Brownian behavioral dynamics suggests that neither the darkness nor the light will hold sway forever and that miracles, which are actually a misunderstanding of the condition of rarity, do happen. The miracle we need is to collectively grope our way to a place where deep and abiding wisdom prevails over compulsion.
And so 2018 begins. Like most people I know, I found Trump and the Republican hegemony of 2017 thoroughly depressing. Bad things happened and I felt impotent to do anything about it. The year was an affront to everything I believe in. I can barely watch the news anymore.
This has led me to wonder if my full throttled focus on making art is selfish and self-centered. There is nothing about the art I am making that addresses our national fiasco head on. Shouldn’t I be fighting more directly? Is it wrong if I am not challenging the mess makers and attempting to alleviate the suffering they are leaving in their wake? Can I legitimately say that continuing to make photographs in the way I have always done is a sufficient response or any response at all? Or am I, ostrich like, burying my head in the sand of my comfort zone hoping the threat passes me by without my having to make a sacrifice?
A long time ago I came to the conclusion that all creatures are at the mercy of compulsion. Every actor on the cosmic stage has no other or greater purpose than to do what it's compelled to do. When pivotal moments arrive, compulsion dictates what is to be done. The chaotic and complex interplay of all that compulsiveness, a Brownian motion of behavioral manifestation, will sort itself out into the future we inherit. Nothing says that future has to be an attractive one.
I am aware that this belief might seem cynical. I am aware that it suggests we don’t really choose our fate, that we can’t choose to be noble or any other particular way if we are solely driven by our compulsions. Simply put though, we are what we are and we do what we do. This isn’t a pretty conclusion, but the evidence I am aware of, including the events of the past year, seems to support it.
And so the dynamic interplay of compulsive behavior leads to large swaths of time, place and cultural expression that are plunged into the depths of darkness, bathed in eternal light, or, mostly, swathed in the dull grayness of the spaces between. Brownian behavioral dynamics suggests that neither the darkness nor the light will hold sway forever and that miracles, which are actually a misunderstanding of the condition of rarity, do happen. The miracle we need is to collectively grope our way to a place where deep and abiding wisdom prevails over compulsion.
In spite of my take on the power of compulsion, I have always bathed myself in the warm and hopeful waters of enlightenment humanism. I have had faith in the upwelling of intelligence as an increasing of eternal light. I have believed its progression to be irrefutably positive and that its light would eventually win out. This past year has made it harder to hold on to that belief. The only way I can is to imagine that somewhere in the universe the upwelling has not led to self immolation and instead culminated in true enlightenment. I pray that somewhere in the vastness of the space/time continuum a civilization has found a way to wrest themselves free from the jaws of compulsion and that for them, wisdom has gained the upper hand and holds onto it.
In the meantime I turn to Robert Adams to supply me with a defense of my compulsion to make art:
“It is the responsibility of artists to pay attention to the world, pleasant or otherwise, and help us live respectfully in it.
Artists do this by keeping their curiosity and moral sense alive, and by sharing with us their gift for metaphor. Often this means finding similarities between observable fact and inner experience — between birds in a vacant lot, say, and an intuition worthy of Genesis.
More than anything else, beauty is what distinguishes art. Beauty is never less than a mystery, but it has within it a promise.
In this way, art encourages us to gratitude and engagement, and is of both personal and civic consequence.”
Robert Adams, Art Can Help, p9
I hold onto this thought as I step into 2018 with, surprisingly, a sense of hope and optimism.