CHAPTER SIX

 

It was towards eight o'clock when, in response to an invitation from Thurber at the Fairborne Gallery the previous day, Keith Logan rang the doorbell to Paul Fleshman's fashionable Chelsea flat, to be courteously admitted by a young woman whose face he had first seen at Hurst's party, but with whose name he was still unfamiliar.

     "Yvette," she duly informed him, before inviting him to take off his zipper jacket and hang it by the door.  Then he followed her through the vestibule and into an adjoining room, from which a steady stream of conversation could be heard.  He was flushed and slightly apprehensive as he stepped into its neon glare.  The three people gathered there simultaneously turned their attention upon him.

     "Ah, good to see you again!" Fleshman exclaimed, and, extending a welcoming hand, the artist advanced towards him.  "We hoped you'd come."

     "Thanks," responded Logan, who held out his hand to be shook.  "It's an honour to be here."  He visually greeted Thurber and Greta, who blushed in the process, and readily accepted the seat offered him in one of the room's three leather-upholstered armchairs, opposite the couch on which the other two guests were seated.

     "Yvette's my girlfriend, in case you didn't know,” Fleshman revealed, with a broad smile.

     "Ah yes, I had surmised as much," Logan admitted, offering the dark-skinned brunette a friendly nod.

     "Can I get you something to drink?" she asked.

     "Yes, have what you like," insisted the artist, who happened to have a beer in his hand.

     "Thanks," said Logan, who duly arranged to have a can of cola.

     Meanwhile Greta took-in his appearance with quiet satisfaction, her gaze ranging over his face and clothes with subtle ease.  He seemed more handsome than at Hurst's party, possibly because he was now seen in a better light, that is to say, not as a stranger with a fiercely didactic turn-of-mind but as an acquaintance and admirer - yes, an admirer of herself.  After all, if what Martin had told her about him was true, she had no reason to suppose that he thought badly of her, associating her with Edward Hurst.  On the contrary, she was evidently an attractive young lady to him, and that suited her fine.

     "I understand from my friend here that you were quite impressed by my small and partly retrospective exhibition in the Strand yesterday," said Fleshman, briefly referring his attention to Thurber.

     "Yes, I was indeed," Logan confirmed.  "Especially by the last and largest work on display - the 'Neon Vortices', which outshone all the others.  It was reminiscent of Gyorgy Kepes."

     "How generous of you!" cried Fleshman, blushing slightly.  "As yet, I haven't constructed all that many works of that nature.  But it's a field of creativity in which I'm becoming increasingly interested."  There was a short pause, before he added: "I take it you preferred the 'Neon Vortices' to my Op exhibits, then?"

     "Only to the extent that it involved actual light rather than painterly intimations of or approximations to such light, a fact which strikes me as constituting an altogether better and more radical stance," Logan averred, slightly surprised by his boldness.  "It was more transcendent than those works which were purely painterly.  The latter were undoubtedly good, but the former, including the two smaller light works on display, signified a much higher development - one relative to the proletariat rather than to what I would regard as petty-bourgeois intimations of proletarian futurity, if you see what I mean."

     "Yes, I have to agree," Thurber commented, bringing a little professional opinion to bear on the matter.  "The connection with technology is far closer where such works are concerned."

     "And you believe it must continue to develop along ever closer lines, do you?" the artist asked, turning towards Thurber.

     "Yes, definitely," the critic replied.  "After all, what else can it do?"  He looked imploringly at Logan, as though for assurance.

     "Not a great deal," the latter conceded deferentially.  "Though there is still scope, I believe, for it to align itself with transcendentalism as well as with technology.  I mean, it's not just the machine that counts, but also the spirit, the degree of our spiritual evolution, which such art can reflect and encourage."

     "Quite," Greta seconded, breaking the spell of her attentive silence.  "Technological progress isn't everything."

     Fleshman nodded his balding head in tacit agreement, then, turning to his latest guest, he asked: "And do you think my art reflects and encourages our spiritual evolution?"

     "Some of it does," Logan opined, smiling.  "For instance your light works, both large and small, are more than just a consequence of technological influence and fidelity to contemporary materials.  They're also, I would say, indications of our growing predilection for the superconscious mind and are thus, to a certain extent, religious works as well.  For it seems to me that the superconscious is the spiritual part of the psyche, in opposition to the sensuous influence of the subconscious, and, since God is spirit rather than sensuality or nature, it follows that any art-form which reflects a superconscious influence must have religious connotations.  The more artificial light any given work manifests, the closer it will be to the spiritual essence of God."

