Charybdis and Scyla

Erik ReeL painting
Erik ReeL, opus 1729, acrylic on paper, 2012

Q: I’m not sure I follow you at all on what you said about an art that is non-materialist and non-spiritual, or that I can agree with you  Maybe you can clarify..

ReeL: It’s a  great fallacy, this dichotomy between the spiritual and the material world. To say that you have either the spiritual or the material is not necessarily the full spectrum of options. Too much of today’s  thinking, if you can still call it that, is  too polluted with archaic ideas inherited from the past, in particular the baggage of Idealism on one hand and all the bizarre make-believe stuff  religions keep throwing at us on the other.

This dichotomy between material and spirit really doesn’t help us when it comes to non-objective painting.

Q:  But there is the physical, material world, or there is a non-physical reality which we traditionally –and maybe to mean radically different things– call the spiritual world.  The material and the immaterial.  You are saying that this dichotomy doesn’t hold up in some way?

ReeL: Definitely not, there is non-material that may not be spiritual.

In a way, it gets more obvious if you look at the question, not philosophically, but in terms of choices in the world as a whole, at contemporary civilization in general: In the world today, on one hand you have a pervasive hyper-materialism crushing the life out of everything. On the other hand you have the multi-headed hydra of fundamentalist religions fighting materialism, and these fundamentalist attacks on the  underlying scientific-techno-materialist foundations at every turn, but these fundamentalists are ok with using the weapons and benefits of the resulting technology.

They are both, interestingly, for the most part, against art, and if not against, at the very least intent on heavily constraining it and deforming it into a tool for their control.

What i am saying is that we must recognize that art is not on the side of either, nor should it ever be.  The materialism/spiritual choice has been corrupted into hypermaterialist/fundamentalist extremes. Art and culture lives on neither extreme. Totalitarianism lives on the extremes.

This is not a contradiction, for a lot of art is neither materialistic nor spiritual. It is something else. This is what both Modernism and Post-Modernism have missed. Art is something else. Both try to make it one or the other.   The issue comes up most clearly in non-objective painting.  Non-objective painting denies materialism, even denies the motif and object; but it can also deny the spiritual. So it effectively avoids the very destructive extremes that are attempting to pull apart our world today. Both extremes harbor, often explicitly, strong anti-cultural tendencies.

There are obviously choices outside the extremes of materialism and spiritualism..

Q: How? What? I’m not even sure what you are talking about.

ReeL: that is not easy to say. It requires freeing oneself from an almost unbelievable amount of baggage inbedded in our intellectual traditions. And I mean traditions with an “s”,  plural: all of our intellectual traditions. They are all polluted with strange ideas of the spiritual or religious that have nothing to do with reality-based thinking.  Yet, reality-based thinking strictly limited to the material world of things  is simply too limiting. It is a killer.

Philosophy has always recognized this, this is not a problem most philosophers get mired in, but at the dawn of Modernism, we let art get bogged dow into this mire. Before the industrial revolution so much art was commissioned by churches that art could not  dare  challenge the issue.

Q: OK, are you saying we have to rid ourselves of all the superstitions on the one hand, and get beyond materialism somehow on the other? But a lot of what art does is preserve, present, even invent mythologies. And a lot of our best art presents, represents, or deals with our material world.

ReeL:  Yes, we have to get beyond both superstition and materialism. As for mythologies, I’m a bit of a Jungian on that one. Myth can be a part of reality-based thinking, if we’re talking about dreams and internal realities. Myth addresses the reality of our psyche. If we don’t get that right, we are doomed. Yet, on the other hand, the sleep of reason breeds monsters.


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