COMMENTARY: Art and the Heart of Darkness

Thisman

Richard Bledsoe “This Man Has Enlarged My Mind” acrylic on canvas 14″ x 11″

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“All great and beautiful work has come of first gazing without shrinking into the darkness.”

-John Ruskin

Darkness exists not only externally as a physical absence of light, but also references the state of mystery that abides inside every person. Part of the task of the artist is to go into that inner darkness and bring its contents to light. To reveal the hidden lets us know ourselves, and each other, better.
Visionary analyst Carl Jung referred to this as the Shadow Aspect of ourselves. Darkness does not necessarily equal evil, but evil is part of the terrain we must navigate in there. There is something in us all that remains primitive and covetous, the old animal nature, snarling over its prey.
In one of my favorite books, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad took his own particular experiences working in the Belgian Congo and translated them into a universal exploration of the corruption of power.
His character of Kurtz was a great man gone wrong. He went into the jungle thinking he would bring enlightenment to the  savages. But like many a Classical playwright could have warned him, overestimation of one’s capacities leads to tragedy.  Hubris made Kurtz into the worst savage of all, a demon god demanding worship and tribute.
I’m very comfortable in my own shadowy depths. I see the dangers of it, but also the wonders contained therein. There is great vitality stored in there, forces beyond my own limited resources. It’s exhilarating.  In the Conrad book a ragged, youthful sailor  gushes about Kurtz, “This man has enlarged  my mind,” ignoring the poles festooned with severed heads of Kurtz’s victims all around him. Carried away with enthusiasm, he has lost all perspective.
But Kurtz himself, who unleashed those great capacities, who tried to live like he was above good and evil, can not avoid acknowledging the consequences of his own choices. He is left murmuring about “The horror” with his dying breaths, a confession of the life he sees flashing before his eyes-an admission of his ultimate failure.
Good intentions are not enough.
The ends do not justify the means.
I am humbled in the presence of the Shadow. I don’t make the mistake of believing its power is my own. I can accept the flaws it shows me I have. And as a artist, I can translate its secrets into a shared experience.
“Spiritual art is not about fairyland. It is about taking hold of the rough texture of life. It is about addressing the shadow and making friends with wild dogs. Spirituality is the awareness that everything in life is for a higher purpose.”
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8 thoughts on “COMMENTARY: Art and the Heart of Darkness

  1. Heart of Darkness is one of my favorite books, too. As you point out, great art shines a light on those areas of life that ignorance or pride refuses to see. Honest art takes wisdom, skill, and nerve.

  2. I’ll think of something very erudite to say eventually, but until then your article is right on.
    “He is left murmuring about “The horror” with his dying breaths” this is actually when Kurtz realized he was in a Conrad novel.

  3. I’m curious, a major character in some of your stuff is a larval like humanoid thingy like the one above behind the gut waving. What’s that about?

  4. “Unformed and monstrous ” Is it part of the character in the art, part of the artist, or exists on it’s own?

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