9. Some Results of Aesthetic Observation I
by Culture and Anti Culture
Prosaic language can only with difficulty depict aesthetic reality. What follows are attempts to approximate in words what reveals itself to attentive observation.
‘Woman Sewing by Lamplight’ by Jean-Francois Millet
This is not a sentimental image, despite the presence of the soft-lit iconography of mother and child. There are masterful aesthetic touches woven into the figure of the woman, especially her face and the gesture of her right hand.
However, more fundamentally, this image expresses a rich, dense atmospheric warmth. The warmth, conveyed by a shaping and subduing of light, is virtually a palpable substance. Specifically, how is this achieved? The bright central light source, already gold-tinged, is concentrically surrounded by zones of softer, darker gold-yellow, made shimmering by painting the light area as granules and not as smooth surface. Further from the source, a subtle series of curvilinear wave-fronts of light alternate with hazy bands of relative darkness, suggesting the propagation of the golden warmth into the surrounding receptive obscurity. The granularity and wave-like quality is magically sustained in the texture of the cloth arrayed before the woman.
A passing glance will not disclose the depth of this warmth; however, when revealed through conscious sustained attention this warmth will suffuse the soul.
Sears Tower – Chicago, IL
Severe, flat, all surface, without inwardness, monumental without grandeur, minimally textured but unembellished, surreal, unscaled, angular, rectilinear, arbitrary, without rhyme or evident human purpose. This is not simply ugly – it just has no place in the world of living things – it is anti-biological.
There is no foothold here for the human imagination or the human hand to elaborate, carve, enhance, or soften; nor a means for nature to work into the form the aesthetic effects of weathering and time, as is seen in Gothic cathedrals or ancient temples. It is a visitation from another dimension where humanity is not present. It is cold.
Mount Hood – NW Oregon
This is the valley of the Muddy Fork of the Sandy River on the west side of Mount Hood in Oregon. It’s central focus from which the image flows and to which all else is attracted is the rocky, snow-bound apex of the peak itself. This, unlike the Sears Tower is monumentality with grandeur.
The culmination of the mountain inexorably suggests a mighty, lofty, aloof consciousness, communing with a comparable degree of sublimity in the heights. Lesser, inferior culminations of rocky forms give a strong metaphorical impression of allied but subordinate being. The light tone of the snow and rock above has an affinity with the aesthetic power of the sky. The light green of the higher meadows also bears this levity and the relative darkness of the fir forests anchors all to Mother Earth. A maternal gesture is almost explicit in the encompassing arms of the two great lateral ridges, while the light-scoured strands of the descending tributary beds of the Muddy Fork are like sensory gestures, bringing a narrower relation between the heights and the lowlands.
This is a coherent, aesthetically potent image.
“Contemporary humanity is in the midst of many crises. At the heart of them all is the crisis in the inner life of the human being. We are writing for the consciously distressed.”