Inquiry: Estrangement XVII – Art, A Philosophical Paradox

Source: Font de Gaume. Pexels

by LJ Frank

This series on estrangement seeks to understand some of the differing faces of estrangement and the crossroads it approaches for good or ill.

Art transcends meaning. It encourages estrangement and reconciliation in the same prayerful breath. And it achieves a form of understanding and significance through interaction – thought, language, emotions and environment.

When I write and talk about art or apply paint to a canvas, I engage my mind and heart. I enter a space and dimension that is initially abstract and immensurable. A paradox begins to take shape between that which is created and its interpretation – not all those who see the same entity, “see” the same entity.

In the Gospel of Thomas (Nag Hammadi Library), the author quotes Jesus, “…the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.” Nature is God’s artwork – open to conflicting interpretation and alienation and reconciliation. There are similar ancient observations in other parts of the world. (See Pritchard’s Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Eliade’s From Primitives to Zen, Mithen’s The Prehistory of the Mind, and the anthropological gleanings of Joseph Campbell, James Fraser, among others.) Still, the canvas of an un-abused natural world appears to retain a symmetry for long term survival. 

In an article titled Reconciliation through Estrangement published by Cambridge University Press on September 19, 2018, the author states within the realm of politics – “While it is often assumed that reconciliation culminates in the comprehensive resolution of conflict between deeply alienated parties…reconciliation can only be achieved through complex mechanisms of estrangement that reveal alternative vistas or collective renewal. Art performs an important role in this process.” 

The statement is immersed in a larger context and pivotal in recognizing that art moves beyond the simple mirror rendering of a culture and towards a medium for exhibiting linkages in relationships (and aloneness) amid our conflicted environs.

In his book titled The Trial, Franz Kafka describes the protagonist with a single letter, “K”, the author as “artist” in my opinion suggests that the “art” of our existential nature obliterates language. “K’ finds himself utterly alone in an illogical situation. His Trial is a work of estrangement. The canvas of the mind is incomplete and wordless. 

Reconciliation and estrangement through art is an uneasy balance with the logical/competitive mind. Humans compete for the physical and mental advantages over each other and our environment. Our philosophies and theologies are intertwined…at times heatedly so. If we are not competing with others, we are taught to compete with our self. Competition is glorified. Debate employs a devotional posture. People and environment suffer until a situation forces collaboration. (See, Alfie Kohn’s No Contest). 

The paradox of art is that the estrangement it creates illuminates our bias – our accord or further discord – an inspiration and or a haunting of both our darker and lighter side. Art has the capability of exposing our common nakedness and estrangement – for the sake of reconciliation.