Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Redeeming Darkness: Notes on Resilience

Any Human Thing #2 ("I promise nothing complete; for any human thing supposed to be complete must for that very reason infallibly be faulty.") from Loomings, tar and oil on canvas.

Why make art if there isn’t going to be a civilization to receive it?

What kind of art would be worth making if human extinction, in say 30 years, were certain? The evidence is all too explicit that we are living in the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch resulting from human intervention in the biosphere. We are experiencing a corresponding “sixth great extinction,” in which humans are steadily generating the conditions that have already eliminated 50-90%+ of all life on earth five times in the planet’s distant history (including death-by-high-atmospheric-CO2-concentrations and ocean-acidification/de-oxygenation). We can’t seem to stop destroying individual lives, local populations, and entire species in unprecedented numbers, threatening the fundamental social and ecological systems that make life on earth possible. 


In short, humanity on many new fronts appears to be sabotaging itself more efficiently than ever. It is the central issue of our age and the most serious problem in human history. How will artists respond?


In a time of radical insecurity, celebrating the pleasures and ignoring the pains begins to feel morally irresponsible. As a public act (that is, as soon as it’s shown), art has a moral dimension. As Shelley says, “A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.”


Past fear, anger, and mourning, one way out of paralysis is be all-the-way open: to create on behalf of human potential alone. In a dark time, only the highest ideals matter.


Art’s role is to elevate humankind. It’s that grandiose and that simple. This means, among many other things, that art’s essential value lies not in entertaining, educating, or consoling humanity but in redeeming it. Art redeems humanity by addressing itself to the best of which humanity is capable. This has always been the case, but never has it seemed more necessary to cultivate this way of making. 

- From the essay Meditations in the Dark: On Making Art in a Difficult Time, available in a limited, hands-sewn edition of 60 copies for $16 plus shipping. Also available: Loomings, Paintings in Tar, Oil & Gold Leaf, with writings on Melville, America, and the Redeeming Power of Darkness (paperback, 48 pages, with reproductions of paintings from Loomings and quotes from Moby-Dick, $18, plus shipping). If interested in purchasing a book, contact

1 comment:

  1. I read your blogpost and viewed the illustrations with much interest, eager to find out what would be described as the function of art. Perhaps art had a spiritual or ritualistic function as well, but that isn't a far stretch from the definition of the function art as presented here. The question to those who appreciate art and artists on what art would you make or like to view -say for the last 30 years of humankind- is an urgent question. One needs reflection. Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves this question no matter what.