echoed the stories of other artists before him - Hemingway, Plath, Van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.