You have seen a herd of goats
going down to the water.
The lame and dreamy goat
brings up the rear.
There are worried faces about that one,
but now they're laughing,
because look, as they return,
that one is leading.
There are many different ways of knowing.
The lame goat's kind is a branch
that traces back to the roots of presence.
Learn from the lame goat,
and lead the herd home.
Sometimes, I am more deliberate though. For example, my series of paintings which include black birds are relatively simple on first examination, but they are actually composed with an eye to symbolic meaning. The hope is, as an artist, that these archetypes work on the viewer whether he or she realizes it in any active way. Here are a couple of examples.
One must consider when viewing a painting, that the viewer is impacted by many elements at once. This is a small painting (12" x 36") containing a lot of meaning. The composition of "Burning Desire" is not quite symmetrically balanced. While there are two birds, they do not have the same stance. Other elements, such as the skulls and flames, are also a bit off center. This slight shift off center creates a subtle tension and hints at the complexity of the painting's message.
The zebra print in the background of this piece is colored blue and yellow instead of the expected black and white. This is to illustrate that life is almost never presented in a clear-cut manner. Blue is the color most often associated with issues of the spirit and intellect. It is the color of sky and heaven, also having strong connections with nearly all forms of water. Thus it is connected with purity and cleansing. It traditionally has feminine, cool and reflective aspects. Its link to the sky also connotes eternity and immensity, time and space. Blue is often linked to truth and transparency.
Yellow often stands for light, the sun's rays, intellect, faith, and goodness. However, yellow can also be a sign of cowardice, betrayal, and/or jealousy. Because of the two distinct colors, the zebra print is often representative of duality, which results in a split personality with two distinct identities that compete for dominance.
Red, an emotionally charged color, is associated with war, anger, blood-lust, vengeance, fire, and the masculine. It can also mean love, passion, health, and arousal.
Most of the numbers in this painting are even: two birds, six flames on the chandelier, six red balls, and four skulls. The exception, of course, is the female figure, and in a lesser way, the light fixture, which is merely an extension of the girl, in that it represents her illuminating intelligence. Of course, the two blackbirds can be read as thesis and anti-thesis.
The number four deals with stability and the grounded nature of all things. It represents solidity and calmness. It is the number of persistence and endurance. Note, however, that the four skulls are somewhat off center and that one is fractured. It is this very dissection that created the appearance that the skulls encircle the hem of the skirt. The number six signifies growth on the spiritual level. The fact that there are six candlesticks (representing the intellect) and six red balls (representing spirit) connects these two aspects of human consciousness.
And, of course, both are painted red, as is the fire, hinting that the three elements are somehow all connected. In an interesting aside, fire is the only one of the four elements that humans can reproduce themselves, so it is said to be the bridge between mortals and gods. Rituals often involve fire, and it is often a symbol of purification. It can even be a symbol of religious zeal and martyrdom. Freud saw fire as an aspect of the libido representing forbidden passions, but is also seen in psychology as destruction and regeneration.
(Here is another of my black bird paintings, titled "Get Back Jack." To read an explication of this one and get a glimpse at others in this series, click on the image to open a new window.)
It is my claim that all of the paintings in this series are symbolically laden. But can't this be said of all art? Whether the artist intended it to be that way or not? Can this be said of all writing?
Is this then the way the mind of a lame goat works, assigning ambiguity and symbolic meaning to everything it encounters along the winding path?
"Ay, there's the rub..."
I do not propose that there is a correct answer to these questions. I do, however, embrace the generative nature of the query...
These are not easy observations to make, easy paths to chart. I recently read a passage by Wittgenstein wherein he proposed that the very use of language can lead the observer to become deaf to the embodiment of life, the very source from which our words derive their sense.
I do believe however, that the mere consideration of difficult ideas can result in small breakthroughs in thinking. And I have found that it is when I am writing in my journal, or attempting a new poem, or making a painting that these small epiphanies occur.
I will close today with this:
"It's not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities."--Kristin Armstrong