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21.10.2017 : 6:57 : +0200

Trialogue:

Integral Art – The Search for an Aesthetic Compass of the Next Avantgarde

With Axel Malik, Harald Kimmig and Dennis Wittrock

DENNIS:

Dear Axel, dear Harald, first of all, thank you very much for taking the time and accepting my invitation to this e-mail ‘trialogue’ about the topic of  ‘integral art’.

My first question goes to you, Axel, first – I know from talks we have had that you are quite critical of much of what is labeled ‘art’ in integral circles. Let me ask you, rather provocatively, this: how much of it would you even consider to be art and what is wrong with the rest of it?

AXEL:

Dennis, first of all, your question makes me take a sudden deep breath.

‘No artist must criticize another, it diminishes the art too much.’ This is what Monsieur  Vogelsang sings in one of Mozart’s operas. That points to the warning, that lights up when I hear your question. These days, criticism of art, leave alone criticism amongst artists, barely exists any more. But it is not because people do not want to be suspected of envy or malevolence, it has structural, systemic reasons. And this is the context I would like to address here first. If you look at the past 3000 years of art, you can see how each generation of artists connects to and follows up on the work of the previous one. It is fundamentally a process of increasing subtlety and differentiation. Art develops in its skill and in its ability to depict the world, to copy it, to imitate it. It is oriented mimetically* and thus its focus is on representation. (*In ancient Greece, mimesis was an ideal that governed the creation of works of art, in particular, with correspondence to the physical world.) That also implies that you can judge art, judge its quality, grasp the significance of its creative structure and composition and measure how deeply it is connected to the process of creation. The criteria might change, but they exist as well as objective measurements. Today this is very different. Everyone can say whether they like something, but when you ask the question whether there are criteria for quality or objective statements about art, you usually encounter silence. Why is that?

After 3000 years of development we encounter a cultural shockwave. Some call it a catastrophe, others, the majority within the art-world describe it as the most decisive and important revolution in modern art: Marcel Duchamp puts a urinal, a pissoir, an industrial object of everyday use, the so-called ‘Ready-Made’ into a museum. Modern Art has never recovered from this brilliant idea and the brainwaves it set in motion, and art has in its substance, still not gone any further. This kind of thing still is regarded as ‘state of the art’. This completely shifted the focus of art, because since then, the question is not what is being produced and the HOW of an object, but rather it is the very fact that something gets exhibited that makes it interesting and fascinating for the artistic discourse.

Postmodernism, which really takes off with Andy Warhol emphasizing the profane (no difference between higher and lower) adds narcissism and consumerism to it. Self-referencing and self-relating have expanded globally ever since. This virus separated art from its source-code in creation. If you deliberately decide to reach for something already in existence, rather than creating something new, you lose access to the true forces of creativity. This continuous and ever widening devaluation and conceptualization of art has helped the art-world to soar, because, as cliché as it is true, anything can just be art today. And simultaneously that’s the shadow. This program has separated art from criteria and source-code. The (objective) sphere of creation was replaced by the subjective spin of creativity. (In the New Age, art was misused therapeutically. Music-therapy might be a great way to heal, but it will not result in an opera. Art therapy does not produce a masterpiece. The success of healing can blind you to (true) art.) This is the status quo: We do not have any measures or criteria anymore to locate creative quality.

I think that the art of the future will ignite at this point, at this existential fissure.

Integral Art is usually judged by whether or not integral content is visible in the packaging itself.

 And that is why what is called integral art is often only an illustration, a concept to visualize and advertise esoteric fantasies, to convert integral content into graphic. Prof. Rubinov Jacobson, whose article ‘An Eye on Integral Art’ is on the website, follows this concept of metaphorical signs and visual symbols. The integral art of Alex Grey is well known. He dissects the human body’s chakra-structures. He too reaches back a century, when in Symbolism, art revived the antique mythic world. Integral Art, which first of all calls itself ‘visionary art’ is very attached to surreal imagery, symbolic repertoires and references.  That is nothing new.  And the integral art-theory of both of these men is, in my view, a significant overdose of effusive enthusiasm. May I say that here - that image and its interpretation aesthetically embrace kitsch?

