2 May 2017



(Illustration by Franz von Byrons)

Many years ago, I remember coming across an old Chinese proverb that stated:

"An artist does not paint what he creates, he painted the forces that created it."

I have never since been able to trace the origins of this quote, however, it's message immediately resonated with my own predispositions concerning the underlying properties of creation.  By natural extension, a large part of my own project's intellectual exercise is directed towards exploring the more esoteric effectivities of art and imagery in general; these very real yet understated effects of visual communication that too often, are relegated beneath unnecessary layers of mundane abstraction and limp conceptualisation. 
This mission stemmed from a genuine and inquisitive longing to become more fully conscientious surrounding the systems through which my art possessed its power, and secondarily, to transfer that understanding into the embellishment of my own creative system.  I think that this quote speaks both directly to the nature of my project and to this meditation on Decadence.

It may seem odd to some, who would have expected an immediate dive into the historical aspect of the Decadent movement, to be presented with such an esoteric introduction as this.  However, without such an unusual provocation, the expanded material in the later segments will not flower in their appropriate context because the emergence of Decadence is predicated upon such peculiar concerns.  This is not going to be a mere foray through art history; it will aim to be a comprehensive analysis that uses all relevant subjects as part of a wider contextual meditation on the subject of European Decadence.  

By the time that we are over, I aim for the reader to not only understand Decadence in its specific historical and creative contexts but also, the supporting biological and psychological accounts about how we, as organisms relate to the sensuality of experience, and potentially, where that can take us in our ongoing conversation about art and creativity.

Images and men are of the same phenotype.  There is a life of activity that surrounds images as there is a life of activity beneath the surface of the flesh.  This extra life this not there in a literal sense, it exists as an extension of the human bodies' psychic and energetic life that is projected into the visual form itself.  This is what gives imagery its potency; its 'charge' if you will.  The power of art seems to radiate from the image because it is actually radiating from within ourselves.  Visual art is an activator of the bodies' sensual imagery, and the human body is both the battery and conceptual vessel that gives the imagery its vitality and force.  

Images are formed out of the hidden forces of the flesh, and it is those forces - and not solely the individual - that are the true custodians and generators of its psychoactive power.

It is this 'extra life' that makes images such interesting topics of conversation.  We are naturally motivated to communicate about things that have strongly affected us, and man-made images are some of the most potent sources of instigative effect to provoke such conversations into being.  Through talking about images we clarify our position to them and aim to understand - in the best way that we know how - the nature of their forms and the effects that radiate from our communion with them.  

There is another consequence of this, however.  I do not feel as though I am the only one to realise how many contemporary conversations about art have become exhausting.  It has emerged out of an organic impulse to linguify our interactions with phenomenal forms as mentioned earlier, and this action, unfortunately, has become contaminated through untrammelled intellectual hyperbole. This contamination of our language surrounding art largely stems from an academic devolution that mistakes convolution with authenticity.  In the attempt to sabotage our instinctive relationship to visual forms, the academics have smothered them with words, until the pregnant spirit that gave the images their true voice becomes buried beneath layers of overbearing theory.  

The never-ending drive for intellectual satisfaction has unfolded to the detriment of our appreciation of art as a sensory subject.  This unchecked proclivity of the intellectuals has been left to fester for so long that it has turned many away from talking about art altogether, viewing it as a subject best left for the academics and not for tastes or interests of the common man.  This has been a great disservice to our culture.  Many lay people now behave as if elaborate analysis and art now naturally exist as part of the same deal and this both repels and confuses them.

I suggest that it confuses them because, on the rawest level, they intuit that a profusion of analytics contradicts the natural and instinctive appreciation of imagery, a sensual appreciation that has little to do with language at all and operates before the activation of the abstract faculties in the prefrontal cortex.  The sensory organs predate the cerebral faculties of the organism by millions of years and they have had significantly more time to integrate and sharpen their performance, so it is no wonder that they appear more prevalently in matters of subject-sensory interface.  However, due to this academic interference, the sensory aspect of art has been displaced to a secondary position, and it is now the cerebral subject that marks the primacy of the sensuous form and is elevated as the lapel of an image's validity.  Another organic module of the human spirit usurped in the name of "progress."

This difficulty in reconciling art to the human intelligence is due to our over-reliance on language to access its essence, in negligence to the potent powers that are in effect beneath the obstructing cacophony of words.

This is hardly a surprising problem for such multifaceted creatures as ourselves.  Our journey to integrate the primordial and higher mammalian portions of our organism have not been sufficiently worked out, and as such, there is a conflict of perceptions.  On the one hand, we are always possessed by the sensorial communion with the phenomenal world as rendered by the older, integrated powers of our organism.  And on the other, our sensorial appreciation of reality is complemented by the less integrated. yet incredibly beneficial younger talents that take the sensory element and abstract it out into multiple analogues of analysis.  And it is this 'conversation' between the animal and human parts of our organism that finds its way into our conversations about imagery.

We feel the impulse to wrap the world in words so as to attain a fragment of its life within our own intelligence; and in doing so, we remove some of the primordial anxiety that comes from not understanding something that could be within our grasp.  However, the drawback to this is that we potentially alienate ourselves from our primal selves: the more instinctive and viscerally motivated aspects of our being that communes with the world in a pre-linguistic manner.  We never seem to be able to simply appreciate the form of a creative subject before flying off into some cerebral adventure where the visual voice of the art is almost left behind.  

Granted, certain manifestations of art may have been conceived to provoke precisely an intellectual response, and it would be a mistake to think that I am positioning this entry as an anti-intellectual treatment, but I think that we can all understand, to some degree, the dangers of getting ahead of ourselves before we have addressed the appropriate and immediate manner to handle a situation.  If we fail in getting the first instances of our relationship right, then all else might be sullied by the mark that initiation.

The world speaks to us in a thousand voices and it is this fact that seems to have become lost in translation as we eagerly employed the talents of our cerebral intellect to the creative subject only to have drifted further and further away from its source of origin.  This complicated relationship between sense and subject is the basis of this inquiry into a specific chapter of art history and the artistic responses that arose out of the cultural conditions of late Victorian society.


  1. Anonymous08 May, 2017

    Looking forward for more of this.

    1. It is a three part series. The next one will be uploaded this Thursday.