This website is under construction and was last modified on: 07 March 2011
The purpose of this website is to investigate the nature of Objective Art as defined by the twentieth century alchemist and Fourth Way master, G. I. Gurdjieff. To further illustrate what this means in the realm of the visual arts, I have selected nine works which may be examples of Objective Art. These works are accessed as follows:
G. I. Gurdjieff
Gurdjieff's Definition of Objective Art
Perhaps the best way to explain what Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff (ca. 1866 - 1949) meant by objective art is to use his own words. The following is an extract taken a book by from P. D. Ouspensky entitled In Search of the Miraculous (pages 295-297), the speaker is Gurdjieff:
You must first of all remember that there are two kinds of art, one quite different from the other -- objective art and subjective art. All that you know, all that you call art, is subjective art, that is, something that I do not call art at all because it is only objective art that I call art.
To define what I call objective art is difficult first of all because you ascribe to subjective art the characteristics of objective art, and secondly because when you happen upon objective works of art you take them as being on the same level as subjective works of art.
I will try to make my idea clear. You say -- an artist creates. I say this only in connection with objective art. In relation to subjective art: that with him 'it is created.' You do not differentiate between these, but this is where the whole difference lies. Further you ascribe to subjective art an invariable action, that is you expect works of subjective art to have the same reaction on everybody. You think, for instance, that a funeral march should provoke in everyone sad and solemn thoughts and that any dance music, a komarinsky for instance, will provoke happy thoughts. But in actual fact this is not so at all. Everything depends upon association. If on a day that a great misfortune happens to me I hear some lively tune for the first time this tune will evoke in me sad and oppressive thoughts for my whole life afterwards. And if on a day when I am particularly happy I hear a sad tune, this tune will always evoke happy thoughts. And so with everything else.
The difference between objective art and subjective art is that in objective art the artist really does 'create,' that is he makes what he intended, he puts into his work whatever ideas and feelings he wants to put into it. And the action of this work upon men is absolutely definite; they will, of course each according to his own level, receive the same ideas and the same feelings that the artist wanted to transmit to them. There can be nothing accidental either in the creation or in the impressions of objective art.
In subjective art everything is accidental. The artist, as I have already said, does not create; with him 'it creates itself.' This means that he is in the power of ideas, thoughts, and moods which he himself does not understand and over which he has no control whatever. They rule him and they express themselves in one form or another. And when they have accidentally taken this or that form, this form just as accidentally produces on man this or that action according to his mood, tastes, habits, the nature of the hypnosis under which he lives, and so on. There is nothing invariable; nothing is definite here. In objective art there is nothing indefinite. ... I measure the merit of art by its consciousness and you measure it by its unconsciousness . We cannot understand one another. A work of objective art ought to be a book as you call it; the only difference is that the artist transmits his ideas not directly through words or signs or hieroglyphs, but through certain feelings which he excites consciously and in an orderly way, knowing what he is doing and why he does it. ... principles must be understood. If you grasp the principles you will be able to answer these questions yourselves. But if you do not grasp them nothing that I may say will explain anything to you. It was exactly about this that it was said -- they will see with their eyes and will not perceive, they will hear with their ears and will not understand.
I will cite you one example only -- music. Objective music is all based on inner octaves. And it can obtain not only definite psychological results but definite physical results. There can be such music as would freeze water. There can be such music as would kill a man instantaneously. The Biblical legend of the destruction of the walls of Jericho by music is precisely a legend of objective music. Plain music, no matter of what kind, will not destroy walls, but objective music indeed can do so. And not only can it destroy but it can also build up. In the legend of Orpheus there are hints of objective music, for Orpheus used to impart knowledge by music. Snake charmers' music in the East is an approach to objective music, of course very primitive. Very often it is simply one note which is long drawn out, rising and falling only very little; but in this single note 'inner octaves' are going on all the time and melodies of 'inner octaves' which are inaudible to the ears but felt by the emotional center. And the snake hears this music or, more strictly speaking, he feels it, and he obeys it. The same music, only a little more complicated, and men would obey it.
So you see that art is not merely a language but something much bigger. And if you connect what I have just said with what I said earlier about the different levels of man's being, you will understand what is said about art. Mechanical humanity consists of men number one, number two, and number three and they, of course, can have subjective art only. Objective art requires at least flashes of objective consciousness; in order to understand these flashes properly and to make proper use of them a great inner unity is necessary and a great control of oneself.