DENNIS:

Well, in the art-world, kitsch in and of itself is, at least since Jeff Koons, not an anathema anymore and thus your criticism would concern Alex Grey and Prof. Rubinov Jacobson only, if they would see themselves as ‘serious’ and not as kitsch artists. I do agree with you, that Duchamp’s “Ready-made” marks a turning point in art history. It seems that in this act of liberation he broke the ultimate taboo, which is, at the same time, also a kind of breaking of a dam. After his ‘Pissoir’, as I see it, artists went into something like a contest as to who could break the biggest number of conventions. Apart from a big flood of creativity, this unfortunately also released a flood of premature and immature pieces into the museums and art-centers. The dam of convention was in a sense broken for both – qualitatively higher and lower art. Suddenly, provocation dominated in the clamor for attention. I don’t want to get started about certain mechanics of the art-market here. For me, the important question is how to re-introduce some kind of gradient of depth and quality into the largest possible breadth of forms beyond a postmodern, relativistic approach. In modernity, as you mentioned, mimetic criteria were negated. Starting from an integral dialectic, these should not just be negated at the next level, but need to be preserved and integrated as well.

How do we preserve the Mimesis*-principle and what criteria would need to be added when judging art?

Harald, since your artistic work is in music and mimetic principles have never really played an important role in the qualitative assessment of music, I was wondering how you would answer this question?

HARALD:

Dear Dennis, dear Axel, first of all thank you for the opportunity to participate in this trialogue. We are discussing a big question here, which probably cannot be resolved fully. That’s why I will allow myself a more subjective perspective, which grows out of my work with improvisation, new music and sounds, which are usually called edgy or difficult.

First of all I want to agree with Axel’s explanation, maybe with a small addition. In spite of all the criticism of Duchamps and Warhol, we still need to credit them with opening our eyes to the every-day-world. Those who walk the earth with open eyes will find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Yes, I also think that in music with all its successful and unsuccessful work the issue is slightly different from the one in visual arts.

In music great pieces are constantly created, pieces of high quality, great depth, shaped by a long tradition of musical creativity and the constant and consistent engagement with it. People who make music – composers, improvisational artists and musicians usually have a high degree of awareness of the intuitive, technical, communicative and aesthetic value of their work. I rather see the problem in the way music is received at a time when it is so constant and omnipresent that you have to search for silence rather than always abide in it. The result is that few people make the effort to listen to music actively, like for example the effort it takes to read a book by Kant, Hegel or Wilber. The general level of listening to music is, to use a slightly distorted and polemic comparison, stuck at the level of crime-mystery-reader. Some contemporary compositions have been accompanying me for years, amongst them Das Atmende Klarsein by Luigi Nono, Das Mädchen mit den Schwefelhölzern, by Helmut Lachenmann, all solo-interpretations by Cecil Taylor since 1988, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, and in the past few months ‘Five more String Quartetts by Phill Niblock and Vox Balanae by George Crumb. I could continue this highly subjective list indefinitely.

What’s impressive about these pieces, as much as the styles and traditions differ from which they emerged, they all have one thing in common: they are the expressions of sounds beyond any traditional laws of harmony, rhythm or melody; they are uncomfortable. They stay in the realm of the unfamiliar. They are shaped by a high degree of intensity that is more than empty emphasis. They were, in the best sense, reflected rationally by their inventor, sometimes sober, but in themselves connected to the inner (yet never private) and the outer, clearly expressed and with a little effort (similar to reading Kant, Hegel or Wilber) intelligible to everyone. The How and the What, the inner and the outer, form a unity. This higher consciousness can open a door to transcendence, which you can hear in the moments of silence following a successful concert.

Very few people actually know the music I mentioned above and not just because it is my subjective selection. Comparable pieces are just as unknown, including in the integral community. I can’t say what integral music is, but what is often used as meditation music is usually not it – keyboard harmonies accompanied by a soft flute may calm the nerves (unfortunately not mine), but they end up in pre rather than trans.

The musicians I mentioned above most likely have never heard of Ken Wilber or Integral Theory. Yet all of them did their homework in terms of developing their creative, technical and communicative skills and their knowledge of (music-)history. Thus all the AQAL criteria can be applied to their music.

