The Rise of Transcendental Art


BERNARD: It would appear, if I've understood you correctly, that the regular use of electric light corresponds to our mounting allegiance to the superconscious, and thereby attests to our spiritual progress away from the dark of the subconscious, in which our distant ancestors spent most of their lives.  Generally speaking, we are incapable of tolerating too much darkness.

ADRIAN: Quite so!  And for the basic reason you mentioned: our mounting allegiance to the superconscious.  As soon as it gets dark in the evenings we switch on our bright electric lights, draw the curtains to shut out the darkness, and carry on with our lives as though nothing had happened.  Instead of being victims of the dark, we are increasingly becoming its masters and able, in consequence, to transcend it.  Where, a few centuries ago, man lived as much in the dark as in the light, he now lives mostly in the light, a light which begins with the natural light of day and continues, when that fades, with the artificial light of night - the electric light-bulbs and/or fluorescent tubes of our dwellings.  Only when we are obliged, through tiredness or habit, to go to bed and submit to sleep ... do we turn off the light(s) and abandon ourselves to the darkness.  And usually quite begrudgingly at that!

BERNARD: As I can adequately confirm, since, by nature, a poor sleeper but a good waker.  It isn't often that I get more than five hours' sleep.  So I usually find myself confronted by an early-morning darkness which tends to bore and oppress me.

ADRIAN: Well, it could actually transpire that even your short sleep will be considered excessive by a future generation who, living under more advanced transcendental criteria, may have learnt to manage with considerably less.  Perhaps they won't even sleep as long as four hours on average.

BERNARD: You mean the further we progress into the superconscious, the less likely it is that we shall require as much sleep as formerly, and the more likely, in consequence, that we will curtail our sleep as much as possible?

ADRIAN: Yes, that sounds a reasonable supposition to me.  After all, we no longer sleep quite as much, on average, as did our distant ancestors, who mostly lived in the dark, in any case, so why shouldn't future generations sleep less than us?  Indeed, what is to prevent one from assuming that, at the turning-point of our evolution to something higher than man, we shall give-up sleeping altogether, having learnt, over the preceding decades, to manage with progressively less?  For sleep is certainly a manifestation of subconscious life, and the further away from the subconscious one evolves the less need one has of it, the less one is under its sway.  Eventually one will completely transcend it, just as one will transcend all those dualistic aspects of life which have traditionally characterized our lifestyles as men and moulded society accordingly.  Not only will one transcend sleep, but also such attributes of conventional human life as illusion, evil, pain, sadness, sensuality, vice, and ignorance.

BERNARD: Surely not for some time yet?

ADRIAN: No, of course not!  But we are already transcending them to some extent, as our latter-day predilection for transcendentalism adequately attests.  We are no longer finely balanced between the conflicting dualities of human life - unlike, to all appearances, the vast majority of our cultural forebears - but have become decidedly lopsided on the side of the positive attributes, viz. truth, goodness, pleasure, happiness, spirituality, virtue, knowledge, etc., and are destined to become progressively more so as the decades pass.  Thus we have sound reason to assume that we shall eventually transcend the negative attributes altogether, and thereupon enter the long-awaited heavenly peace of the transcendental Beyond.

BERNARD: In which, presumably, there will be no sleep?

ADRIAN: None whatsoever!  For the subconscious will have been overcome in the ultimate victory of the superconscious.  No longer will one be tormented by dreams.  On the contrary, one will become the blissful recipient of the peace that surpasses all understanding, the permanent wakefulness in the light of ultimate truth.  But ultimate truth isn't something that can exist while man is yet subject to illusion, as to some extent is still the case today.  It lies at the end of the long road of his evolutionary journey from the dark to the light.  It is the overcoming of all dualism.

BERNARD: So modern man, being mainly on the side of truth, is less given to illusion than ancient man, who mainly lived in his subconscious.

