Rachel and Luca, Laurel Lake, NH. July , 2012
I am back home after a two-week family break. In between coffee breaks, floating on a clear lake, watching the shimmering light and being with my loved ones, I read two books – John Berger’s ‘Hold Everything Dear‘ (well, I re-read it) and Ernst Fischer’s ‘The Necessity of Art‘. Two great books written by people who, I believe, have spent a long time thinking about what we need, and what we must retain. And after reading these books, I feel strangely subdued and clarified. The way a lake becomes at the end of the day, the way a child feels as it is calmed by a parent. Despite everything being frothed up to a state of pain and chaos, despite the hubris of self and humanity, we are subject to being calmed and stilled by ancient bonds — that ‘stuff’ that we are always a part of. And by ‘stuff’ I mean just that, not something mystical, conjectural, theoretical.
This experience of being calmed by what we are essentially a part of is related to the creative process. Being creative is not, as the notion seems to predominate in the minds of most educators and policy-makers, an elitist activity (at worst) or a way of accruing cultural capital (at best). I believe it is the very process by which the social nature of humans is motivated and empowered. We find meaning in what is around us, and what we are part of, by a process of pattern identification and imitation, memorization and repetition. And we establish social bonds via an exchange of experience and resources. These are all ancient, and creative, processes. But sometimes we forget, or are not fully conscious of, how identity and memory are all subject to the larger cycles of existence. When we don’t forget, or when we are reminded, the experience is magical.
“The exciting discovery that natural objects could be turned into tools capable of influencing and altering the outside world was bound to lead to another idea in the mind of early man, always experimenting and slowly awakening to thought: the idea that the impossible, too, could be achieved with magic tools—that nature could be ‘bewitched’ without the effort of work. Overwhelmed by the immense importance of similarity and imitation, he deduced that , since all similar things were identical, his power over nature — by virtue of ‘making alike’ —could be limitless. The newly acquired power to grasp and control objects, to prompt social activity and bring about events by means of signs, images, and words, led him to expect the magical power of language to be infinite. Fascinated by the power of the will — which anticipates and brings about things that are not yet there but exist only as an idea in the brain — he was bound to ascribe an immensely far-reaching, boundless power to acts of will. The magic of tool-making led inevitably to the attempt to extend magic to infinity.” Ernst Fischer, ‘The Necessity of Art’. (Verso, 2010, p44)
Magic (art-science-religion, dare I say), or art, seems necessary because it not only presents experience in manageable chunks, but also because it shows the world as changeable. It clarifies and simplifies, and transforms and brings forth the imagined. Just like the calm after sunset.