FIGURING AROUND THE GAP:

As a visual artist living in the New York area for thirty years, and having been around the art world for as long, I think it is difficult to make sense of what artists are trying to say in today's multicultural world . With this web site, I have tried to clearly express where my drive has taken me. I believe our identities in American society have changed for the better in the 20th century, and the mixture of different cultures has made us more open to a complex society that embraces cultural diversities. We no longer have to define selfhood by fixed ideological benchmarks, and can instead use a standard of honesty, integrity and responsibility to oneself and our loved ones to define our behavior. Yet, when we turn to our deepest convictions, we find rock-hard walls in our identities as human beings. It is precisely at this level of understanding that we have to redefine who we are if we are going live in a progressive society. We are all culturally defined to some extent by our cultures, and so there will always be conflicts/dissonance; a Gap between our deepest beliefs.

In this web site, and in my art for many years, I have argued that we should make the effort to understand why this Gap is natural to the heart of our Being. Modern art has shown that form is irreducible, and the open space of the Gap keeps the enigma, and freedom to think of what it means to be in the world. To be open to the Gap within us, we need to let go of our deepest convictions as resolved in faith or in form. Yet for many people, the idea of letting go of fixed ideological concepts of self is not an option. I believe we should move from a multi-cultural society that has a distant respect for the other, to a cosmopolitan society that is "free from local, provincial or national ideas, prejudices, or attachments" (dictionary definition). A society where differences permeate our veins. We should live in a decentered world which sees that your country, your religion, and your ego are not the center of the world. We should learn to let go of an either/or mind set, and move to a both/and inclusiveness. The process in the 21st century of globalization is irreversible, ongoing, filled with tension, and fanaticism will not go away any time soon. To combat these tensions in today's society we should have much more cross-fertilizations between our religions, our races, our sexuality, and our nationalities (1). With a little luck and alot of cross-fertilizations we "Americans" could in theory be both all the same at bottom and uniquely different as individuals. We should embrace the contradictions within us by being thoughtful in our answers. From there we could embrace someting like Fredric Jameson's thought experiment "An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army."(2) as a progressive move toward an alternate future. Before we can embrace this future, we must figure the lack within us all.

Today, NY artists are free to do it all, and yet our ontological lack tells us there is no one expression for the all. Absolute oneness does not lie within the scission or division of the whole, but instead it is the scission "in-itself." It is the Gap. Oneness is the state of being-in-between. This limit of representation is real and points to the finitude of our existence. We are not so much divided by our own nature, as much as we are undetermined by our own nature. I believe that we can know this impossible object, and so a possible mental picture of the Gap could be of a glass ball that is hard, round, opaque, and yet unrepresentable as an actual object or concept. If you can imagine being on top of this ball for even a second, you would slip and slide off the ball into one language you may know that is deficient, while at the same time sliding into the difference of another language you may not know that is out of control excessive. This excessive and deficient flow of the sublime language can never settle into a unified conceptual idea anymore than there could be an authentic self. The other perspective is to forget the object and catch the flow of the wave into an indeterminate trajectory. You can not have one without the other. Truth as an ideological object is and always will be an impossible space because we are chained to our dualistic perspectives. It is worth quoting Zizek again to make the point, " the universal (object as such) comes to exist as a pure gap."(3) This object is irreal in our internal estrangement to it, and unreal in our external attraction to it. Modern continental philosophers argue that the object as a thing-in-itself "slips between our fingers"(4) into a pattern of duality. We are hard-wired to want to know the answers to our ultimate questions, and yet there is no software that can give us a complete picture.

