Don’t talk to my hand, talk to my soul.

A couple of weeks ago, Mariner watched an episode of CBS Sunday Morning. It was a discussion about whether we should dismiss good art because the creator was an asshole. This was a follow up discussion to the recent PBS/Ken Burns special about Ernest Hemingway. It turns out Ernest qualifies as an asshole but has written some undeniably classic literature.

Mariner, though his opinion may be irrelevant, thought the CBS show was simplistic at best. The two primary guests were art critics. The first one took a clear stance that if the person is a misfit in social terms, their art should not be recognized. The second critic took a compromised position stating that we can acknowledge art in spite of the artist but the artwork is viewed by a jaundiced eye because of the artist’s behavior or, or, or because of the content of the artwork.

Of course Pablo Picasso’s fetish with breasts was brought up although his genius had nothing to do with breasts but with the bold use of composition, forcing the viewer to mentally battle between strong lines and distracting colors. The second artwork of note was ‘Thérèse Dreaming’ by Balthus, a magnificent example of art talking directly to the soul. The Metropolitan Museum of Art said this about the painting:

“Many early twentieth‑century avant‑garde artists, from Paul Gauguin to Edvard Munch to Pablo Picasso, also viewed adolescent sexuality as a potent site of psychological vulnerability as well as lack of inhibition, and they projected these subjective interpretations into their work. While it may be unsettling to our eyes today, Thérèse Dreaming draws on this history.”

Note the words sexuality, psychological vulnerability, inhibition and subjective. These are words about subconscious motive. Good artwork passes directly by the conscious mind to speak to the subconscious – the home of the soul. Only when the emotional bonding bounces back to the conscious mind is it a confrontation between private sentiment and the social decorum of the conscious mind. To many people,  emotional feelings may seem embarrassing if made deliberately conscious. The defensive measure is to call the artwork questionable.

Good art always draws its significance from the subconscious. It can be a painting, a song (Mariner equates Whitney Houston singing ‘I will always love you’ as excellent artwork in vocal music[1]), a speech, even good architecture can raise a response from the soul.

Ancient Mariner

[1] The Bodyguard, 1992. It took many months of arranging and rearranging this song by three giants in the movie business. It was the collective awareness of their sensitivity to their subconscious feelings that finally identified the song’s transcendent quality.

2 thoughts on “Don’t talk to my hand, talk to my soul.

  1. Ed, I really like your post. It clarified what I have experienced many times. I think, for me, good art (especially music) is filtered through my conscious mind, but if it really speaks to my soul it bursts through that roadblock. So many times, I’ve heard a piece of music and loved it at very first hearing. But, take this example. I never really liked Elvis Presley, but one night on the car radio I heard him sing “Wooden Heart.” I couldn’t believe he could sing such a beautiful song. So, in spite of my conscious dislike for him, the beauty of the song got through to my soul. It turns out that I like the original German song “Muss I Den.” even more. I’m even having to re-evaluate my opinion of Elvis.

  2. Thanks for your insights, Robert. They are affirming of my own experiences. The battle between subconscious and conscious opinions lies at the heart of so many confrontations in our society today. It’s nice to reflect on positive ones for a change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.