One of the essential topics of conversation between Keith Haring and me was the idea that art is a quest for meaning. Without a sense of meaning, human endeavor – especially so, art – is an exercise in emptiness. It is the pursuit of meaning alone, that imbues action and intent with import.
Keith understood his cryptic symbols to be more than ciphers. He knew they contained seeds of meaning which, when combined and interrelated, were suffused with revelatory potential. My own artworks, Keith’s, and those of thousands of artists whose work can be called “visionary,” are vessels, vehicles for meaning.
What then, is the underlying meaning of visionary art? I have discussed this topic with Allen Ginsberg, Tuli Kupferberg, Gallway Kinnell, Howard Nelson, H.T. Harrison, Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, Robert Pincus-Witten, Robert Irwin, Robert Hudson, S. Clay Wilson, Dave Sheridan, Gilbert Shelton, Robert Rauschenberg, Vito Acconci, Roy Ascott, Robert Berlind, James Carroll – numerous friends and colleagues – and I discussed it at length with Keith. In a few words, the meaning of visionary art – and by extension all art – has to do with a revolution of human consciousness.
Artists focus upon the act of “seeing.” In so doing, it becomes clear that in our natural state we humans do not see clearly at all. We are so easily fooled by our senses and we so misinterpret what our senses deliver that we can be said to be blind far more than we are sighted.
Keith and I spent hours discussing the illusory nature of the world, the mind and the senses. And these discussions were centered upon art and the artist’s potential to reveal what is hidden by the illusion.
Practicing the discipline and expending the effort to see more clearly brings artists to a point where art exists as an antidote for faulty perception and cognition. After all, “seeing” conveys both perceptual and cognitive meanings. For visionary artists, achieving higher levels of consciousness becomes the ultimate reason for being, doing, and making art.
I will be pursuing the idea of an aesthetics of consciousness revolution in coming ARTology entries. For now, I will close with the first drawing of mine that I showed Keith. Even though I met him almost a decade after I had completed the piece – and my work had changed considerably – I chose to introduce him to my very early work, and showed him this drawing first:
First Image: Keith Haring and LA2, Mural installation (detail), Philadelphia ICA, 1983; photo by TFD.
Second Image: Tullio Francesco DeSantis, “The Entire Universe in a State of Supreme Contraction,” ink drawing, 1972.