Monday, April 21, 2008

On judgment and discernment

This is one of the images I shot at the Port Blakely bunker last weekend. I always feel a bit odd about shooting other people's art -- it seems to me that if I were to sell one of these it would somehow be cheating.

But I love the graffiti at the bunker, as it is always changing, and I justify the shots by saying they are a way of preserving moments in time; for all I know this particular wall has already been redecorated.

Perhaps the test for whether or not it is right to capitalize on someone else's work in this way would be to ask if I would be resentful or envious if someone ELSE were to make money photographing the same thing. Because, generally speaking, the best clue to our own foibles and blind spots comes from that simmering bubble of righteous anger we get watching the behavior of others.

One of my readings this morning questioned the difference between judgment and discernment, and I'm thinking this image could make a lovely test case for that. You can see where the two words might be connected: both involve a decision-making process and a way of knowing. But discernment seems to me to be more self-contained, while judgment involves an outward projection.

If I am trying to decide whether a particular situation, job, relationship or course of action is right for me, that, I believe, would be a question of discernment, based on an innate sense of connectedness to a higher value and a larger community. Is it right for me to take this picture? Is it right for me to sell this picture? Under what circumstances might it be right? What if I sold it and used the money to buy paint, which I could then leave at the bunker for future artists? Or would that -- because I would be choosing colors -- be unduly influencing the artwork to come?

But if I were to speak or act or think in a way that implied, whether directly or indirectly, that I or someone ELSE had made a good or bad choice, wouldn't that be judgment? Isn't the impact of that judgment a kind of separation, a building of hierarchies -- this choice is better or worse than that one, and the person who makes the choice is therefore more or less acceptable? And is it any less judgmental if I direct that decision toward myself or at someone else?

What if someone else were to take this same photograph, blow it up really large, and sell to the Museum of Modern Art? Do I get all snarly at them for exploiting others' art, or for being clever marketeers? Or do I applaud their resourcefulness?

Do I berate myself for being too stupid or insecure to have thought of doing that? Or do I applaud myself for choosing not to exploit the work of others? It seems to me that any of those choices would be judgmental -- and probably not particularly conducive to my own psychic health.

All of which brings me to the question posed by this image in the first place. Is it true? Do we only hate because we can't create? This is, I think, a huge question to ask, and could take way more time to answer than allotted in a single blog post. But if we accept that when we are creating we are delving into our own resources; expressing our own thoughts, feelings and observations in some way, shape or form; and are choosing to allow the creative force to move through us then creativity is, like discernment, a more self-contained process.

But creativity also implies that we have control over what emerges, and the power to create. And it implies both a reaching in and a reaching out, an attempt to establish connection with both the creative spirit within and the community of viewers.

Hate, however, must be the result of some sort of judgment: you -- or I -- did something that I judge to be wrong; therefore I hate you -- and/or myself. Does hate also imply the lack of power or control? And doesn't hate result in a severing of connection?

And is it possible that discernment could forestall or avoid hate? If we had -- or had taken -- power or control; if we had attempted to bridge differences, would the situation have turned out differently? If we had exercised discernment early on, and had worked for a creative solution, would there be hate?

I'm thinking that all of this rambling discussion merely proves the old adage: a picture IS worth a thousand words! Even if I were to write a thousand words, I would not have fully tapped into the possibilities posed by this image. Because the magic and beauty of art lies in the interaction between the work of art and the viewer, not in anything I might have to say about it.

Perhaps that is the difference between creativity and hate: creativity builds connections--between this artist and me; and, through this photo, between this artist and you. Hate, on the other hand, is about separation, about severing connections. We can hate the graffiti artist for defiling this public space (though frankly it was incredibly ugly to begin with!). Or we can welcome the creative spirit into the space, and be grateful for another connection forged.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Umm... To be honest I am wayy too tired to parse this entry. But it reminded me of some of Tian's blog posts. He also just made a blog, today I think, called What Isn't Art? that I think will hold the most pertinent entries to you.

Although a lot of them are a little bit crayzay/overly artsy for me.. XD You may still find it interesting.