Helmut Lachenmann once wrote:  ‘Without thinking, hearing is without defenses.’ ‘Experimental Music’ - a crutch of a word - has often been accused of intellectualism and of being arbitrary. And in individual cases that might well be true; there are shadows here too and sometimes bitter discussions. But again Lachenmann states: ‘Where thinking gets in the way of feeling, both are under-developed’. To introduce thinking into a culture of hearing is alien to most. We rather want to be uplifted, taken dancing, which is all fine, but conscious hearing can do more. It includes an active presence in the sound – co-feeling, co-thinking, co-working, co-transcending. Thus, listening beyond music also becomes an engagement with the self in the best sense. The boundaries of one’s own taste are transcended.

And then we are listening to a concert or our HiFi equipment and hear the unfamiliar - the New - and are swept up. Our innermost self is being touched and this experience turns into intuition. For a moment the intuition allows us see the world with bigger eyes, hear with bigger ears and a space opens up that we have not known up until that point and our ears are as if freshly cleaned…..

DENNIS:

First of all: It is true that Duchamps and Warhol have opened our eyes to the beauty of the ordinary. Every ordinary object of daily life is permeated with a transcendent beauty if it is being looked at with the right intention, i.e. it strongly depends on the state of consciousness of the observer. I think postmodernism overlooked this when it called everything special. Of course that is flatland because then nothing can stand out and can be special anymore. Joseph Beuys too was misinterpreted in that sense – Everyone is an artist does not mean, in my opinion, that everyone produces art. It was liberating and healthy to cast off restricting standards in art, but the baby got thrown out with the bathwater when all criteria were abandoned.  Art cannot be democratized in this sense, just as Hegel or Kant or Wilber cannot be.

Aesthetic egalitarianism will not take us further; depth is necessary too, even if everyone in the art world wants to avoid this issue.

Harald - I would also like to draw a parallel to what you said about the lack of stillness as a prerequisite for proper receptivity in music. The same is really true for the visual dimension where we are exposed to a flood of images in the media which makes it more difficult to break through into a fresh, original experience of seeing. That is the context in which art lives today and it seems all the more important that those who are pursuing an integral understanding and expression of art can gain clarity about what the new - the avantgarde - actually is.

We have already seen some of what it is not. It isn’t the XXL-size tarot card nor is it synthesized meditation music. Nor any kind of ‘illustration’ of elements of integral theory. Ken Wilber himself has had this insight too: integral art does not mean that quadrants, levels, lines, states or types need to somehow appear in the piece of art like in a Wagnerian oeuvre. Ken gives the example of a single stick of bamboo drawn in one line by a Zen master. He boiled it down to a simple formula: integral art is art that is created by a human being with an integral consciousness.

That means their perception is integrally informed about all dimensions, which the piece of art will somehow express in a condensed form. I think we need a renaissance of thinking in musical creation and listening as well as in visual creativity and viewing or seeing, though it should not be explicit as artistically convoluted thought but implicit as embodied presence and depth of the artist and the recipient. For that we also need cognitive development of the kind Harald pointed out. What do you think about these ideas, Axel?

AXEL:

Let me put it a little pointedly: When Harald says ‘he, who walks the world with open eyes, will see the extraordinary in everything’, on one hand points to a very positive aspect of postmodern thinking. Pluralism in everything and thus absolute relativity is being emphasized – everything becomes equal. This response to the hardening and absolutism of previous cultural attitudes brings liberation and expansion. The problem we have today though is that this position honors something but also ignores something very important. Sure, Duchamp’s ‘Pissoir’ or the pee-pictures by Andy Warhol (they just auctioned off one of those metal plates he only pissed on for seven million dollars) really draw attention to something common and banal. The integral question that would expose such pieces of art is, whether bodily excretions, a can of tomato soup or a line of dollar notes, sufficiently define a moment of creation in consciousness. I don’t think they do. Energetically and mentally they are way too flat for that, without substance. Postmodern art is very adept in deconstructing everything. Warhol’s art is said to contain a subtle explosiveness. The flat mechanistic multiplication and empty repetition is interpreted as profound criticism of the system, aiming at the social system with radical irony. It satisfies the superficial greed for individuality and simultaneously demonstrates its impossibility - elegant disillusionment and sophisticated unmasking. In postmodern cultures the word irony is one of the most common keywords. Why? This propagates a kind of thinking that relinquishes aura and originality in its interpretation of art, and their dimensions are consciously negated, strictly denied and considered utterly obsolete.

An interpretation that assumes that within the multitude of objects everything is art or can be art destroys the qualitative difference between things as well as the dimension not just of quantitative differentiation but also of the qualitative distinctions.

