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Word Gems 

exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity






"Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last." John Ruskin


Editor's Essay: Higher Creativity: Liberating The Unconscious For Breakthrough Insights

Editor’s Essay: Weaponized Art: Part I: Art as Calculation to Overwhelm and Intimidate 

Editor’s Essay: Weaponized Art: Part II: 30 Masterpieces Of The Ancient World

Editor's 1-Minute Essay: Art

Mortimer Adler's Syntopicon Essay: Art 

Kenneth Clark's Civilisation

Vincent Van Gogh: “When facing a flat landscape, I see nothing but eternity. Am I the only one to see it?”



Marc Chagall, Lovers With Half Moon


Marc Chagall biographer, Jackie Wullschlager: "The Nazis had begun their campaign against modernist art as soon as they seized power. Expressionist, cubist, abstract, and surrealist art—anything intellectual, Jewish, foreign, socialist-inspired, or difficult to understand—was targeted, from Picasso and Matisse going back to Cézanne and van Gogh; in its place traditional German realism, accessible and open to patriotic interpretation, was extolled."

Ernest Becker: Victory "over human limitation is not something that can be programmed by science. […] it comes from the vital energies of masses of men sweating within the nightmare of creation. […] The most that any one of us can […] do is to fashion something - an object or ourselves - and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the Life Force."

Marc Chagall: “We all know that a good person can be a bad artist. But no one will ever be a genuine artist unless he is a great human being and thus also a good one.”

Rainer Maria Rilke: “Go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source you will find the answer to the question whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside.”


the sacred meaning of art

In my essay, “The Meaning of Beauty,” I quoted Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg: “Beauty is the translucence, through material phenomena, of the eternal splendor of the One.”

On the strength of this, along with my own meditations, in the “What We Stay Alive For” writing on the homepage, I offered that one’s eternal mate, “in the beauty of her countenance, reveals, as no other pedagogue, the hidden face of God… only for him, her beauty becomes a sacred portal to an inner knowing.”

However, beauty as expressed in the fine arts might also become pathway to mystical depths. I would call this “sacred art,” in that it issues as product of the artist’s accessing Universal Consciousness. We discussed this in the “Higher Creativity” article.

Most art today is not worthy of the term and does not reflect higher levels of awareness; instead, most art seems to reach for the sensational, the gaudy, the carnival, the meretricious. When we view it, there is no calling forth of hallowed wonderment from the depths of being.

Instead, we sense that the artist connived, “ok, let’s see if we can turn heads and raise eyebrows by being outrageous, let’s offend proprietous sensibility, and then they’ll think we’re clever and say we’re ‘creative’.”


Wall Street (1987), Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas)

"This painting here. I bought it ten years ago for $60,000. I could sell it today for $600,000. The illusion has become real and the more real it becomes the more desperate they want it. Capitalism at its finest."

Editor’s note: Gordon Gekko perceives the world as his private arena of ruthless competition and conquest. The father of “greed is good” extends this Darwinian ethic to the aesthetic. He hawks trash-paintings as he does stocks. It’s “pump and dump,” use and abuse, it’s “momentum buying,” its “the last sucker” principle. You create an illusion of sophistication, you hype a non-existent value, you drive it up, and in the ascent all the vapid and vacuous people, wanting to appear refined and anointed, blather about how smart they are. And then the one-way doors to the slaughterhouse clang shut on the lemmings.


In these works of so-called art there is nothing that leads us to higher ground or deeper perceptions, nothing that points us to the inner knowing, there is no “translucence,” no shining through, “of the eternal splendor of the One.” It’s a purely man-made contrivance devoid of co-creatorship with the divine.


‘the cult of novelty’

Painter Jean Auguste Ingres disagrees with ‘the cult of novelty’ that oppresses popular culture:

“Let me hear no more of that absurd maxim: ‘We need the new, we need to follow our century, everything changes, everything is changed.’ Sophistry – all of that! Does nature change, do the light and air change, have the passions of the human heart changed since the time of Homer? To claim that we can get along without study of the antique and the classics is either madness or laziness… It is the doctrine of those who want to produce without having worked, who want to know without having learned.”

