When I log into my computer, MSN’s landing page appears, and I’m immediately informed about whatever MSN thinks is important in life, which invariably is either politics, crime, or disaster. Disasters vary, but politics is exceedingly predictable. Whatever MSN wants me to think regarding politics is reliably identical to whatever they wanted me to think yesterday — so much so that one can “predict” the “news.”
I was wondering about ways to subvert that morning filter. The idea popped into my head that perhaps I could just make a list of “things to think about,” pleasant things that I might adopt like cognitive trampolines to hop from “whatever I’m supposed to think about today” to something I’d prefer to think about this morning. So, let’s say I decided that for morning I’d think about flowers. Whenever computer surfing seems aimed on getting me to fall into the propaganda filter, I would hop onto a flower instead — rather like a bug. Flowers are a good topic for me. I love drawing them. They feature prominently in my art. The thing would not be to hypnotize myself into only thinking about flowers — though nothing wrong with that — but more just a way of distracting myself from the recipe that is “supposed” to construct my thoughts.
The point is more about CATEGORIES. If one were to make a list of OBJECTS OF THOUGHT, rather like a STILL LIFE of words and ideas, what sorts of things would you choose for yourself? Reading around a bit in Buddhism I’ve lately come into acquaintance with the notion of clearing one’s mind. That seems like an interesting phenomenon too, but tricky to manage. So if you cannot clear away the cobwebs, what about merely choosing the categories for yourself? If one’s mind were presented with a buffet table of interesting items — an organon, a taxonomy — that you prepare for yourself — what items would be there?
Okay. Maybe one is not Aristotle and you don’t want the bother of inventing the system from scratch — rather like someone who isn’t much of a cook and needs the help of various things that come readymade in boxes — but still you go shopping and you select the span of things.
If you select things to think about — even by merely pointing and choosing — you’re mapping out territories in your mind. And what if, moreover, you say to youself, “I’d like to think about something a bit different today,” you have to go looking. You have to FIND new territory. What might that consist of? How do you search out new objects of contemplation? One wants a dictionary. Nature’s dictionary perhaps.
They might be things with names. They might be percepts that lack names. It doesn’t matter. They might be words, in a writerly way of being. They might be sights or sounds … or tastes or aromas, actions, distant memories, reconfigured bits of the past. For some people it might be math — not for me, alas.
Leaves, clouds, shadows, contours, hatchings, buzzing cicada song. Maybe I will contemplate the folds in a cloth and whatever they have to tell me about gravity and light. Maybe a doll in a fancy dress.
Maybe I will think about large amorphous landscapes of places I’ve never been except in dreams or drawings, vivid places composed of the colors I like, dramatic scenes bright with light that would be breezy and clear if I walked there.
Or maybe I’ll think about creamers and tabletops and past conversations and tea times with old friends. Creamers rendered into bright blue lines that curve or intersect in ragged ways. Creamers decorated with flowers.
If you were creating your own taxonomy of thought and feeling, how would you find the categories? How set that table of contemplation? If your mind wants filters, why not choose the filters yourself? The act of choosing is expansive — it enlarges experience, one choice prompts another.
Set that table with the items that suit you, that put you mentally where you want to be.
And if you like this post please SHARE it — particularly so that others might go hunting for items, that they might consider creating their mental schemata to compete rigorously — possibly triumphantly — against the massive social hypnosis that pop culture offers tediously and daily.
Enlarge the cosmos!
7 thoughts on “Filters & Naturalness”
I do listen to the news in the morning, but as my mind won’t focus on anything for long, it’s easy for me to avoid it. My computer doesn’t open to a news page, so no problem there. The secret is not to get drawn in in the first place I think. Of course it’s a lot easier now that Trump is no longer President, and we are not stuck inside. (K)
If someone supports President Trump or opposes him, purportedly there’s a laundry list of things we can predict that each type of voter also believes. Or so we’re told by pollsters, media and the politicians themselves. It puts people into boxes. Thus especially in the political sphere, topics are reduced to these bullet point items. That’s unfortunate for politics since as a topic it might be as varied as any other if we relearned what it means to seek capacious ideas about public life.