In the end, everything becomes equally profane. Or, a reciprocal way of saying it, everyone is an artist, simply because they are here. That too is a leveling, a blurry fogging over. The aura and originality that we encounter in the sphere of art is a contact with the aura and originality of living things themselves. They point to differentiation and to the notion that everything (every moment of life) counts. Or, as Rilke put it in a poem about the role of an art-piece: “there is not a part which does not see you and compel you to change your life.”

Art connects us to the auras and original moments of the creative. If we lose or negate these qualities of originality, its ‘Living Being-ness’, we deactivate those impulses within us that are oriented towards transcendence and transformation.

I think that post-postmodern art will start with the aura and originality of the creative impulse and challenge us to perceive with a new quality of creation and consciousness for creation. This will mean a grappling with imagination and vision, construction instead of deconstruction. It will imply a differentiation between what is art and what is not, and the question regarding the criteria for art can only be answered in forming a consensus about value judgments between higher and lower. Establishing such a hierarchy and verticality of a new avantgarde aesthetic is the most beautiful task of the integral movement.

DENNIS:

Amen, Axel. Terry Patten recently wrote that (the) tradition(al era) was still capable of creating great art – a skill that was largely lost in modernity and especially in post-modernity. Hegel in his Aesthetic described this beautifully at the beginning of modernity: “We may cherish the images of Greek gods or may view God the Father, Christ and Maria in their most dignified and accomplished representation, but it is of no use, we will not bend our knees anymore.

Are we still able today to bend our knees in front of a piece of art? Or put another way – can a piece of art still bring us to our knees? And if so, which pieces are we talking about? How can we describe them?

Harald, you mention ‘trancendence’, Axel, you used the word ‘aura’. I would like to add a classic expression in art-theory: the ‘sublime’ [“das Erhabene”], which was pursued by the contemporaries of the Idealists.

Let’s remember: The beginning of modernity disenchanted reality, all interiority was erased  from culture – the only sphere in which the mystery had any respectable place was art (modernity ridiculed it in the form of mythic religiosity) Art suddenly had to provide it all: Beauty (I) was supposed to heal the rift between the true (it) and the good (we), like it is expressed in Schiller’s Aesthetik. Of course this was a hopeless overload, since beauty itself should have been part of a larger embrace. Wilber calls it ‘modernity deformed at the core’, where value-spheres were not differentiated in a healthy way, because the line of spiritual intelligence was utterly suppressed. He calls it the ‘level-line-fallacy’(LLF), which means that a level in the development of spiritual intelligence, i.e. the mythic level, was confused with the whole line of spiritual development and was thrown overboard in modernity.

Because of the LLF spirituality and the question of the Absolute was suppressed and pushed into other domains, which do not have anything to do with it -  “the great displacement” (Wilber). Now science (it) was supposed to come up with the answers to the last questions. Social Ideals (we) like communism and socialism were engaged in with religious fervor. Art and Aesthetics had to provide the cover-up for the suppressed impulse of transcendence. I think art became such a popular screen for spirituality because aesthetical and mystical experiences are internally related. Apart from their orientation towards first person phenomena (I) they share the attributes of change in state (of consciousness), a loss for words, lack of utilitarian purpose, self-abandonment, change in the perception of time, feelings of happiness and the feeling of liberation.

I believe, no, I demand, that integral art must again be able to be transcendent, full of ‘aura’ and the sublime. After all the irony and negativity we need a Yes to life and to creation. It is interesting that the contemporary philosopher Peter Sloterdijk bases the title of his book on Rilke’s slogan: You have to change your life.

Since both of you, much more than myself, are actual makers of art, and performed together before, I’d like to direct the trialogue towards your concrete artistic work, that (hopefully) embodies and manifests what we are talking about here in some way. We could discuss the points we touched on in that context. Harald, please begin by describing what you do and which connection you see to what we are speaking about.

HARALD:

Dear Dennis, you have my full support in demanding a YES to life and its contemporary artistic expression. Transcendence, Aura, Exaltation - YES, that is what I am looking for in my work and that I have sometimes glimpsed. Even though these are beautiful and large goals, I wonder if I might not see the forest for the trees sometimes: it all already exists and is just waiting for us, waiting to be perceived. And thus, in our critique of post-modernism, our trialogue has so far missed paying attention to the successful, to the deep, transcendent, vibrant, sublime pieces of contemporary art in all its genres and to examine what constitutes their exceptional quality. There are a great many of such works in contemporary art/ music. As I described above though, they do not easily find exposure to the public beyond certain circles.