When the sublime is flowing around the Gap, it can be very creative. On the one hand, you can idealize the Gap by reducing the Gap to a minimum distance by repeating everything into the same form. Ideology can be great and even nourish us by giving structure to our lives, but the problem with the clarity of a fanatical ideology is that it gives us a false consciousness since it has no other. Alternately, you can let go of the Gap by opening up the Gap too much, and an abyss forms that annihilates the self. All becomes change within the abyss, and any object in the process of change will always flow different tomorrow. I think we should learn let the universal object flow by learning to let the ideology go. The challenge lies in balancing the Gap between ideology and nihilism, repetition and difference, meaning and meaninglessness, emptiness and nothingness. These dualities are one and the same. Your balance will find comfort in the Gap. To be open to the Gap is not only to be open to a boundless freedom within us, but also to be open to the potential of the other outside of us. The event of the Now Moment that opens the Gap within us lies beyond representation by being too early and too late in time, while at the same time excessive and deficient in space. So how does the flow of the sublime occur in the events of my work as an artist? In "Portrait of Myself as a Young New Yorker" the sublime-for-itself, which is not the foundation, can be represented as a knowing presence, even a possible ecstasy. And yet, the sublime in "Portrait" simultaneously expresses an absence, pain and obliteration. Absence is again expressed in the photo book "Root," and in the hybrid paintings "Scream". In the photo book "Blue Skies and Windows" the sublime flows through the two concepts of hounded and haunted, or the difference between fleeing an event and attraction to that same event. We have to be responsible for our freedom in the situations that we find ourselves, and so the experience of the sublime has the destructive potential to flow into evil as in the hybrid painting "Dahmer." At the same time, the sublime can flow into an idea of the good like the hybrid painting "Mona Lisa." The sublime can be lighthearted as in the hybrid paintings of "Schiz Flow" "Sweet Jesus" "Daffy Duck" or "Donald Duck." (Zizek's Parallax Real accounts for the multiplicity of appearances from the same underlying Real.) These are some of my sustained attempts to let go of the need to express a profound event that I experienced in 1983 as a singular ideological moment, and it's not about trying to articulate that my process is any more or less profound than anyone else. The creative Gap within us all will always produce another object, and so every artwork can only be defined as a process of failure(5) to capture the object. This is in direct opposition to the prevailing belief that every artwork is a success by embracing its freedom to do anything. As artists, if we ever really caught the sublime object, what would or could it look like? Life as we know it would cease to exist without the Gap, since there would be no need for religion, faith, or creativity. We should focus on the idea of a Gap that is open to the wonder and freedom that lies at the heart of our existence. The balance between ideology and nihilism in my work occurred naturally by focusing my attention on the no-self, selflessness, or no essence within the self. The great part of figuring the sublime within the Gap is losing a sense of self (6) and being open to our freedom. At the same time, the moment the self is lost, it can and will be pure existential despair that is very Lacanian Real. The representation of the sublime is never either/or, but is both/and. We need to realistically figure the impossible, fragile, indeterminate flow that lies within us all, along with the understanding that no concept, idea, or religion can ever represent the all. The Gap is a creative, and spiritual potential that when represented is not-all. Freedom is not about breaking limits, but forming limits that can overflow into the other at any time. The duality of representation is at bottom an infinite hole within the finitude of one's whole body and belief systems. The impossible object within the Gap is eternal, and immutable; a pure potential without hierarchy. We should accept the Buddhist philosophy of impermanence, change and fluidity to define our existence, and not accept the immortality of the soul. Progress is made by leaning toward one position and then toward another by exploring the possibilities of multiple solutions. There is no ideological bedrock to whom we are in the world because identity is fluid, and our true consciousness remains opaque at bottom. We become individuals by embracing our freedom with our contingent nature by making responsible choices within the situation that we find ourselves in. Fanatical Ideology is untenable because our answers to the ultimate is unknowable. Existence overrides essence.

AURA: THE MISSING SPARK WITHIN THE SUBLIME

When Truth withdraws the moment it appears, what happens next? Are we left with only a feeling of nothingness and emptiness when the void closes and a Gap remains. I would like to put forth a speculative idea that an aura lingers within the soul. This aura cannot be bottled or framed, contained or controlled. It cannot be faked, and when you feel it is is hard to express. Aura has the spark that attracts opposites, but there is no formula for aura lingering within any artwork. Art which resonates with aura is beautiful and sublime precisely because it does not not embrace ideology or nihilism. Aura embodies nothing. For me, Picasso's Blue period has an aura of pathos that is inherent in Truth. Warhol's "Disaster" series has an aura because Truth is a disaster. Early Rauschenberg has an aura because of the freedom inherent in the work, and for me, so does Jasper John's the "Seasons" for its depth of visual thinking. My personal list can go on, but can never be universalized into an idea for success. It occurred to me that aura is the mystery of the universe confronted head on, and that sounds about right. The photographic diptych of my hand in the book "Portrait of Myself as a Young New Yorker" held an aura for me for thirty years. What I learned over all these years is that within a feeling of pure existential despair, an aura lingering within you is a gift of pure beauty and wonderment. Truth has an Aura in art.

