Art and Anarchy in the works of Herbert Read.

 

Herbert Read was an anarchist who wrote numerous books on art and literature, he had a great influence on the use of art in education.  Read also co-founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.  Read had an interest in Existentialism and he was one of the first critics to use psychoanalysis as a tool for literary criticism. He was also one of the first English writers to take an interest in the writings of the French philosophers and was particularly impressed with the works of Jean-Paul Sartre.  Read never described himself as an Existentialist, he did acknowledge that his theories had similarities to Existentialism.  Read perhaps was the closest England came to a traditional European Existentialist thinker. 

      Politically, Read considered himself an anarchist, but he followed the “quietest” tradition albeit he had a distain for capitalist and materialist culture.  Read’s book To Hell With Culture deals specifically with his disdain for the term culture and expands on his anarchist view of the artist.   Read was an idealist believing that every human reality is a product of the mind, whereby the unconscious had its overwhelming influence on life and art.  This view stood in contrast the prevalent anarchist and socialist views of the time as most Marxists believed life was simply an outcome of a bourgeois society, but one in which a psychological process had evolved to create a false consciousness.  

    Herbert Read is known for his commitment to education and particularly   in the use of art in the classroom.  Read became interested in the drawing of children and wrote on the subject in pamphlets titled: Education through Art (Read, 1943); The Education of Free Men (Read, 1944); Culture and Education in a World Order (Read, 1948); The Grass Read, (1955); and Redemption of the Robot (1970)”.

Read’s ideas on creativity in schools also offered the possibility of greater international cohesiveness through the opportunity to create a more balanced approach to social relations through the use of art.  Notably,  Read argued that in Art Education  “every child, is said to be a potential neurotic capable of being saved from this prospect, if early, largely inborn, creative abilities were not repressed by conventional Education”. Everyone is an artist of some kind whose special abilities, even if almost insignificant, must be encouraged as contributing to an infinite richness of collective life”[i].  

Genetic Memory?

    All symbolism is said to be linked to a genetic memory, but the view is controversial.[i] Nonetheless, it is one way of explaining why a damaged part of the human brain can be compensated by another unused part without any prior knowledge of the skills that might emerge from it. This is the world of the autistic, the savant and sometimes the sick and injured, but it is also another dimension we know little about.  We have hardly touched the surface in the pioneering neurosciences.   Expert neuroscientists call the extraordinary compensation brain plasticity; the artist calls it visionary.  

    A new era of discovery in neurobiology is revealing just how marvellous our brains are in terms of transforming and repairing a bad situation. In turn, this raises questions about how we might go about unlocking the real human   potential in all of us.   Experiments using sodium amytal [amobarbital] carried out by psychiatrist Darold A. Treffert in the 1980s are said to have exposed vast reservoirs of memories and forgotten images that are stored in the brain and never used. This semi-barbiturate, sometimes known as the truth drug causes a hypnotic state as well as hallucinations and sometimes delirium, but many who hear voices, psychics, psychotics, mediums and more frequently experience this state.   

      Darold A.Treffert believes we humans have focused only on one form of intelligence, but he also believes that the various measurements we use for identifying intelligence characteristics might become obsolete in the future.   As Treffert suggests it is likely that we all have multiple intelligences.[ii]  This should significantly alter the way we view pathology and different abilities.  

 



[i]Darold A Treffert Islands of Genious [genetic memory]  p12

[ii]Ibid Ch. 1

Bringing Back the Dead.

      In Freudian terms ‘Art’ is always the symptom for repressed pain.  What cannot be explained in reason can be symbolized or contained in a vernacular and new forms of language, shapes, symbols, letters, spaces, Argotic constructions, glossolalias, mandalas and Asemic writings.   The Outsider artist is productive, illuminating and at the same time often unmanageable.  However, these traits are not unique to the Outsider artist.  Indeed, it is now considered that a borderline neurological disorder can create a disposition to produce any kind of art.   Moreover, this could be a good thing for humanity in an ever-growing hostile world. [iii]    There have been peaceful societies in ancient history based purely on poetry and art.[iv]   If music can help placate unresolved anger and violence in modern cities and train stations then Outsider art might have a special place in bringing about kindness and compassion. [v]

Outsider Art is a bold admission of Abjection manifest in compulsion, repetition, obsession and the blatant dismissal of authority, usually characterized by the super-ego. This means mythology in the strictest sense of the word, need not be attributed to supernatural beings, but to the specific acts of the super-ego, for example, man as superman, superwoman, god or goddess, otherwise the disappearance of the physical, material body  and transcendence, sometimes loosely referred to as a psychosis; or the disappearing/dead body.

