Raphael Monteñez Ortiz Guest Lecture -
Aesthetics & Criticism


The whole history of art has been distorted around special interests. The entire history of art has excluded the important contributions of the native cultures of the world. Important contributions. And everyone has a native culture root. It's not like a minority thing or a majority thing. Everyone has a native culture root, no matter what your ethnicity, and so on.

Now those early cultures solved problems of surrealism, of minimalism, of abstraction, of performance, of earthworks. These were all solved in a profound way because they were linked to an aesthetics that joined a person to their environment, in a very important way, in a very sensitive way. What the later cultures, conquering cultures did, within their aesthetic of objectivity and materialism, is that they simply called all of these cultures pagan, heretic, whatever, primitive..."pre-historic" is the present notion of it. Burn the books, destroy the objects. And they spoke about their relationship to art and the creative process as the "civilized" and "appropriate" way of dealing with this creative potential of humanity. So, if we can see that as the point where art left its roots, its sacred roots, and moved into objectivity, and now, is a very kind of empty activity that the only reward you have is if you're selling your work...and how much you're selling it for. So if you're not selling your work, and if you're not selling it for too much, it's kind of depressing activity really. Because in the activity itself there isn't the kind of rewards, the kind of connections to the sacred, the kind of bridging between ourselves and nature and all of the things, that are...in a sense, we're losing in nature; water, air and so on--with the kind of pollution that's being created, the kind of destroying of forests and so on. What we called primitive art, what we call pre-historic, the bridge now needs to be made. We need to make that bridge to bring back into art, into the creative process, into the teaching of art, into our experiencing of art, into our creation of art, that link--it's called sacred, it's called spiritual--so that we can nurture ourselves again and each other through art, rather than dis-enchant each other, which is what's happening.

Art now is disenchanting, and it's disenchanting us and the universe. So we have to re-enchant, re‑enchant ourselves, re-enchant through arts, re-enchantment, re‑enchant ourselves, our relationship to nature and the planet and to each other. And I see that as centrally the aesthetic issues.

I would say it's not only a Western problem; I would say that it's a problem on the planet. It's a problem that came out of the leap into materialism. And the leap into materialism created that break with the roots, which originally were called spiritual and sacred. Even, interesting enough, I mean, we can theorize about our conceptualizing of where god is--and, and...is god in everything, or is god sort of out here? And there's a whole history of where god was everywhere, in the clouds, in the water, in the trees, in each of us and so on. Everything was sacred, so that to violate something, you were, you would say, "ah, but god is there, so I guess I should, you know, really be sensitive." But when god is not everywhere, and god is out here, in this one place, then you have no difficulty violating everything, you know, and then you can always just ask god for forgiveness because well, god is out here. It's not that you violated god, because god isn't everywhere. So that there's all sorts of philosophic discussions about that, within the notion of aesthetics--to what extent your aesthetics permit you to do certain things conscience-free and other things not.

We have to pay attention to the problems also of the native cultures and their development so that we can draw out from our research that blend of matriarchal/patriarchal that was an affirmation and nurturing of that enchantment. First, you have to understand how you...the kind of betrayal that's occurred and how we've internalized that betrayal, and in our own notions of what being creative is is a betrayal, because it's generally a disenchantment, it's an objectification, it's looking at ourselves aesthetically in our relationship to our own experience--to what extent do we always disenchant our experience.

Looking at that, then you can look at, as an artist, the way you approach the...your work. Is it all fragmented? Is it a vision quest? The notion of a vision quest? Is my involvement in my art a vision quest? Is it serving to enchant me in the universe, in my relationship to myself, others and the universe? In the process of disenchanting art, a lot of people have empowered themselves by taking sort of pieces of it and fragmenting it off. And now art is left with this materialist content, disenchanting content--that's what it's left with. [Kurt von Meier: precious objects, scarcity commodities] The most art can do now is explore the psychological realms. Okay. But now, more--we're talking about the history of modern contemporary art--but now, it's exploring the intellectual realms. So it's getting cooler and cooler and cooler.

To enchant, a lot of contemporary art, in modern art, what they're doing is they're holding shows where early culture art, or what they call primitive art is shown alongside modern and contemporary art to enchant modern and contemporary art, not to give the authentic value of problem-solving within these areas that modern and contemporary art claims for itself.

