Reclaiming our Unacknowledged Unity
Let us consider anxiety as the opposite of meaning. Anxiety leaves us floating in mid-air whereas meaning grounds us. If art is a particular form of meaning making then it does so by giving shape to our inchoate longings.
Art has two aspects: its making and its reception. In its making the artist moves from fragmentation and self alienation toward coherence. One could say that the artist is implicitly performing his or her identity while overtly producing the work. T.S. Eliot stated that art was the objectification of experience. That is, the art work fixes a moment in the passing flux of experience and externalizes it. Art rescues subjectivity from constant dispersion. This is its gift to the individual psyche.
However, art also has a social aspect. Leonard Cohen has told us that to walk by a park and hear a young man playing one of his songs was to experience the hospitality of the world towards his soul. Belonging. We feel grateful to him for giving words to our intimate experience. We feel united, however briefly, with him and with all others who appreciate his work.
This session will explore how art in the age of anxiety is the uncovering and symbolization of our commonalities. Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol will be our exemplars.
Before I began practicing psychotherapy I wrote a Master’s Thesis with the title Identity: An Act(ion) not a Fact. This title was my attempt to express the idea that identity was an ongoing process rather than a static product.
I’ve been practicing psychotherapy for thirty-five years now and still find issues of identity to be central to the process. “If I change, who will I be?” The doubt and uncertainty that this quote expresses, fuels resistance.
For the past fifteen years I’ve been intrigued both by Buddhism and Postmodernism. Both these movements problematize traditional notions of a stable, reified self. Buddhism advocates the practice of meditation as a dynamic substitute for the security that a stable identity seemed to confer. Postmodernism with its emphasis on difference and the Real points to a “beyond”…something outside the conceptual grid of rationalism.
I’ve been exploring these same issues aesthetically for the past fifteen years via sculpture and new media. Many of my sculptures are heads with fissures, cracks, and gaps cut through them to reveal the vast spaces inside. The title of one piece, “More Space than Substance” is a vote for the Real over reified, conceptual, definitions of self. My sculptures also play with boundaries (gaps and cracks allow the inside and out to co-mingle). Boundaries define the space that is essential to the notion of identity. “Inside is me; outside is other.”
Living through these turbulent times is scary and exciting and conferences like this where we discover a language that names what I believe to be a wide spread experience of self tips the balance in favour of excitement…and in favour of a community that springs out of this common experience.