The idea that the body with its internal god is dead has been attributed to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who coincidently died himself in a mental Asylum.  The term ‘god is dead’ first appears in 1882 in The Gay Science   [German: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft], in sections 108 [New Struggles], 125 [The Madman], and for a third time in section 343 [The Meaning of our Cheerfulness]. It is also found in Nietzsche’s 1883 famous work  Thus Spoke Zarathustra [German: Also Sprach Zarathustra], which is the work that made the statement most popular. The idea is stated in ‘The Madman’ as follows:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? [vi]

Outsider Art and Antecedants.

      All art is a poetic embellishment of a life experienced either through the rigors of physical events or by way of a fantasy.   In order to understand the poetic embellishments that give rise to great art it is important to understand the impacts of a general disenchantment on the human psyche. Evolution puts [dis]comfort into the realms of an altered consciousness, one that displaces reason for the primal instincts.  This can best be explained in the development of a Buddhist philosophy whereby all humans are said to be born into a world of pain and struggle that must be overcome if harmony and peace of mind are to be found.  Buddhism does this by cutting across the pain and pleasure principles with a detachment.    A recurrent theme is the reification of concepts, and the subsequent return to the Buddhist middle path [i] otherwise a position of transcendence.

Early Buddhism was based on empirical evidence gained by the human senses.  This changed over time and Buddhism added more speculative thoughts, such as metaphysics, phenomenology, ethics and epistemology and it acquired a more ontological positioning.  This appealed to a number of eastern groups because it avoided the supernatural beings of the pagan religions and provided categories that were more distinct and relative to everyday living and its hardships.

Buddhism holds a strong appeal for the Outsider artist who experiences the middle path transcendence in the processes of creating.    A  similar process can be found in the legends of Wolfram von Eschenbach and in particular his captivating tale of Parzival, a young boy whose epic journey and initiation into adulthood resulted in his encounter with the mysterious and pain ridden Fisher King who must find a cure in the Holy Grail, otherwise reproduction.   The tale is heavily influenced by the Greek tragedy Oedipus [Oidípous meaning ‘swollen foot’] was written by Sophocles in the 5th Century BC.   Oedipus was the mythical Greek king of Thebes who was said to have fulfilled a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother, thereby bringing disaster upon the kingdom.   Oedipus was one of three plays that revealed the flawed nature of humanity and an individual’s role in the course of his or her destiny.

Oedipus has played a central role in classical and modern art and literature especially in Shakespeare’s who also played to the Royal Courts and Oedipus is crucial to the conceptualization of Freudian Psychoanalysis and other forms of developmental psychology.  The history and logic of psychoanalytic praxis can be mapped in the sexual drives that sit between the life and death theories.  They describe the primal instincts experienced by all of us, but which are heightened in people with dissociative conditions and the ‘the shifting conceptualization of the object’ and/or the ‘object of desire, the object in desire’ and ‘the object as cause of desire’[ii]

[Illustration by Junitta Vallak: Angels].

The Primal Isolation.

      While the evolution of consciousness is complex the specific variations that find their way into great works of art have been largely functional and based on daily ritual and a belief in a body of perceived supernatural forces; or to put it differently, beings who are considered superior to ordinary men and women and who encapsulate higher powers that can been drawn upon through the intermediary phenomena of nature and the creative imagination.   These belief systems have given rise to a particular canon of spiritual existence often derided as heresy, deviant, insane and anti-social, but which eases the emotions associated with the primal isolation.    

