October 2, 2003:
Bradley Burkhart responds to Suzi Gablik's article, "The
Unmaking of Modernism".
c/o Thames & Hudson, Inc.
500 Fifth Ave.
NYC, NY 10110
Dear Ms. Gablik,
I am a
working sculptor who has been producing clay wall relief panels
for over 20 years focused on contemporary mythical/ archetypal
imagery; but, more about that later. In late 2001, I serendipitously
came across an article you wrote called "The Unmaking of
Modernism published in the November-December 1999 Utne Reader.
I was impressed by the succinct analysis of modern art offered
in the article which remarkably paralleled my own. Additionally,
I was delighted by your writing style. Contrasted with the obfuscating
writings of most contemporary art critics, your article completed
a clear and easily understood analysis in less than three pages.
I subsequently ferreted out more of your writings on the Internet
and discovered your dialogue with James Hillman: "The Nature
of Beauty in Contemporary Art," published in 1995, and
later purchased and read Has Modernism Failed?, perused Conversations
Before the End of Time, and am currently reading The Reenchantment
of Art. In addition, I just finished Baile Oakes' Sculpting
the Environment, for which you wrote a supportive introduction.
of view in these works, that art has somehow gone astray at
the end of the 20th Century and is no longer socially relevant,
both resonated with me and stimulate the further development
of some of my own thoughts on the direction of 21st century
art. I am considering developing these ideas into a more formal
article for publication. In hopes of refining them for this
purpose, I seek to get your reactions to my thoughts. I anticipate
such a dialogue would be mutually beneficial. You appear to
be inviting such a dialogue in "Conversations Before the
End of Time."
to understand my own art, I have moved away from the interpretation
of art as a socially disconnected, technically learned, beauty-making
or philosophical process, to seeing art instead as at the core
of culture making. I have also concluded that modernism reflects
the final dominance of scientific thought over the evolution
of culture. In prescientific societies, human beings relied
on an intuitive approach to "knowing" reality that
was largely detached from such scientific reasoning. As you
have commented, as a consequence of the valuing of intuition
over rationality, this period was strongly tribal in its social
organization, whereas modern cultures (based on rationality)
celebrate the individual instead of the social whole. The invention
and subsequent emphasis on the primacy of scientific thought
began, for the most part, with the Renaissance in Italy and
the Reformation movements of Western Europe, although it had
antecedents in early Greek culture. We also see from historical
analysis that cultures that moved to embrace a patriarchal social
structure always favored rationality over intuition as the preferred
mode for knowing what was "real." The modern era since
the Renaissance has witnessed the blossoming of scientific orientation
and the increasing marginalization of intuitive thinking. It
now appears this scientific orientation reached its final fruition
at the end of the 20th century. Thus this developmental period
in human culture marked a shift from believing that only knowledge
gained by intuition was "real" to the current conviction
that only what our rational mind sees and discovers through
the use of scientific observation is "real."
has certain benefits for humankind. The intuitive approach emphasizes
the discovery of meaning through qualitative observation and
the value of community over individual development. The rational
approach emphasizes command over the physical world through
quantifiable observation and lauds the values of the individual
over the community. It goes without saying that the two approaches
have had a natural and mutual antagonism. When rationality moved
to the forefront, it was fought bitterly at first. Subsequently,
it was viewed as a valuable new tool. Eventually, however, it
bullied its way into being the only reliable means for knowing
reality. As a consequence, intuition has been marginalized and
treated as unreliable or even malevolent by current decision
makers. In the process, the currency of meaning has become quantity
not quality; and, as you have commented, the spiritual underpinnings
of culture have been devastated.
the relevance of this process to art? The truthsayer/meaning
makers in modern culture are obviously the scientist-scholars.
Their counterparts in the older intuitive cultures were the
shamans. Shamans utilized several types of intuitive skills
currently divided among artists, priests, and psychologists
to discover what was "real." Art in these older cultures
was aimed at enhancing the individual's connection and integration
with his or her community and the natural world and thereby
on creating a meaningful way to live for the tribe/society.
Such a process is a constant one, always creating new cultural
adaptations to changing community and natural circumstance.