We have not yet spoken about the music I mentioned above, neither about visual art like the work of (this is my own selection again) Richard Long, James Turrell and others, the choreographer Pina Bausch, Sasha Waltz, Akram Khan and many more. And maybe from these or similar pieces of work we could deduce some criteria for depth in art - studying the living object, really.

Aura, transcendence, the sublime are states/ experiences that occur within the consciousness of the observer. The way they are perceived depends on the level of development of the observer. It is hard for me to evaluate that and hard to include in a search for criteria. And yet, so far we have barely touched on the moment of immediacy, the immediate transmission, that moment in which power of art enters the present through us – through the eye of the creator and the eye of the observer.

I am talking about the moment in which we, seeing or listening, are catapulted into presence, being-ness, in such a way that we know we are looking at great art. All thought about criteria, heights, depths, styles, aesthetics loses its meaning and pure awareness occurs; time and space dissolve the moment in which we are impressed or moved (that, for instance, would be one criteria for depth in art).

This presence is the central point in my work as well. It is these kind of moments I just described that I want to create in the process of a performance (music and performing arts are ‘process art’ which means every moment should deepen the previous one - wow, what a job! It keeps bringing me to my knees and I, and not just I, keep finding heaven there - well, sometimes I do feel hell’s fire underneath as well). My job is that of an improvisational musician. My instrument is the violin. I also compose chamber music and symphonic works.

Another and currently dominant part of my work is the engagement and cooperation with other forms of artistic expression - performing together on stage. I have worked in many projects;  literature, theatre, visual art and especially dance. My cooperation with Axel on the project ‘Tectonic, Layer by Layer’ was one such event.

In this cooperation I look for the parameters which constitute art - in the case of music, sound, which is made up of melody/harmony/rhythm, growing depth/ height) and substitute them (for instance dot-line drawing by sound-melody-music), thus creating a reciprocal connection. In the case of Tectonics, this makes sound visible and image audible in the hope that both become greater than they were before.

In this I am having a remarkable experience that goes beyond the question whether the performance was a success or not. The more sober and formal I am in how I approach and present the events on stage, the more the audience is moved and touched. Another experience is that success is greater, higher and deeper the more modestly I set my goals. Goals that are set too high not only bring the danger of failure, but being too ambitious prevents presence as well. When I set out to create depth, it retreats like a diva. With a little presence, depth happens by itself.

‚tectonics – schicht um schicht’

There is one important point missing for me in our trialogue so far: when we speak about integral art, we speak about what we would like it to deliver, which states (of consciousness) it should produce. We haven’t yet touched on integral aesthetic. What mediums and materials are we using? Why doesn’t the iconographic and the synthesizer-bordun work, and what works instead? Do you, dear trialogue partners, have any ideas about that?

AXEL: 

My art-project, called ‘The Scriptural Method’ (see also: www.the-scriptural-method.info) approaches creation and beauty in a very particular way. It would be better if we could look at the work directly now, but I will interpret and describe my project. That’s a bit of a crazy, impossible approach, but we are here to have a discussion, not to visit an exhibit, so there is no other way.

In 1989 I began a project of daily “writing” which up to today has not been interrupted. This process consists of single, sign-like characters that never repeat themselves in more than eighty ‘journals’ with a total of over 25.000 pages or in delicate year-long writing-processes of up to ten metres in length with several hundreds of thousands of tiny signs. You cannot read this, at least not on the traditional sense. The context is this: deliberately keeping the focus on the movement of writing itself integrates the intention into the spin of the movement. The written line seems to expand due to the added pressure of perception. This creates line-like twists, swirls and turns – each sign is always one uninterrupted fast movement that forms a differentiated, structural language, a complex and very expansive code. The mind’s logic can’t measure the geometry of space and time of this structural language, (the information and relationships in the line’s structure are its language) and it cannot comprehend the fundamental existential tension and non verbal content of the constant swirls. The unstoppable motion that emerges in the core of the writing movement can’t be limited because it has no boundary. The chaotic structure of order, the text that this script results in, occurs not in the conscious, but in the unconscious. The dynamic elasticity of the explosive moments of movement structures expresses a matrix of movement, a constantly expanding and renewed sphere of relationship of never to be repeated twists. The scope of the reservoir of characters and the potential of its inner ability to differentiate don’t seem to have an endpoint. Just like language structures, forms and depicts our thinking, the scriptural method forms a language of differentiation on the level of movement.