      If the isolation increases belief systems become more transcendental and this   renders Outsider Art as a new way of envisioning the world.    Consider for instance the architecture of Antoni Gaudi [1852-1926] which includes a cathedral, a park, housing and more.  Gaudi has greatly influenced the Spanish City of Barcelona, whereby every year millions of people from across the world flock to see his work.   Gaudi was greatly influenced by the primal shapes, textures, colours and forms of nature and this is reflected in his use of pillars and brightly coloured mosaics, his stoned curves and his twisted iron sculptures that were totally out of step with the architecture of his day as well as that of his contemporaries, but very in-step with the primal libidinal expressions of the Outsider artist.

 

 



[i] The Central Path, Middle Way or Middle Path (Pali: majjhimā paipadā; Sanskrit: madhyamā-pratipad[1][a]; Chinese: 中道zhōngdào; Japanese: 中道chūdō; Vietnamese: Trung đạo) is the term that Siddhartha Gautama used to describe the character of the path he discovered that leads to liberation.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Middle Way refers to the insight into emptiness that transcends opposite statements about existence.[2][b] 

[ii] Julia Reinhard Lupton and Kenneth Reinhard [1993] After Oedipus Shakespeare in Psychoanalysis,  Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, p2.

 

[iii]Anjan Chatterjee

Department of Neurology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience

The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Pennsylvania 19104, USA  INTERNATIONAL REVIEW OF 39

NEUROBIOLOGY, VOL. 74.  

[iv]Minoans

[v]psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-music-to-reduce-stress/000930

[vi] —Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Section 125, tr. Walter Kaufmann

 

Creativity and Inner Worlds.

Joseph Wallas [1926] believed that creativity took place through four processes, preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.  Preparation is the state where the individual does the preliminary work. First there is the scanning of the creative territory. What are the possibilities?  This action is followed by brain storming and/or the gathering of ideas. The movement to brain storming is relatively unstructured, but it may involve some free association. Alternatively, the mind might just wander with no fixed end intended.  After this first stage the collected material is sifted and analysed, not necessarily in a conscious manner.  Some instinct can be applied to all the mental sifting and shifting processes. In the incubation process the material is contemplated, which may be a passive or active deliberation with no particular time-line.   

Antecedents

      In order to put Outsider Art into its creative context it would be prudent to start with German Expressionists who portrayed a particular disenchantment felt by many of the avant-garde artists towards the 1920s urban development and industrial modernism.  The early twentieth century was a period of great innovation in the arts with such movements as post-impressionism Fauvism, cubism, Dada and surrealism. The avant-garde found its strength under the German Weimar government of the 1920s and it emerged as a leading centre of Expressionist painting, sculpture, modern music and film.   These new ideas were not automatically accepted.  The mainstream German population did not care for the new art and the Nazis viewed the culture of the Weimer period as degenerate.  Their response stemmed partly from a conservative aesthetic  taste manifest in a love of the classical Greek works and the Roman Empire and partly from their determination to use culture as a tool of propaganda. [i]  Hitler viewed classical art as an exterior form that embodied an inner racial ideal.[ii]   Under Hitler the modern styles of art were banned and the Nazis promoted works that were traditionally connected to the ‘blood and soil’ and which upheld values of racial purity, militarism and devotion to the fatherland.  All else was Degenerate art said to be produced by artists who were un-German, Jewish and/or Bolshevist.  

German Expressionism was retaliation to the totalising regime and it drew on the traditional   use of folklore and primitive artefacts.   Ernest Ludwig Kirchner[1880-1938] was a German painter and print maker and one of the key figures in the artists group Die Brucke or The Bridge, the first 20th century Expressionist group.  The Brucke group, was named after a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche, in which he states that ‘what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.  Kirchner volunteered for army service in World War I, suffered a breakdown, and was discharged. In 1933, his work was branded as Degenerate by the Nazis.  In 1938 Kirchner took his own life by gunshot.[iv]

