Monthly Archives: February 2009

Consciousness Revolution



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.

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Time is Now



Our experience of time is sequential only if we choose to see it as a succession of separate moments – or if we are taught to see time in that way. Of course, we are all taught to see it in that way and it takes some doing to “untrain” ourselves to see it differently.

It is possible, and I think preferable, to experience and even comprehend what is called “time” as a continuum – a unified field comprising the whole of time and space as a singular instance of spacetime.

Common-sense notions of the present indicate an instant that exists independently from what we call “the past” and “the future.” While it is scientifically impossible to actually distinguish a measurable quantity of time that exists as a separate moment apart from the totality of spacetime, we continue to speak of “separate events” because the arbitrary divisions we create to mark specific intervals serve our material needs and desires.

But these arbitrary slices of spacetime also dislodge us from being fully aware of the totality of time. Because we hold on to it moment by moment, we create abstractions of experience – memories and so forth – in the present, polluting it with a sense of the past. We also project our experience forward into a future that, while it continually eludes us, becomes more and more a determiner of how we make decisions in the present.

To the extent that we are burdened by notions of the past and the future we lock ourselves out of experiencing the wonder, mystery, and fullness of time.

We are left to ponder the abstruse absurdities of ideas such as “where” we were before we were born, what happens “after” we die, and “the beginning” and “end” of the universe. Our experience of the present, of course, contains none of these things.


Image One: “Time is Now,” ink drawing, 2009, by Tullio Francesco DeSantis

Image Two: “Time is Now” (detail), ink drawing, 2009, by Tullio Francesco DeSantis

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Seeing that words, symbols – even thoughts themselves – are essentially mistranslations of what they are intended to represent is a first step in moving toward greater understanding. In other words, when the mind is focused upon itself and its inner workings it can comprehend the nature of its own malfunctioning.

Our experience is, above all, unified. The panoply of impressions the universe delivers to our consciousness is continuous in the dimensions of spacetime. It is the limitations of our language, symbols, concepts – our means of representation and expression – that separate us from experiencing the unity and connectedness which characterize our true relationship to the universe and each other.

Notice the world as it appears to our senses. It is one single thing with an infinite number of connections and interrelationships. At any one moment we experience a unified field of sensation, reflection, cognition, awareness. Our breath is a point of physical connection with the world. Energetic photons enter our eyes and stimulate our brains. The vibrations of sound fill the air and touch our ears. Our skin exists in exchange with the world. We are sensoria – vibrations of the spacetime symphony.

It is us and we are it.

Video: Alan Watts, A Conversation with Myself, Part 1.

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