But if we look at those demographics and ask ourselves what else characterizes all these individual people in their rich and varied lives, what do we find? The actual political views are more complex than the memes suggest, but also everyone — each individual person — has a great set of experiences having little or nothing to do with politics. All that great everything else is what particularly interests me. I want more categories, not fewer, more names for things, and also I want awareness of experience that has no name. A great many things in life are difficult to describe. Some of peoples’ deepest connections to life and to their times consist of things poetical, in experiences that defy definition. It might be something as light hearted as a funny story or grave thoughts deep and philosophical.
I have long believed the museums should have a jubilee day when they scramble the pictures and remove the labels and let the art loving public simply look at paintings of scenes and figure out for themselves the significance of the paintings. Give all the docents a day off. And a similar jubilee day of removing all the labels we affix to other people would be lovely too, if we would see as though for the first time what our fellow human beings are like. I don’t want to be too corny about it, but we should be more involved in living and less engaged in stereotyping our experiences and our fellows.
It’s a tricky and creative task. Clearly bias exists and does so because bias is helpful to understanding — up to a point. I think however at present we’ve rather overdosed on bias. It would be good to relax a bit and recalibrate our sense of the world, less of “us verses them,” regardless who is “us” and who is “them.” Simply being human is pretty wonderful.
I know Trump supporters and they are all different. Their reasons are as varied as they are. But we can’t talk about politics, and we don’t. And for me, a weight has been lifted from the world. That is a truth. There were other reasons, but the last 4 years were hell for me, and Trump and his political supporters added greatly to my stress. They made my life worse. I needed a break.
As to museums, etc, I agree–what difference does it make who painted it and when? Do you like it, and why? all this scholarship changing who things are attributed to makes no sense to me. Why is it a better piece of art if a certain person painted it? Also, I don’t understand why certain art styles or subjects or techniques “belong” to one culture or another, and only they can use them.
I do think we need to expand our vision of each other, but not to the extent that we are saying it’s OK to cause harm, it’s OK to lie, it’s OK to make everyone else follow your religious beliefs No. It’s not OK with me.
Just to clarify, I’m not opposed to art historical research or the labels on the pictures. But I do believe we need to explore our personal responses to art and to life in general. To “expand our vision of each other” is an elegant way to put it, Kerfe. And along those lines to expand our understanding of our days, our experiences, with each other, with nature, with the realm of ideas.
I can appreciate political debate, too, though it can be contentious so thankfully this blog’s about art. The political sphere can be large too, but I’m glad I don’t have to make that case myself. It’s rough territory. Instead I just note that political commentary in contemporary times is very predictable, and if/when we’re really in learning mode we will encounter unpredictable things.
Indeed, the unpredictability is evidence that one is learning new things. And it’s a theme that I want to treat in greater detail going forward with my now revived blog. I want to sort out for myself more clearly what innovation means in art and how we accomplish it. In that vein I will be also trying to sort out what are “mistakes” and whether we should be avoiding them, making them, or even just figuring out how mistakes are defined and identified and used.
What does success look like? How do we know when a picture is complete? How do mistakes help us arrive at completeness? How does one analyze art? How does one do this on a personal level? I plan to share more information about what I’m learning in real time — as much as that’s possible — and hopefully it will spark some ideas in others. We’ll see.
Thanks for your heartfelt comments.
The public discourse of politics is predictable, but in reality most people have a complicated mix of views. It’s the politicians that are looking for a single simple party line, not the people. It’s a problem.
Ah success. A fool’s game. But I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
You’re a word person so your response to the word “success” is especially interesting. What does it signify to you that would make it a fool’s errand? Curious. Not a reaction I would have anticipated.
Looked up the etymology. It’s an oldish word in English appearing in the 16th century from Latin.
“1530s, “result, outcome,” from Latin successus “an advance, a coming up; a good result, happy outcome,” noun use of past participle of succedere “come after, follow after; go near to; come under; take the place of,” also “go from under, mount up, ascend,” hence “get on well, prosper, be victorious,” from sub “next to, after” (see sub-) + cedere “go, move” (from PIE root *ked- “to go, yield”). Meaning “accomplishment of desired end” (good success) first recorded 1580s. Meaning “a thing or person which succeeds,” especially in public, is from 1882.”
That’s interesting. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a goal-oriented person that I feel that way. Words like success seem to have no meaning in the context of a good life. I have no desired ends… I want enough to be comfortable, but I don’t need more than that. The absence of constant stress, or good health–neither would be considered success. No one is going to pay me or applaud me for things I create. I just have a need to make things, and I get satisfaction from it. Some I like better than others, and I can always make more.