     "I don't personally think of God when I construct such works," Fleshman confessed with a dismissive and slightly apologetic smile.  "But there may be something in what you say, since electric light is certainly a spiritual rather than simply a material phenomenon - not hard and solid, like iron or steel.  However, what you say also sounds like a species of Manichaean dualism, in which nature is considered evil and only spirit good, and I'm not absolutely sure I can go along with that."

     Greta nodded sympathetically.  "We were discussing something similar at Eddie Hurst's place the other evening," she announced, "Keith discounting the idea that God should be worshipped through His creations and insisting, instead, on the primacy of the spirit."

     "That's correct," Thurber confirmed, recalling to mind the discussion or, rather, extempore lecture in question.  "God and nature instead of God in nature was Keith's viewpoint."

     "And still is," the latter admitted.

     Fleshman's face assumed a puzzled expression.  "But why do you choose to distinguish between them?" he asked, patently intrigued.  "I mean, why is nature evil?"

     "Yes, do tell us!" Yvette insisted.

     There was a short pause before, screwing up his brows, as was his wont when obliged to justify a tricky position, Logan confessed: "Well, it's not an easy question to answer in a nutshell, but, putting the matter as briefly and simply as possible, nature is fundamentally evil because it's a manifestation of subconscious life rather than a combination of subconscious and superconscious life, like all the autonomous life-forms ... from the beasts to man.  It lacks the divine spark of spirit which makes for consciousness, and is consequently antithetical to the spirit, being darkness as opposed to light.  As a purely sensuous phenomenon it stands as the lowest mode of life, beneath even the insects.  Naturally, one has to make use of it, to cultivate the fields and avail oneself of what it produces, thereby treating it with a degree of respect.  And, needless to say, there's even some pleasure to be obtained from it - from the flowers, bushes, trees, fields, etc., which one would be a hypocrite or a fool to deny.  Nature in moderation is by no means a bad thing.  After all, for all our divine aspirations, we are still human beings and therefore subject to a certain amount of subconscious life, on which we depend for our sanity and integrity as people.  Yet to worship nature, to make a point of regularly associating with it, especially in this day and age of more advanced civilization, would seem to betray a rather poor sense of priorities.  In the Middle Ages, when man was closer to nature and accordingly less civilized, less urbanized, it was only natural that he should have attached greater importance to the natural.  But now that the vast majority of us are habituated to a much more urbanized, and hence artificial, lifestyle - how irrelevant it would be for us to treat nature with the same degree of importance!  As our environment evolves, so we evolve with it.  And as our environment becomes progressively more anti-natural or artificial, so it's inevitable that we should become such as well and consequently grow more partial to the superconscious, the light of the spirit, which stands above and beyond nature.  Thus instead of being pagan nature-worshippers, we should increasingly become transcendental experiencers of what is potentially God ... as manifested in the superconscious mind.  We discover, on this level, that God is not a something out there, still less a creator of or resident in nature, but a state-of-mind, an entirely introspective experience.  He or, rather, it ... is what the great historical mystics have always known God to be - a spiritual transcendence of the flesh.  But despite their determination to know or see God, they could only do so in small doses, with brief glimpses of their own inner light - glimpses that were necessarily brief because they were less under the divine sway of the superconscious, overall, than their latter-day counterparts and, indeed, intelligent city people in general tend to be.  Living in smaller communities, in closer contact with nature, they were more balanced between the subconscious and superconscious minds, and consequently would have found it harder to break through to the superconscious and experience pure spirituality.  By dint of sheer effort and persistence they obtained, every now and then, a glimpse, but that was all!  A glimpse was all evolution could then spare them.  The influence of the subconscious was always there, keeping them tied to earth."

     "Yet, presumably, it's always there with us too, preventing us from living entirely in the inner light?" Fleshman deduced.