ADRIAN: He is less given to all modes of darkness, whatever their nature.  He isn't content with illusion, but must get to the truth of matters to the degree that his current stage of evolution permits him.  Only the truth can satisfy him.  For he has long ceased to be predominantly under the baneful influence of the subconscious.  Illusion is contemptible.  Only the truth ennobles, corrects, makes well.  Even if he initially suffers from it or fears its consequences, he must come to recognize it as a means to his ultimate salvation, the road to spiritual victory.  For there is no other way but the way of truth!  Illusion is destined to perish, not least of all in the realm of art where, to all appearances, it has been steadily on the decline since approximately the seventeenth century.  For egocentric art largely depends on the subconscious for its illusory material, depends, more specifically, on a balance between subconsciousness and superconsciousness, the latter providing the necessary inspiration to animate the former.  Now when that balance has been tipped in favour of the superconscious, it stands to reason that traditional art will suffer, having less connection with the subconscious than formerly, while being subject to a greater influx of truth, spirituality, intellectuality than before - egocentric art declining in proportion to the rising influx of these higher constituents of the psyche.  But, on that account, the resulting creations are morally and spiritually superior to what preceded them during the heyday, so to speak, of representational art, and thus stand on a higher level of evolution - one which can only be surpassed by the demise of art altogether.

BERNARD: You mean the greater part of, say, twentieth-century art in the West is spiritually superior to the greatest art of the Middle Ages, both earlier and later?  That a contemporary abstract expressionist work, for example, is morally superior to the great religious works of painters like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Tintoretto?

ADRIAN: Indeed I do!  For the abstract preoccupations of modern art most certainly attest to a higher stage of evolution than did the concrete preoccupations of such masters as you named, and are accordingly more transcendental.  You smile, but I assure you that, paradoxically, the decline of the sensuous in art marks a progression which only the most reactionary or stupid of people would deny!  Now a great deal of twentieth-century art may be inferior to 'great art' from the strictly dualistic standpoint of balance between the sensual and the spiritual, as of the concrete technical ingredients underlining this balance, but, exceptions to the rule notwithstanding, it certainly isn't inferior from the objectively truer standpoint of the spirit.  Au contraire, it more than adequately reflects our ongoing evolution away from the old dualistic world, in which the sensual played such an important role in opposition to the spiritual.  No longer is art torn between the mundane and the transcendent, but is decidedly biased towards the latter.  Its bias tends towards the abstract, away from the concrete.  Thus it is spiritually superior to whatever preceded it during the era of dualistic art.

BERNARD: So an abstract expressionist work by, say, Jackson Pollock is spiritually superior to a representational work by, say, Tintoretto, portraying the Resurrection?

ADRIAN: It is, since the former is predominantly transcendental, whereas the latter is a compromise between the mundane and the transcendent, being largely representational, and hence a reflection of egocentric dualism, as relative to Christian man.  Now the Pollock may not contain any specific religious implications, but the very fact of its abstraction renders it pertinent to an age which is no longer dualistic but spiritually-orientated, and therefore effectively transcendental.  No abstract expressionist canvas would have been understood or tolerated in, say, the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries, when men related more to a balanced condition between the subconscious and the superconscious in their egos, and therefore could not have conceived of any such canvas at the time.  Indeed, had they been confronted by a Jackson Pollock or, for that matter, a Mark Tobey, an Arshile Gorky, a Willem de Kooning, they would have considered it a mess - something akin to an artist's experimental palette, on which any number of diverse paints were juxtaposed or blended together.

BERNARD: Which is, after all, exactly what many people consider it to be these days!