Augros and Stancui: “Igor Stravinsky argues that, in music, tradition does not restrict the artist but furthers creativity and guarantees the continuity of the art:

“A real tradition is not the relic of a past that is irretrievably gone; it is a living force that animates and informs the present… Far from implying the repetition of what has been, tradition presupposes the reality of what endures. It appears as an heirloom… A tradition is carried forward in order to produce something new. Tradition thus assures the continuity of creation.”

Augros and Stancui: “Tradition, as the word’s etymology indicates, is a deliberate ‘handing over’ of something timeless in its truth or beauty.”

one's life as art

From a grander perspective, however, it’s not just painting and writing, or music and sculpture, that becomes plastic material for the muse – one’s entire life, if properly lived, should reflect a cooperation with the transcendental; one’s life should become a masterpiece of Universal Consciousness’s expression.

I like quoting Dr. Ernest Becker on this vital point, and have done so on the homepage, but allow me to reference his words again:

Victory "over human limitation is not something that can be programmed by science … It comes from the vital energies of masses of men sweating within the nightmare of creation … The most that anyone can do is to fashion something - an object or ourselves - and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it, so to speak, to the Life Force.”




Weaponized Art: Part I

art as calculation to overwhelm and intimidate


British historian Kenneth Clark's Civilisation is a survey of history by reviewing its art. In chapter seven he examines the “visual exuberance” of sixteenth century Papal Rome, “the most grandiose piece of town planning ever attempted.”

The Protestant heretics of Northern Europe had called into question Rome’s authority. However, instead of negotiating with and meeting the dissidents half-way, the Church doubled down on its absolutist ways, a response history calls the Counter-Reformation.

In effect, the Church’s position became: “You say that we’ve lost the early spirit of Christianity, our humble beginnings, with too much emphasis on materialism? Well then, we’ll show you materialism, with a degree of ornateness and extravagance never before seen in history. In this way, we'll reassert our power and authority in the world.”





Weaponized Art: Part II

30 Masterpieces Of The Ancient World



Professor Diana K. McDonald is an art historian on the faculty of Boston College. She has spent her life investigating primeval art – even from age 6, she jokes, with a trip to Mexico’s art treasures, courtesy of her parents. Dr. McDonald has examined ancient artwork in the museums and archeological sites of more than 40 countries.

In the following discussion, I offer my observations concerning the principle features of ancient art – what it meant to the people of long ago, its purpose, how it impacted the development of civilization, and its effect on the evolution of the human spirit.






Degas: Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.

Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago: "...he made a note reaffirming his belief that art always served beauty, and beauty is delight in form, and form is the key to organizing life, since no living thing can exist without it, so that every work of art, including tragedy, expresses the joy of existence."

Paul Johnson: "...Hemingway's awareness of his inability to recapture his genius, let alone develop it, accelerated the spinning circle of depression and drink. He was a man killed by his art, and his life holds a lesson all intellectuals need to learn: that art is not enough."

Mark Twain: "We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that a savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter."

Charles Kingsley: “There is something very wonderful in music. Words are wonderful enough; but music is even more wonderful. It speaks not to our thoughts as words do; it speaks straight to our hearts and spirits, to the very core and root of our souls. Music soothes us, stirs us up; it puts noble feelings in us; it melts us to tears; we know not how; -- it is a language by itself, just as perfect, in its way, as speech, as words; just as divine, just as blessed.”

Francois Auguste Rodin: "I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don't need."

Friedrich Nietzsche: "The struggle against a purpose in art is always a struggle against the moral tendency in art - against its subordination to morality. Art for art's sake means, Let morality go to the Devil."



The "Lynx Arc" is 1 million times brighter than the well-known Orion Nebula. It is the biggest, brightest, and hottest star-forming region ever seen in space, 12 billion light-years from Earth.


Ron Merrill: "Any young person who has studied Heidegger; or seen Ionesco's 'plays'; or listened to the 'music' of John Cage; or looked at Andy Warhol's 'paintings'; has experienced that feeling of incredulous puzzlement: But this is nonsense! Can I really be expected to take this seriously? In fact, of course, it is necessary for it to be nonsense; if it made sense, it could be evaluated. The essence of modern intellectual snobbery is the 'emperor's new clothes' approach. Teachers, critics, our self-appointed intellectual elite, make it quite clear to us that if we cannot see the superlative nature of this 'art'- why, it merely shows our ignorance, our lack of sophistication and insight. Of course, they go beyond the storybook emperor's tailors, who dressed their victim in nothing and called it fine garments. The modern tailors dress the emperor in garbage."