If you're studying abstraction, then you study its history. And its history involves the native cultures of the world. And if, and since they preceded by thousands of years Picasso's involvement and many others' involvement you certainly should understand the roots of abstraction, which come from the native cultures from all parts of the world, thousands of years ago, before you begin torso that...what's happened is we get fixed on the Picasso's and so on; we isolate ourselves as we romanticize the present heroes of art. We cut ourselves off--there's a strong psychological commitment now to these heroes of art, and you're not involved in the, this wonderful history which goes back thousands of years, millions of years, actually, okay?-- millions of years where the problem-solving was certainly as valid then as it is now. And if you understand the problem-solving context, milIions of years ago, and you can see the whole movement of this, the involvement of artists in this problem-solving, and what's happened historically, you can then begin to be more sensitive to these different aesthetic involvements...one which was more spiritual, more sacred, more enchanting versus those that are less enchanting.

There's a researcher, Martin Brennan, who's an artist out of New York City, who spent some ten years researching in Ireland and Scotland and a lot of the mounds. He would climb over fences. I mean, you have these archeologists--they put up these barbed wire fences; and they cover everything with this black plastic, I mean, they just cover everything, so nobody can see anything from the air, from anybody's...they have these dogs wandering around the area so you can't get in there to see what they're researching. And they'll hold onto these sites for some ten and fifteen years, okay? And then come up with these very objective notions about what's going on.

Well, what Martin and his friends used to do is that they used to climb those fences, they used to dig under those fences....used to go in and uncover these things and look at them, and were really curious, and took photographs, and came to all sorts of conclusions that disagreed with the conclusions agreed upon by the academy. Okay? He realized that all of these symbols, all of these abstract symbols, had some very clear relationship in terms of also some ancient manuscripts that he looked at, and some people, native people that he studied with, said all of these spirals and so on were related to phenomena in nature, and that they were being recorded, and that they had something to do with time and the passing of events in nature. And that the caves themselves, these mounds, were designed to deal with the events and phenomena in nature, in that linking, in that linking, in that enchanted linking. They found equinoxes and solstices and movements of the moon, with that dominating, and they concluded with the cultures that were specially concerned with the cycles of the moon, that they were also more nurturing, they were more concerned. They found...they were large farm societies that had peace for thousands and thousands of years. And they had this whole, their art process was one of joining one with phenomena in nature, that was affirming their life process. And so all of these abstract symbols were movements, cycles of the moon, of the sun, of the seasons, and so their art was not this objective, sort of symbolic, purely symbolic process.

When you objectify it, when you see it simply as patterns in nature and you know, all of this objectification, its like, well, religion has its place, and art has its place, and therapy has its place, and medicine has its place, and .... certainly an art that is enchanting is healing, and art that is enchanting is therapeutic, is certainly religious, it's all of these things. And we're afraid to make these connections because we're like stepping on someone else's toes, I mean, someone representing some religion will come forward and say, "well, you know, that's my domain," you know, and then someone, some therapist will come forward and say, "well, wait a second, that's my domain." The Senoi of Malaysia, every morning every family sits around the breakfast table talking about their dreams. Anybody here do that? Sit around the table in the morning, first thing you do is talk about your dreams? Every morning, as soon as the child begins to talk and communicate, sharing the dreams...and then the dream is discussed around issues like...I had a dream, this is a very young child, because by the time you're in adolescence, you no longer have nightmares, you don't have any monsters chasing you, they're all your friends, you work with them the way you work with that imagery in a studio--in the dream--and they're passing information to you. They're all serving your deeper imaginative creative process. If there is a dance that is needed in the community, in your dream you work that out with all of these assistants, whether it's the cloud that shares with you, the tree, the monster is a friend.

When you're cut off from your roots, from your enchantment roots, this...and part of this enchantment is the monster; that's part of this enchantment. It must be given full integrity. What happens after that is the next step in the transmutation-- how can you translate from this deeper connection in enchantment into the material world in a way that authenticates that original revelation. I mean, that's the issue. Not simply, "that's not enough" Or, "well, do you have to take it to the next step" You don't have to take it to the next step, but it's part of your options within the learning. If the learning is one where that transmutation is authenticating and authentic to that vision and to that process of enchantment, then the education has succeeded in moving to the next step. But education right now doesn't confirm that first level, okay? It doesn't recognize it; it doesn't confirm it. [Kurt von Meier: It generally doesn't; we do in this place.]