ADRIAN: Perhaps.  But that is only because they fail to grasp what it signifies in moral terms, and are all too prone, in consequence, to judge such a modern work by the standards of the past, instead of seeing it in its proper light in relation to the present.  Admittedly, it is a less complex art, as a rule, than the art conceived when Western man was in his prime as a cultural being.  But partly on that account it is on a higher, post-egocentric level of evolution, such as can only be understood and upheld in an early transcendental age.  On the other hand, a late transcendental age wouldn't uphold any art - not even the most abstract.  But at present such art is literally the best that can be produced, or almost so.  It is a species of painterly creation of which we can justifiably be proud, since it proves that we are closer to our ultimate salvation in transcendent bliss than were our cultural forebears.  Now when art dies out altogether, we shall be even closer to it.  So let us not delude ourselves into imagining that the decline of egocentric art is something to be regretted!  On the contrary, such a decline testifies to our spiritual progress, a progress in large measure initiated by Turner, who anticipated the Impressionists by some forty years in giving the most radical of his works a distinctly spiritual bias, virtually eliminating the material in a haze of colour and/or dazzling aurora of light, as one finds in works like Tree, Sunrise between two headlands, Rain, Steam, Speed, Light and Colour, Shade and Darkness, and Norham Castle, which are among the first to betray a distinct predilection for the abstract over the concrete.  But if Turner was the greatest representative for his time of the direction of evolution away from the sensual and towards the spiritual, then, following Gericault's lead, Delacroix was undoubtedly the greatest representative of the reactionary current of Romanticism which focused, all too intently, on the fleshy, the material, the violent.  Works such as Dante and Virgil crossing the Styx, Massacre at Chios, The Death of Sardanapalus, Liberty Guiding the People, Lion Hunt, Attila and his hordes annihilating the culture of Italy, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Sea of Galilee, and White Stallion frightened by Lightening, betray a turbulence akin to the demonic, so greatly is the subject-matter, whether in terms of activity or posture, in the grip of the tortuous!  Placed beside Giotto's great fresco of the Last Judgement in the Arena Chapel at Padua, each of these works by Delacroix, who patently didn't live-up to his name, would approximate in essence to the portrayal of Hell to the left of the Cross where, in complete contrast to the blissful passivity of the Elect and Saved in the realm of Heaven to its right, the Damned writhe tortuously in the clutches of demons, and only agony prevails.  Thus if evolution is to be conceived in terms of a progression away from the hell of the sensuously Damned and towards the heaven of the spiritually Saved, one can only conclude that the most typical of Delacroix's paintings, in rebelling against the classical ideal, flew in the face of evolution and consequently constituted a kind of down-dragging force of demonic activity against the increasingly passive trend which modern life, in particular, may be claimed to signify.  Indeed, when viewed from this transcendental perspective, the entire romantic movement can be said to have constituted a thorn-in-the-side of human evolution, insofar as it replaced such passivity as had already been portrayed in art with its own turbulence, thereby dragging art away from the role of spiritual leadership to which it had aspired under the guidance of essentially religious painters, and forcing it closer to the hellish, obliging it to depict sensuous crime or tortuous activity, to the detriment of spiritual enlightenment.

BERNARD: But what about the great landscape painters of the period - men like Gainsborough, Constable, Friedrich, Millet, and Corot, each of whom gave a considerable amount of creative attention to the landscape without going out of their way to make it turbulent?  Surely they can't be classified with Delacroix?

ADRIAN: Naturally.  But the very fact that they gave so much attention to nature places them on a rather mundane footing, and can only lead one to the conclusion that, in the absence of transcendentalism, their work isn't of the highest order of spiritual leadership either, but stands in a distinctly anti-evolutionary, down-dragging relationship to the age.  It won't be by living in harmony with nature that man attains to the goal of human evolution in transcendent bliss, but only by overcoming it and thereby setting himself on a higher plane - the supernatural plane which lies beyond nature, and which Christianity has been pointing him towards ever since he grew out of his pagan subservience to nature-in-the-raw, in beast-like sensuality, and became capable of distinguishing between the mundane and the transcendent.  But the pernicious influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with his 'back-to-nature' creed, undoubtedly had a bearing on the arts, and what follows is therefore a kind of spiritual abdication, a short reprieve, if you prefer, from the exigencies of our evolutionary aspirations towards the transcendent, and a return to a kind of pantheistic identification with and love of nature which smacks of neo-pagan apostasy.  Now while the Church was especially influential this couldn't have happened, at least not on the scale it did throughout the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.  But in a transitional age from one stage of man's religious awareness to another, from Christianity to transcendentalism, there is certainly room for confusion, or various interpretations as to what is actually happening, which makes it possible for certain people to spuriously regress to standards and attitudes, formerly condemned, on the false assumption of progress.

