What most distinguishes humans and
their closer relatives from the wider world alive or inert is that we arrange
things under our touch into novel patterns--with discernible intent. This intentional
aspect is the deepest divide between that evolved world out of which we emerged,
and the designed space we intend as our legacy.
shapes the undirected glory of nature into the directed histories of human experience,
and colors their many seasons: to build and raze, to love and hate, to war and
bestow peace, to despise and adore. And then again. To gaze. To puzzle. To see.
These last intents
transfix those who sustain the why's? and
how's? of their
early days. Gazers, puzzlers, skeptics, doodlers and other suchlike keep as many
of their early antennae
on-line as they may, and add such others as age may provide. What animates such
people is collecting and sharing the faintest, least likely tremors reaching them
from whatever improbable distance, .
they people an axis of outliers: scientists, philosophizers, artists. Cosmologists
image the faint halo of the explosive origins of our universe; logicians
tickle out conjectures
shown to be both true and unprovable.
And artists may resonate either with
nature's deeper chords, or with social and cultural seisms not yet
felt at the surface of our societies. Each has an hour in time.
Beckmann felt underfoot the terrific fissures training up toward the brittle
glitter of Weimar Germany. Reeling out of nervous crisis, he began painting omens
of the fascist earthquake about to upend all Eurasia. He was among those earliest
hounded by Goebbels' RMVP(1),
and one of few to end in a kind of peace, in the post-war havens of St. Louis
and New York.
To paint what he felt but
could not yet see, Beckmann
wrenched out of socket all the imagery and motifs of his society painter past,
to build a vocabulary of brutality, violence, cynicism--and final majesty, as
in his triptychs, preeminently, that of Departure.
Acting on this intent, he repaired to and extended much the same optics as had
Goya, one hundred and twenty years earlier.
in middle age faced an Iberia
of inept royalty, compromised nobility, and terrorized peasants. His Spain was
newly bleeding under the armies of Napoleon
and his marshals, implacable guerillas and George
III's interdicting expeditions.
was no unspoiled beauty, no innocence left in a bleak arena harrowed by violent
arms. Goya looks out of his works fully aware where this must lead:
Yo lo vi (2).
Of Charles IV, the Caprichos,
Desastres De La Guerra, his Black
his growing aim: to draw the desolating line that truth demands. At whatever loss
of surface charm.
It is this shaping
of figuration to envision the as-yet indiscernible, that makes masters. Goya,
Beckmann, the Picasso
In Korea--each took time's bet that a stark truth depicted in strength
would have more of majesty than rouged, perfumed finesse.
enormities of our own hours demand that some rally to this standard. Denials of
human rights. Societal alienation. Terrorism at every scale. Neo-imperialism.
Racism. Genocide. Ecological despoliation. The whitening-over of religious infamy.
Corporate corruption moving now past mega and giga into tera
terrain--all call for the judgments of a just art.
legacies of Goya and Beckmann
and other colleagues stand there as examples. The audacity of their remedies will
inspire new ones honed even to these unprecedented hours.