Dionysian Artists?

Last chat was cool as it dealt with things that I’m interested in, especially visual arts. One of the questions, as far as I understand, is what are the criterias that must be met before considering artists as a challenging force of Dionysus?
It is easy to place performers, musicians and dancers into this idea as both sound and dance can be evoked subconsciously. However I started to strain when thinking of visual artists. I suppose the nature of art is a little more constricting in that as it is not necessarily a movement or a sound but a manipulation of a physical particles. Depending on the artist this requires some discipline in both producing the artwork and also thinking about it.
For myself I find making art to be a series of micro decisions. At the start of painting it always starts off with questions, what to do, what colour, what brush, what direction? But when brush goes onto canvas the world melts away and time disappears. In the act of creating I find my mind open to a vast scope of my life and the universe, I think of childhood memories, of people long forgotten and future plans. Then sometimes, if I’m working real hard, this creature I call the genius comes into my mind. It is neither benevolent nor malevolent, but it can be a serious mind fuck, evoking fears, passions, desires and epiphanies often abstract nonsensical feelings that simulate like a physical weight being placed on the shoulders. It can be physically, emotionally and mentally draining and I suspect that this is why there is a stereotype of the mad artist, (apart from using chemicals in producing art that are known to increase insanity.((Often accompanied with other chemicals too))
With that in mind I suppose it’s easy to make a list of Dionysian visual artists, so why is it challenging for me? Well I suppose it’s trying to work out the definition.
What I think is important is – passion, pain and integrity.
This still leaves it very open, so I guess it’s safer to say that this is just my opinion. I focused on five artists, in no particular order, who I feel worthy of respect within our pantheon of heroes and although I consider them household names its good for a start. Perhaps I’ll do a series that will include lesser names? We’ll see 🙂

Vincent Van Gogh

For well over one hundred years, poor Vincent has been raped by every art historian and curator there is. Many outsiders consider him to be an overhyped artist, at one time myself included. That is until I saw his Starry Night (Starry Night Over the Rhone) for the first time. I actually did not expect to see it at the show but there it was. I was seriously paralysed by its power,  a chill came up my spine and I stood transfixed looking at the painting for half an hour. It is not just the application of paint that is amazing but the Ka that Vincent put into his art, I could actually feel his presence in the painting. Also apart from leaving a large amount of paintings, Van Gogh also left behind a large collection of beautiful words. I’m always so envious of the lost art of writing letters when reading the Letters between Vincent and Theo.
1024px-Starry_Night_Over_the_Rhone“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.”

“Painting is a faith, and it imposes the duty to disregard public opinion.”

“I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.”

“It is not the language of painters but the language of nature which one should listen to. . . . The feeling for the things themselves, for reality, is more important than the feeling for pictures.”

“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.

That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion.

Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”

Frida_Kahlo_(self_portrait)

Frida Kahlo

It’s almost laughable reading artistic statements by contemporary artists, they often talk about pain and sexual issues, empathising with Frida and the pain she suffered. HAH! Kahlo is someone that suffered terribly in her life but always managed to find beauty and colour. She encompassed many Dionysian elements in not just her physical appearance and sexuality but love for the natural world even within the confines of  her bed. The passion she held for life is embodied in her artwork. While her counterpart, Diego Rivera, could easily fall into the my definitions I always felt that Kahlo was far more honest about her passion.

“A little while ago, not much more than a few days ago, I was a child who went about in a world of colors, of hard and tangible forms. Everything was mysterious and something was hidden, guessing what it was was a game for me. If you knew how terrible it is to know suddenly, as if a bolt of lightning elucidated the earth. Now I live in a painful planet, transparent as ice; but it is as if I had learned everything at once in seconds.”

MichelangeloMichelangelo-Christ

In my opinion Michelangelo deserves his epithet of Il Divino “the divine one.”  If there is any artist worthy of worship within our pantheon – he is the one! Michelangelo established the aesthetics of modern human form, pose and lighting from Hellenistic inspiration (something he knew intimately, proven: by his accurate prediction of the arm of Laocoon.) Apart from that he did not allow his clients or faith to get in the way of his art. When commissioned by one of his first patrons, cardinal Raffaele Riario, it is rumoured he produced an obscene statue of Bacchus as a “fuck you!” Percy Shelly describes the sculpture as: “It looks drunken, brutal, and narrow-minded, and has an expression of dissoluteness the most revolting.”

