Freedom: the love that moves the sun and other stars.

Freedom has always been humanity’s greatest dream but what is freedom? What makes us free?

The modern idea is for us to absolutize the ‘I’: this is the ‘I’ that wants it all, the ‘I’ that wants to have its cake and eat it. But as we will find out, this approach does not bring us freedom, instead it enslaves us. Or we can also find ourselves rocking between the extremes of individuality where every man is an island and the extremes of utter relatedness where we are reduced to existing purely as a set of relations or relationships. This approach too is an illusion and will not bring us freedom.

In reality, we all walk a middle line where we are utterly individual and yet simultaneously exist in our relations with others. We journey as individuals but also together. Our story is lived individually and yet together. The very Source from which we have come is pulling us back towards it. We are not self propelling through time but being pulled and guided back towards our Source. This is what Dante speaks of as the ‘love that moves the sun and other stars’, and it is within this, where our true freedom lies.

On the existence of paintings and other things

Thinking about the existence of paintings both materially and as works of art it occurs to me that these two things - material existence and aesthetic existence - are both independent and interdependent.

Consider that a painting exists as a 2 dimensional piece of work but is in reality, 3 dimensional. For example in the case of an oil painting we have an object that is composed of layers of different materials: wood, glue, canvas, paint, etc. When we look at a piece of work these physical layers may not be immediately obvious but nonetheless they exist and are integral to the work, in fact they constitute it’s material existence, it’s physical body in the here and now occupying space and time.

As well as their material existence paintings have an aesthetic being or, at best, they exist as works of art. They don’t have to of course; not all paintings are works of art, and not all works of art are paintings, but those that are, exist also in this way.  Interestingly this aesthetic/artistic experience can still happen even though the physical object of the painting is not there - If this were not so then we wouldn’t be able to enjoy, for example, reproductions in books. And though this experience can only literally exist when there is someone present to view the work of art it still remains dependent on the material being of the painting existing or having existed somewhere at sometime.

And so this aesthetic experience of a work of art, this thing which we get when we see something we love, this frission, this interaction, is dependent on the physical being of the painting - which unless we are in the same time and place we cannot physically be with - and yet remains independent of it, for example through images of the original, whether reproductions or digital images, we are able to experience it. It transcends the physical presence of the painting and yet is dependent on it.

It is a simple, obvious and yet profound thing that if the physical material being of the painting did not exist, did not come to be – fashioned by the hand, eye and soul of the artist from the materials of this earth then the aesthetic experience would be unattainable – would not be possible: it would, in fact, be impossible. So, material existence, this very thing which we take for granted or don't very often notice, is in fact that which enables us to reach across to something else that is also equally real, something else that also exists. The beauty of material existence is not the thing we immediately think it is or take it to be: If we are deceived by life it is in the fact that things are more real not less real than they appear and that our life is more mysterious than we ever allow ourselves to believe.

The truth of the objective eye is an illusion

It is not that one cannot be objective, of course one can, and it is not that one cannot state a definite truth  that too is self evident, it is the idea that somehow a ‘scientific’ detachment can be made of ‘pure observation’ and that it is this detachment that will yield the truth of the matter.

This is of course a modern idea, but as ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, examples similar and related to it can be found littered throughout history. It is not my contention that this cannot be done - it is my contention that this perspective does not yield the truth of the matter. A bit like someone showing you a photograph of a fabulous sunrise they have experienced and then watching awkwardly as the look of recognition appears across your friend’s face reflecting the penny dropping which tells you that: you simply don’t get it. This is quickly followed by ‘I guess you had to be there’. Indeed. The temptation is to blame your friend’s photographic skills but I believe the truth lies elsewhere.

The common belief is that the passive bystander observing the scene will remain impassive, impartial and so see the Truth of the matter - this is the position we seem to trust - in fact many traditionalists also regard this as the stance to take in defining objective truth but this approach is far from traditional and is, as I said, a modern idea.

Instead the truly traditional approach – which would have been regarded as the one to deliver the truth in a particular circumstance - is the report from a person who was involved in the event or events in question, this is what is meant by an eyewitness and this is the truth that your friend is referring to when she says ‘I guess you had to be there’ She is right because if you had been there, by her side, marvelling at the beautiful sunrise then you would have seen and experienced what she saw and experienced and so then really know what happened.

There is an apocryphal tale of the French artist Monet lugging his easel to a particular spot in the countryside accompanied by his friends and him asking them to use their objectivity to paint only that which lay before them. These were all accomplished and skilful painters but although they were all painting the selfsame scene, albeit from slightly different positions a few feet apart, the resulting paintings looked so different from each other. One could see that it was the same place the same trees and flowers and foliage and yet they were different. They had somehow depicted a fragment of the same truth and yet the representation of it appeared different having been filtered through the perceptions, character and temperament of each particular painter.

This was a time of the great drive towards disengaged visual objectivity as a path towards truth and was also the beginning of the rise of photography which was and is now used to provide the impassive eye, the bystander watching events unfold - these days yielding the ‘truth’ in grainy images on digital cameras and phones that supposedly tell us the ‘true ‘ story. As Monet found out in the woods near his home this should not be accepted too readily.

There is a belief that disengagement will somehow yield the truth as if to see truly is like walking past a scene, uninvolved, unmoved, impassive; just observing. But if we do this then all we shall see is a flat image devoid of soul and reduced to mere matter; an assemblage of shapes arranged upon the horizon of our perception – this is simply a mechanistic materialist viewpoint foisted onto art and life and it simply won’t do: It is anything but the truth.

Truth by its nature demands involvement and engagement and it is through this involvement that we see the transformation of the visual image; it becomes a glorious door which leads us into perceiving the richness that is within and beyond: A sign post that points towards unknown and yet deeply felt treasures.