Expressionist artists Emil Nolde [1857 –1956] and Ludwig Meidner [1884-1966] began a trend in the depiction of inner worlds, isolation and alienation.   The idea of the primitive was very much a basis for a large amount of the Brücke artists’ work, but it also became the German ideal heralded by the Third Reich. The idea of the artist’s rejection of society and the urban city was prevelant throughout the history of art in Germany, for example, preceeding Die Brücke, was Wilhelm Riehl’s Land und Leute [1857 – 63], which advocated a return to the land and racial purity making it a symbol of German culture and tradition.  There was also Carl Vinnen’s Worpswede Stimmungsladschaften [mood landscapes] and Arnold Bocklin’s mythological landscapes, which provided a romantic vision of rural life. The notion of returning to nature is also highlighted in Adolf von Menzel’s a Journey Through Beautiful Nature, [1892]. 

       The Italian psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso, viewed the decent back to the primitive as a ‘madness’ or child-like stage of growth that involves a retreat from worldly chaos. Similarly, the world’s most famous of Swiss Outsider artists, Adolf Wolfli [1864-1930] created art to offset his anxiety after his psychotic collapse.   Here the chaos appears to emerge from the body and become transferred into a text and/or image.   Just as the German Expressionists escaped from the isolation and alienation of modern urban living, today Outsider artists immerse themselves in a nostalgic vision of the inner world through paining, sculpting, carving and building eclectic works.  The French Outsider artist   Pascal Maisonneuve [1863-1934], displayed his defiance of the changing world by creating faces from shells.  

      Outsider artists work compulsively and rarely do they plan in advance. The primal obsession is generally accompanied by a continual need to fill in the gaps and offset the natural wild or the inner mental wilderness. Nolde would often concentrate exclusively on a specific subject matter in intense bursts of activity which he described in his autobiography.  Kirchner would also work obsessively, without taking notice of the time, and would often emphasise his mental distress as a key driving force behind his work.   Kirchner reportedly took to stimulants such as alcohol, sex and morphine during his time in Berlin, and right up until his suicide in 1938 he was continually fighting a battle with loneliness and alienation, which became articulated in his frustration with modern city life.  



[i] [Adam, Peter (1992). Art of the Third Reich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.ISBN 0-8109-1912-5

[ii][ Grosshans, Henry (1983). Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer. ISBN 0-8419-0746-3 p87

[iii]Degenerate art – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degenerate_art 

[iv]Ernst Ludwig Kirchner”, Brucke Museum. Retrieved 8 September 2007.

Creativity.

The gulf between the need to create and the perceived lack of creative progress presents a conundrum for the human mind.   Scientists, especially those working in the fields of economics, have constantly sought to explain cultural stagnation and the answer lies in a lack of collective creative enterprise.  There is no individual neurological fix to this kind of stagnation.  Nor is there any evidence of causation that can be linked to brain dysfunctions or mutations.  Everyone can create.  Further, there is no clear definition of what creativity is.[i]  There are obvious social rules about what governs artistic enterprise some set by historical example and others by current fashion.    Outsider Art is created by people who are said to produce outside these conventions.   Outsider artists are dreamers who live out their dreams beyond the boundaries of the prescribed socio-economic order. The work of Outsider artists is instinctual; it throws off the shackles of civilisation and taps into the archaic primal mind to reveal another level of existence, a chaos that must be expressed.   Outsider Art extends the human vision by crossing the boundaries between ‘originality and creativity,’ [ii] but it comes at a price. The primal mind operates in survival mode and this causes a number of heightened anxieties in a modern world setting.  The production of art can also serve to placate these anxieties.



[i]Jose Guimon 2006 Art and Madness Aurora Davis Groups of Publishers, p5 and  R.S. Albert [1992] Genious and Eminence, Oxford Pergamon Press.

[ii]Jose Guimon 2006 Art and Madness Aurora Davis Groups of Publishers, p5.

[ii]Jose Guimon 2006 Art and Madness Aurora Davis Groups of Publishers, p5.

 

Liberation.

