Category: artlog

Kwan Yin and the Sound of the World

‘Kwan Yin’ © 2018 Carlos Aleman



In the spring of 1984, Byzantine and Renaissance art was permanently searing itself into my subconscious as I visited church after church in Rome and Florence. My college overseas study program in Italy seemed like the logical and perhaps obligatory artist’s pilgrimage I needed to make.   At the time, I had very little interest in religion. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the saints and angels painted onto fresco or sculpted from marble. Of particular interest to me was the depiction of halos, as if the artists were somehow gifted with the ability to see auras or electrical coronal discharge like Kirlian photographers before there were cameras.


The shrines and temples I visited decades later in China and Japan reminded me of the saints and angels of my youth. The religious iconography was quite similar even to the extent of the revered and holy being honored with halos. Perhaps there is something poignant about humans portraying other humans as special or somehow enlightened with higher consciousness, namely one person’s recognition of another person’s wonder and magnificence.


Kwan Yin (or Guanyin) is an East Asian goddess of compassion and mercy. The name literally means ‘the one who perceives the sound of the world.’ As a Christian mystic, I’ve long been fascinated by Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and eastern thought, especially seeing and perceiving beyond labels and surface appearances. To me, Kwan Yin ultimately represents non-judgment and the ability to see another’s divinity and not their current psychological state or mental activity. Perhaps she serves as a reminder, to be kind to others, for despite our hard outer shells (arising from fear and suffering), within, the breath of God still lingers from our birth. If you can see such a halo in another person—the radiant light overflowing from within—you have gone beyond the noise and heard the faint sounds and murmurings of the world—the hidden world of people and their loves, passions, wounds, dreams, heartbreaks, joys and delights.








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This Crisis in the studio


Crisis, who? What crisis?


In the not so distant past, it seemed to me that most people were generally wired to participate as productive, responsible members of society with the exception of a few misfits that were often classified as artists, creative types or criminals.   This would be even more the case in an eastern, collectivist society in which people assume roles like tiny pieces of elaborate machinery. And of course, it must be noted that western individualism is the slightly more yang side to the collectivist yin. I think you’ve heard this all before.


However, technology is doing strange things to us. I can’t help but notice that people are processing—content, stories, media, life—faster, albeit with a considerable attention deficit, but leaving many feeling ill-suited to assume a role as a team player in a corporate cubical farm or any type of life devoid of self-expression. For those mercifully blessed with the ability to conform, patiently check all the boxes required to flourish in academia, industry and save money for retirement, life can be lived out in relative satisfaction, free from the claustrophobia a growing number of people feel, as square pegs are forced into round holes.


One might shrug and simply expect the robots and AI to eventually free humanity from the tedious, boring and practical, but the distress or contentment we feel says a lot about us.   This is a pivotal moment for our species as we reflect on what it means to be happy. The melancholy many inventors, artists and innovators have felt just prior to their breakthroughs has been referred to as a type of divine discontent. Misery can serve a purpose, but much emotional pain is a needless form of suffering.


So I ask, will the Internet and social media eventually make the masses so fed-up and despondent that geniuses will inhabit every corner of society like blades of grass? Will emotional imbalance be commonplace?   Will there be many van Goghs and Hemingways creating beautiful things and then taking their lives as their thoughts and emotions get the better of them? And what about fame? There might just be too many brilliant people in the near future for anyone to stand out or be honored or recognized. A future of sad, unappreciated amazing and talented people?


The greater question one might ask is how do we adapt to what technology is doing to our brains, to our human genome, the next generation?


Despite all of my phobias, father and mother issues, delusions of grandeur, psychological problems and all manner of foolishness, I’ve come to realize over the years that what the mystics, spiritual masters and gurus have been saying all along might be the perfect bypass for years of psychotherapy. Be content.


The longer version goes something like this:
If you no longer attach significance to so many things, you won’t value those things so much that you’ll be convinced that you need them. When you no longer want anything, you’ll no longer be a needy person. If you’re not needy, you won’t feel the need to be special or interesting, the need for friends, the need to search for some perceived missing piece of your life, or the insistence on fame and adoration.   You’ll essentially have achieved emotional freedom.


The ‘crisis’ can be averted. The artist can look at old photos of themselves in beautiful or exciting settings and not be ashamed of the person in the photograph, their minds, turbulent and desperately needing, wanting, desiring, and in essence, ruining the splendor of living. With the crisis resolved, there is only time to create, and not to waste a moment listening to the mind and all it’s negative attacks upon the ‘self’.


When you notice me, Carlos, you’re observing a walking, living, breathing crisis. That’s what I am, and I suspect most of us are. But beyond the shallow identity, the superstructure of the personality and all our psychological baggage is a happy person, filled with laughter and amazement at how crazy ‘I’ really am. This observation makes all the difference, when eliminating drama and realizing how much fun it is to create.