Another controversial sculpture is Cristo Della Minerva (pictured), it is still consider his worst sculpture. Why? Because Michelangelo depicted Christ as being sexual. He designed it to fit into an enclave where Christ’s arse would be shown. It’s now been moved elsewhere, front facing, with a modest gold sash over his genitals, but if you see his arse its fucking sexy. Ironically, the intention of a nude Christ is to prove, “his [Christ] sexuality is uncorrupted by lust.” – Whatever…  for a bit of personal info, this sculpture actual helped me come to terms with my sexuality of faggotdom.

Moving on: It is often considered that the Sistine Chapel commission was given to Michelangelo by rivals to try and sabotage his reputation.  There are many myths, but it makes sense considering he was a sculptor with only rudimentary training of fresco. Yet Michelangelo took on the challenge and produced one of the most incredible pieces of art in human existence. While including different scenes of Genesis there are massive amounts of pagan symbolism, the sibyls, nude genie (Ignudo) and esoteric signs pointing towards paganism.
Following up the ceiling is The Last Judgement where Michelangelo placed his critics in hell and put his skin at the side of Christ. Wow.
That guy had balls! Big fat bull balls! Also his chaste nature fits that of Orpheus, along with his deeply personal poems in latter years.

Pablo Picasso

Picasso_al_carrer_de_Montcada_de_Barcelona On the other side of spectrum I have to say that I hate Picasso. I hate him as a person and hate most of his art. Admittedly, I do like his early work and the myth related stuff, but he is the cause of the decadent failing of art now. However he falls into my distinction as there is a sincerity in his art and also constant associations with Dionysus.  As a person he stood up against the Nazi and defiled social expectations with his multiple loves, was inspired and changed art through a fascination of masks and classism, also is identified with the bull.
In terms of art he revolutionised our understanding of what art is, aided in the establishment of the art market and turned the artists into art.

It might be difficult to understand, but even though this cunt brings a bad taste to my mouth. I am also finding myself worshiping a Spider and respecting the tyrant Pentheus who humiliated my god… I think Picasso should be on my list. (Plus he has good quotes!)

“This bull is a bull and this horse is a horse… If you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings it may be very true, but it is not my idea to give this meaning. What ideas and conclusions you have got I obtained too, but instinctively, unconsciously. I make the painting for the painting. I paint the objects for what they are.”

“Art is not made to decorate rooms. It is an offensive weapon in the defense against the enemy.”

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Francisco Goya

Another Spaniard, must be something to do with bullfighting? Or maybe it’s just that I have a drop of Spanish in me? Who knows? Goya is incredible artist, in that he was a court painter that *knew* the royal family personally and then produced the most terrible collections of images criticising the atrocities of war. After exile he lived as a recluse surrounding himself with nightmares designed only for himself until death.  This kind of sincerity validates his art because it was for no one but himself.  We will never know what these images mean, nor why he decided to surround himself with doom, but I believe they should be a good reminder of the pain that humans beings bring to themselves. To this extent it’s ironic that we spend so much time trying to escape nature’s cruelty only to inflict something far worst upon ourselves, it seems that Goya wanted to remind himself of that within the safety of the Quinta del Sordo. Goya_Tio_Paquete

I really feel that this article has been rushed, even though it’s taken me hours to write, I’d like to try and add some more to it in the future. Multiple forces coaxed me with the desire to write, for this piece it was the want to not negligent something I’m deeply part of. Music and dance rule in terms of immediate self-expression, but artists are creators of awe, a power that is universal in understanding revelations even for those uneducated or naive. In that sense it is the equaliser that Dionysus calls for.

All images are from Wikipedia under CC licence. All due respects to original creators.

Markos Gage (The Gargarean) — an Australian, Dionysian – Hellenic polytheist artist and writer.
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Email: markus.gage85 at gmail .com

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5 comments

  1. Just wanted to say, I didn’t read this right away but now that I finally sat down and took the time to, I’m glad I did. While I’m easily transported by [the act of] dancing and listening to music, I’m not well-versed in visual art or artists, so this gives me a foundation of appreciation for some of them. I’m not quite sure I have anything to add regarding what makes art or artists Dionysian, although I keep coming back to the idea of art as doorways or mirrors. Also, I’m pondering what you said about music and dance being about movement. Obviously people can be ‘moved’ by a piece of fixed art, but it seems like it takes a different kind of surrender to experience it, doesn’t it? Anyway, I think I’ll have a different perspective next time I go to the art museum, so thank you. 🙂

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