     "Indeed, though not to the same extent as in the Middle Ages," Logan rejoined.  "For, thanks to our great cities, we're generally biased towards the superconscious, and thus more partial to the inner light than at any former historical time.  Our dependence on and sanction of electric light is further proof of this, a reflection, as it were, of our need and desire to shut out the darkness to a much greater extent than ever our ancestors could have done or, indeed, would have dreamed of doing.   To regularly sit in a large room in the dark evenings with a tiny candle-flame burning beside us - ugh, how deprived we would feel!  How constricting, depressing, and primitive it would appear to us!  Fortunately, however, we don't have to be victims of the dark.  We turn to our electric lights and carry on as before.  Our days are extended.

     "However, we're not so spiritually advanced that we can tune-in to the superconscious whenever we like and thus experience pure spirituality on a lengthy basis," he went on, having paused to gulp down some cola.  "Those of us who specifically dedicate ourselves to breaking through to the spirit still have to contend with a fair amount of subconscious influence, which makes it a difficult business and virtually ensures that if, by any chance, we do break through, it's only on a relatively transient basis - not, alas, for hours on end!  We may have progressed a little from the Christian mystics, but, in spiritual terms, scarcely to any appreciable extent, least of all to an extent which enables us to dally in the presence of what is potentially God for very long.  Most of the time we live in a kind of diluted or superficial relationship with it, in which normal consciousness, as a fusion between the subconscious and superconscious parts of the psyche, tends to predominate.  Only, these days, the subconscious has less power over us than formerly, and we can therefore look down upon it from a post-dualistic, as from a post-egocentric or post-humanistic, vantage point."

     "Perhaps some of us more than others," Fleshman commented, breaking into an ironic smile.  "But what about you - have you experienced Infused Contemplation, or whatever the expression is, and consequently come face-to-face with true divinity?"

     Logan shook his head.  "Unfortunately not!" he confessed.

     "But you do meditate?" Yvette conjectured curiously.

     "Yes, though not to any great extent."  He paused a moment, as though to gather his thoughts, then said: "What little I can manage, whether it's twenty minutes a day or half-an-hour every two days, isn't sufficient to bring me intimate knowledge of ultimate divinity."

     "Then why do it?" Fleshman wanted to know.

     "Well, I suppose one has to begin somewhere," Logan declared modestly.  "What little time circumstances allow me to spend meditating, and what little time I desire to do so ... are undoubtedly better than nothing.  Admittedly, I realize that, having a profession to follow and various domestic and social duties to attend to, I'm unlikely to experience Infused Contemplation, even were I to dedicate twice as much time to meditation.  Nevertheless - and irrespective of the fact that I also realize I'm subject to a fair amount of inhibitory influence from the subconscious - I find it expedient to cultivate the habit of meditation at least to some extent, and thereby condition myself towards a mystical viewpoint.  After all, the trend of evolution is towards greater knowledge of the superconscious, so one might as well do one's bit to respond to that trend, no matter how feebly."

     "But if one doesn't experience the inner light to any appreciable extent, what's the point?" Greta objected, shrugging her shoulders.

     "Quite," both Thurber and Yvette seconded doubtfully.

     "Well, with this particular approach to meditation, one can at least experience something on the fringes of pure spirituality," Logan averred.  "Providing one doesn't relapse into the subconscious by going into a trance, one's alert passivity should vouchsafe one experience of the lower levels of superconscious mind, bringing one peace, stillness, silence, freedom from thoughts, a gentle waiting on enlightenment."  He paused a moment, as though to gather his thoughts, then continued: "Of course, if one chooses to utilize certain breathing techniques, one can amass a greater quantity of oxygen in the blood and thus enliven one's consciousness, making for increased awareness.  Or, alternatively, a gradual suspension of breath, resulting in a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood, can lead to a slight alteration of consciousness in the general direction of visionary experience.  Yet that would, I believe, require more time and effort than I usually have to spare, so I can't speak with any personal authority on the subject.  All I know from personal experience is that a certain amount of time spent in quiet, alert passivity provides a merciful relief from the usual gamut of egocentric worries, thoughts, grudges, and wishes.  One is certainly brought a little closer to Heaven than would otherwise be the case."

     "So you'd incline to consider anyone who regularly meditated and laid claim to direct experience of the inner light but hadn't experienced Infused Contemplation to be a fraud, would you?" Fleshman suggested, selecting from the wealth of available material what he took to be the crux of Logan's argument.