BERNARD: Hence at some point in the transition between Christianity and transcendentalism it was possible for pantheism to rear its worldly head in a manner which would have been unthinkable in a more settled age?

ADRIAN: Precisely!  Though for the most part only superficially - as a taste for nature excluding religious commitment!  For in an age which had already begun to shake off its faith in Christ, one can hardly expect people to put it back into nature, to regress to animistic or pantheistic beliefs founded upon a greater allegiance to the subconscious than they, at that more advanced juncture in time, would have been in a psychic position to experience!  Fortunately for us, faith in Christ declines not because one is regressing towards the damnation of the subconscious but, rather, because one is progressing towards the salvation of the superconscious, and therefore isn't in a position to endorse anthropomorphic, dualistic conceptions to anything like the same extent as one's Christian forebears.  Once one has outgrown the egocentric balance between the two main parts of the psyche, one can only press-on with the psychic one-sidedness that prevails in its stead, and this is precisely what we have been doing during the past 150-200 years, though not always consciously or with positive commitment.  Fortunately, however, the predominantly sensual work of the Romantics, particularly of the Naturalists and Delacroix, was but a brief and spurious return to pre-Christian sentiments.  For the post-Christian phase of our evolution was already taking shape in the largely spiritual canvases of Turner, and, following his lead, the Impressionists went on to establish the sovereignty of the spiritual over the sensual in no uncertain terms before the close of the nineteenth century!  Thus modern art, reflecting our transcendental bias, begins with Turner, whose work, while not attaining to a truly abstract status by dint of its historical limitations, nevertheless signifies an unequivocal break with the dualistic tradition which appertained to the by-then outmoded Christian stage of Western evolution.  From now on it is the Holy Ghost that presides over the production of art, encouraging it towards a more radical abstraction in the course of transcendental time.  And so from Impressionism, with its tendency to disintegrate matter in a ghostly haze, we proceed to post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Tachism, Op, Pop, Kinetics, post-Painterly Abstraction, and so on, with increasingly transcendental implications.  Admittedly, there are backslidings or retrogressive tendencies at work here and there - artists or movements that are less transcendental than their immediate precursors.  But, by and large, the trend of evolution persists, causing the abstract to prevail over the concrete in fidelity to the spiritualistic Zeitgeist of the age.  Already the development of increased abstraction has brought painterly art to its ultimate abstraction - a monochrome canvas, and thus to its final consummation.

BERNARD: And a monochrome canvas would presumably signify the most spiritual of artistic developments to which Western painterly art has evolved?

ADRIAN: Yes, though I can't help sharing your slightly ironic amusement at my expense, since the concept of a monochromatic canvas signifying art is relatively new to us, and therefore difficult to swallow in the face of traditional painterly norms.  But the fact nevertheless remains that art must attain to a transcendental culmination, and thereby completely abandon the concrete.  For the more spiritual we become as a consequence, in large measure, of our environmental isolation in big cities from the sensuous influence of nature, the less place or cause there will be for that sensuous interpretation and representation of life, in all its manifestations, which art has traditionally provided.  With the growth of a superconscious allegiance, the concerns of the ego inevitably wither away, as, to all appearances, they continue to do anyway.  Thus there will be no possibility of a return to the concrete in art, no possibility of a resurrection of former values.  Once one has abandoned the subconscious to any significant extent, there is no going back to it.  That, after all, would be against one's deepest interests!

BERNARD: Which are?

ADRIAN: For man to attain to his ultimate salvation in the post-Human Millennium, and thus outgrow his humanity.  And that does mean to outgrow his predilection for art, no matter how good or bad it may happen to be.  Thus he will abandon both extreme abstraction and, no less importantly, the disruption of the concrete world as manifested by, amongst other things, surrealistic transcendentalism.

BERNARD: What, exactly, do you mean by surrealistic transcendentalism?

