Having returned from my New Year fireworks I'm posting an excerpt from Jim
Harrison's 'North American Image Cycle'; what attracts me is its blunt
delicacy, its prosaic wonder - its lines act as a idiculous sacrament:
She was up on the roof when I went up to check
the texture of the night and to generally be an ordinary
poet who muses about the Boston skyline from an Alston roof.
She was leaning in the shadows against the none-too-solid
cornice but had no fears of being aerial. Her sex was soft
as a small mound of coal dust, the material
of spiderwebs, a dove's head.
- The lineation is less than compelling yet it moves me.
The imagery is hardly startling yet, again, I'm moved to believe that a
for the sacramental distinguishes, even defines, art. Why? In trying to
explain to myself the significance of a work of art I draw on Augustine's
model of the world. In this model there are degrees of goodness and the
better something is the higher it stands: God is the pinnacle of being and
therefore of reality (in this Augustine is indebted to Plato's 'form of the
good'). Augustine teased out the ontological implications of hierachy: the
highest being is the most real of all. This has application to artworks
because the logical consequence of Augustinian hierachy is that one can have
existence without being completely real - hence the importance of becoming,
and the role of the work of art is to assist with the individuation of the
viewer/reader: to bring him (or her) further into being.
Yes, I acknowledge that the artist often remains fervently detached from
(and may be overtly hostile to) a given belief system. The work is an
attempt to punctuate the fleeting rather than to articulate a conclusion.
But in this the artist reminds me of those contemplative mystics who delight
in the world as an aspect of God's love, yet fear that they will be seduced
by temporal detail and thereby lose eternal Love. Many artists don't want us
to define our selves only (or even primarily) by external goods - this
painting or that book - but by internal Good (the feeling we have when we
attend to each piece they have made).