     "Yes, absolutely," the abstract novelist affirmed.  "Though I'd be inclined to consider anyone who regarded himself as godlike, but wasn't the recipient of a total and permanent eclipse of the subconscious by the superconscious to be an even bigger fraud.  For unless one's consciousness is entirely eclipsed by the inner light, one is still a man, no matter how talented, clever, or spiritually earnest one may happen to be.  Man is ever that which stands, on a higher evolutionary level than the beasts, between the plants and the godlike, between the lowest life-forms that currently exist and the hypothetical highest life-forms which have yet to come into existence - though hopefully they will in the not-too-distant millennial future.  As man evolves to ever greater spiritual heights, so he'll have correspondingly less to do with nature, less interest in and respect for that which stands at the furthest remove from him ... in subconscious dominion.  At present, however, a degree of interest in and respect for nature is still required.  For we're not, with very few exceptions, so spiritually advanced that we can afford to be over-ambitious in our determination to dispense with nature altogether, and thus run the risk of seriously jeopardizing our integrity as human beings.  The disastrous consequences of being too idealistic and progressive in this respect were aptly demonstrated, in The Devils of Loudun, by Father Surin who, as a result of too radical an allegiance to Manichaean idealism at a time when the compromise with nature was greater than at present, went mad and would doubtless have remained so, had it not been for the help and care of a certain Father Bastide, who eventually brought him back to sanity.  Returned him, in other words, to an attitude less Manichaean and correspondingly more compatible with the degree of environmental evolution characteristic of his time."

     There was a confirmatory nod from Greta.  "Yes, I recall the chapter dealing with Surin's madness quite well," she revealed, "and thoroughly agree with the conclusion you draw from it.  Huxley certainly castigated the Manichaean attitude which Father Surin initially fostered, deeming it a mistaken viewpoint.  To him, nature couldn't be separated from God's Creation but was inextricably tied-up with Him - was, in fact, a phenomenal manifestation of the Divine Mind.  He wouldn't have sanctioned the anti-natural attitudes of those latter-day Surins such as Baudelaire, Huysmans, and Mondrian."

     "Probably not," Logan conceded, smiling wryly.  "Yet, if you want my honest opinion, Huxley was quite mistaken in believing that God and nature were one and the same, and that man should always relate to nature as a manifestation of Divine Creation.  For man to relate to it as such when he's more under its subconscious domination, I fully understand.  But to infer, thereby, that he should always relate to it in such fashion is to overlook the fact that man continues to evolve away from nature, in response to the development of civilization and the concomitant expansion of towns and cities, and accordingly ceases to be dominated by it to anything like the same extent as before.  And because of that, he ceases to be dependent on it to anything like the same extent as before - ceases, in a word, to be its victim.  For a human being who, thanks to regular confinement in one or another of our major cities, has been conditioned to living in an artificial environment, is in a better position to adopt a Manichaean attitude to nature than one who, like Father Surin, hasn't, and can thus get away with a greater degree of superconscious bias.  Compromise, by all means, when compromise is due.  But when it isn't or, rather, when the balance has been tipped in favour of the spirit - well then, a more Manichaean attitude becomes possible and should, if possible, be encouraged.  Hence the significance of Baudelaire and Mondrian, believers in the superiority of the spirit over nature - as, up to a point, was Huxley, as most of his late works adequately attest."

     "But if God didn't create nature, then who or what did?" Greta queried, somewhat puzzled by Logan's standpoint.

     "Presumably the Devil," Fleshman ventured, allowing himself the pleasure of a roguish snigger, which duly infected both Yvette and Thurber.

     "Well, in a manner of speaking, one could equate subconscious, and especially cosmic, phenomena with the Devil," Logan averred, nodding, "since the tendency to equate God or, rather, what is potentially God with the superconscious has already been acknowledged.  Thus life-forms which are exclusively or, in the case of animals, predominantly dominated by the subconscious can be regarded as more evil than those that aren't.  The beasts are given to the darkness to a much greater extent than us, while the plants are exclusively given to it, and are accordingly still more evil."

     "Even sunflowers?" Fleshman humorously objected.