       Art speaks to the notion of liberation.  However, understanding the ancient symbolic messages left by our ancestors has posed a riddle for science. How do we explain the incongruity of the evolutionary findings? Science now suggests that  ‘tool-making… can be pushed back at least two million years’ whereby ‘modern tool kits emerged very gradually over 300,000 years in Africa.’ Conversely ‘Neanderthals are now known to have had brains that were bigger than ours and to have inherited the same genetic mutations that facilitate speech as us. Yet, despite surviving until 30,000 years ago, they hardly invented any new tools…’   It would seem then that ‘it is quite possible to be intelligent and imaginative human beings’ [Neanderthals buried their dead] ‘yet not experience cultural and economic progress.’[i]  What was absent from these societies was vision and a form of interaction that was based on interaction and past knowledge.    As Brian Arthur argues in his book The Nature of Technology,’ nearly all technologies are combinations of other technologies and new ideas come from swapping things and thoughts.[ii]   That said, the historian Christopher Lasch has noted our dependence on what went before has reached a point where there is a sense of everything coming to an end. ‘The sense of ending’ states Lasch ‘has given shape to much of the twentieth century literature’ and feelings of a dystopia.

The Nazi Holocaust, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the depletion of natural resources, well founded predictions of ecological disaster have fulfilled poetic prophecy giving concrete historical substance to the nightmare, or death wish, that avant-garde artists were the first to express.[iii]

       The vision of avant-garde artists is still with us, but in modern competitive societies where productivity is everything, materialism and the quest for creative vision that is rooted in survival poses a deep psychological schism.   As Lasch states humans have developed a culture of narcissism.  Humans have lost the vision of a Golden Age.

The contemporary climate is therapeutic, not religious. People today hunger for personal salvation, let alone for the restoration of an earlier golden age, but for the feeling of momentary illusion, of personal well being and heath and psychic security.[iv]

    Lasch goes on to describe how the radical politics of the 1960s filled empty lives, it gave people purpose, but it was never enough.  The weather has more impact on well being than politics.[v]   Environments and the emotions they arouse play a crucial role in well being as well as the ability to adapt to what we cannot control.   Progress in the modern world is a well thought out systematic process that depends of positive, visionary creation that is the outward expression of internalised feelings and emotions.   



 [i]  Matt Ridley [2010]Evolution and Creativity: Why Humans Triumphed. Wall Street Journal Saturday Essay.      online.wsj.com/…/SB1000142405274870369180457525453338693313…

[ii] W. Brian Arthur [2011] The Nature of Technology, New York Free Press.

[iii]Christopher Lasch [1979] New York Norton Publishers p3.

[iv]Christopher Lasch [1979] New York Norton Publishers p7.

[v]Christopher Lasch [1979] New York Norton Publishers p7.

Visions.

   

To understand Outsider Art is to conserve it.   Generally we have valued the interpretative artists for their historical importance, familiarity and pleasure, but society has had little time for nonconformity.  Outsider Art that exemplifies a ‘breakthrough’ in vision has traditionally remained beyond the borders of convention to be ignored rather than condemned rendering it invisible and devoid of any critique. [i]  Times have changed.  More recently Outsider Art has emerged in the context of post-modern, post-historical assertions, whereby there should be no judgements, no absolute truths, rules or conventions.   A cultural shift has taken place which the social historian Christopher Lasch has called it The Waning of the Sense of Historical Time [2006]. [ii]  Lasch laments the lack of historical reference.   Similar sentiments have been expressed in the book The End of History and the Last Man [1992] by Francis Fukuyama who argued that the spread of globalization and Western Liberal democracy would signal the endpoint in the multicultural evolution. [iii]  For Fukuyama the changes are just the inevitable outcome of the bourgeoisie mode.  Others have noted that since the end of the 1960s European Cultural Revolution interest in collective politics has waned in favour of the individual’s self-interest.  Virtually all social commentators, acknowledge the profound changes; for example, on the right, Robert Bork in Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (New York: Regan Books,1996) [iv] and, on the left, Todd Gitlin in The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam Books, 1987).[v]   Both the left and right of politics characterize the counterculture as self-indulgent, childish, irrational, narcissistic, and even dangerous. [vi]

