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Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker

Performance Art

1 October 2017

Artist’s Dilemma


It was such a mess; cosmic microwaves bouncing around without direction, high density, and even higher temperatures.  Little brains can’t fathom.  Still trying to figure it out, hindsight giving little light into the “dark” matter of the beginnings.


Creation needed to cool it down, subatomic particles forming, then atoms, oh so beautiful in their simplicity, only to give way to giant clouds of primordial elements.   Still trying to figure it out, but can at least see, in the hindsight of our enlightened science, particles coalescing through gravity into halos of dark matter, eventually forming the stars and galaxies that guide us today.


Still trying to figure it out: expanding, contracting?  The artist’s dilemma: What is going on?  What is that nagging notion, that kernel of chaos, that spark of spunk, that insight into issues vexing humanity’s constant quest to understand.  Are we expanding or contracting?  Are we doing both at the same time in some gymnastic twist of time and space, or perhaps, with a nod to the visionaries of Star Trek, who bring it all home into our living room’s imagination with such crazy scripts and debatable acting, are we pushing into multiple dimensions with the force of dark energy?  What the heck is dark energy, out there playing with alpha century?  Is it under my bed? Oh, still trying to figure it out!


Artist’s dilemma: Untying knots of mystery where logos and mythos, reason and art, meet in history’s revelation.  Looking to the future, looking for salvation, seeking a way out of too many messes to clean up, looking for answers to questions that can’t be formed because we don’t understand the problem.  What is the problem?  The universe, all 13.8 billion years, current “good” guess, shows how insignificant you and I are!  Insignificant!  Oh no!  A hit to the ego of importance: Are you and I a blip, a glance, an after-thought, an anomaly, a regret, evolution’s inevitable progress, or an accident of nature?  Yet, another deep hole to explore as we engage in and deny our nihilism.

Is there meaning to all this?  Artist’s dilemma!! Where logos and mythos meet, bringing meaning to material, invoking the moment, grasping and creating a place of sanctuary, of the “holy,” whatever that is!  The artist grasps at a narrow insight, a glimpse into a color, a note, a touch of fabric, a bird, a piece of ugliness, and dives into, or perhaps expands out of, or collapses around …  this is it: the artist’s dilemma, never know where the path will lead, never mind where it comes from.  And it’s messy, really messy with cosmic microwaves bouncing around without direction.


Back to that ugliness: Thought maybe I’d just slip past that part, did you?  You know the ugliness, not the part that pushes into despair; not yet, we’ll go there in an artist’s moment (that is, arrives without notice and wakes up the perspective with a jolt and a gasp that didn’t see it sooner).  The ugliness I speak of is that which we worship – don’t be silly, that which Unitarian Universalist’s worship – nature!  We’ve long accepted our role as co-creators.  It is the imminent not the transcendent that holds our fascination (although of late the transcendent has returned to our UU attention, a good thing in many hearts, particularly our lauded Emerson of Concord and his merry band of transcendentalists).


Nature holds out many an ugly, oh yes, downright repugnant face.  I offer, random example, there are others: the black widow spider.  Have you looked at the face of the black widow spider?  Unlike anything else may find gazing upon, indeed we hope to not gaze, or at least not just before bedtime, or at least with a 6-inch thick glass window of separation.  Some may call grotesque, its countenance, menacing even with too big fangs with poisoned glands, and too numerous eyes that surely see every slight movement of potential prey.  Pray you may!  Not be prey, but appeal to God you will in fervent prayer.  Slight shudder may find its way through your body, but this creature of creation, is also part of those original beautiful atoms.


Artist’s dilemma: what to do with such melodrama of ugly?  Answer: Co-opt it!  Turn that ugly black widow face into a thing of artistic beauty and power for women in our land of science fantasy where women have sex appeal and power.  Mark of artistic success!  Change perspective, change minds, change is a form of creation.  Not incidentally, that powerful and stunning black widow spider creates in sacks of hundreds, baby spiders.  Not an idiot that spider: Mother of creation!


