April 15, 2009

Agnes Martin

Those in search of peace and beauty should spend time with the inspiring art and writings of abstract painter Agnes Martin (1912-2004). 

Night Sea, 1963

- Art work is the only work in the world that is unmaterialistic. All other work contributes to human welfare and comfort. You can see from this that human welfare and comfort are not in the interests of the artist. He is irresponsible because his life goes in a different direction. His mind will be involved with beauty and happiness. It is possible to work at something other than art and maintain this state of mind and be moving ahead as an artist. The unmaterial interest is essential.

- You can see that you will have time to yourself to find out what appeals to your mind. While you go along with others you are not really living your life. To rebel against others is just as futile. You must find your way.

- Happiness is being on the beam with life - to feel the pull of life.

- The struggle of existence, non existence is not my struggle. The establishment of the perfect state not mine to do. Being outside that struggle I turn to perfection as I see it in my mind, and as I also see it with my eyes even in the dust.

- In my best moments I think "Life has passed me by" and I am content.

Falling Blue, 1963

Barbara Haskell writes:

"The miracle of existence," Martin affirms, "is that we are able to recognize perfection in beauty." Beauty and happiness, like perfection, are pervasive and immaterial. "Beauty is unattached"; when a beautiful rose dies beauty does not die because it is not really in the rose. Beauty is an awareness in the mind." As Martin explains elsewhere, "We may be looking at the ocean when we are aware of beauty but it is not the ocean." The ocean is the occasion, but the beauty exists in our mind as an innate idea - something akin to a Platonic idea but less definite and objectified than Plato's theory of forms. The existence of beauty and happiness is stable; only our awareness of them fluctuates. This awareness can occur with or without material stimulation - as when, Martin notes, we wake up in the morning feeling supremely happy for no reason. Moreover, once we are aware of perfection, we can experience it in everything - in the wind, the waves, the flight of birds, even in the dust. "When your eyes are open, you see beauty in anything," Martin declares. "Blake's right about there's no difference between the whole thing and the one thing."

For Martin, beauty and happiness - expressions of the sublimity and perfection of reality - are the subject matter of art. Art cannot depict perfection since perfection is immaterial; nor can art itself be perfect since it is part of the physical world. What art can express are abstract emotions of beauty and happiness. "All art work is about beauty," Martin affirms; "all positive work represents it and celebrates it. All negative art protests the lack of beauty in our lives." Artists, by illustrating their own experiences of perfection, awaken viewers' memories of past experiences of it.

Untitled #3, 1980

Barbara Haskell continues:

Martin eventually located an isolated mesa near the village of Cuba, New Mexico, which she leased and upon which she built an adobe brick and log house. Without a phone or easy vehicular access, she led a solitary and simple life. Her precipitous abandonment of a successful career and decision to live away from people had been motivated by her need to resolve the despair and confusion about life that had numbed her.

The absolute faith she ultimately developed in "the great process of life" was no doubt forged by despair and more than her share of helplessness and defeat. "The solitary life," as she later wrote, "is full of terrors." And yet it is precisely in persevering, without hope or desire, that feelings of fear and helplessness are overcome: "It is hard to realize at the time of helplessness that that is the time to be awake and aware." Just as Early Christian ascetics gave up worldly distractions and embraced hardships in order to gain intimations of the sublime, so Martin identified helplessness as "a time when our most tenacious prejudices are overcome. Our most tightly gripped resistances come under the knife and we are made more free." Suffering, despair, and defeat, she maintained, are prerequisites for welcoming the unknown - for knowing ourselves and freeing ourselves. Suffering is necessary for freedom from suffering; hopelessness is a precondition for hope. Only in despair do we relinquish ego and move closer to freedom.

1 comment:

  1. Very Advaita,, not unlike Ramana Maharshi.as he embraced the idea of death so intensely that he found life.