     "Yes, I dare say so," Logan responded, breaking into an ironic smile.  "Though they may appear less evil, less sensuous and torpid, than a majority of their humbler fellows, especially those plants which blossom in the depths of some dense forest or jungle.  Admittedly, we do recognize a kind of hierarchy of plant life, with the more colourful or picturesque flowers at the top.  Yet, even so, those plants more subject to heliotropic leanings are still subconsciously motivated, and therefore evil to a degree.  They're not blessed with animal consciousness but are rooted to the earth, and mundane they remain.  Thus one could speak of natural creation as being partly of diabolic origin, insofar as it's the sensuous rather than the spiritual which prevails there.  However, man's concept of God, particularly in the pagan ages of subconscious lopsidedness, has embraced the Diabolic, or something approximating to it, so what he formerly understood by the term 'God' is quite different from what he now understands by it, and therefore not something capable of being identified with it.  The god of our pagan ancestors was essentially a force of evil rather than good, a vengeful deity to be propitiated by sensual sacrifice, and was thus quite the converse of the god whom some of us - mainly proletarian - relate to as pure spirituality.  Their god was purely sensuous, and hence equivalent to our concept of the Diabolic.  If He created nature, then we needn't be fooled by the term 'god' into thinking that it was truly of divine origin.  On the contrary, their Creator and our Devil are fundamentally one and the same - a psychological projection of subconscious tyranny."

     "I recall your saying something similar last Saturday, concerning the successive nature of the Trinity rather than its assumed simultaneity," Thurber announced, alluding to Logan's conversation at Hurst's party, "so that religious evolution in the West may be regarded as a progression from the dark to the light, from the Father to the Holy Ghost via Jesus Christ."  He blushed to hear himself talking theology.  For, like most of his race, he was pragmatic and empirical, and normally avoided anything so subjective as religion, which, when genuine, was less concerned with the given than with what could conceivably materialize in the future, if men put their trust, or faith, in evolutionary truth and hence, by implication, in messianic redemption.

     "Right," Logan confirmed, with a brisk nod.  "And what I said then has a direct bearing on what I'm saying now, as regards the Divine as pure spirituality, or superconscious mind, over against the Diabolic as pure sensuality, or subconscious mind.  And, in between, one has Christ, the dualistic compromise in which sensuality and spirituality are simultaneously acknowledged and given their atomic due.  One has Hell and Heaven, not just Hell, as effectively in the case of pagan peoples, still less just Heaven, as in the case - to some extent now and, hopefully, to a much greater extent in the future - of transcendental peoples.  Like I said earlier, the further we progress into superconsciousness the less importance the subconscious, and hence all manifestations of subconscious life, will have for us.  Nature, or what is left of it, will simply be ignored."

     "Doubtless no-one will deign to believe that a spirit could have created matter, and that nature therefore has a divine origin," Fleshman remarked.  "In fact, what you're saying leads one to the conclusion that, just as a colourful flower has its roots in the soil and thus springs from a rather mundane source, one which signifies a fall from cosmic sensuality, so pure spirituality has its roots, so to speak, in man, and only comes into being gradually, as a consequence of our progressive evolution away from nature.  Rather than being the source of all life, as has traditionally been believed, God is essentially the consummation or culmination of it, the goal towards which ascending life aspires."

     "Precisely!" Logan agreed, visibly gratified by the artist's receptivity to his ideas, which were broadly expressive, in Nietzschean parlance, of a 'transvaluation' of traditional values.  "God evolves with man and depends for man on His or, rather, its existence.  If we cease to evolve and regress, so God ceases to evolve and regresses with us.  If we continue to evolve and eventually attain to a condition where the superconscious reigns supreme, we shall see God face-to-face and thus become divine.  If, on the other hand, we regress to a point where the subconscious reigns supreme, we shall see or, rather, feel the Devil and thus become diabolic.  However, the chances of our doing the latter are, despite the reactionary attitudes of writers who revel in sensuality, like D.H. Lawrence and John Cowper Powys, extremely remote.  Evolution drives us on, fortunately, and it's as the willing servants of evolution and master of our destiny that we shall eventually attain to the goal of superconscious bliss, the 'peace that surpasses all understanding' and the light of lights.  Even your lights, Paul, will be totally eclipsed by it, dependent, as they are, on the electron bombardment of phosphor."

