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Archive for February 25th, 2019

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Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.

Charles MacKay,

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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I am still in the midst of a frenzy of faces.

I call this group of work, like the newer painting above, a 20″ by 20″ canvas, Masks or Multitudes. This particular piece is still untitled although I am seeing it as The Crowd for the moment.

Still not sure what the meaning is behind these pieces.

Maybe there is no meaning. Maybe they are just familiar shapes and it is a matter of color and form that is attracting me.

Maybe attracting is the wrong word because it is not really attraction that has me painting them. A better word might be compelling. I feel compelled to paint these at this time.

Why is another thing altogether.

On one hand, I see it in the terms of Walt Whitman‘s voice in Song of Myself, as I wrote here recently– I am large, I contain multitudes. In this rationale, the faces are part of me, individual pieces of a whole. It makes sense as I have been seeing these faces all my life. They seem part of me.

Maybe that is what these paintings are.

But then sometimes I see something different in them and think that they are quite something else. Something less benign. Something more strange.

Strange because I have become more and more averse to crowds, especially the collective behavior of crowds. While I try to subscribe to Will Rogers‘ mantra of I never met a man I didn’t like, I find myself leery of crowds. I would change Roger’s line a bit, to something more like I never met a crowd I liked with one caveat–I only feel somewhat comfortable with crowds at my gallery talks or openings. I don’t fear and sort of understand the common denominator of those groups.

But mob thought in general worries and alarms me. It seems too easy for one to be swept up in the frenzy of a mob, to sacrifice aspects of yourself for a collective aspect that might not normally be seen in you when you as an individual.

That might even apply to the overall intelligence of a crowd. You would think the level of intelligence would rise with the inclusion of more minds but actually it seems to lower to compensate for the common denominator. As the late writer Terry Pratchett put it:  The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.

As a result the crowd is subject to manipulation, to being led astray from what the individual knows is right when they really consider it in solitude. It becomes easy to believe things that might otherwise seem ridiculous or outrageous.

We have plenty of examples of that in our current state of affairs here in the USA.

Sometimes I see this work in that way, as representing the mob. But then again when  look deeper and see the faces individually, they seem less threatening and more along the lines of Whitman’s thought.

I just don’t know. That they compel me might be all I can say with any certainty. I find myself being both uneasy and comforted by this work. And there’s something to be said for that paradox and contrast. They are important aspects of art, the part that imparts meaning.

Hope that is what I am looking at.

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