The Absolute Gap is the name of the event that makes us stand in awe of the mystery that comprises our universe. It makes us realize that we are at bottom nothing, while at the same time, if even for a brief moment, we are all that there is. The impossible nature of the Gap makes us realize that what we do matters, miracles do come true, and the sublime connects us all together by an aura we can only hope to feel in our lives. It forces us to be responsible for our freedom, and gives us hope for the future. The domain of religion is the formula for filling the Gap, while from the perspective of science, our basic questions remain unanswered. As artists, I believe we can embrace what is creatively possible within the self, while retaining a fidelity, and love to what is impossible to represent. This has been my project.

CONCLUSION:

The central theme of my work for the last thirty years has been that consciousness is irreducible and opaque within the self. We simply cannot get to some substratum that tells us who we really are in the world, and so if you believe the evidence, then abstract forms can no longer represent our true nature. I believe the sublime will always exist, but I have tried to show that whatever presence it brings will always be haunted by its absence. The Gap is eternal and immutable precisely because it exists neither here nor there, but exists beyond representation. Rauschenberg stated that he wanted to bridge the Gap between Art and Life, and he succeeded for his time. Today, we know the Gap inhabits an impossible space across many disciplines. The literature has become overwhelming in disciplines as diversified as Theology, Atheism, Continental Philosophy, Analytical Philosophy, Neuroscience, Neurophilosophy, and Bio ethics. The Gap produces arguments about the existence of God, free will, and the potential of not bridging the Gap. I have had a long interest in Eastern and Western religions, and I believe that as long as there is a Gap, religion can and will fill that space. But for me, God as a universal potential is dead, and the worst thing one can do with one's life is become an Absolutist. Absolutism will always reign somewhere and somehow in the world. And if it is not in your religion, then we will find it in your politics, race, and art. I believe Ultimate forms are bad forms, and Ultimate ideas are bad faith. We have a free will that allows us to control the size of the Gap through expansion and contraction, but ultimately the Gap cannot be closed. We are all incomplete. The challenge for artists today is to find some sense of self by figuring around the Gap between art and life through creativity, and being open to an ever-changing world at the limits of representation. The goal should be to open up a space of indeterminacy not only within the identity of self, but within our governments, our religions, and yes, our visual and literary arts. I believe at the limits of representation an aura exists that gives us hope for pulling it all together, and we should become comfortable with the fact that there is and always will be a Gap. I believe in the mystery of the soul, because I believe in the mystery of our universe. Indeterminacy is the gift of wonder! The greatest object in the world in not the one that unites us, but instead it's one that divides us. Truth divides us. For me, Truth withdraws into the abyss the moment it appears. It is indifferent to your religion, and neutral in every war. Truth has no upper hand in morality, and yet it defines who we are. Truth is the infinite space-in-between. I hated the truth because I wanted something more than the Truth. I wanted bedrock! I wanted religion! I wanted that cutting edge in art! And yet, the mystery remains without the need for any supernatural mysticism or irony. God does not own the mystery(7). I fell in love with the Truth by being open to mystery of life. It is that simple. The reason truth matters is because the Gap allows us to create narratives that are not only patently false, but also narratives that are deeply rooted in falsehoods. We live in a decentered world, where ideas are easily coopted for authoritarian beliefs! We should learn to let go of our egos and embrace a practice of selflessness, as opposed to embracing our egos and unending selfishness.