Meaning is then defined as ONE process, which separates and brings together countless individual atoms of movement in ONE network of movement. The moment in which the movement of writing implodes, where no sign is afforded an outer point of reference, is no longer a symbol, no longer points to anything or no longer describes things outside of itself something very notable happens. The absence of things returns as a condensed presence, as an expanding intensity of the moment of the movement of writing itself. And this is what it is about: this structure, this re-structuring, the creative manifestation of the world, within and without.

In the project ‘Tectonics’ I did with Harald, this process gained an additional performance character, a ‘theatre’ of never to be repeated ‘utterances’. The construction of lines and sounds is tied to their destabilization, the constant arising and extinguishing, breaking open and disappearing. When I first heard Harald in one of his own performances, I spontaneously thought that he uses his musical material in a similar way to way I use the writing-movement. From there the idea arose to bring this oscillation between the (un)seen and the (un)heard to the stage. That was the goal and the demand. How far we have succeeded is for the audience to decide. The way I interpret my own work makes clear that this touches on several facets which could be assigned to integral aesthetic. Whether this is fantasy or reality someone else has to decide - I can’t do that myself. And it is also clear that, if we are talking about ‘avantgarde’ as the title of this trialogue, then this also points to a direction. The integral avantgarde, nomen est omen, must point us beyond what already exists. Does it do that?

I think it is important to mention at this point that as Germans, we do have a culturally conditioned skepticism and defense against high goals or visions, and there are good reasons for that. On the other hand, the beautiful and great can only become the compass of aesthetics when it is connected to sincerity and relevance. Only then will it be a firm point of orientation. In that, we also have to deal with, as I mentioned before, the normative aspect of such (a compass).

And that is another point where this collides with postmodern values. We are certainly striving for value judgments. Evaluation seems important again and we need to find out from where are we to take the certainty of judgment, in what and where does it lie? What is the integral foundation? A far as Harald’s last question is concerned, I myself am not so sure there. I do not want to categorically exclude playing a synthesizer (Stockhausen opened a whole new arena with electronics). The HOW would be the deciding factor. And the same is true for the criteria of intensity of the moment. There are expressions in postmodern art which do ‘beam’ us into the present moment, but which anesthetize and seduce the senses rather than awake them. Integral aesthetic will also have something inspiringly new and would not want to return to where we have already been. But one role of art will be to get us to where we want to go. Aura, transcendence and the sublime gain a transformative orientation.

DENNIS: 

Since you abstain from a self-evaluation of your art, which I think is perfectly legitimate, I’d like to comment on some of the aspects of your work in order to expand from there to the criteria for integral art that we want to discover. First of all, I think the Skripturale Methode is an original work of high aesthetic quality. I can clearly sense what you mean by ‘condensed presence’ or ‘presence of the absent”. On the one hand there is a transmission of a state-experience which I would hope for in a good - and especially an integral - piece of art. On the other hand I recognize in that one of the many facets of your art, that are held in a creative dynamic equilibrium.

Integral art means to me that seemingly contradictory fundamental polarities, sets of opposites in form or content, are integrated on a higher level and thus become transparent for the observer. That’s just what second tier consciousness naturally does. In the juxtaposition of chaos and order (in your work), I see the same principle at work: chaos is represented by the explosive unpredictable sign-writing that cannot be repeated and is unique, and order as the seemingly almost stoic linear arrangement of these outbursts as scriptural structure. The same ‘double negation’ (Hegel) happens with the ‘content’ in regards to the sign-like nature of the characters: the signs are not expressing anything specific (they do not depict anything), yet they are definitely not saying nothing (enigmatic presence). The Buddha once said - I am paraphrasing -  ‘Things are not what you think. They aren’t anything else though, either’. This pulls the (conceptual) carpet out from under our feet and does not replace it with anything, so that the opportunity arises to fall into pure presence. I think a piece of art has succeeded if it can do this.