Gurdjieff's Circles of Awareness
Gurdjieff taught that all humans on Earth could be divided into four groups or concentric circles of awareness. The following extract, again from Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous (pages 310-311), provides Gurdjieff's explanation:
The humanity to which we belong, namely, the whole of historic and prehistoric humanity known to science and civilization, in reality constitutes only the outer circle of humanity, within which there are several other circles
So that we can imagine the whole of humanity, known as well as unknown to us, as consisting so to speak of several concentric circles.
The inner circle is called the ‘esoteric’; this circle consists of people who have attained the highest development possible for man, each one of whom possesses individuality in the fullest degree, that is to say, an indivisible ‘I,’ all forms of consciousness possible for man, full control over these states of consciousness, the whole of knowledge possible for man, and a free and independent will. They cannot perform actions opposed to their understanding or have an understanding which is not expressed by actions. At the same time there can be no discords among them, no differences of understanding. Therefore their activity is entirely coordinated and leads to one common aim without any kind of compulsion because it is based upon a common and identical understanding.
The next circle is called the ‘mesoteric’, that is to say, the middle. People who belong to this circle possess all the qualities possessed by the members of the esoteric circle with the sole difference that their knowledge is of a more theoretical character. This refers, of course, to knowledge of a cosmic character. They know and understand many things which have not yet found expression in their actions. They know more than they do. But their understanding is precisely as exact as, and therefore precisely identical with, the understanding of the people of the esoteric circle. Between them there can be no discord, there can be no misunderstanding. One understands in the way they all understand, and all understand in the way one understands. But as was said before, this understanding compared with the understanding of the esoteric circle is somewhat more theoretical.
The third circle is called the ‘exoteric', that is, the outer, because it is the outer circle of the inner part of humanity. The people who belong to this circle possess much of that which belongs to people of the esoteric and mesoteric circles but their cosmic knowledge is of a more philosophical character, that is to say, it is more abstract than the knowledge of the mesoteric circle. A member of the mesoteric circle calculates, a member of the exoteric circle contemplates. Their understanding may not be expressed in actions. But there cannot be differences in understanding between them. What one understands all the others understand.
In literature which acknowledges the existence of esotericism, humanity is usually divided into two circles only and the ‘exoteric circle’ as opposed to the ‘esoteric,’ is called ordinary life. In reality, as we see, the ‘exoteric circle’ is something very far from us and very high. For ordinary man this is already ‘esotericism.’
The outer circle’ is the circle of mechanical humanity to which we belong and which alone we know. The first sign of this circle is that among people who belong to it there is not and there cannot be a common understanding. Everybody understands in his own way and all differently. This circle is sometimes called the circle of the ‘confusion of tongues,’ that is, the circle in which each one speaks in his own particular language, where no one understands another and takes no trouble to be understood. In this circle mutual understanding between people is impossible excepting in rare exceptional moments or in matters having no great significance, and which are confined to the limits of the given being. If people belonging to this circle become conscious of this general lack of understanding and acquire a desire to understand and to be understood, then it means they have an unconscious tendency towards the inner circle because mutual understanding begins only in the exoteric circle and is possible only there. But the consciousness of the lack of understanding usually comes to people in an altogether different form.
Symbolique Art of R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz
R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz as a young man
Another twentieth century alchemist and master of things esoteric was a Frenchman named René Adolphe Schwaller de Lubicz (1887-1961), who was also known by his hermetic name of "Aor" (light). He devoted most of his early life to the study of European occult systems and also spent 15 years in Egypt studying the art and architecture of Pharaonic Egypt. To de Lubicz, the words "symbolique" and "symbol" communicate two entirely different concepts. While not an exact match, I believe that the "symbolique" kind of art corresponds with Gurdjieff's "objective" art. In his book entitled Sacred Science ( page 120), de Lubicz tells us the following:
The symbolique includes imaged writing as well as gestures and colors, all aimed at transcribing in a functional manner the esoteric significance of a teaching whose inner meaning remains inexpressible by any other form. “Symbolique” and “esoterism” are two words not often correctly understood. What can be said clearly and described objectively has no need of symbol. What is visible, tangible, or objective, however, can hold an irrational or an esoteric idea. This aspect of the object demands a symbol which can sometimes be replaced by parable.
Irrationality is not to be understood here in the mathematical sense, as for example, the “root of two,” or the number corresponding to the coefficient pi. These are numbers that never find their term, fulfilling only a geometric function: the diagonal of a square and the diameter of the circle; they are only mathematically indefinable. This is not esotericism, nor does it contain an inner meaning such as intuition alone can apprehend.