CLIMATE CHANGE: HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

For many, climate change incites the realization that we are not at one with our natural world, and that we are in the process of altering our landscape forever. As artists, it is our responsibility to react to this. The Gap between world and nature "feels like the inevitable march toward disaster (7)." and climate change will be the defining event of the 21st century. I believe our nature is out of sync with our world. The uncertainty of climate change revolves around a quality of life that we have taken for granted in the 20th century, and we need to be realistic about the well-being of our future. The altering of our landscape with climate change may very well sweep away all our beliefs, and I think that any ideology of transcendence loses strength once we are forced to take responsibility for the skies above us. Everybody knows that if the Gap becomes too big, an abyss will open up and the consequences will be terrible. There has never been an ideology that will solve all of our problems. Once we accept this, then the challenge becomes balancing the Gap between ideology and nihilism. We cannot lose hope for the future.

POSTSCRIPT: THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

I have always believed that at some point in the future we would arrive at a moment when our country would be tested for the democratic values that we all believe in. I thought this moment would happen in the future because of climate change, and not because of a populist uprising in our electorate. Yet today, we have a president named Trump that instills the worst fears within me. I have long advocated an art form defined by the trope "both/and" as a bulwark against authoritarian governments. The general philosophy of "either/or," which I define as "either" you are with me, "or" you are not, will define the Trump presidency in all of its awfulness, and needs to be replaced by a philosophy of "both/and." "Either/or" separates our differences and does not work. World history has shown again and again that differences which are not celebrated can easily be crushed. A philosophy of "both/and" celebrates our diversity, and sees the Gap between us (however flawed) as the only true common universal within us. The Trump presidency, on the other hand, is already exploiting the differences between us by lying, boasting, threatening, and preening over a populace that he did not win by a popular majority. I believe Trumpism will expand the Gap between us, and if his worst tendencies are not stopped, will create an abyss in our society that will take decades to undue. Authoritarian governments always disperse the other as the cancer that keeps their society from being great again. Their goal is not to maintain our democracy, but instill a one party state. The Gap that we feel within us, tells us we cannot know the future, but we can hope for a better future. The nausea that we may be feeling in our gut sickens our hope that our future may not be so great after all. We should arrive at this moment in history by reconnecting with each other the love and mystery that defines our experiences in the world, and hold truth accountable within us through humility, and not hubris. Truth lies in the facts that we know, and not in the opinions we believe.

(1) Right on, and excellent reading. Velasquez-Manoff, Moises. "What Biracial People Know" March 4, 2017. The New York Times, Contrbuting Op-Ed writer. Online Edition.

(2) Jameson, Fredric. "An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army" (Verso. 2016. print edition.)

(3) Zizek, Slavoj. "Absolute Recoil: Towards A New Foundation Of Dialectical Materialism" pg 404 (Verso. 2014. Kindle Edition.)

(4) Sartre, Jean Paul. "Being and Nothingness" with translation by Hazel E. Barnes. pg.122 (New York: Washington Square Press. 1966.)

(5) Bradatan makes the case of learning "how to fail" as an artform through Bergman's "Seventh Seal":

Bradtan, Costica. "In Praise of Failure." Dec 15, 2013. The New York Times, The Stone Opinionator. online edition.

(6) Interesting reading for a spiritual approach: Tolle, Eckhart. "The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment." (Namaste Publishing, 1997. Kindle Edition)

and from an atheistic perspective that overlaps read: Harris, Sam. "Waking Up: A guide to Spirituality without Religion" (Simon Schuster. 2014. Kindle Edition)

(7) Worth reading: Irwin, William. "God is a Question, Not an Answer" March 26, 2016, The New York Times, The Stone Opinionator. online edition.

A good movie on climate change is James Balog's "Chasing Ice" 2012. available on Netflix

(7) Raymo, Maureen "Heat trapping gas passes milestone, raising fears" May 10, 2013. New York Times. online edition.

Also worth reading in e-format: Gillis, Justin. "Temperature Rising" 2013. The New York Times. Kindle Edition,

and Kingsnorth, Paul. "Uncivilisation: The DM Manifesto." The Dark Mountain Project. dark-mountain.net

Here is a list of other authors : Daniel Dennett, Thomas Nagel, Mark C. Taylor, Bruno Latour, Douglas Hofstadter, Kim Jaegwo, Patricia Churchland, Erik Parens, Michael Graziano