Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paramormal

Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the ParanormalLately I've been investigating aliens and monsters  and no, not due to any premonitions of doom, but because I believe they have something to teach us about ourself, the "other", alienation and our shadows. I'm reading a fascinating new book  by Jefferey J. Kripal and here are my favorite bits so far:

Favorite bits excerpted from Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paramormal

The mythical themes and paranormal currents of popular culture are generally transmitted through two modes intimately working together: words and images...In the spirit of the conclusion of my last book, where I suggested that we think of an "author of the impossible" as someone who can bring online both sides of the brain, I have transmitted my ideas here through one left-brain-dominant mode (writing) and one right-brain-dominant mode (graphic art).

Rene Warcollier (author of Mind to Mind publ. 1948) who was first awakened to the subject (of the secret life of popular culture) by his own telepathic dreams, believed that telepathic communications most likely reveal a from of psychical operation that employs paranormal processes, predates the acquisition of language, and reveals the very "substratum of thought" in what he called "word-pictures." As Warcollier demonstrated through a series of drawings and his own text. condensed, telepathically communicated word-pictures are often creatively expanded on, exaggerated, and added to by the recipient's imagination until they become words and pictures, and finally stories - in essence, minimyths.

In order (for Alan Moore, creator of the self-conscious occult comic, Promethea) to recreate the sefirot or spheres of consciousness in his art, he first attempted to actualize each sphere in himself through a magical practice, an actualization that he then recreated as the comic. It was in this way that the pages of Promethea became "meditational tools" and potential "triggers fro altered states of consciousness," and the comic itself has become a spiritual tool." Reading is magic.

illustration from Promethea by Alan Moore

The closer we approach such a prime moment, singularity, or Omega Point, the more we will realize - with John Keel, I would add - that "the vague mythological beings of the past that have focused into the aliens of the present will son become ourselves as we become the very time travelers whose shadows haunt all our history, including the present, In effect, we are haunting ourselves in the present from the past and the future via the ghost and the alien.

Indeed, whatever they are, the visitors are likely "responsible for much paranormal phenomena, ranging from the appearance of gods, angels, fairies, ghosts, and miraculous beings to the landing of UFO's in the backyards of America". They may be extraterrestrials, "managing the evolution of the human mind," or they "may represent the presence of mind on another level of being". The key for (Whitley) Strieber is that we cease being so passive and admit that we do not know what or who the visitors are. In other words, we must stop kneeling before the gods, quit "hiding in our beliefs," and begin actively, even aggressively exploring "a real relationship" with the visitors, whoever or whatever they are.  Put a bit differently, we must "demythologize" them and evolve past "the level of superstition and confusion that has in the past blocked us from perceiving the visitors correctly" How, after all, can we recognize ourselves if we keep projecting those selves into what are essentially religious cartoons? When will we realize that we ourselves are our own authors?

Excerpted from Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal by Jeffrey J. Kripal



Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California

Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California by Richard Candida SmithExcerpts from Utopia and Dissent: Art, Poetry, and Politics in California by Richard Candida Smith

Edward Kienholz' testimony on the effects of learning art history from books and journals can be helpful in understanding how isolation could affect artists' conceptions of their own work:

"If you take a mediocre painting and take a picture of it, reduce the scale, and condense the experience of the painting down to a smaller scale, it becomes much richer. And that rich look was the criterion that I always looked toward. I was working toward a picture reproduction."

Helen Lundeberg (b.1908) thought that isolation in California had stimulated rather than dampened her imagination. She painted things that she wanted to bring into the world, rather than reproductions of other paintings or existing objects.

Lorser Feitelson: "There is art in everything...when you buy a lamp or a two-tone car, whether you realize it or not, you are showing an artistic sense within you."

Poetry, philosophy, religion, and sexuality are each a potential light of wisdom upon the mystery of nothing transforming into something.

Kenneth Rexroth: Against the ruin of the world there is only one defense--the creative act.