The situation is different when one speaks of the original “Trinity,” of the “divine Trinity”; Catholic dogma says “Three persons in One,” which is also irrational and unimaginable, an abstraction which the triangle can symbolize. Here there is symbolique. It pertains to an unobjectifiable fact and a creative function at the same time. Hermetic art often and in different forms evokes this original state, more especially by the word “chaos.” It can therefore be said that the symbolique is the means of evoking the intuition of a function which eludes rationalization; it therefore applies only to theogony, to theology, to sacred science, in fine, to knowledge of a world of causes.
C. G. Jung's Theory of Archetypes and the Visual Arts
C. G. Jung in about 1955
The famed psychologist and twentieth century alchemist, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), theorized that the human mind consists of three parts:
1) the Ego or ordinary conscious self;
2) the Personal Unconscious; and
3) the Collective Unconscious.
The Ego contains most of the sensory experiences that an individual has acquired in his or her life. The Personal Unconscious contains certain, frequently unpleasant, sensory experiences that an individual has acquired but has forgotten or repressed. At a deeper level, the Collective Unconscious is the master data bank of all our experiences as a biological entity, i.e., innate knowledge (noumena) that is potentially accessible to all humans. In my view, Jung's Collective Unconscious is very similar to Plato's concept of the "World Soul." Our conscious self (Ego) is not directly aware of the Collective Unconscious, but it influences the Ego's sensory experience and behavior. We only know about the Collective Unconscious indirectly, by looking at it's influence on our perceptions and behavior. Within the Collective Unconscious, major concepts are called archetypes and minor concepts are called symbols.
An archetype is an unlearned tendency to experience things in a certain way. The archetype has no form of its own, but acts as an organizing principle on the things we see or do. The archetype may be compared to the "black hole" concept of the astronomers. You never see it, but you know it's there by the absence of matter and light in its vicinity.
Jung believed that some of the most complex archetypes could be found in the mythological systems of the world's major religions. Towards the end of his life, Jung also concluded that the deepest levels of the Collective Unconscious function independently of the laws of space, time and causality. This is what gives rise to paranormal phenomena.
The Collective Unconscious communicates with the Ego (ordinary conscious self) through images (both symbols and archetypes); however, the Ego only communicates through natural language - both spoken and written. This communicational disconnect is the source of many human psychological problems.
Jung believed that the visual arts could become a link between the abstract archetypical realities of the Noumenal World and the sensory experiences of the Phenomenal World. Thus, from the Jungian perspective, the Objective Art described by Gurdjieff should be able to communicate visual metaphors from the inner reality of the Collective Unconscious. Through their craft, objective artists are able to bring the inner realities of the unconscious to the conscious mind, so that their meaning may be deciphered through appropriate introspective analysis.
I believe that, through appropriate techniques of "Fourth Way" self observation, it should be possible to use art to bring forward messages from our own unconscious. Using Jung's terminology, the main role of Objective Art is to help us understand the archetypical messages emanating from the Collective Unconscious.
In his essay Psychology and Literature (first published 1930), Jung states his position regarding the proper role of the artist:
The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is "man" in a higher sense - he is "collective man," a vehicle and molder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind. ...
The creative process, so far as we are able to follow it at all, consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image and elaborating and shaping the image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life. ...
Therein lies the social significance of art: It is constantly at work educating the spirit of the age, conjuring up the forms in which the age is more lacking. The unsatisfied yearning of the artist reaches back to the primordial image in the unconscious, which is best fitted to compensate the inadequacy and one-sidedness of the present. The artist seizes on this image and, in raising it from deepest unconsciousness, he brings it into relation with conscious values, thereby transforming it until it can be accepted by the minds of his contemporaries according to their powers.
I currently support twenty-two websites. Thirteen sites are related to philosophy and art and nine are related to genealogy and local history. Hyperlinks to these sites are shown below.
Philosophy and Art:
* Sites that are still under construction
Genealogy and Local History:
This project is being accomplished mainly as an intellectual exercise for my own personal amazement and amusement. Even so, the results of this study are being made available to anyone who may have similar interests via this web site. The essays appended to this site provide my interpretations of the works of art cited. These interpretations are entirely my own and I am solely responsible for any errors, whether objective or subjective, that may be found.
Copyright© 2006-2011 by Phil Norfleet
All Rights Reserved. Published in the United States of America. Essays provided at this web site, may be reproduced for nonprofit personal or educational use only. Any commercial use of these materials is a violation of United States copyright laws and is strictly prohibited.