Journal Entry: Symbol, Cypher, Art and Brilliant Visual Explorations
Coded Images, Culture & Thought
Symbol and cyphers are a rich coded language and art is a tool capable of eclipsing our existing cultural boundaries. They speak to us in fertile visual languages.
The Code #1
Visual Thinking in Art
Techniques, Method & Media
Art is a tool for visual thinking and penetrating explorations. Thinking through, and while making art, often leads in divergent directions. Art making extends my reach into the depths I find within and those that lead me without. Art does more than entertain. It is a tool for education and self-exploration.
In this Journal Entry: Symbol & Cypher, I seek to place my work into a context, via recognizable shapes and forms, that helps define the contours of my life. The tools I use in this creative endeavor include acrylics, pointillism, coldwax, oils, plasters, mixed media and, of course, words.
Individual tastes and color attractions act as subtle dictators. They pull and push at use from below the surface of conciousness.
Art is capable of transcending cultural boundaries and beliefs. It brings us closer together and pulls us apart. Art documents and bears witness to our shared and contentious humanity.
Artists may draw from the same wellspring, but any similarities can then vear away dramatically Art can challenge the way we think and understand the status quo. It allows for this even when society says ‘no’.
Cell: Purple with Orange
As tools, writing and making art allow me to step back and observe. As mechanisms of exploration, the twin practices create a space for me to look at art and think about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the creative process.
In a creative space, I can ask myself, “What is it I really want to say?” “How am I communicating my thoughts to others?” And ultimately, “How can I use my art to grow as a human being?”
A Deep Dive into the Noosphere
Ideas Find Shape & Form
The Noosphere is a theoretical idea. It was developed by the philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and the Biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky.
Vernadsky described the Noosphere as the ‘new state’ of the Biosphere. In high-minded logic, Vernadsky imagined it a ‘sphere of reason’. Tucked into this definition, humankind’s rational activities become defining characteristics.
“The language of art is powerful to those who understand it, and puzzling to those who do not. What we do know is that here was the modern human mind at work, spinning symbolism and abstraction in a way that only Homo sapiens is capable of doing.”– Richard Leakey
Vernadsky believed the Noosphere to be the third in successive phases. These three phases mark vastly different stages of development. I imagine the Noosphere as an outgrowth of life.
Cell: Orange with Green
It took the emergence of life in the Biosphere to begin the process, but some other spark lit the minds of Homo sapiens. A fire set us on a creative path towards abstract thinking.
Sometimes we fear the madness of artists, or admire how they overcame obstacles in making the work they created.
Male Nude #2
This Journal Entry: Symbol & Cypher opens onto a world of hidden complexity not of my making. I know I appreciation art through the lives of those artists who made it. I relate to their suffering, joy, and see it in their work. I appreciate art too, as a visual and spiritual feast for the eys and senses.
Code and complexity can be embedded in artworks through the use of symbols and cyphers. History is filled with powerful examples.
Symbols and cyphers do not need to be blatant. They can be obvious or subtle, recognized or unseen. I believe the emergence of any particular symbol did not need intention. Other forces, at some level, are also at work.
Derby’s Flower Beetle
The Art of Speaking in Tongues’
A sensitivity to the past is important in my life. As is being fully present in the moment and alert to future possibilities. I strive for this without always obtaining what I desire. That holds true in the making of art.
Symbols are part of our shared human heritage, some potent enough to transcend ethnic, historic, or spiritual boundaries. The degree of significance can vary widely from culture to culture or person to person.
Symbols are rooted in our languages and in our systems of belief. Relevance and power is gained or lost, in knowledge and the spiritual search, for meaning.
Cell: Green with Blue
“Language was created to work exclusively through symbolism and to divide nature into parts and actions. The word ‘water’ is not actually water, and the word ‘it’ corresponds to nothing at all in the phrase ‘it is raining’. Even if well acquainted with the limitations and vagaries of language, we must be especially on guard against dismissing biocentrism (or any way of cognizing the universe as a whole) too quickly if it doesn’t at first glance seem compatible with custumary verbal constructions.”– Robert Lanza with Bob Berman: Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe
Writing is a blackboard on which I can chalk out context. I am always alert to ways the outside influences my interior world. Ultimately the heart and mind drive the creative process and my body is a tool. What I feed it is important.
A butterfly is more than a butterfly symbolically. A fish may be a fish or a landscape more than the mountain.
Journal Entry: Symbol & Cypher
Apples, Circles, Mandalas
When using the visual to explore symbols and cyphers a look at common ones is informative. The apple, the circle and Mandala all come to my mind. Each serves as a symbol in the human experience.
The apple serves as a symbol of knowledge and of humankind’s fall from grace. The mandala is a source of meditative focus and spiritual quest. The circle, although it can be read in many ways, is a symbol of wholeness, unity, or of being complete.
I think it important to cast a wide net considering symbols and cyphers. I like to keep my observations dynamic and fluid. I think of symbols as having a nature that exists beyond the confines of canvas or object. Their power can extend outward or inward.