     "Which is something I should dearly love to see," Fleshman confessed, smiling radiantly.  "The artist, paradoxically, can only intimate of ultimate truth, even with the use of lasers, since his lights are forever external to the spiritual self and thus no more than a symbol for that which, as pure spirit, resides in the mind."

     "Yes, I guess so," said Logan and, tilting his head back, he gulped down the rest of his cola.

     That evening during dinner Keith Logan continued to assume the didactic role and to dominate conversation, spurred on by pertinent and prompting questions from Fleshman, who seemed to regard him as a sort of oracle or guru.

     The subject of lasers having already been touched upon in the sitting room, the abstract novelist now proceeded to expatiate on the superiority of the purer light they produced to the comparatively chemical, diffuse light obtained through fluorescent tubes and light bulbs.  Laser beams, he contended, would come to assume an increasingly important role in the evolution of art, and so, too, would holograms, which perfectly reflected our growing predilection for the immaterial, or de-materializing of matter, in deference to a superconscious bias.  Holography, in which virtually true three-dimensional images could be obtained of the object exposed to laser light, was undoubtedly an art form of the future, capable of achieving visual wonders as yet scarcely imagined.  Where further developments of this medium would lead, it was difficult if not impossible to foretell.  For there was certainly no reason to believe that we had seen everything yet, nor any reason to doubt that what we had seen of works constructed from ordinary electric or fluorescent light couldn't be refined upon or expanded into new concepts, as Fleshman's exhibits at the Fairborne Gallery had adequately shown.  There was certainly potential for further development in that field, too!

     To which opinion the artist readily concurred, intimating, in the process, that he was also interested in the production of laser works and would in future be dedicating more time to them.  But what did they, Thurber as well as Logan, make of the other exhibition - the one containing works by Joseph Philpott?

     This time it was Thurber who answered first, by revealing that they hadn't thought so highly of it, although there were a number of abstract works in the geometrical and precisely-calculated manner of Max Bill on display which they had preferred to the representational ones.  Somehow these latter were of a lower order of painting, though not as low, he was obliged to concede, as could have been the case.  And here it was Logan's turn to come to the fore again, positing the contention that there existed a kind of hierarchy of representational painting - as, indeed, of abstract painting - in which the city took precedence over nature. 

     Thus such works as they had witnessed, mostly of skyscraper-type buildings and a variety of machines for industrial application, were certainly of a superior representational order to what would have been the case had either of them been confronted by a landscape artist.  With the representational canvases of Joe Philpott one was at least looking at civilization, not at something prior to or beneath it.  And the fact that he concentrated on the big city, or metropolis, with never a hint of verdure, made his work of a transcendentally superior order to artists who might alternatively have chosen to concentrate on a small or medium-sized town, with views of hills, trees, and bushes either surrounding it or in the background.  Yes indeed!

     For just as there was a hierarchy between those who specialized in natural phenomena, so a hierarchy existed between the artists of civilization, which was no less apparent.  In the former case, the worst offenders against the spirit, in Logan's estimation, were those who painted nature in the raw, especially where the sensuous was strongest and a kind of jungle or forest-like terrain accordingly prevailed.  To paint a scene in which the most sensuous, subconsciously-dominated plants predominated would indeed have been to put oneself at the bottom of the creative ladder as, from a spiritual viewpoint, the most contemptible of artists.  Certain of Le Douanier Rousseau's works, for instance, were open to criticisms of this order, and Logan lost no time in assuring his companions at table that his spiritual eye had on more than one occasion been grossly affronted by this modern 'primitive', this 'naif', whose eighteenth-century namesake he personally abhorred.

     But, still, not all naturalistic paintings were quite as extreme, and it was possible to take slightly more pleasure or, at any rate, less displeasure in those artists who preferred a more temperate zone, where the landscape was less sensuous.  Then, of course, there were those who placed an animal or animals in the landscape, and thus lifted their work above the subconscious, even if, by the incorporation, say, of pigs, cattle, or sheep, they didn't lift it very far towards the superconscious.  But at least animal life was higher than plant life, in consequence of which it should be possible to judge a landscape with animals spiritually superior to one without any, the more animal life in proportion to landscape, or nature, and the higher the type of animals the better the painting.  And then, on a still higher level of representational art, would be those paintings which included human life in the landscape or natural surroundings, the ratio of the one to the other determining their relative status, so that paintings in which humanity predominated over nature would be spiritually superior to those in which the converse was the case, and so on, through all manner of subtle gradations of content and context.  Frankly, it was possible, Logan maintained, to form an exact scale of thematic assessment where most if not all naturalistic and/or realistic paintings were concerned, in strict accord with the immutable criteria of lesser or greater life forms.  In this way, virtually every representational painting to-date could be morally categorized according to its level of content, from the crudest jungle to the most refined portrait, with all due gradations in between.  An exact science, as it were, of representational context.