Keith Martin Smith wrote a recommendable article on www.integralworld.net, titled ‘On the Future of Art and Art-criticism’. He too advocates bringing back standards of judgment in the arts. He mentions, among other things “complexity” and the ‘skill of execution’ as criteria. This is a good approach because it prevents simplified pieces and works of low quality – the leveled, post-modern, anything-goes-standard – that can generally pass as art.

I’ve heard stories of people submitting the ‘painting’ of infants and monkeys to art-critics and then ridiculing their elaborate appreciation of these ‘works of art’. That is mean somehow, but also demonstrates how hard it is to recognize simplicity of high-quality (that lies) beyond complexity when you are surrounded by all sorts of bad art that only offers simplicity on this side of complexity. The distinction between the two lies in the asymmetrical inclusion of complexity and skill: a good artist – beyond high complexity and high skill – can, both formally and in content, become simple again. The bad artist can do nothing but offer simplicity on this side of complexity and skill. That’s why I think that an artist, in the course of his aesthetic development, has to ontogenetically recapitulate to a certain degree the art-historical philogenesis. He has to, as a painter for instance, master form and realism in terms of technique before he can transcend it in his own work. Transcend and include.

Back to the criteria for evaluation - here is an (incomplete) list:

  • Integration of formal and content related polarities
  • High complexity and skill of execution
  • Induction of the state-experiences of presence
  • Orientation towards transformation
  • Aesthetic concept, or inner configuration or structure of the work

This can be applied to integral art and to ‘good art’ in general. Smith is right when he says that integral art-criticism recognizes that there are different sets of legitimate criteria for art. Thus ironic provocation and socially critical commentary are hallmarks of postmodern art (and art-criticism) even though it demands little complexity or skill. A legitimate criterion for realistic art is and always has been how precisely it represents reality. All of this can be ‘beautiful’, which is why we can still admire the old masters today. But if you want to be avantgarde or leading edge today then you have to have incorporated in some way both the complexity and depth of the artistic ancestors as well as being able to contribute a spark of divine creativity to this cosmic karma. That is true for every line of development. Why should it be different in the area of aesthetic capacity?

HARALD:

Harald Kimmig

That is right. But I do think there is another aspect: if we want to go on or further, then beyond skill and all tradition, we need the spirit of an explorer and creative courage. Maybe this is what you call the ‘spark of divine creativity’. Tradition gives the artist security by providing some more or less clear formal and technical laws. But he has to also be willing to risk something, in form, technique and in his being!

There is a beautiful anecdote of a musician: An old cellist keeps playing the same note. To the question of whether he could bring the same virtuosity to the table as his colleagues, he replies succinctly: ”the others are still searching.” That for instance is a risk, risky simplicity, like the kind Dennis was describing above.

There is a great power in consciously ignoring the traditions, in revolting against them, in throwing away historical ballast, in working with new techniques, in creative chaos, in the thunderstorm of the synapses. All this can help to throw an anchor into the future. This spirit of an explorer is indispensible for an artist at the leading edge.

Dear Axel, one small correction: What is currently happening in electronic music is some of the most exciting and inspiring work of contemporary music. In criticizing the synthesizer-bordun, I am criticizing the flat and cliché-like use of electronic music the way it is so overdone in esoteric music.

I’d like to get back to the question of materials one more time. When we talk about the height/depth/ aura of a piece, we agree, I think, that we are talking about pieces that go beyond the time they were created in. The Mattheus Passion or the Altar of Issensheim have lost none of their power until today. If anyone was to work according to the aesthetic of a Bach or a Grunewald today though, we would justifiably protest. The aesthetic means, the material have developed. And thus the contemporary artist has to be very clear about which technical/ aesthetic means he employs and in which context he sets them (I find the music of of Arvo Pärt for instance too laden with un-reflected beauty. The context is religious, no doubt, but any development since Webern and Schönberg is ignored in favor of a backwardly oriented aesthetic: back to the pre. Listening to Sophia Gubaidulina, who comes from the same tradition and also moves in an orthodox-religious context, you can hear a very clear reflection of music history and a pointedly unique and risk-loving approach.).

The time-aspect is part of the creation of a high/ deep work of art. The media have to be developed further, new materials arise from exploration and the synaptic sparks and turn into new techniques - transcend and include.

If the question about materials is concerned with the WHAT, we still have the question of the HOW, by which I mean the inner attitude of the artist or observer. This aspect is a more (though not absolutely) timeless aspect. The question of the HOW is the field in which aesthetic development occurs.