Well...what I'd like to do first is show you some of my work, some of the video work that I've done, and then go through a performance. Nothing very intense, sort of, just a light introduction so you can get a sense of both kinds of work--the work I do with video and the work that I do with performance. Then I'll talk a little more about these issues, about aesthetics, and the form and the content and the history, sort of put them all within a framework.

(TRACK FROM VIDEO) Put that down, Imogene, it's a bomb! A bomb?

What I'm searching for is to reveal something hidden; in that moment of reality, there's something hidden in it. And I can make it surface by the way I take the frame structure apart, stretch it, add it...you know, move it back and forth in time. And it surfaces. It might be some curiosity that's going on in someone's mind that then for me is amplified, and then, with, for instance, with the mother and "it's a bomb," and this image flashing, and you think of some pre­-adolescent, adolescent sort of curiosity, sexual curiosity, and the mother is the protective agent, and then you see the father back there, and he's put his cigar-- and he's puffing--right, exactly. And the mother very attentive, you know, to that whole situation. Okay? And then finally, you know, you're watching this, you know, bomb sort of, whatever this is, moving, and it's sort of dealing with all of this kind of erotic, sexual, curious sort of finding a metaphor...I saw it there.

Okay. Now I'll talk more about this later, but I'm really concerned with the native cultures' process within the notion of the sacred, within the idea of performance as a kind of vision quest. Okay? And so we're going to deal with the inner performance rather than the outer performance. We're used to this notion of the outer performance, you know, somebody doing something out there that we pay attention to. But we don't pay attention to what's happening inside us. (There are some other balloons; you got some extra ones over there?....)

Okay. Today we're going to pay attention to the inner performance. In other words, you'll be doing the performing for yourself. The idea is to deal with relaxing the body and letting go of it. Okay? So you all find a space so you can lay down, okay? Find enough space around you so you can lay down. And the idea is to put the balloon between the knees. And put your, just put your feet flat on the ground so your knees are up. Like that, uh huh. Put the balloon between and lay back and relax. Close your eyes. And the idea is to concentrate on your breath. Full, deep breath. Full, deep breath. (We could turn off some of those lights...)

Okay? You're even allowed to fall asleep. So there're two things you're concentrating on right now: you're concentrating on squeezing the balloon and deep breathing. Oh, you gotta breathe better than that! Keep your eyes closed. And your imagination will start to go places as you concentrate on the deep breath and on the balloon. You'll feel a little shakiness in your legs. That's good. That means you're letting go of the body. So the little shakiness in your legs contributes to the imagination. 'Cause as you let go of the body, your imagination is empowered. So you keep the squeeze on the balloon; give yourself up to that tremble in the legs, let it happen. Let it move through you. Deep breaths, squeeze on the balloon, and let the imagination go where it wants to go. And the more you give up control of the body, the stronger the shakiness will get, and that's good, because the imagination is empowered by that. Deeeep breath. You'll start feeling a lot of energy; go with that energy. Breathe into that energy. (pause)

Okay. Slowly come back. Keep your eyes closed. Slowly come back. Come back to your normal breath. Slowly. Keep your eyes closed. When you feel yourself here entirely, then slowly open your eyes.

So it's like understanding that you can really take in a lot, much more than you even, ever before imagined you could. Okay. And that that tremble, that you're letting yourself go with the tremble is part of your giving yourself, the ego up, which in a sense is always monitoring, you know, and always saying, "uh uh, uh uh, uh uh" kind of thing. So as you give the body up, and you're letting go of that judgmental side, saying "Oh, I can just bounce all over the place!" kind of thing..... imagination go all over the place. So there's this combination of the two. So to the extent that you feel rigid and tight, it's the cellular, literally the cellular consciousness saying, "Whoa, wait a second! That's not the agreement we have! ....(?) all this energy, all this life force? Whoa! Calm down, you know, we've got to keep it away; control." I mean if you feel too much, who knows what can happen?

