divinely superfluous beauty

 

The Awakened Eye - Peacock Feather

 

“The peacock’s tail,” said Charles Darwin, “makes me sick.”
That’s because the theory of evolution as adaptation can’t explain why nature is so beautiful.

Really, does the peacock’s tail have to be that beautiful? Do butterfly wings need such brilliantly varied patterns? Do seashells need such exquisite architecture and patterning to house a small crawling creature? Does a spider really need to spend all night spinning such silken symmetry? And don’t get me started on flowers…

Nature’s nature is to be excessive when it comes to design, and there’s nothing random about it. The beauty of nature is not arbitrary, even if random mutation has played a role in evolution.


Divinely Superfluous Beauty

The storm-dances of gulls, the barking game
of seals,
Over and under the ocean …
Divinely superfluous beauty
Rules the games, presides over destinies,
makes trees grow
And hills tower, waves fall.
The incredible beauty of joy
Stars with fire the joining of lips, O let our
loves too
Be joined, there is not a maiden
Burns and thirsts for love
More than my blood for you, by the shore of seals
while the wings
Weave like a web in the air
Divinely superfluous beauty.

Robinson Jeffers


Robinson Jeffers’ luscious poem eased its way back into my memory this morning when I read Deborah Barlow‘s post Useless Beauty on her blog Slow Muse. I’m grateful for her permission to share it here – for the benefit of those of us who might be in need of an awe-and-wonderment recharge.

 

The Awakened Eye - Bowerbird bower 1

Who needs a peacock’s tail when you can build this for your lady love?
The bower created by a male bowerbird.

David Rothenberg is a jazz musician and a professor of philosophy. He has written a number of books, several of them focused on the interface between natural sounds (like the songs of birds and whales) with jazz and other musical forms.

In his most recent and thought provoking book, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution Rothenberg moves into the visual realm, exploring how beauty fits into the current concept of Darwinian evolution. Is beauty part of natural selection? Can its abundance in nature truly be explained by sexual selection?

Rothenberg makes a strong case for aesthetic selection. Beauty as a determiner. This is a delicious thought.

One of Rothenberg’s prime examples is the bowerbird. Each species creates a very particular style of bower, an undertaking that is extremely arduous. Amazingly, these structural—and very sculptural—creations are not nests nor are they used for anything “practical.” They are extravagant expressions designed to please the eye of the female bowerbird.

In many ways they seem to defy evolution since their sole purpose is to look good. But Rothenberg suggests that birds have their own aesthetic, similar to human “schools” of art, like abstract expressionism or cubism. And looking at the photographs of bowers below, how can anyone not think of our own human bowerbird, Andy Goldsworthy?

From the book:

The female satin bowerbirds do choose their mate after what they see in the bower and what they take in from the song and dance. But are they really evaluating the quality of their mate? Modern sexual selection theory says what they are looking for is good genes, while Darwin’s original sexual selection theory focused only on what the females like. Look what he has created — an artwork with style and substance, something no animal besides humans is known to do. Are we to brush all this effort off as a sign or a code for something more mundane and hidden? What if bowerbirds attract, mate and procreate for the propagation of bowers, not offspring? Look at the process as an example of aesthetic selection…

[These are] not structures to live in, but for the females to admire. They are built to be one thing — beautiful.

Rothenberg goes to to say that he does not believe evolution as we know it can explain art, but “a deeper consideration of art can enhance our understanding of evolution.”

He also writes this memorable line:

I believe our understanding of nature increases if we spend more time wondering about all this useless beauty.

Below, a sampling of different bowerbird offerings:

 

The Awakened Eye: Bowerbird bower 2

 

The Awakened Eye: Bowerbird bower 3

 

The Awakened Eye - Bowerbird bower 4


Slow Muse – Useless Beauty


look with fresh eyes

It’s rare to come upon an extraordinarily creative artist who also has a wise and poetic way with words. And to find that this artist has brought together her two skills within the covers of a book that is not only a visual delight but an inspiration for the contemplative creative, is such a joy. Her name is Karen Divine, and she hails from that hotbed of creativity, Boulder, Colorado.

Karen joins the Colorado crew – Jordan Wolfson, Robert Spellman and Lisa Gakyo Schaewe (have I missed anyone?) at the artisans’ gallery. I’m delighted to welcome her. She has opened my eyes to the astonishing creative possibilities of iPhone art.


Our world is filled with internal dialogue, judgments, assumptions and analysis.
We choose these perspectives over having a “direct experience”.
When we view the world with these perspectives, we do not see at all.
We live in a world where certainty and familiarity are most important.
There is another way.

Karen Divine: 16. Harmony. From "A Small Amount of Courage"

16. HARMONY
(LOOK WITH FRESH EYES)

LOOK with fresh eyes at the play of COLOR,
FORM, and TEXTURES that surround you!
This is the most heartfelt approach to embracing
each and every moment. By CONNECTING with HEAVEN
and EARTH you can bring the whole
UNIVERSE into your HANDS

As Rilke expresses beautifully in Letters to a Young Poet: Depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and beliefs in some kind of beauty, depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you, the images of your dreams and the objects of your memory.

I have learned to step out of my way, quiet the critic and allow the process to happen, revealing to me a story.