Today, science performs the meaning-maker function and the shaman's
job has been discredited and marginalized.
to this marginalization process has been the division and separation
of shamanistic (intuitive functions) into the competing disciplines
of art, religion, and psychology. This separation is brought
about by numerous conventions and beliefs promulgated by science-based
culture. For example, spiritual, religious, or psychologically
motivated art is not judged to be real art in a secular world.
Even more to the point, the most respected theoreticians in
each of these disciplines have been the ones supporting the
rational-scientific viewpoint. Thus, Freudian and Behavioral
psychology and the western medical model of illness have moved
to the forefront in psychology and medicine, while Jungian archetypal/transpersonal
psychology and eastern medical modalities based on intuition
have been discredited and marginalized by the scientist-scholars.
Similarly in religion, there has been a shift in the 20th Century
towards more relativistic and individualistic ethical analysis
and a shift away from mythical, metaphoric, and social spiritual
most striking has been the change in the manner of art description
and evaluation. The language of art has been changed from emphasizing
the meaning of images as measured by inspiration, to emphasizing
either so called "objective" criteria for determining
beauty or pseudo-philosophic discussion of the ideas reflected
in art, as measured by rational concepts. Art analysis based
on line, color, form and composition and/or philosophical debate
expressed in visual form has gradually replaced a focus on the
response art creates in our soul and its potential to solve
social and ecological problems facing modern society. Not surprisingly,
the philosopher has usurped the role of determining what is
good art, while the masses are increasingly led to feel that
modern art is irrelevant to either their lives or their community.
It is no surprise that many of our recognized modern art critics
and conceptual artists originally studied philosophy (e.g. Arthur
Danto) before entering art. Neither image nor myth are any longer
even required to make "high" art. Thus, the pre-eminent
art movement at the end of the 20th Century is Conceptual Art,
which asserts that ideas and concepts alone are sufficient to
be art. Artists have become visual or auditory scientists focused
on demonstrating through their work the physical ways in which
humans perceive the world (e.g. pointillism, cubism), or philosophers
commenting on how we conceive it (e.g. pop art or conceptual
art). It is no wonder in this context that, as you observed,
art has become increasingly irrelevant to the creation of culture;
and, modern art has been dominated by the very quantity-based
commercial values that make it irrelevant for this purpose.
Yet, until now, few have had the courage to see the emperor
wears no clothes, let alone remark on it (the recent reviews
of the Whitney Biennial 2002 appear to represent the first inklings
of such dissent). Arthur Danto's book, After The End of Art:
Contemporary Art and the Pale of History essentially reinforces
the idea that the historical development of art, and perhaps
even culture itself, appears at a standstill at the moment.
we go from here? 20th century science-based reality has gone
as far as it can to maximize its view of reality and to marginalize
meaning. We are now on information overload, and our primary
social value appears to be more for less. Because of the paucity
of meaning in modern life, some people are now suggesting we
return to the old tribal ways, abandon the fruits of science,
and beat drums again in order to discover meaning. Numerous
"spiritual" groups and practices have been formed
based around the ceremonies and belief practices of prescientific
cultures, e.g. native Americans. Alternatively, others (including
yourself) advocate that artists intentionally reconnect with
the environmental and social problems our science-based culture
has created to "sound the alarm" and "change
the world." You refer to the "vision" the artist
has to offer the rest of humanity to counter the problems created
by our current reliance on science. You give as an example your
artist friend in Santa Fe, New Mexico, creating an "art
work" by keeping a journal about her individual efforts
to clean up the Rio Grande River. There is a correct notion
here that the artist's intuitive insight is desperately needed
now to better adapt us and our communities in ways appropriate
to assuring our survival as a species. It seems we are all clear
that more science is not the answer.
after much thought on this topic and having reviewed the work
of the artists featured in Baile Oaks book, it is my contention
that the conscious approach of the artist to creating social
meaning is not working and creates only philosophical commentary
not adaptive culture. I am currently exploring another direction
with my own work. It appears that our greatest challenge is
not rejecting rationality for intuitive thinking, but instead
to finding ways of integrating the two into a new paradigm for
knowing what is "real." For it is intuition that sees
the whole, while rationality understands the parts and makes
the vision practical. Intuition gives us the path and rationality
provides us with the means to travel the path. However, these
two ways of knowing the world are highly competitive with one
another and tend to see themselves as mutually exclusive. In
addition, rationality, because of its greater command of implementation
tools, naturally has the edge in winning this competition. This
competition is not unlike that between men and women, where
men are typically more physically powerful than women and will
dominate them unless checked by morals or society. The integration
of these two different but equally important creation tools
therefore requires two conditions:
truth must lead the way while rational truth checks on the usefulness
of the "vision" produced by intuition for society.