     But what applied to naturalism applied no less to the various levels of civilization depicted, which, as already noted, were open to a similar scale of thematic assessment, beginning with the meanest village and culminating in the greatest city, through all degrees of natural/artificial content in any number of realistic/materialistic contexts.  Thus Philpott's big cityscapes, eschewing all traces of nature, were evidently of the highest order of artificial representation, signifying the most advanced level yet attained by civilization in the face of nature.  Together with the machines he painted, they attested to evolutionary progress not just with regard to large-scale urbanization and industrialization, but also, and no less importantly, with regard to art, which, in evolving beyond naturalism, had attained to an unprecedented level of representational importance.  Whether it could progress any further in such terms remained to be seen; though, providing cities continued to expand and become ever more sophisticated, subject to new orders of architectural innovation in which more synthetically advanced materials were utilized to a transcendental end, there seemed to be no reason for one to suppose otherwise.

     As Keith Logan had already intimated, however, Philpott's representational works were, for all their relevance to the contemporary world, of an inferior order of painting to his abstract works, which, seemingly inspired by the geometrical principles of Neo-Plasticism, attested to a higher and altogether more spiritual realm of creativity - one necessarily idealistic rather than materialistic in scope.  For, in the development of the modern, it was, above all, the progress of abstraction that counted for most, as this was a species of art which, properly speaking, had only come into existence in the twentieth century and signified a level of creativity beyond and above the purely representational, in which the spiritual came to predominate over the material, and the individual accordingly managed to assert a new importance over society.

     Thus the small number of abstract canvases on display in the Philpott exhibition was, in Logan's estimation, of greater moral significance than the representational ones, since aligned, no matter how crudely or indirectly, with the spiritual.  For it was, above all, the liberation of spirituality that counted in modern art, and its consequent triumph over materialism - 'Second Religiousness' over 'the Civilization', in Spenglerian parlance.  Where abstract art came to an end, light art had taken over, and now, as Logan flatteringly liked to remind his host, it was the latter which chiefly prevailed, whether in the guise of fluorescent tubing or, more idealistically, with the use of lasers.

     Opposed to this or, rather, on the level of proletarian materialism, were the most recent developments in machine art, whether in the form of auto-destructive machines, as with Jean Tinguely, or of highly-complex programmed machines, such as the American James Seawright had invented.  And, of course, aligned with this were the experiments being made with computers and video-recorders, which were generally of a secular, or technological, order.

     Thus whatever was essentially concerned with light could be said to constitute the new religious art, an art pertinent to transcendental man which, now as before, took precedence over the materialistic art-forms currently in existence.  A Gyorgy Kepes was therefore, from Logan's standpoint, a superior type of artist to a Jean Tinguely, a Takis to a James Seawright; though, as the writer was at pains to remind his audience, a clear-cut distinction between religious and secular artists couldn't always be inferred, there being major artists who, like Nicholas Schöffer, experimented in both fields, thereby attesting to a kind of liberal compromise between the two extremes.  However, as regards Paul Fleshman, there could be little doubt that his work, culminating in light art, was of a superior order to Philpott's, since predominantly and intrinsically religious.  Apart from the low-level abstracts, the latter artist's work was mostly secular, if of a relatively high order of secularity within the, by and large, petty-bourgeois context of contemporary painterly art.

     To be sure, Fleshman was indeed gratified by this opinion, and hastened to express his gratitude by offering Logan some more liquid refreshment - a gesture which was much appreciated by his knowledgeable guest.  As, indeed, by the other guests, whose empty glasses were likewise replenished in due turn, albeit with beer and even wine rather than simply cola, like the more markedly transcendental Keith Logan.  Yes, there could be little doubt that Philpott's work was generally of an inferior nature to his own, even given the fact of that artist's evident technical facility and ample command of his thematic resources.  His choice of subject-matter, though good, could easily be bettered, and simply by omitting all objective subject-matter in loyalty to a truly subjective requirement.  If his temperament was predominantly materialistic, he could hardly be expected to produce the highest kind of art but would have to rest content with what he customarily did.  He had his place, of that there could be no doubt, but it was decidedly amongst the second-rank in a kind of painterly parallel to a right-wing democratic context.  And he would remain there - would he not? - even if he became the greatest secular painter who ever lived.

