Too often, we dip our toes into the water when instead we need to be leaping off of the burning bridge.
Fleeting moments in an infinite flux: artists and other windows on eternity
by Emily Ann Pothast
In the late 1880s, the French astronomer and artist Etienne Leopold Trouvelot created a series of photographs of electric sparks. Perfecting a technique pioneered by another scientist a few years earlier, Trouvelot generated his images without a camera, directly exposing photosensitive plates to brief bursts of electrical energy. The resulting snapshots reveal forking, infinitely self-similar patterns that resemble tree branches, rivers, vascular systems, coral, neurons, city maps, mountain ranges, microchips, mycorrhizal networks, galaxies, flow charts, family trees and feathers—basically everything in the universe whose structure is determined by growth, movement or the transfer of energy.
Trouvelot Figures (as they are called) do not begin to reveal the entire truth about the patterns they illuminate. As two-dimensional images, they can only capture fleeting moments in an infinite flux, yet they offer windows into eternity. Their fractal sinews whisper volumes about time, energy and movement; their interference patterns reveal multidimensional glimpses of infinite possibility. The paths traveled by electrical sparks adhere to rules so specific and recognizable as to seem built into the very order of the cosmos, yet in their constantly shifting, endlessly splintering movement they echo Heraclitus’ ancient admonition that change is the only certainty."
There is often a trauma, then, to encounters with great art, one that de Botton ignores. Trauma helps us remember and appreciate, and so it is that, through trauma, we bring art along with us as life’s best metaphor. This trauma is represented in our culture by the traditional imperatives of education, the ultimate front-door approach. And this is why contemporary students and, increasingly, teachers resist that tradition and its more onerous aspects: a Modernist poem that takes many readings to understand; a dauntingly long novel; a Conceptualist gesture requiring a considerable think-through; three hours at a museum without food, drink or distraction. These are different traumas than the ones de Botton proposes, i.e., keeping in mind your electricity bills, hesitancies to vote, or spousal bed-death while in the presence of the Old Masters. (We might compare de Botton’s approach with the woeful trend of teachers asking students to journal their responses to art and leaving it at that, instead of shepherding them through the complexities of works that may only relate to their lives abstractly.) These traumas are effort-based and, then, psychological. They are alien encounters, and many people cannot be bothered to have them, because they are frequently not initially fun. Through persistent curiosity, however, they can become beautiful and terrifying: something you thought had nothing to do with you grabs you by the throat, and enters you.
This experience of art is rare, mysterious and fundamentally un-genteel. It is completely divorced from the everyday, present in the quiet mundane of existence like a scar underneath a shirt. Being exposed to ways of life that are ostensibly inaccessible, to elevated ways of thinking we will never encounter in real life, to stylized images that appear foreign because they are—this is not pleasant, nice or even useful. But it all eventually makes a strange home. Moving backwards from one of de Botton’s favourite Greek philosophers, Aristotle, to Socrates, it represents a uniquely human desire to live the examined life.
In the museum, a space with similarities to the casino or the bathhouse, one struggles to sense time passing or to distinguish day from night. It is a dream space. This is why its edifications and transformations occur."
The epic Bros drifts through several movements, all vying to outdo the last with voluptuous prettiness. From sighing multi-tracked vocals to jewel-box loops to caramelized guitar riffs, each layer adds hypnotic depth to a song whose gorgeousness seems dangerously excessive from the start, a sugar-rush that might end in psychosis.
Doubled-over with luscious detail, the swelling arrangement shimmers like the air above the pavement on a hot day, its hazy swirl achieving a completeness not likely to be recaptured by next year’s inevitable throngs of imitators.
the waning copper light of a late afternoon and Brian Wilson