This is a radical departure from our current values, as this
tenet reverses the power relationship between intuition and
rationality in modern life. More importantly, it assumes both
intuition and rationality have something important to contribute
to our survival and that neither can be marginalized if we are
to know what is real.
the artistic (shamanistic) process needs to be recognized as
the primary means for accessing intuition to create spiritual
and psychological integration within ourselves, society, and
in our relation to the natural world. Part of revalidating intuition
as the primary "knowing tool" requires that the artificial
boundaries erected between psychology, religion, and art be
intuition has been so marginalized in our current culture we
have only a vague notion of what it is an how it works. What
do I mean by intuition, and how do we access it through art?
First of all, it is not a conscious mental process where we
"think or plan things out" in some sort of logical
or intentional progression. Nor is it a process which can be
overly focused on narrow problem solving. This is the failing
of art focused on raising awareness about specific social problems
like environmental destruction. Such art does not create answers
to the problems it addresses but merely emotionally dramatizes
their negative effects, somewhat like successful advertising;
hoping to make us want to solve the problem. Sometimes this
"advertising" is directed only at raising the individual
artist's consciousness of a problem, but more often, it is meant
to make others aware as well. Such art remains a conceptual
intuitive knowing accesses answers through an unpredictable
waiting-for-the-answer process from, what now seems, a mysterious
places in the psyche. From my experience, these places appear
to be naturally connected with parallel places in those around
us and within the natural world, and there appears to be a natural
direction of integration to these relationships with others
and the natural world, which we become aware of through intuition.
The answers which are derived from this intuitive process can
thus transcend the individual to inspire the community like
music from an instrument. Unlike reason, we cannot control this
process; we can only place ourselves in places or situations
and wait for the muse to speak, but we cannot proactively make
truth has one serious limitation. The "answers" it
gives cannot always be trusted. Unlike rationality, which leads
to clear provable conclusions, intuition sometimes comes up
with answers that either do not work or are actually detrimental
to solving problems or creating meaning. For example, the Salem
witch trials, based more on intuition than on provable facts,
resulted in the killing of many innocent women. Religious based
pogroms are another example of how an exclusive reliance on
intuitively derived truth can create great evil in the world.
Prejudice, as well as real truths about the world, both have
their basis in intuition.
where science and rationality become useful as deciphering agents
for the intuitive vision. The artistic creation needs to be
reviewed by community analysis to determine whether it is useful
to its culture. This is not a voting process; but rather a problem-solving
one. If art works to create solutions for society, then it inspires
new culture; if not, then the artist begins again. Thus the
role of the artist isn't so much to create culture, as to fathom
it. The visual artist uses intuition to come up with integrative
images, but the worth of these images is determined by their
ability to address social and environmental challenges to the
society in which the artist lives. Thus, the focus is taken
off the individual and commodity value of art and placed back
on its qualitative usefulness for inspiring cultural evolution
and survival. Also, because intuition draws its truth from the
Collective Unconscious, (not just the artist alone), the artist
cannot take personal credit for the work. Rather, the artist
acts as a vehicle. Socially relevant art is thus the opposite
of an egotistically centered process or a reflection of present
circumstance. Instead, new culture is created at any given time
out of the interaction between the needs for meaning in a society
(which intuitive consciousness accesses through artistic output
and practice) and the grounding of intuitive adventures in the
practicality of person, social, and ecological practice.
use a story from my own art to illustrate these principles.
I have a clay relief piece called "Birth Worship"
which was selected for exhibition at an art show focused on
environmental destruction. The piece shows an image of a fetus
emerging out of flames from the side of a woman in a ritualistic
setting. It appears to celebrate the birth process, hence its
name. All artists were asked to write about how their work related
to environmental destruction. The connections of many works
at the show were obvious because they had been consciously chosen.
