Friday, September 24, 2010

the conclusion of asher lev, pt. 1

before i leave chaim potok's my name is asher lev, i wanted to touch on a few more ideas (again). near the end of the book, after a major exhibition in which the various spheres of faith, family, inspiration and commerce collide, and after a series of discussions and meetings with representatives of those spheres, asher thinks this:
Asher Lev, Hasid. Asher Lev, painter. I looked at my right hand, the hand with which I painted. There was power in that hand. Power to create and destroy. Power to bring pleasure and pain. Power to amuse and horrify. There was in that hand the demonic and the divine at one and the same time. The demonic and the divine were two aspects of the same force. Creation was demonic and divine. Creativity was demonic and divine. Art was demonic and divine. The solitary vision that put new eyes into gouged-out sockets was demonic and divine. I was demonic and divine. Asher Lev, son of Aryeh and Rivkeh Lev, was the child of the Master of the Universe and the Other Side. Asher Lev paints good pictures and hurts people he loves. Then be a great painter, Asher Lev; that will be the only justification for all the pain you will cause. But as a great painter I will cause pain again if I must. Then become a greater painter. But I will cause pain again. Then become a still greater painter. Master of the Universe, will I live this way all the rest of my life? Yes, came the whisper from the branches of the trees. Now journey with me, my Asher. Paint the anguish of all the world. Let people see the pain. But create your own molds and your own play of forms for the pain. We must give a balance to the universe.

Yes, I said. Yes. My own play of forms for the pain. (p. 348)

asher is determined to walk out his vision of, and conviction about, the artist and the role he plays in society. he is willing to offend and hurt, though not maliciously - more as an unfortunate effect of painting the truth as he sees it. he is willing to be mocked and criticized. he is willing to bear rejection and exile. he seems to acknowledge the moral aspect of the work, its emotional and even spiritual content and effects. he knows there are choices to be made as one creates, and sometimes those choices may be hurtful, and even seen as evil. and yet, the work must be made, and truth must be its subject - regardless of consequences.

the question is: is that the kind of balance the artist brings? is that the artist's role? to bring a kind of balance to the universe? what kind of balance? the fact is that the power of the artist to move, shake, confront can be twisted and abused. the artist must make a choice as to how to use that power. it would seem that the artist's task of putting "new eyes into gouged-out sockets" is a painful one. and necessarily so. [asher recognizes that] there is a choice the artist must make. does the artist become an instrument for the demonic? or does he choose to become an instrument for the divine? or tool. or weapon. a technology. a techne. and perhaps that doesn't look like we expect it to.

so then, here's the question: is that pain necessary? is the quickest way to a heart through a wound? it reminds me of an anish kapoor quote:

there are two kinds of artists in the world: those who reveal the wound, and those who hope to heal it.

so. which are you? which am i?