     To which, of course, they all agreed, particularly Logan, who elected to assert that beyond light art there was nothing higher, especially where the use of fluorescent tubing and laser beams were concerned, which, in the hands of the finest artists, had taken religious art to its highest ever peaks.  For the progress of art meant that, these days, the world's leading artists were second-to-none - indeed, were superior to all the so-called great artists the world had already produced.  Where the great masters of the past had been obliged to express the spiritual in terms of Christianity and through the medium of paint, their contemporary counterparts had the benefit of religious evolution to draw upon and a much more spiritual medium in which to work.  Paint was still paint - a kind of liquid matter that solidified.  But electric or neon light ... who could touch or feel that?  Who could deny its spiritual essence or intangibility?  And because God was spirit or, more specifically, the pure spirituality that would emerge from the superconscious at the culmination of evolution, who could fail to perceive the analogy with God which the finest light art evoked, even though such an analogy was paradoxically based on chemical or electrical means?

     Here it was not Christ so much as that which, as pure spirituality, stood above and beyond Him ... with which one was essentially concerned.  No longer Christian symbolism, but the truth of God per se.  How therefore could one fail to recognize the moral superiority of this art to whatever had preceded it in the paradoxical realm of religious representation?  How could one fail to see in artists such as Kepes, Takis, Schöffer, and, indeed, Paul Fleshman himself, the culmination of the spiritual in art thus far, whether or not such artists were consciously aware of producing religious art?  The very fact of human evolution virtually guaranteed one a certain knowledge that art, no less than everything else, continued to progress through the centuries until such time as it attained to a maximum approximation to the spiritual essence of God, and thus completed its destiny.

     Whether, in fact, art had already arrived at its ultimate goal was, to say the least, a debatable point.  For there were still many interesting experiments and refinements on previous attainments being made which, providing the world wasn't suddenly plunged into a nuclear holocaust, would probably continue for some time to come, bringing the approximation to God's spiritual essence ever closer through the use of a brighter, purer inner light.  After all, art wasn't just an arbitrary affair.  On the contrary, it was a very definite procedure with an ever-present responsibility to evolution.  Once it had attained to its zenith, there could be no deviations into dilettantish irrelevance.  Its final flowering was what ultimately mattered.  And if it hadn't already reached that stage, then, as Logan now chose to remind them, it must soon be on the point of doing so - an observation which Fleshman's most advanced work could only confirm.

     Indeed, the artist was, of course, immensely gratified to hear this, especially as he had occasionally entertained serious doubts concerning the validity of his own work.  Now, on the contrary, he could tell himself that he was one of the Chosen Few blessed with the responsibility of bringing art if not to its climax then certainly to something near it, and that he, personally, was artistically superior to any of the men of the Italian Renaissance or of the German Baroque or the French Rococo or whatever, being the recipient of a much higher phase of artistic evolution.  With the use of slender neon tubing and brightly coloured lights, he was producing work that Michelangelo couldn't even have dreamed of, so far was it above and beyond the leading imaginations of the Renaissance.  And even the importance subsequently ascribed to light by the leading men of the Baroque, what could they do to compete with him?  By comparison to the maximum brightness he could achieve, their light was indeed dim, scarcely a close approximation to the spirit of God which they vainly strove to depict, compliments of anthropomorphic necessity, through representational means.  Their religious sense, commensurate with the level of evolution manifest in the seventeenth century, was hardly such as to cause any enlightened latter-day artist to envy them.  No matter how earnest their desire to approximate to the essence of God, they could never transcend the anthropomorphic limitations of their time.  By comparison with the finest modern artists, they lived in a kind of purgatorial twilight between the sensuous darkness of the Father and the spiritual light(ness) of the Holy Ghost, an emotional realm of the loving heart to which they were obliged to reconcile themselves as best they could.

 

 

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