For example, the woman who had created a half scale replica
of a radioactive materials storage tank at the Hartford Nuclear
Waste Disposal Site out of tie-died silks so that observers
could enter the tank and think about the dangers it represented
. However, the reason for the selection of my piece was initially
unclear to me, as I had arrived at the image through intuition.
However, after some thought about the image, I realized that
the worshipping of the birth process had a direct relationship
to environmental destruction and I wrote: "If we lived
in a world where we truly worshipped birth, we would not be
destroying our environment."
believe then, is that it isn't the initial conscious pursuit
of social relevance that the artist of the 21st Century should
be seeking, but rather, its unconscious pursuit through this
magical faculty of intuition and then its subsequent grounding
by community wisdom into an inspiration for personal and social
development. In this way, the artist creates a qualitative social
vision, which escapes the limitations and domination of the
conclude by trying to ground this discussion in an explication
of my own artistic process. I begin my art by randomly drawing
pencil lines on paper. After awhile, tangible images emerge
inspired and then refined by intuition into a finished sketch.
This unfocused "sketching" is one of the simplest
ways an artist can intuitively access reality. I have found
that images derived in this way transcend the personal and,
unlike the majority of dream images, reflect larger social and
environmental connections. They also reflect the circumstances
of the particular place on the planet where I choose to create
them. For example, the only time the Hope kachina figure of
the Koshare appeared in my work was when I was sketching in
Santa Fe, New Mexico near where that culture is based. Later,
I translate these sketched images into permanent clay relief
panels. Each panel tells a story which can only be deciphered
by conscious discussion. This discussion connects the intuitive
truths reflected in the piece with the "real" world.
The naming of each piece becomes a way of becoming conscious
of the inspiration behind the panel's story.
first started this work, I thought the stories the pieces offered
were purely personal and therefore not real art---probably a
sort of personal problem solving activity similar to dreaming.
Over time I discovered that I never dreamed these images; instead,
they came entirely from my connections with the outside culture
and environment in which I lived, a place Jung called the Collective
Unconscious. What confirmed this interpretation for me were
1. I would
often create images from ancient or other cultures that I was
not familiar with but which others knew about.
viewing the images would know more about the "story"
behind the pieces than I.
3. As the
stories were brought to consciousness, what initially appeared
to be images or stories from the past turned out inevitably
to address current social and ecological concerns, not my personal
As a result
of these realizations, I moved more and more towards having
groups of people help me name pieces. I found that often each
person had a part of the story to tell. Thus my intuitively
derived images moved into social problem-solving relevance through
the conscious group examination of the inspiration behind them.
I am currently of the opinion that this "naming" process
not only brings to consciousness the relevant social issues
addressed by the piece; but also works to sensitize the person
participating in the naming at some unconscious level of the
mind as well.
part of this social naming process is that it reverses the current
alienated relationship which people have with the works of artists.
Because we currently value individual viewpoint over social
agreement, we often find ourselves "agreeing to disagree"
with those who do not see it our way. This is seen as the highest
value of individualism. However, this process is socially disintegrative
and leaves only the ennui of the existentialists or, more recently,
the Deconstructionists. In contrast, when a group works together
to name a work of art, the evolution of meaning in a piece becomes
participatory. The process of naming creates, rather than diminishes,
group connections. To me this is the essence of cultural evolution
and the highest value of art to society. In contrast, heightened
individuality disintegrates social systems and alienates humans
from each other and their environment.
you enjoyed my thoughts as much as your own skillful writing
has moved me. In addition to your reactions to the ideas in
this letter, I would pose three questions for you in closing
which I hope will serve as a basis for stimulating your response:
would you respond to my idea that intuitively derived artistic
images create socially relevant art that is the basis for cultural
have philosophers become the most influential art critics at
the end of the 20th Century? Do you see this phenomena as connected
with the marginalization of fine art in our culture?
do you see as the healthiest relationship between art and science;
intuition and rationality?
contact me either by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me
at 619-521-0303. I invite you to review my art work on my website
Brad Burkhart, Escultor del Corazón
about this letter? Email