Helen Lundeberg (United States, 1908-1999), 1934-35, Oil on Celotex

Helen Lundeberg (United States, 1908-1999), 1934-35, Oil on Celotex

David Meltzer lamented that somehow the original project that artists and poets had embarked upon in the 1950's had gone awry. They had ceased to sing "true songs," coming from the heart in one-on-one communication with reader and viewer so that their work would begin a process of conversion, saying to themselves, "Oh, I never thought of it that way. I never saw it quite like that. Yes, now I see." This art was to create a revolution, to replace the babble of destructive, contentious voices with harmony and productivity. Their generation had the change to do this, he thought, because creative people had separated from commerce and formed a community. Their ideal of artistic communication was dialogue, the exchange of viewpoints with the goal of achieving some form of higher truth.

The works of Michael McClure and Ed Kienholz revolved directly and explicitly around sexuality. They presented images that argued that repression of sexual instincts was the most basic source of violence in American society. This source could not be addressed politically because the repressed by definition was unavailable to the conscious state. It always appeared in deflected, symbolic forms. Their work echoed a psychoanalytic paradigm by attempting to bring to the surface infantile sexual desires so they could turn toward mature forms of satisfaction. Artists functioned as the collection psychoanalyst of society, absolutely essential to its health and reform.

detail of: Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps, Edward Kienholz, 1959. Paint and resin on wood, printed color reproductions, ink on paper, vertebrae, telephone parts, candy, dental molds, metal, pencil, and leather. 87 x 42 x 21 in. The Menil Collection, Houston, Gift of Lannan Foundation. © Nancy Reddin Kienholz. Photo: Susan Einstein

detail of: Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps by Edward Kienholz

The art community (in LA) had died when it joined the pursuit of glamour and money. He (Connor Everts) had not sacrificed several years of his life to the fight against censorship, he thought, just so artists could make a lot of money. He had been after something very different: an egalitarian society where men and women could express themselves in painting, poetry, music, not to make money, but to communicate their concerns and their dreams...He left California to teach at the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan because he could not stand to watch the celebrity-posturing he felt had devoured Los Angeles artists.

David Hockney: A Rake's Progress

David Hockney: The Biography, 1937-1975 by Christopher Simon SykesI've been reading a lot lately especially artist biographies and I like to pick out my favorite bits esp. those spoken by the artist her/himself. In this case it's David Hockney. Enjoy! My Favorite Bits from David Hockney: The Biography, 1937-1975 by Christopher Simon Sykes

Hockney confessed that he was so frustrated by what he was doing that it sometimes seemed pointless to go on. "He (Ron Kitaj) told me," Hockney remembers, "that I should look upon painting as a means of exploring all the things that most interested me, and that I should paint pictures that reflected this. This was the best advice he ever gave me." Kitaj probed his interests, discovering them to be poltics, literature, relationships, vegetarianism, and encouraged him to consider using these as subject matter for paintings. "I thought it's quite right; that's what I'm complaining about, I'm not doing anything that's from me. So that was the way I broke it. I began to paint those subjects." (p. 69)


Lawn Sprinkler, 1966 colored crayon on paper, 14 x 17 in. © David Hockney

What distinguished this particular show (in 1961) was that Grabowski invited each of the participants to write a personal statement for the catalogue on the theme of "the strange possibilities of inspiration." Hockney wrote: "I paint what I like when I like, and where I like, with occasional nostalgic journeys. When asked to write on 'the strange possibilities of inspiration' it did occur to me that my own sources of inspiration were wide -- but acceptable. In fact, I am sure my own sources are classic, or even epic themes. Landscapes of foreign lands, beautiful people, love, propaganda, and major incidents (of my own life). These seem to me to be reasonably traditional." It was a philosophy he has adhered to all his working life. (p. 116)

