DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Sowing Seeds

Filed under: Abstract Art,Art and Philosophy — Tags: , , , — fred @ 22:41

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How do you make change in the world?  Even I, who love finding beauty amid the world’s insanity and squalor, yearn for a kinder and juster culture.  Does art have any part in that, or is it just entertainment, an idle pastime of the privileged?  You surely see a lot of contemporary art that addresses injustice, stigma, corruption, exploitation, and violence.  But doesn’t much of that kind of art seem exploitive itself?  During a recent museum visit I saw mural-sized photos of homeless people in humiliating positions, and installations that made real footage of war and prison killings look like video games.  Do you suppose these works will change the minds of the powerful or offer any solace to the souls with whose real suffering they toy?  Do the artists who do this work or the curators who put it on display imagine that they are displaying a social conscience?  Ah, the abject of the world, the war-scarred, the enslaved – let them eat critical theory!

Perhaps it is pretentious for an artist even to pretend to care.  Social change is a complex phenomenon involving myriad conflicting and interacting forces.  The power that an artist has to influence the process of change in society would seem like the power of a mosquito to change the course of an ocean liner.  Even the mass-produced forms of entertainment such as movies and pop music no longer reach the vast audiences they once did.  The kind of art that shows in galleries or alternative performance venues, reaching a minuscule audience, must surely have no impact at all.

Ovum, 2011, by Fred Hatt

People think that the kind of power that produces change must be a direct push.  Huge advertising campaigns, political activism, legal crusades, large-scale economic offenses such as boycotts and buyouts, military or revolutionary attacks are all attempts to leverage monetary, demographic, or violent power to change things in a direct way.  History shows us that such efforts tend to produce unintended consequences such as political backlash movements or power vacuums that allow ruthless people to seize control.  There is a physical law that states that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction, and this often seems to apply to clashing cultural forces as well.

There is a different way of producing change, which may be described by the metaphor of planting seeds.  A seed is a tiny thing which contains the potential for the development of a tree or plant.  In nature, plants have various ways of scattering their seeds widely.  Most seeds will not find the conditions necessary to become a mature plant, but enough may grow to perpetuate and even increase the range of the plant that produced them.  Each seed begins to develop in darkness and obscurity and there is no way to see that it is growing until it is emerging into the world as a fresh new manifestation of life.  The very obscurity and indirectness of this process may make change that overcomes the reactionary recoil effect.

Radia, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The metaphor of the seed appears in a famous parable of Jesus, quoted here from the Gospel of Thomas, translated by Patterson and Robinson:

Look, a sower went out. He filled his hands (with seeds), (and) he scattered (them).
Some fell on the path, and the birds came and pecked them up.
Others fell on the rock, and did not take root in the soil, and they did not put forth ears.
And others fell among the thorns, they choked the seeds, and worms ate them.
And others fell on good soil, and it produced good fruit.
It yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure.

In the canonical gospels, the seed is interpreted as representing the word of Christ, which may or may not take root in the hearts of those who hear it, but I think it works well as a wider metaphor of how the world works.  It even describes the evolution of species, in which mutations are scattered haphazardly like seeds, most fail, but a few find the conditions to flourish.  A process that might seem random and wasteful is the process that produces our world with all its wondrous variety.

Umbilicus, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Culture, too, is a seeding process.  In the internet era, an idea or style that sprouts and spreads in the culture is called a meme, and its explosive growth is called “going viral” (reminding us that a virus is also a kind of seed, and that the effects of a seed are not necessarily positive).  But viral memes are not all lolcats – Steve Jobs’ vision of friendly technology and Gandhi’s vision of nonviolent resistance are also powerful viral memes.

In a human life, anything that one does or says, demonstrates or communicates to others, may become a seed.  An artist plays with perception, expression, ideas, experience, and desires, and shares the products of this play with others.  An image, an idea, or a feeling thus communicated may connect with the receiver on a deep level.  Whether it stays in the memory or in the unconscious, it may later affect the receiver’s actions or thinking in some way.  At this point the seed is sprouting.

Elaborating on the metaphor, we could say that we are always scattering seeds.  Anything we say or do could be a seed.  Most of our deeds will amount to nothing, but occasionally something will take root.  We can’t know which of our actions or words will sprout, but we should be aware that some will.  We can’t check to see what is growing – the process of development begins in obscurity, and digging up a seed to check on its development may halt that development.  We should act as though everything we do is a seed of goodness, and we should let go of everything we do, trusting that the unpredictable process of the world will nourish and grow some of them.

Vortex, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Real change takes root over long periods of time, cumulatively growing from innumerable such seemingly insignificant experiences and actions of vast numbers of people.  This way of producing change through seeds requires faith.  One doesn’t seem to be changing or moving anything, and often doesn’t even perceive the invisible reactions that may show that the seeds are sprouting.  The power of this way of producing change lies in its invisibility, because since it seems to be nothing it provokes no reactionary counterpunch.

While artists may often engage in direct efforts to change people’s minds, even art which has no outwardly apparent political or intellectual content may be planting seeds.  Some art which does not seem to be making any statement may be an exploration of pure perception.  Since the way people perceive the world alters the way they experience and interact with it, something which expands or alters someone’s way of perceiving something even in a subtle way may be a powerful seed for change.

The illustrations for this post are watercolor on paper,  11″ x 14″ or 28 x 35.6 cm.

Powered by WordPress

Theme Tweaker by Unreal