ADRIAN: Simply the discrediting of the material world through the uncanny juxtaposition of unrelated objects and/or the distortion of individual objects, so that everyday realism is subverted and the imaginary or artificial prevails.  Hence surrealistic transcendentalism, which reflects our growing freedom from the tyranny of the natural-world-order and consequent anti-natural and, hence, transcendent aspirations.

BERNARD: A kind of À Rebours of the visual?

ADRIAN: Yes - Against Nature rather than Against the Grain.  Though if you translate the title of Huysmans' classic novel in the latter fashion, with an implication of reactionary conservatism, you will have to admit that its protagonist, Des Esseintes, was only 'against the grain' as far as his mystical Catholicism and nostalgia for the Christian culture were concerned, certainly not as regards his artificial lifestyle, which, as subsequent trends in art and life have adequately confirmed, was very much with it!  For, viewed from the secular rather than narrowly religious angle, it should be apparent that Des Esseintes was less a reactionary conservative than a revolutionary liberal, pointing man, in his own somewhat eccentric fashion, towards a future salvation in anti-natural transcendentalism.  Yet that would scarcely be the whole picture, since, from a religious standpoint, Huysmans' sophisticated protagonist was most certainly 'against the grain', and thus a reactionary conservative.  For contemporary eyes, however, I think the fundamental ambivalence of Des Esseintes' lifestyle should be resolved, as far as possible, into a perspective favouring his revolutionary side, so that Against Nature can be deemed the more relevant title.  Hence instead of focusing our attention upon his outmoded Catholicism, our transcendental bias should lead us to see in him a champion of modern transcendentalism and a kind of prophet of Surrealism, like Lautréamont and Raymond Roussel, two authors whose great works Les Chants de Maldoror and Locus Solus triumph over the natural, everyday world to an extent virtually unprecedented in the entire history of Western literature.  And, in painting, this same honour has been achieved by artists like Ernst, Magritte, Fuchs, and Dali - the latter achieving it most spectacularly in certain of his mature works which, in abandoning the earlier concerns of Surrealism, have pioneered a post-Christian reappraisal of Christian themes in quasi-transcendent terms.  Such works as the Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina, The Ascension of St. Cecilia, The Annunciation, Nuclear Cross, Madonna of the Sistine Chapel, and Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus), testify to a molecular, or nuclear, approach to matter rather than to the traditional concrete one, as practised by the great religious masters of the past.  Clearly, Salvador Dali's religious paintings are more spiritual, on this account, than those of his Christian predecessors, even if, from a strictly transcendental standpoint, they are somehow anachronistic in an age of mystical abstraction.  What particularly justifies and redeems them, in contemporary eyes, is the unprecedented molecular technique, which enables us to review Christian themes and reflect on the spiritual reinterpretation it affords - the nuclear disintegration of matter aptly corresponding to our transcendental bias.

BERNARD: And presumably no less so in a work like Galatea of the Spheres, which, in its apparent secularity, is perfectly relevant to the age?

ADRIAN: Indeed it is, though, once again, from the standpoint of a disruption or disintegration of the concrete, rather than of an eruption or integration of the abstract - the scientific as opposed to strictly religious angle, which corresponds, so I maintain, to surrealistic transcendentalism.  But the disruption of the concrete, no less than the eruption of the abstract, is destined to be transcended, as we abandon art altogether and draw one step closer to our ultimate salvation in the post-Human Millennium, the transcendental climax to evolution.

BERNARD: Which brings us back to what you were saying earlier, about man outgrowing illusion, whether aesthetic or otherwise, in the course of his long journey towards ultimate truth.

ADRIAN: To be sure!  The fact of our growing allegiance to the superconscious makes it imperative for us to live more fully in the light of truth.  And not only in that light but also, and no less relevantly, in the light of electric light-bulbs and fluorescent tubes, which prevents us from being smothered by the darkness of night, and thus enables us to extend our day.  Our bias on the side of the light may still be less than complete, but it is growing stronger all the time - of that there can be little doubt!