Right? So that's part of the process, so that you're...to understand it, we've educated ourselves to stop feeling, you know, to keep the body under control, keep the imagination under control. Otherwise you'll go nuts, right? The whole notion of what your relationship is, the distance between you and the art doesn't exist at all, really. But it's been created. The notion of even the art business, what is that? The concept, the distance, the subjectification--in other words, that's all part of the betrayal. In other words, once you distance yourself from your own creative, central creative process, you've betrayed that process. Okay? When you can get back to yourself and say, "I am the work...I am the great work of art in progress: me! What I imagine is works of art...the way I live my life is a work of art. The way I dress. The way I talk. All these things are part of my aesthetics, of this work of art." It's a performance piece. Okay? But it's not objectified. It's not, "Oh, boy, can't wait 'til I get on TV with my performance piece!" It's just recognizing that the creative process is built into the life process itself. You should begin to discover yourself within the creative, aesthetic process--to see yourself in the center of it. Try to resolve that contradiction. Understand how valuable a work of art your imagining is. Work to understand that; give it its importance.

If art education becomes that, if it becomes our attunement to our inner creative process, and to us as the center of the creative process, that we ourselves are the work of art, and that we can--we ourselves are in constant creative process, constant. Okay? And then we can share that revelation, that vision quest ... that within that vision quest there are all these things that happen. Okay? But just to make objects; just to make, you know, "my" thing, and have "my" exhibit so that I can sell "my" works so that I can make "my" money, that's, that betrays what art as a sacred event in our lives and our processes of being is. And, but that happens in all levels of culture, right? Not just in art. The key to it is that you've given so much integrity to your imaginative processes, right? You've empowered yourself within art by giving that power to your imagination and...recognizing it, okay?... and affirming it in everyone else. It's not just "my" thing---I'm going to bring to you a revelation...if you buy "my" art.

The altered state is difficult to maintain when you're awake and you're cut off from the dream process. If you can channel the dream process into your awake state, then that idea of knowledge and information that flow from your creative center is always happening. But we're in a culture that doesn't allow us to do that, doesn't teach us that. The inner performance then becomes much more dynamic, 'cause it's rooted in your empowering imagination and your letting go of the body, so in a sense you're teaching yourself to let go of the body and to empower the imagination at the same time. Okay? Now that's the inner performance. So you yourself are experiencing yourself as a work of art. Okay? And you're the art material. Okay? So you're the art material, you're the great work of art in progress. That's the position that I take about art. We all dream at least four to six times a night; we daydream all over the place, right? So imagine...well, the imagination then becomes art process; what we imagine becomes works of art. Okay? So, we're all artists--I mean, we really don't have to come to art school to be artists. I mean, the most dynamic work of art that you can imagine is the dream. I mean, you're the Cecilia and Cecil B. DeMilles. You know? You pick the site; you direct your dreams; you pick the characters. They're so real they even scare you awake sometimes. Or you don't want to share them with your friends 'cause they're embarrassing.

Where art begins and where it ends....Okay, it begins with the individual, it begins with the imagination, it begins with what you imagine. But it begins with you being, existing...that you yourself are a work of art, and your imagination is constantly making adjustments, aesthetic adjustments: long hair, short hair...this kind of clothing, that kind of clothing...how do you decide how you're going to talk? Do you imitate your mother? Your father? Aunt Becky? Who? Okay, when do you find your own voice? That's all the aesthetics. So we're the work of...we're constantly making these adjustments, constantly. Okay? We're...all that you can imagine yoga is, we already do, except that most of us are turning gold into lead, instead of lead into gold. Okay? So we're already doing all that stuff. We're doing all of the amazing, magical things that you admire or are a little bit scared of, okay? We're doing it all.

There are a group of people of Malaysia where the dream is where it should be, is central to their cultural process. What they do is they use these dream time, daydream or sleep dream time, the way an artist would use a studio. Okay? They go into the dreamtime to work on an art project, the way you would go to a studio to work on an art project. Now whether it's befriending the tree spirit, the water spirit, the tiger, the monster, by the time the Senoi are through their adolescence they don't have any horror dreams. All the monsters are their friends, and serving them. And the gifts they get from the monsters are dances, songs, poems, healings, problem-solving, even for the construction of a bridge. So they'll go into the dream and say, um, in the dream they'll talk to the tiger spirit and say, "Well, you know, we're in the process of building this bridge and there're certain problems we're having, perhaps you can help." And the tiger will draw a little diagram and say, "Well, of course, I mean, just on the other side of the planet, they're doing this" and draw these little diagrams, and then the person comes first to the breakfast table and discusses it in the family, and then, in the village dream place, where everyone talks about how they can contribute to the problem-solving, creative and otherwise, on all the levels, healings, etc., bridge-building, dances and so on...they say, "well, I had this dream, and here's the diagram. I don't quite understand it," And they put all these diagrams together and then they build a bridge. And yes, it works, fantastic bridge.