      Notwithstanding there are some positive elements to the changes. Science has advanced and offers different perspectives on culture and its values.   We can now conjecture an intrinsic purpose in being creative that is linked to human well being, but convincing people that making art is more important than buying a second car or taking a luxurious holiday is not an easy task.   Art happens in the moment, but it also links us to history and the future.  Undoubtedly, the creative arts have been enduring.  The art of civilizations is, in many instances, the only thing left when cities and populations decline. We remember the past through peoples’ art.  History and endurance requires vision.   The ability to vision is not the same as the tendency to dream.   We must awake from our dreams and rarely do we put their contents into effect.[vii]  Visionaries take dreaming to another level whereby the fantasies can become the means to create a better more harmonious world.

     The evolution of human creativity is complex nothing can truly explain the sudden development of human ingenuity of the last 45,000 years until now.    The succession of discoveries that have included fire, flint and minerals provided new tools and hunting methods, which in turn culminated in tribal settlements and communities that developed agriculture, the domestication of animals, the manufacture of tools and implements.   Alongside these discoveries was the acquisition of language giving rise to the expanding brain. Over time life became more rewarding, but also more intricate, more competitive and more conflicting. The quest for rewards became juxtaposed to punishments for non-achievement.   The competition for success intensified.   Opposing tribes fought hard for wealth and supremacy and the same drives that created progress, also led to defeat and chaos.  Thus we live in on a planet of winners and losers. We must transcend this system if life on Earth is to survive.

      Despite the hurdles and bumps on the way humanity has made extraordinary progress in a short space of time.   However, this advancement is not due to individual skills or the rational ability to speculate on the future, what we understand to be a modern sophisticated society is the product of a collective intelligence.  Scientists now agree that the collective intelligence of our predecessors gave the world the cultural evolution which we enjoy today.   According to current scientific findings development lies in collective bargaining, that is to say people interacting are better able to move forward rationally and creatively.  To reiterate this very important point, what appears to determine innovation and the rate of cultural change in nations and communities is the amount of creative communicative interaction.   As we see from history some of the earliest communications between humans took place through artistic expression. Examples of these works exist across the world to remind us of the power of symbolism and metonymy. It should not surprise us then that any attempts at political dictatorship will lead to an attack on the arts and demands of absolute obedience.  A picture paints much more than words, it creates imagination and vision.



[i]Jose Guimon 2006 Art and Madness Aurora Davis Groups of Publishers, p5.

[ii]Christopher Lasch [1979] New York Norton Publishers p1.

[iii] Francis Fukuyama[1992] The End of History and the Last Man  New York Free Press. Chapter 1.

[iv] Robert Bork in Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline (New York: Regan Books,1996)

[v] Todd Gitlin in The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York: Bantam Books, 1987)—

[vi]George, Jason (2004). “The Legacy of the Counterculture”. columbia.edu. Columbia University. Retrieved 2014-05-23.

[vii]Ariety S.[1976] Creativity: The Magic Synthesis. New York. Basic Books.

 

Heavenly Inspiration.

Theorists have generally looked to motivation as an explanation for creativity focusing on why some people are more creative than others.  Most ancient cultures, such as the Greek, Chinese and Indian cultures had no real concept of creativity as they believed art was a discovery rather than a form of creation. Ancient societies believed that everything had a Divine origin.  The ancient Greeks in particular did not have a word for “create” or “creator”.  The great Greek philosopher Plato did not believe in art as a form of creation. He asserted that all art was an imitation.[i]  There was one exception to this rule, that of poetry. The art of poetry had a particular spiritual status as did the poet who put it together.    Indeed, the first conception of creation in the Western culture appears to have arisen with the Bible and Genesis when God was said to have created the Heavens and the Earth.  From then onwards the idea of creation was concretized in a religious dogma whereby any act of creation was the sole domain of Divine inspiration, a position that lasted until the eighteenth century European Enlightenment.

 

 



[i]^Plato, The Republic, Book X – wikisource:The Republic/Book X

Illustration Gromyko Semper: Visionary Art.