Thus, the non-musical activities like yoga, meditation, endurance training, contemplation of my actions, the exchange with colleagues, theoretical learning and curiosity are all essential parts of my non-musical training. My musical training consists of the daily practice, the discovery and examination of sounds, their organization into the form of a composition and so forth. All this training I hope will facilitate openness and discriminating awareness, conscious perception of my inner and outer world and presence that affect my music as greater depth/ height.

Working on his art in a more or less disciplined way is certainly standard amongst most artists. But the work on the inner attitudes is far less common, even disreputable sometimes. But within my group of colleagues I am increasingly becoming aware of conversations about the inner posture, development and transcendence in the context of artistic work. This makes me hopeful that future works will have more depth.

In our integral circles the inner work has been a given for a long time but the question of WHAT, the aesthetic line, is far less developed just like in society as a whole. This goes back to my first statement. If I had my say, I would wish for, demand, the curiosity, the patience and time of everyone: in dissonance, in sounds, in atonality, in the fragile movement of music. Within apparent chaos (creative chaos is an order that cannot be grasped by a day-to-day consciousness) lies hidden a great beauty that wants to be discovered. With a little practice it is possible to very quickly discern whether a piece has depth or not.

I want to end with a couple of inspiring quotes by the composers Helmut Lachenmann and Wolfgang Riehm, which I came across in the ‘Neuen Musik Zeitung ‘ (journal for new music)

Helmut Lachenmann: I am certainly not sitting down at my desk saying ‘okay, let’s create something new”. I assume that something new will emerge if I just work intensely with all of my intellect, my intuition, all my senses, when I am just alive. We cling to forms in which we feel happy and protected and which, in a certain way, are already moribund. To deal with that creatively also means finding a way out of rigid structures.

Wolfgang Riehm: I think that ‘the new’ can just as well be a resting place in the familiar if we look at it as an object, a thing. Because if someone is constantly, superficially looking for the new, they think they already know it and when it emerges will no longer be surprised. They will, when something new really happens, say that it is not new. They believe that the new can be predicted and foreseen but it arises from the unknown, from left field. Thus they cannot see it, because they are looking towards what they imagine the new to be all the time. These things are very apparent at occasions where the new is fostered, where artists meet in the name of the new. They will instantly be against the new when it appears because they do not recognize it as the new they have already defined.

 

AXEL:

Yes, it might be the right moment to close by asking again what this new (element) is, that activates the idea of INTEGRAL ART. It is new that art has a framework of perception, a context that links two evolutionary strands – Eros and spirituality. In this double-helix the substance of art, the potency in its form, its will to create, the urge for beauty is seen as not separate from the urge of cosmic expansion and the positivity of the kosmic creative and life-process. The new art thus wants to express and contemplate this process. Without this spiritual focus art goes blind. And art without the physique of Eros dries up. The avantgarde will light the flame on both ends – the evolutionary idea and the evolutionary intuition. Neither one of them alone will suffice. And each of these qualities needs their own criteria. The former is concerned with values, the latter with structure. Here too, meaning and sensuality are linked in a helix.

DENNIS: 

We have made a lot of words and that has its place and is important for the evolution of art and aesthetics. I thank you very much for joining me in the struggle for the birth of a new integral quality of consciousness in the production and reception of art. I hope we can hold this inquiry in our minds like a zen koan so that new, unexpected insights can arise in spiritual/ mental or in aesthetic ways. If I would have to emphasize just one quality of future integral art it would be its no-nonsense attitude towards bringing spirituality, aesthetic beauty and depth (of meaning) back into the arts. For now, I am letting us go into the stillness of the ‘thunderous silence’ that I appreciate so much about good art.

 

Harald Kimmig, born 1956, improvisational musician, composer of chamber- and symphonic music, perfomances http://www.haraldkimmig.de/

Axel Malik, born 1953, artist, numerous exhibitions (for example the ‘Dom-Museum’ in Frankfurt/M, 2009) www.the-scriptural-method.info

Dennis Wittrock, born 1978, CEO of Integrales Forum and DIA – Die Integrale Akademie, free journalist and regular contributor to i*p www.integral-con-text.de

 

A shortened version of these interviews appeared in the magazine integrale perspektiven’ issue 15, March 2010

Translation by Uli Nagel