Now I am inside out, like a startled aquatic oddity. This is my only defense: no shell, no spines – just grotesque inversion and a silent wish. It’s my primal instinct, my second nature. Cold pressure embraces me as I descend, claustrophobic in my own skin. The weight of paradox finishes the job: I am forced inward, I expand outward.
This is easy to explain. It’s covered in countless textbooks, pamphlets and the literature accompanying certain medications. But understanding is prosaic; explanation is trite and easy. Endless equations and abstracts thick with Latinate ramblings – these are creature comforts only to b-movie brains residing in liquid-filled jars.
How can I take such terms and place them in your heart? Only that kiln can fire them, reducing words to ideas and refining ideas into feelings. This impossible alchemy is surprisingly commonplace. Every day, we sublimate desires into the ether – ripe fruit for the nearest receiver. We write a book of affect, blithely cramming unspoken meaning between the lines.
We think – no, rather… we convey, therefore we are. And by this means, we find so many ways of existing. But few of us can locate our clockwork souls. They are mysterious even as they create the wonders of form, gesture and quiet meaning that emanate from each of us.
Only a master can plan this. You must become an engineer. You must learn the ways of gears and springs. Even then, the magic is not assured. Art happens when ability fails to stifle intent. Then, everything floats. The perpetual motion machines are pulled from the stream of time, but they keep moving. You see them with unrefracted clarity, and you finally understand. Intricate pieces form a subtle gestalt that reflects the chemistry in our little hearths.
Yet, despite the expertise of the master and the engineer, this is instinct. To food, water and security, add ecstasy. This need fills the spaces between our heartbeats. We all want out, and our beauty, athleticism and charm attest to our solipsistic predicament – not a denial of reality, but recognition of its profusion, its plurality. We cannot ignore the many worlds around us, despite our dearest wishes. The market is flooded with personal cosmologies: nobody is buying, everybody is selling, and we all hope to at least share the burden of ownership.
A hapless muse lives in each of us. It’s there from the moment the natal apron string is snipped. We each incubate one deep inside ourselves. We feed our djinn the fruits of sensation and nurse them with unpasteurized desire; in return, they guide us toward a more profound sustenance. With their help, we digest experiences; we break down those meaningless molecules and reconfigure them inside ourselves – we reconfigure ourselves with them. And as we grow our muses grow, until we need to let them out from time to time.
But sometimes the muse can seem a harpy. What else would dig its talons so deeply into one’s flesh… so deeply that they pierce bone? Brittle shells easily crack and give way to angry, bloody marrow. Everything pithy is quickly brought to the surface, but expedience is accompanied by agony and horror. You’re thankful in spite of yourself. The beast will let go, but what will be left when it does?
This is a Modernist muse. Neither Greek nor Roman poets ever called upon this demigod. Though our creations often emanate from us in a manner resembling the old, revered rites, they are just as frequently ripped from our hearts and minds in spastic fits. The ancients took in reality and distilled it repeatedly until they found a perfect ideal. They surrounded themselves with this.
But the creators of Classicism got ahead of themselves and were left with ornate shadow puppets – gorgeous and elaborate masterpieces hamstrung by their own unattainable beauty. We moderns take in reality and relay the actual effect it has upon us, thereby laying a modest, but real, stepping stone toward attaining our own ideals.
But I wonder if this is any less mythical than the old benevolent fairy tales. When one’s inner ancient mind guides the trajectory of a paint splatter, is the product any less mythical than when that same bundle of nerves creates a world of magical gods? Untouchable reality married to material form always gives birth to mysticism.
Joy and sadness may seem self-evident in The Pieta, but no messianic story can entirely explain why we feel Mary’s sadness when we see her gently craned neck and her outstretched arms. A slight alteration might have destroyed this illusion. Similarly, a Rothko canvas is easy to explain superficially, but the beginning of an inner monologue is quietly, mysteriously woven into its proportions of color and texture.
These are markers on an evolutionary continuum. Classicism was the articulation of a contrived yet sublime reality. Expressionism was the desperate unloading of our hearts’ contents. Post-Modernism is a dazed eclecticism reconstructing reality in the wake of the cataclysmic twentieth century. Meanwhile, fresh cataclysms keep piling up.
Humanity’s soul continues to confront humanity’s reality, and we will always strive to externalize our internal lives. In this way, we can hold them at arm’s length. We can ponder them, view them from different angles and uncover their quickly-shifting meanings. This has always been a function of art, whether it concerns our consciences or our ideals.
Logic guides the hand of expression. Even when it is violent, emotional, abstract or formalistic, art puts crucial values into a contextual relationship with each other. We construct models of our emotional lives and test their validity.
Thus, the instinct for art and the instinct for science form one organic whole. The former orders and examines our inner worlds just as the latter does the outer world. Both are attempts to discover relationships amongst vital agents; both reveal how those relationships change when exposed to different contexts and stimuli. Both are disciplines of personal fulfillment which reach their greatest meaning as forms of communal experience.
 Psychology is science; it addresses our internal lives in terms of physical realities and external abstractions. This is good and useful, but unlike art, psychology does not attempt to engage that eternal mystery we call the soul.