Thursday, August 23, 2012

Unique Styles and The Brain

Athens NAM 3563.  Overlifesize (but not colossal) head of
Septimius Severus.  Note that eyes were inserted (colored stone).
Made to fit into a socket of a body, probably draped.
Unique style; unique brain
[Note: this essay has nothing to do with the Collective Unconscious, with Archetypes, or with Symbols, the last being products of conscious thought as I understand it.]

One evening, about a week ago, I was listening to a re-broadcast of Charlie Rose's Brain series, from Series II, on Consciousness, when it suddenly occurred to me that Creativity and the unique style of every work of art is self-evident now.  For an artist's creativity exists as such in the work's Style, and it doesn't stand for anything else.  A cuckoo call or a bit of a storm in a symphony is not a symbol.

In the panel for that particular program, Patricia Churchland (UC San Diego) and Charlie Rose's friend and guide (I think), Eric Kandel, seemed to be in especially close accord, and it was they who proved to confirm what had just occurred also to me as obvious.  Not that neuroscience is my field, but I have been keenly interested in it all my life.  And the realization that Consciousness is the thing that really matters in our humanity seems as critical to me as Charlie Rose said at the beginning of this hour.  It was Churchland who led off with Hippokrates (and disposed of Platonic Ideas); then the great Helmholtz was given his due.  But it is Kandel who came round to Creativity at the end of the program; he understands and is possessed by Creativity.

It is obvious that creativity and unique personal style (in language, in visual art, in music, even in mathematics, I think) is not a mystery, as journalists and the sort of gurus who star on Public Television for fundng drives keep saying, and as ministers of religions ascribe to receptivity of deity.  It is, though, a great wonder.  Creative artists have uncommon access to unconscious memory.  (I remember in the 1960s pitying those for whom LSD was a revelation, as if artificial intelligence were as good as the real thing).  That they are gifted, even the lesser artists, is plain.  Their minds have registered and considered and played with all the impressions from their senses for all of their lives; they have also become connoisseurs of pleasures; their consciousness and skills, always selectively accessing elements of unconsciousness, are given the rewards needed for the labor of focusing on acts of creativity and forging works that can share with others, those who are willing and able to devote attention to them, insights into the artist, and into the artist's creations, greater insights and valuable pleasures than most can make for themselves. (In short, Epicurus was right).  How else can a Beethoven C# minor quartet come into being?  How else can gifted and devoted musicians receive it and re-create it in performance?

Other things are answered, too.  Identical twins become less identical personalities as they grow older, even though they started out as a single fertilized ovum.  Their minds, and so their selves, are formed as they grow, and even living in the same family and in the same society and culture, not even identical brains (who, for that matter, were not in the same position in the uterus) can form identical unconscious minds, and so their conscious thoughts and acts grow to be their own, though as much alike as any can be.

I put good, old Septimius at the head of this Post, not because I fancy him any sort of philosopher— and his wife, at least, seems to have been superstitious even as empresses go.  No, I put this Athenian head where it is to illustrate what I've been thinking about, in one way or another, for more than a half century: the nature of Art.  It is the best portrait of Septimius (in my opinion) that I know.  That is not to say that it looks just like him; we don't know exactly what he did look like.  I mean that the artist, who was good, very good, though no Michelangelo, made everything that he could out of the cranium and features and, in so doing, he put himself into it.  His work possesses a lot of his unconscious understanding of the meaning of forms, of the surfaces, of his awareness of the subject (though he almost surely was not working from life), of the very process of working the stone.  To be sure, we don't know his name or anything anecdotal about him.  We know, however, the artist, just as we know Mozart or Beethoven, not from anecdotes that have come down to us but from their work.

And that is what creativity is.  That is what style is.  That is why what I called Absolute, as distinct from Illustration, is the essential thing in art.

So, as a tailpiece, here is another Septimius that I admire, as art, though it is just a coin portrait.  It was issued c. 196 by the governor Auspex at Nicopolis ad Istrum.

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