Our bodies can physically be a part of the configuration of a symbol or cypher. As can the sounds we make, the stories we tell, and the images we make.
Circles form in many ways. There is the human body and there is the body politic. Both are powerful configurations. This is obvious to those who have sat in a group ‘circle.’ I think of meditation, therapy or drum circles as examples.
I find anthropologists provide interesting insights in this direction of reasoning. Anthropologist William Stanner writes …
“The circle as a spatial form… permits an intimacy of face-to-face relations that no other formation can… thus, the circle reduces to a minimum the social as well as the physical separation of those who make it up: for a time, it makes inappropriate, indeed obliterates, all other social categories; it concentrates a unified totality around a center. In these ways it makes possible a unison towards a dominating object.”
And the Telling of Story
I explore life in painting, thinking through writing, while building this website. In each I am discovering, illuminating and building on the manuscript of my life. Contained within this visual and textual lexicon are coded elements. I am watching for them as I write these words.
I think it worth exploring what, if any role, a symbol may play in my life. If it is indeed unknown, I want to know it. By intent and unconscious act they establish the philosophical underpinnings that support and give life substance.
I am inspired by the work of Aboriginal Painters in Australia. They too, paint using dots. They also use symbols and cyphers in an extraordinarily rich manner. Aboriginal art echoes the context, philosophy and spiritual beliefs of the people that create the works. In turn, that art lights their history.
Cell: Red with Blue
“In a traditional Aboriginal sense, the world is made of signs. One may not know more than a fraction of their meanings, and not all their meanings are of equal significance, but the presumptive principle it that there is no alien world of mere things beyond the signing activity of sentient, intelligent beings. Idle doodling, or the making of meaningless marks, is alien”– Peter Sutton: Dreaming’s, The Art of Aboriginal Australia
I work towards capturing meaning through my art rather than cataloguing complexity of technique and materials.
I search for meaning in the process of painting. And I think through writing about the work I make. I look for the ways art encompasses my life story in its entirety. In the end, I believe they reveal a journey towards self-discovery.
We are all complex beings. We may all agree on that, however, getting to the core of our actions, ways of being, our responses to the environment in which we exist, does not come without analysis.
A meaningful symbol or cypher can reveal to us a line of code we need to consider. In the black box of consciousness, symbols and cyphers cast light into dark corners.
Words & Meaning
I could list every word that appears in this Journal Entry: Symbol & Cypher. I could give you a number too, of how often each word appears. In essence, it would be as if I handed you a list of parts without a manual. You may gain a sense of content but meaning, would be lost.
To fully understand a body of text, we need to read the words in the order they were written. Those words must be absorbed within their narrative sentences and paragraphs. Understood within the structure they were intended.
Words, like other artforms, tell a story. They convey ideas, cast light on my work as an artist, and can convey more than a simple list.
“The imagery of Aboriginal art, and that of the songs, dances, and ceremonial paraphernalia, is related both to the vast bodies of aboriginal mythic narrative and to the wider symbolisms of daily life and belief. Together these symbolisms constitute a complex code of interaction that continually remodels, and at the same time reflects, aboriginal cosmology, sociality, and the person.”– Peter Sutton: Dreaming’s, The Art of Aboriginal Australia
Image & Meaning
In the quote above, anthropologist Peter Sutton touches upon an important idea. I see manifestations in the visual works that make up my body of art. Appearances are uniquly mine, but include, ‘mythic narrative and … wider symbolisms of daily life and belief‘. Awareness is key.
As an object to read each painting is a world of words, in a larger story. A complete picture of who I am is not arrived at in a single glance or piece of art. Life is a narrative chain. So too, is art.
Does my work mark my time on earth? How do I count the days when the end seems nearer than farther? I can’t predict how events unfold. I can only try and choose my path mindfully.
I worked as a journalist in Palm Springs. In that creative role, the telling of someone else’s story took precedence. Living in Los Angeles I attended writing groups with an HIV+ focus. During that period I began to look at my life as writing, source material. This led to my art.
I approach writing about my work from two directions. After the fact and before it happens. Writing fits in nicely with what I seek to achieve. As I write and work, I develope creative projects from multiple perspectives.
Does creative thinking have an end? Life does. But in thinking or writing, I am allowed revisions and clarifications. This website contains collected quotes and source materials inspiring in my creative work. They are the eyes of another woven into my narrative.
Tinker Butterflyfish #2
“A thing in itself never expresses anything. It is the relation between things that gives meaning to them and that formulates a thought. A thought functions only as a fragmentary part in the formulation of an idea.”– Hans Hofmann
Home & Belonging
Finding This in Art
Through my art I explore identity. I explore inner strength. I am hunting for lost pieces of myself. There are ‘bits & bobs’ are to be found. With some of these you might relate. They seldom seem to me, the obvious.
As a gay man, I cannot say I have felt warmly embraced by the dominate culture of the United States. This was true during my youth and most of my adult life. Sure, some things have changed. But in the end, I am twice an outsider. Once for being gay, and the other for being an artist.