"Los Angeles is the only place in the world," he says, "where the buildings actually make you smile when you drive around."...So, rather than his own ideas or things he'd seen in a book, Hockney began to paint the things he saw around him....Other characteristics of acrylic, such as its regular consistency, allowing it to be applied thinly while retaining its full brilliance of colour, go a long way to explaining the changes in Hockney's painting style during this period. His paintings became flatter and much more about image and colour than about texture. "When you use simple and bold colours," he later wrote, "acrylic is a fine medium; the colours are very intense and they stay intense..." (p. 145)

A Bigger Splash, 1967, acrylic on canvas, 96x96 in. © David Hockney

A Bigger Splash, 1967, acrylic on canvas, 96x96 in. © David Hockney

As for the Japanese boys (in Kyoto) "they are as exquisite as the Zen gardens. I have done a few drawings and taken eight hundred photographs...and really have been turned on so much that if I never left Powis Terrace for five years I've enough in my head to keep me going." (p. 264)Though money took away the stress of having to churn out work in order to survive, it had never been that important to him, other than as a means of paying for materials, giving him freedom to travel anywhere and allowing him to go to a restaurant without worrying about how he was going to pay the bill. He called himself "restaurant rich." "if you're an artist," he wrote, "the one thing you can do when you get money is use it to do what you want in art. That's the only good thing you can ever do for yourself. As an artist, what do you need to live on? As long as you've got a studio and a place to work in, all you're going to do is paint pictures all day long." (p. 273)

(Stephen) Spender compared Hockney and his contemporaries to the irreverent and antisocial tradition of art that emerged after the Industrial Revolution, as exemplified by the Pre-Raphaelites, such as Samuel Palmer and, particularly, William Blake, an artist who "remained outside the main tradition all his life, mocking at the religious and artistic institutions of his time, and producing his own totally original poetry and art." (p. 315)

Beer, art and philosophy

Beer, Art and Philosophy by Tom Marioni

Beer, Art and Philosophy: A Memoir by Tom Marioni is an awesome book by a living artist. It helped me grasp conceptual art through the use of plain language that pretty much anyone can understand (unlike the magazine ArtForum's 'artspeak' which is almost impossible to understand). I also happen to be a big fan of beer, art AND philosophy. I also highly recommend reading A Brief History of Thought: a philosophical guide to living by the Parisian philosopher and professor Luc Ferry if you want the low down on the origins and journey of (philosophical) thought through time beginning with the Stoics in ancient Greek.

Notes from Beer, Art and Philosophy:

Living on the West Coast exposes you to a subtle Asian influence. After 10 years in California, I became influenced by Zen ideas. My meditative line drawings like Drawing a Line as Far as I Can Reach, and my drumming exercises were my way to connect with Japan. By the late '70's I was anxious to go there. (p. 152)

I believe the best art records society in a poetic way, and in order to do that, I hope the next art will have its own presence. (p. 29)

Artists advance our culture in the world. I didn't take Robert Mapplethrope's "dirty" pictures very seriously, but he launched a homosexual movement into the art mainstream. In the '90's Senator Jesse Helms used Mapplethorpe's pictures to get individual artists' grants eliminated from the NEA program. (p. 105)

Nordland's (San Francisco Museum of Art director, 1966-1971) swan song came in '71 when he organized a show of Paul Jenkins, a decorative abstract painter, the LeRoy Nieman of his day. It was an embarrassment, and I assumed that was why the board fired Nordland. (p. 136)

I don't like to sound pedantic but I believe art is a poetic record of the culture with the power to inspire people to a spiritual awareness. I also think art represents the culture's most excellent examples of visual ideas. You cannot pretend that art and nonart are the same.

Art can become serious again. Even art with wit and art with beauty should have political content, have a subject, make a point, and not be an ornament. Picasso said when he painted his Guernica in 1937 that "painting is not done to decorate apartments; it is an instrument of war...against brutality and darkness."(p. 206)

The comedian George Carlin said, "The job of the comedian is to find where the line is drawn, deliberately cross it, and make the audience glad you took them with you." I would say that's the job of all artists. (p. 209)

From Beer, Art and Philosophy: A Memoir by Tom Marioni