“There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.” – Raymond Chandler
Alice Osborn writes: “Star Wars is more than shoot ‘em bad guys with laser guns and escaping in fast spacecraft—it’s about 4 fundamental life lessons.” Alice discusses those lessons in her latest blog post, which I highly recommend.
Almost 40 years after it blasted its way into movie theaters and popular culture, Star Wars still commands our attention. There’s good reason for that. In crafting Luke Skywalker’s grand adventure, George Lucas took Joseph Campbell’s heroic myth, added memorable characters and innovative special effects, and produced a cinematic classic that tells a timeless tale. Lucas managed to “Make it New!”
Ezra Pound’s battle cry not only inspired the Modernists who explored radical techniques to convey their ideas, but also describes the maddening challenge all artists wrestle with, to take what already exists, whether paint, bronze, or words, and shape those elements into something both meaningful and worthwhile of our attention.
Part of that challenge is to work within a living tradition and keeping “it” alive by adapting it to present-day needs and concerns. The artist’s goal is to select and rearrange timeless insights and conventions and make them into something a new generation wants to enjoy and claim as its own. Timeless messages, such as Campbell’s heroic myth, have endured over generations because they speak to the human condition, something that does not change even as the conditions in which it exists does change, sometimes dramatically. It takes artistic vision to perceive those enduring patterns and make them interesting. It also takes hard work. But when it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. No wonder we keep going back to classics such as Star Wars.
The painter Piet Mondrian once declared, “The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.” But John Lennon saw things a bit differently: “If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that… I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.”
Which is right? I offer my answer at irevuo.
“Whereas I once believed that the decadence of the West could only be turned around through politics and intellectual dialectics, I am now convinced that authentic renewal can only emerge out of the imaginative visions of the artist and the mystic. This does not mean that I have withdrawn into some anti-intellectual Palace of Art. Rather, it involves the conviction that politics and rhetoric are not autonomous forces, but are shaped by the pre-political roots of culture: myth, metaphor, and spiritual experience as recorded by the artist and the saint.” – Gregory Wolfe
“What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and never will have, in short, the lowest of the low.
All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.
Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest comers. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”
Vincent Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother
“Everything is humanities. The sciences are a form of the humanities. They involve traditions of inquiry; they involve social engagement with ideas. They do not happen with a naked brain going out and encountering a nonhuman world. And the better we understand ourselves, the better we can do science, as well. So I don’t see them—the sciences and the humanities—as being at all different.” Brian Boyd, author and Professor of English at the University of Auckland.
The spirit of C. P. Snow lives!
Where do writers get their ideas? Some say they spring from fevered minds. Those folks may have a point. There’s now scientific support for that view. From NewsMax:
Nancy Andreasen, a psychiatrist at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, studied writers associated with the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and found that 80 percent suffered from depression, mania, or hypomania — compared to only 30 percent of non-writers.
Creative people tend to have adventuresome personalities and are likely to take risks. The high rate of mental illness in highly creative people could also be explained by a genetic predisposition to both creativity and madness.
Creativity involves combining new ideas in ways others have not considered. Sometimes when a person’s ideas seem too far off the norm, he or she doesn’t make sense and may seem mentally ill.
Hmm. A few names come to mind. Philip K. Dick. Robert E. Howard. Sylvia Plath. Troubled individuals all. And all talented writers.
But once again, science is just now discovering what astute observers have known for centuries. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Theseus scoops Dr. Andreasen by some 400 years:
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.
The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact:
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold,
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt:
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
Queen Hippolyta agrees with Theseus, adding that the “strange and admirable” often thrives within the grey and shifting border between madness and craft. I’d add that imagination is just part of what makes all art possible; it’s a skill — something that can be learned and honed — to make “airy nothing” into something concrete the reader can experience.