Ayn Rand: "The purpose of all art is the objectification of values."

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death: “Otto Rank asked why the artist so often avoids clinical neurosis when he is so much a candidate for it because of his vivid imagination, his openness to the finest and broadest aspects of experience, his isolation from the cultural world-view that satisfies everyone else. The answer is that he takes in the world, but instead of being oppressed by it he reworks it in his own personality and recreates it in the work of art. The neurotic is precisely the one who cannot create—the “artiste-manque,” as Rank so aptly called him. We might say that both the artist and the neurotic bite off more than they can chew, but the artist spews it back out again and chews it over in an objectified way, as an ex­ternal, active, work project. The neurotic can’t marshal this creative response embodied in a specific work, and so he chokes on his in­troversions. The artist has similar large-scale introversions, but he uses them as material.”

Eric Hoffer: "There is perhaps no better way of measuring the natural endowment of a soul than by its ability to transmute dissatisfaction into a creative impulse. The genuine artist is as much a dissatisfied person as the revolutionary, yet how diametrically opposed are the products each distills from his dissatisfaction."

Pablo Picasso: "Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person, as if he were painting what he is saying, because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors."

Daniel Boorstin: "Artists and writers, I believe, have a special role, creating new questions for which they offer experimental answers. We are tested, enriched, and fulfilled by the varieties of experience. And as the years pass there are increasing advantages to being a questioner. Answers can trouble us by their inconsistency, but there is no such problem with questions. I am not obliged to hang on to earlier questions, and there can be no discord -- only growth -- between then and now. Learning, I have found, is a way of becoming inconsistent with my past self. I believe in vocation, a calling for reasons we do not understand to do whatever we discover we can do... I have observed that the world has suffered far less from ignorance than from pretensions to knowledge. It is not skeptics or explorers but fanatics and ideologues who menace decency and progress. No agnostic ever burned anyone at the stake or tortured a pagan, a heretic, or an unbeliever... If our knowledge is, as I believe, only an island in an infinite sea of ignorance, how can we in our short lifetime find satisfaction in exploring our little island? How can we persuade ourselves to be exhilarated by our meager knowledge and yet not be discouraged by the ocean vistas?..I am, then, a short-term pessimist but a long-term optimist. If our mission is an endless search, how can we fail? In the short run, institutions and professions and even language keep us in the discouraging ruts. But in the long run the ruts wear away and adventuring amateur reward us by a wonderful vagrancy into the unexpected."   

David Letterman: "Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees."

Paul Dirac: "In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite." 

James Stephens: "Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself."

Jackson Pollock: "Every good painter paints what he is."

James McNeill Whistler: "An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision... As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight and the subject-matter has nothing to do with harmony of sound or of color."

Kandinsky: "There is no must in art because art is free."

Giorgio DeChirico: "To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and commonsense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams."

Picasso: "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

Howard Ikemoto: "When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college, that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, 'You mean they forget?'"

Francisco Goya: "Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels."

Michaelangelo: "The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection."

Vincent Van Gogh: "It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to; the feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures."

Henri de Toulouse Lautrec: "In our time there are many artists who do something because it is new; they see their value and their justification in this newness. They are deceiving themselves; novelty is seldom the essential. This has to do with one thing only; making a subject better from its intrinsic nature."

John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780: "I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain."

Louise Nevelson: "I think most artists create out of despair. The very nature of creation is not a performing glory on the outside, it's a painful, difficult search within."

Abraham Moslow: "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be."

Emerson: "Classic art was the art of necessity: modern romantic art bears the stamp of caprice and chance."

Martha Graham: "There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

Albert Einstein: "After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well."

Albert Einstein: "I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

Albert Einstein: "True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist."

John Ruskan, Emotional Clearing: "Artists can run into problems with their work... problems begin when the artist tries to establish a sense of social identity and acceptance through the art. The motivation shifts from pure self-expression to concern with whatever is being gained from the work... [resulting] in hampered creativity and eventual self-defeat."

Eckhart Tolle: "All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness."

Jean Cocteau: "Art is science made clear."

Lawrence Durrell: "Music is only love looking for words."

Albert Einstein: "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge."

John F. Kennedy: "The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of a nation, is close to the center of a nation's purpose - and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization."




Editor's last word: