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Posts Tagged ‘Carl Sagan’

Watching the news and I can feel my blood pressure rising as I sense both my dread and rage. I am not going to vent here.

What’s the sense in that? You have eyes and ears. You’re witness to a new dark chapter being written in our history. If you read it as I do, you feel the same dread and anger. If you’re pleased with what is happening, then most likely you’re not reading this nor would my words mean anything to you as your version of what you believe is the truth no doubt diverges from my own.

Lately, I keep coming back to a passage from a 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, from scientist Carl Sagan.  The book was a defense of science and rationality and an indictment of pseudo-science and religious extremism. He had a premonition for the future and it appears that the pattern he was seeing at that time is coming to bear now.

“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”

A celebration of ignorance.

That may be the defining term for this age.

I’m going to let you chew on that while I try to calm myself with a little music from a long time ago. It’s Itchycoo Park from the Small Faces in 1967. The frontman for the band at that time (pre-Rod Stewart) was Steve Marriott. Probably not a name many of you know but he was highly influential in the history of modern rock and roll. For example, Robert Plant was an ardent Marriott fan sometimes errand boy for the band. He and Led Zeppelin owe a lot to the stylings of Marriott, who died at the age of 44 in 1991.

Anyway, it’s a favorite song and one that eases my mind a bit on days like this. Give it a try for yourself.

 

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“A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really…”Do the stars gaze back?” Now, that’s a question.” 

― Neil Gaiman, Stardust

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Above is a new painting that is going with me down to Alexandria for my show, Haven, at the Principle Gallery, opening June 1. I am calling this 20″ by 16″ canvas Stars and Satellites. It’s a continuation of a series of recent works that are primarily stark nightscapes with skies composed of shards of color in an almost stained-glass manner. At the junctures where shards meet are points of bright color— the light of the stars and the planets of the night sky.

I think I have written here about the meditative effect of painting these pieces, how there is a feeling of both intense concentration and non-thought that blocks out all other things. If the television is on or music is playing, I don’t really hear it. If delivery vans or cars come up my driveway, I am totally unaware even though they directly pass in front of the large windows before which I work.

It’s like I am in that space in that time, especially in the first stages of composing the picture. All is quiet and all that moves through my mind is the simple geometry of placing blocks of red oxide in a way that makes sense in that part of my brain that is scanning the whole of the composition. It’s one of my favorite parts of my process of painting, this state of being so mentally attached to the surface of the painting.

Another favorite part comes later as the painting evolves from its red oxide skeleton. This moment comes after layer after layer of color is added and the painting crosses a tipping point where it suddenly becomes a fully fleshed being, an entity with its own life force and its own voice.

That is a really gratifying moment, one that makes me think of Carl Sagan describing the Voyager space mission and how it would travel through time and space as a reminder of our existence as a people and a civilization long after our Sun had turned our planet into an ember, long after we had ceased to walk this earth.

And in a way many of those stars in the night sky serve that same purpose. Many are the final traces of light from stars that have been extinguished eons ago yet remind us of their existence.

This piece has, for me, a feeling of an interdependence between the moon, the stars and we here on earth. We each need the other in order to be seen, to serve as a reminder that we have existed in this universe, if only for short time.

Like John Lennon sang in Instant KarmaWell, we all shine on/Like the moon and the stars and the sun…

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GC Myers- Bearable VastnessShe had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love. 
Carl Sagan, Contact

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This year’s title for my annual solo show at the West End Gallery, which opens July 22, is Contact.  It has nothing to do with the famous Carl Sagan novel of the same name about our first encounter with an advanced alien life form, which was also made into a film with Jodie Foster.  But even though there is no real relationship between the Sagan story and this show, I did come across the quote above from the book that meshes very well with what I see as the theme of this show and much of my work in general:  how we cope with our role is as small and insignificant creatures in an endlessly vast and cold universe.

The painting above is from the show and is a 20″ by 30″ canvas titled Bearable Vastness.  I think, going back to the quote, that the Red Tree here has come to realize that the only thing that will bring it the peace of mind to accept its place as a tiny being in a vast universe of powerful forces beyond its comprehension is to work to achieve love in some way in its own time and place.

Put simply, love is the answer.

I know that in the current environment of terror, anger, hatred and outright stupidity that these words sound absolutely naive.

Maybe.

But I have never known of a time when anger and hatred and violence and ignorance have spawned anything but more of the same.  Never has a lasting peace risen from hatred and intolerance of others.  Nothing positive has ever been built on a foundation of hatred, anger and fear.  Only demagogues and dictators rise from that swamp.  For them, love is always replaced with fear and cynicism.

Maybe you still will call it naive.  So be it.  That’s your cross to bear.  As for me, while the universe is vast and uncaring I will always choose love as the way to somehow endure it.

It’s the only choice I could possibly make.

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