The Lost Symbol

In art school, more specifically at the French national art school, I learned that using symbols and visual symbolic language was not a good thing if I wanted to be a good contemporary artist.  Good art at the time was cool, made with expensive and impressive materials, such as extremely large full color photographs, preferably back-lit, and the like.  A lot of the work produced was very good, technically speaking.  I suppose my primary interest being the search for meaning, the means was not as important as the message.  Well, to me images are important, but I was not trying to impress people.  I like art that is sincere, authentic, vulnerable.  I was trying to touch something inside of them, and I think they did not want to be touched. It was often a confusing experience, being a student in a foreign culture, as I wanted to make personal work, and this met with a lot of criticism. The attacks became very personal.  Teachers have a lot of influence in France, and they just don’t expect their students to disobey them.  They want above all to be emulated and adored, which is not really my cup of tea.  I didn’t leave a highly controlling mother to have some professor tell me how I was going to express myself.  Yes, I was rebellious.   I was at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the early 1990’s, which I suppose was a post-modern period.  I was telling stories with my paintings, trying to solve problems with images.  Jean-Francois Chevrier, art historian and professor of contemporary art history at my school, recommended that my close friend Regine remove all symbolic language from her paintings, and she, being very impressed by him, immediately did as he bid.  In fact, she gave up painting for photography. (M. Chevrier specializes in photography, or the study thereof). Jean-Michel Alberola, painter and also professor told us that the experience of World War II had put an end to history and he said artists could no longer be free to create as in the past because of the weight of history, or something like that.  I remember somewhat envious comments regarding the freedom of Americans to play with the history of the world because we have no history of our own (if I remember correctly)…   I still don’t really understand this reasoning.  It got very intellectual at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and in the Parisian art world – so much so that the words became divorced from all meaning.  Obviously, (back to history) Europe was blindsided by the genocide of World War II.  Many highly cultured Germans were easily able to block from their own vision the essential humanity of those they wished to eliminate from their society by considering those individuals as non-humans.  As far as I am concerned, and I am Jewish, by the way…the Nazi horrors were a continuation of the history of slavery.  Slavery was a very common practice for thousands of years, and no one thought much of it until recently.  Whenever we consider another person as less than ourselves, we are perpetuating that myth and giving ourselves permission to hurt another person and feel justified in disobeying the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated.  It is true that the Nazis used symbolism and were very successful producers of propaganda, which they used to manipulate the German people.  Which goes to show that symbols have power. To go back to symbolic language and its presence in art…While in Europe, I visited many churches and was taught that medieval citizens for the most part were not able to read written language, and religious paintings and sculptures in churches were present for pedagogical purposes.  I also feel that in previous times before the “lumieres” and the scientific era (our current religion), people were more permeable to living mysteries and symbols.  Their prejudices were different than ours, in other words. Nature itself speaks to us in our dreams at night and also in our waking dreams through the language of symbols.  Folk and fairy tales use powerful symbols to teach us through our sleeping minds about our true nature, to help us to grow and evolve into enlightened and mature men and women.  If symbols are good enough for Nature, they are valuable to me as well as an artist.  When an image comes into my mind, I often do not yet understand what it truly means to me.  I have to keep drawing it and painting it, allowing it to come into its own and live its own autonomous life.  As the images evolve, much like a film, I learn more about myself and my path as an artist and as a person. Our scientifically minded, rational culture has progressively developed individualism, logical creativity, and is generally a left-brained dominant culture.  When I was living in France, I observed that the government took the place that religion occupies in American culture.  Neither has much to do with spirituality.  Government and bureaucracy in France do a very good job of making people feel safe.  The French being a very conservative people (they don’t much like taking risks), this is in many ways a good thing.  But there is not much room to grow there.  Still, there is much to be said for a simpler life, lived at a slower pace.  I enjoyed the sensuality of France, as well as the intellectual life.  In America, society is cut-throat; competition is fierce.  I admit I felt a lot safer in France, on a physical level.  Good medical care with a full range of choices was readily available, and people have rights.  It is a socially conscious society.  In America, if you feel anxious, you have to pray, because no one will help you or take care of you when you are in trouble financially or otherwise.  Modernism was born to counteract the power of the old world power structures, and it turn, it just created new power structures.  Plus ca change, comme on dit, plus c’est la meme chose. Spirituality has always taken the same route, no matter from what culture it is born.  The material, the body, the physical worlds are all a veil which separate us from our true natures.  Living in a physical body presents us with certain definite needs which have to be satisfied.  We all share an instinct to preserve our own lives and those of our children and loved ones.  The ego showers us with fear that someone else might take something we need and threaten our survival.  The struggle is endless, unless we choose to accept that perhaps our physical being is not who we really are.  It does get very tiring to keep struggling to survive.  It seems pointless, but necessary.  I guess I want to do more, accomplish more, than mere survival.  It seems that through the ages, this primordial fact never changes.  Life is chaotic.  Life is a struggle, full of pain and challenges.  We all try to triumph over life, first by amassing wealth or power, or gaining social recognition.  When this fails to bring happiness, we search for wisdom, inner strength, and our true purpose.  The answer to inner happiness has been present all along, but it takes a long path of wandering to be ready to receive it.  I think this design is purposeful.  We have to be worn down so that the arrogance can peel off.  We have to be hurt and broken again and again to be ready to let go of our certainty about knowing what to do to make our lives better.  We need an ego so that one day we can shed it, when ready.  You cannot surrender if you have nothing to give up.  Even if what you are giving up is an illusion.  A possible solution: we have to fail to succeed, ultimately.  Since the accumulation of history and culture have lead us to individualism, I suppose I have to accept that I live in a  world that won’t be able to teach us how to be human or how to educate our children.  Religion is too rigid; there are no living symbols or myths to carry us through.  I do feel that Buddha and Jesus shared a common message – we all have to follow our own path.  There may be some guidance available, but basically, we have to live through our own suffering and learn whatever it is we came here to learn.  I don’t believe that Jesus died to absolve other people for their sins.  We all have to pay for our own mistakes and be responsible for them.  I have never understood “the blood of Jesus”.  Maybe someone can explain. I do suspect that most people are simply too lazy to do their own suffering and are more comfortable with having someone carry the pain for them.  I feel that Jesus and Buddha wanted us to try our best to live our own lives to the fullest – not materially, but spiritually speaking.  You cannot be comfortable and make this happen.  If Jesus sacrificed his physical body and life, this was a powerful  living symbol for what he meant for us to do as well. “Everyone, according to their spiritual enlightenment, and in proportion to the polishing of their heart’s mirror, sees the hidden meaning of things.  The more you polish your heart, the more you see with your inner eye.” – Rumi (Masnavi IV:2909-10)

5 comments on “The Lost Symbol

  1. Thanks for the nice weblog. It was extremely useful for me. Maintain sharing such suggestions in the future as effectively. This was in fact what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such details with us


  2. I do not leave many remarks, but i did some searching
    and wound up here The Lost Symbol | adamevenevenadam.
    And I actually do have 2 questions for you if you tend not to mind.
    Could it be simply me or does it look like some of the comments look as if they are written by brain dead individuals?

    😛 And, if you are writing on additional online sites, I would like to follow everything new you have to post.
    Could you make a list of every one of all your community sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?


    • Hi Darren. I haven’t been getting many comments; I would really love to have a dialogue going on many topics. I am wondering if there is a technical problem with my site? I don’t have a Twitter account (yet), and my facebook is just personal stuff shared with friends. I am planning on starting a new blog for fiction writing some time this year.


  3. Everything is very open with a clear description of the challenges.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is extremely helpful.
    Many thanks for sharing!


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