But to get to that change of perspective, there is a process, we surmise, a process of an idea, a thought, a nudge, an inkling.  It grows, unless of course, we choose to ignore its plea.  If like any good act of creation, says Thomas Aquinas of 13th century Catholic brilliance, there must be the spark (via positiva), then the inevitable descent into darkness (via negativa),where we all too often loose our way, with our lack of trust, possibly give up, or even self-destruct, before we find the path cleared into the creative powerhouse (via creativa), where the energy really forms and pushes into levels of excitement akin to a mushroom high (so I’ve heard). Finally, finally, if the body and spirit are sustained, the artist finds their way into transformation (via transformativa).  And, if very, very lucky, that idea, that nudge, that inkling is still there, in the agency of change, and someone else can see, hear, feel, or recognize it as important.


That is a great moment for the artist.  To be recognized, affirmed, known, validated!  The artist’s dilemma: What is success?  It helps if can pay the rent. The universe has been validated, affirmed, known and recognized, so we can guess as an artist, it has found success.  The rent is another matter, for it brings up those haunting feelings of despair.  Has humanity so neglected its duties of paying rent in what should be trillions of prayers of gratitude?  As the biggest impact on the planet, other than the occasional asteroid, in which case, I defer any perception of false importance, we have to ask as co-creators, are we stuck in via negativa?  Have we lost our way?  Are we self-imploding?


Glimpses with hindsight offer hints of via positiva and its glory of cosmic microwaves – is that the source of all creation? If yes, it’s pretty flippin’ amazing! Let’s not pretend that some white dude of immeasurable power had an idea one day over a cup of atomic particles; an interesting myth that has long over stayed its helpfulness. There is no massive intellect playing conductor with the universe, as it easy as that may appear.  We are the agents of change, the resident artists.


That original spark of creation, ever expanding into multiple dimensions (I prefer that part of the creation story), is still happening!  13.8 billion years, and the dark energy is still at it.  My faith, as an artist, is that there is a path out of the darkness, not to be confused with dark energy.  It is in via negativa, and our lack of trust, that we get trapped in a feedback loop.  It is my faith that negativa will not bind us, little creatures that we are, insignificant and yet so full of bursting ego.  It is our ego that may very well be that which propels us all into the mess of creative cosmic waves and dark energy of massive change.  Don’t play small; it doesn’t help save the world. Our salvation is that we, agents of power and creation, can take the ugliness of the face of black widow spiders, and transform our perspective into new ideas, new ways of living.


So here it is: Artist’s Dilemma.  We are more than organic material. We are more than simple beautiful atoms.  We have the capacity and endless potential – ever expanding – to create beauty out of ugliness (ok, sure, some do not perceive the face of the black widow spider as ugly, but it is a literary prop never the less).  Creation and therefore creativity is all around us, happening now!  Do you see it?  Do you hear it?  Can you touch it? Do you feel it?  Don’t knock it down with cranky critique.


If I, as the resident pulpit artist, in my performance today - yes I shall return to my preaching ways on another morning – If I have managed to push past my artist’s dilemma: how to be an agent of change, and bring meaning to you, by impacting with my cosmic microwaves, then you too shall see yourself as an artist, the source of creation, a meaning maker, and therefore, by default, source of change, ever expanding into multiple dimensions.


Yes, we’re still trying to figure it out.  That is the artist’s dilemma (and by now you’ve seen there are many dilemmas) that we artists have to, at the convergence of logos and mythos, reason and art, tap into our imagination.  And yet, we have our faith that the path will continue to lead, messy as it has been and will be, to something as bright as the stars and galaxies that guide us in the night.  Because this we do know, that even when we can’t see the light, up there so far away, hidden behind clouds and dimmed by the brightest of all the stars, as so recently reminded, they are still there reminding us that one moment, a very long time ago, a galaxy was born.  Wow!  Just wow!  Transformativa!



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