I know I don’t speak for all people wearing similar shoes. But, I am not surprised when I meet others in the LGBTQ community who have similar feelings. I imagine there are other groups who feel very much the same.
This has contributed to a sense of groundlessness. Where do I turn for context? I am of European descent, but not European. Yes, I live in Hawaii, but I am not Hawaiian. I am male, I am gay. A citizen of the U.S who still must fear for freedom.
Each strand of our lives is part of an entire tapestry. I sit often, with an innate sense of homelessness. A feeling of always searching. Picking up bits and pieces of places and cultures, as I go. Looking for clues and answers in the books I read. In the people I meet.
Analyzing the forms all this assumes in my artwork requires diligence. I do know, I am always wondering where my next place is going to be and feeling as if there is no place to call home.
Ultimately, I return to self and look inward for guides in steering forward. I feel at times as if I simply go in circles.
Voices and questions … How do I fit into the world I see around me? Where do I belong? How have these feelings marked me? Will I ever feel as if I have found home?
Language is a Virus
Well I dreamed there was an island, That rose up from the sea. And everybody on the island Was somebody from TV.– Laurie Anderson: lyrics, Language is a Virus
And there was a beautiful view But nobody could see. Cause everybody on the island Was saying: Look at me – Look at me – Look at me – Look at me!
There are days I do nothing but question myself. Am I doing, as an artist, something similar to what is captured above in Laurie Anderson’s lyrics? Is reality television the summation of society?
Is there more? Is more by necessity? How do I identify more, through which set of lenses? Can I use what I might glean? Art provides tools to find a framework beyond my physical reach.
Mapping a Path
In Words & Images
“The sum of human wisdom is not contained in any one language, and no single language is capable of expressing all forms and degrees of human comprehension.”– Ezra Pound
Symbols add depth to language. What can be said in word and sign? I am following a natural proclivity in choosing subjects for representation, depictions or abstractions that resonate with my mental states of being.
I find exploring my use of shapes, subjects, colors and forms offers insights.
Cell: Yellow with Green
I may use the iconography of many cultures in the expressing my different states of mind and feeling. I want to understanding the appearance of iconography and mindset. I strive always towards clarity in art and life.
Caught in a gravitational orbit; a moth and a flame. I feel drawn towards the power and belief of historic, symbolic representation in art, image, culture, word, story and language.
How subject am I to the power of symbol? Picture, myth, gesture, name, term or color – symbols are familiar and possess specific connotations. They do this in addition to conventional meaning.
Symbols and Cyphers are a product of humankind’s creative processes. They are of the Noosphere if anything can be; their content is entirely virtual.
Symbols may undergo forms of mutation in stylistic and contextual expression. Red may mean hot or stop, green may mean go; yellow can evoke smiley faces and feelings of being happy; blue, something deep, liquid and cool.
In the realm of symbol and cypher, the swastika isn’t just the insignia of the Nazis. By design, in parts of the world, it most definately isn’t. An ancient religious icon, the swastika is found in Eurasian cultures symbolizing divinity and spirituality. Is it now also an example of cultural appropriation with ill intent?
What Does it Mean?
Art & Culture
Words and symbols call for interpretation. And new ways of reading. As with words, I mostly try and understand them in terms relevant to the cultures that shaped their composition. But, not entirely.
I perceive symbols through a lens of cultural conditioning. Non-figurative symbols can have many meanings. We may approach them with a slightly different sense of perception.
Parallel, contrasting and analogous meanings are sought and considered in my quest for understanding and in this Journal Entry: Symbol & Cypher.
Symbols and their meaning can be culturally shared or specifically relevant to individual lives.
Searching for Meaning
I am, to some degree, bound by the symbol’s connection to text as well as the cultural, religious or social contexts of their origins. The process of thinking through writing helps me to take these into account in understanding internalized relevance and any resulting artistic expressive use.
Ancient & Modern
Where Traditions Meet
People use symbols to interpret the world around them. This is true both modern and ancient societies. In the natural and in the superlative. We have not left any of this behind in our modernization, in our homoginization. Regardless, of how sophisticated we may think ourselves to be.
Choose to read the physical world as did the ancient oracles. Cast bones or foresee with a deck of cards. Find meaning in the world’s religious passages or the embers of fire. Find it were you might and express it.
I could communicate my thoughts on the walls of caves or churches. I can do this on a canvas. And in the words of Journal Entry: Symbol & Cypher. The field is wide open for you as well.
“… since the critical years of 1904-11, Modernism has broken down the dominance of decaying academic art conventions. The Western tradition, in particular has refreshed itself by the absorption of what where once regarded as exotic visual forms, most importantly those from Africa, Oceanic, and American Indian sources. The Modern temper, still very much with us in the so-called post-modern era, remains one characterized by introspection, anxiety, relativism, eclecticism, and a sense of lost meanings.”– Peter Sutton : Dreaming’s, The Art of Aboriginal Australia
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