I just shoot my life, stay present and watch what develops.
The opportunities are endless.

– Karen Divine


The image above is from Karen’s book A Small Amount of Courage, which features her iPhone art

“… which you must see to believe. In her book, Karen says, “As an artist, tapping into your own creative spirit is, first and foremost, a matter of developing awareness. This inner awareness allows you to quiet the senses and allows the unconscious to reveal rich imagery.”

Karen used the I Ching as the starting point for each of her images, and her creative process flowed through her meditations, yoga practice, and inspiration from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. The result is 64 images, each accompanied by a short verse, that offer profound insights into the most basic human experiences – those that you are more likely to see in the mirror than on the news.

Karen is an internationally recognized artist with more than a dozen prestigious awards for her iPhone art. After one glance at her work, it’s easy to see why – each image in her book is a composite of many images that feature color, lines, and balance. It is whimsical with a touch of melancholy and offers much for the eye to explore. The verses express Karen’s interpretation of the accompanying image and leave you with much to consider. A Small Amount of Courage is a masterwork that belongs on the bookshelf of all who appreciate art and how it can inspire self-realisation.”
– Jeanne Hansen, editor.

A Small Amount of Courage


Karen Divine at the artisans’ gallery


artisans
artisans’ gallery


tracing the contours of bewilderment

Jena Argenta brings her exquisite papercutting to the artisans’ gallery, and contributes an equally exquisite, deeply thoughtful essay about her work.

In papercutting and in drawing,
I can’t capture the Mystery of a crane or a lily.
I can only trace the contours of my bewilderment.

 

Jena Argenta: Walking the Dark (detail), black newsprint unmounted, full piece size 9"x16"

Walking the Dark (detail), black newsprint unmounted, full size 9″x16″

 

Frederick Franck and my mother were early teachers in how to see and how to love. And if one makes a practice of falling in love, everywhere, with everything, it pushes the reach of one’s arms. Far becomes near. There is no “other” in the margins. Suffering is not on the peripheries. Like beauty, it is palpable and immediate. Drawing can leave you feeling broken and small with God on your skin. It can change your life. And yes, Jordan Wolfson, it can change the world.

My papercutting, while part prayer, is just a fancy way to get back to that line. To illuminate it by leaving it out. It turns the experience of life drawing and its loving inside out. I want to share eyes with you. And to take my time. I want to dig my heels in like a heavy rooted oak in the city’s technetronic center and hold ground and show you how beautiful light is when it’s mediated by shadow.

– Jena Argenta

Read the full article, with more examples of Jena’s work, here.


artisans

artisans’ gallery


wabi-sabi: the beauty of imperfection

Tai Carmen at Parallax Journal has written a post that’s inspired me to do something new (for me) – click the reblog button.

My studies in Japan introduced me to the concept of Wabi-Sabi and my heart took to it like a moth to a flame. It was in Kyoto that I found Leonard Koren’s book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers– a magnificent companion for me during my days in Kyoto as well as the more remote regional areas I visited.

“To find beauty in imperfection is not intuitive to the Western mind.” We race after what should be, and romanticise what was, ensuring that we rarely see what is. Wabi-Sabi turns our perception towards what is, and more. It treasures it. There is great fulfilment in this.

Thank you Tai.

PARALLAX:

By Tai Carmensite credit: www.mindful.org/in-your-life/arts-and-creativity/wabi-sabi-for-artists-designers-poets-philosophers

“Wabi-Sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent & incomplete.” ~ Leonard Koren

“Wabi is the beauty that springs from the creative energy that flows in all things, animate or not. It’s a beauty that, like nature itself, can appear with dark and light, sad and joyful, rough and gentle.” ~ Makoto Ueda

“Beauty is radiant and tactile, not airbrushed.” ~ Joe Hefferon 

The term Wabi-Sabi represents a Japanese aesthetic philosophy that embraces authenticity over perfection.

Characterized by asymmetry, irregularity, simplicity, economy, austerity—modesty & intimacy—wabi-sabi values natural objects & processes as emblems of our transitory existence. Rust, woodgrain, freckles—the texture of life.

grandmothers-hands-todd-fox, site credit: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/grandmothers-hands-todd-fox.html

Developed in the 15th century in reaction to the lavish, ostentatious ornamentation of the aristocracy, wabi-sabi centers around three principals: “nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished.”

“The initial inspiration for wabi-sabi’s metaphysical, spiritual, and moral principles come from ideas about simplicity…

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a path to stillness and awakening

New at the artisans’ gallery – photographer Dan Dhruva Baumbach

For Dan, art  – and art appreciation – is a path to stillness and awakening.

These days I love to spend my time in nature wandering around with my camera.  I still get very quiet and just respond to the beauty I see in front of me.  Sometimes I’ll take photographs of what I am seeing and sometimes not.

 

Photograph by Dan Dhruva Baumbach

 

What I’m doing in photographs is capturing my experience.  If you look at my photos and are stopped, then I’ve been successful.

People like to talk about spiritual art but I don’t like to make differences.  To me the purpose of any art is to stop you and take you out of yourself.

– Dan Dhruva Baumbach


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Dan Dhruva Baumbach at the artisans’ gallery


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let your subject find you

wherever the eye falls is the face of creation