Or, healing. They say, "well, the tree spirit told me that there's this herb that grows on the other side of the mountain, and this is what it looks like," and draw a little diagram, and it has this color flower, and then they go looking for it and they find it in that place. Okay? So the notion of creative process, okay? and art, and knowledge are related--they're related. People say, "What kind of knowledge is art, anyway? Is it useful? Does it serve any purpose?" Yes, it's useful, serves an important purpose. Unfortunately, our culture doesn't really pay attention to art process in any relevant way, so we sort of flounder with it, and we're always sort of, kind of imitating what we think is important art, but the culture has decided that art isn't important anyway, because otherwise we'd already know that the dream is our most powerful work of art. Who knows that? Anybody here know that? Like before I said anything? Did anybody here know that? Was it a secret you kept?

So you're all artists; you don't need to spend four years anywhere for that. Once you understand just how powerful the imagination is, and how powerful what you imagine is, that you ARE what you've imagined, that you all ARE a self-fulfilling prophecy machine-- okay? Because that's what we do with art anyway, right? I mean, whether we stretch a canvas, whether we decide on a performance, or we go to the video, or we're taking photographs--whatever, you buy the camera, you decide on...it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You've imagined all of that before you went ahead and followed through all the steps, and then you complete the work. So that all of the things that occur in material reality are just fallout. That's just fallout; that's the art on the material side, but there's already all the art on that imaginative, we can call it the sacred side, we can call it the spiritual side, okay? ...which a lot of the early native cultures, certainly, around the world, do. So the dream you find is the key in all of the early cultures, and is respected highly as a valuable creative experience, extremely valuable. Our is, and other very materialist cultures, are the ones that have denied all of that process, so we're really split off from our own creativity and our own art process. We think it's all out here, and everyone's suffering, you know, that they're not artists, or they'll go and pay unbelievable sums of money...that's the final collapse of one's creative process, of betrayal, I'd say the final, absolute betrayal of one's creative process is going out there and buying someone else's art.

So, within this whole issue of aesthetics, and art, and where it begins, and where it ends, where is the betrayal? Okay? To what extent is your art your vision quest? To what extent does it really serve to evolve you?...you know....mentally, physically, spiritually--to evolve you. That's the issue. Do you go outside yourself looking for art? How much of a desperate search is that? Outside yourself for art? I'm talking about just beyond your imagination. Never mind, "I can't draw. I can't paint. I don't know how to take photographs. I don't know how to use a video camera." Okay? But you do all that with your imagination. You do ALL of that.

The whole notion of art and where it's been and where it's going is part of the total picture of our losing touch with our, within a lot of our activities from day to day, and especially in art, but with, it's original ... sort of healing, if you will, a rejuvenating, connecting qualities that it had... I'm at the point now where it's not that important for me to go to a museum. I spend more time in a museum of natural history than I do in any museum of, so-called museum of modern contemporary art. I find that the museums of natural history--unfortunately, there's another problem there: a lot of the native cultures are asking for objects back, sacred objects. And they're beginning to be returned--as part of that authenticating of the native cultures and not all this objectification, but I've, my experience in museums of natural history have been much richer for me, much more exciting, than my experience in museums of modern and contemporary art...because of that connection that I see in the objects--understanding that they were part of a processional, performance, ritual process, that they weren't all of these fragmented objects unto themselves. So I make those connections, and I see in the objects themselves all of those connections.

There are myths that enchant and myths that disenchant. Okay? So it's not an issue of the existence or non-existence of myths, it's the kind of myth. Does it affirm life, your connection to yourself, other people, the planet as an affirmation of life? Or does it take you, does it separate you from other people, from yourself even, in your own anxiety about your survival, because the myth, then, is one of disenchantment. That's the myth. It's a very heavy, hard, patriarchal myth. It's...death is the important thing, you know, the proud death, the...however you want to create myth around death, the glory of death...the glory of death, rather than the glory of life and its affirmation in our sensitivity to nature and the planet as part of that affirmation.

About Raphael Ortiz