Thursday, December 05, 2013

Sublime versus reason - Beauty in the unknown

From Ray Bradbury's preface to Two Thousand Leagues under the Sea by Jules Verne, he writes an essay comparing Melville's Ahab and Verne's Nemo - two explorers battling against the unknown of their worlds.

Fairweather, drawing on limestone paper

A contrast of man versus nature, of the sublime versus reason.
"Thinking maddens Ahab.

Thinking only half-maddens Nemo; more often enlivens and solves problems for him and others who inhabit Verne's literary worlds."

How do I rectify my own pull towards both? The allure of the sublime, the sheer joy at the overwhelming, and the concrete beauty of reason and science?

Shale Shadow, acrylic on canavs 150cm x 100cm

Perhaps I don't. Perhaps the lesson from Bradbury is to embrace both, and not forget either.
"Ahab's ship moves most of the time in nightmare.

Nemo's moves in kaleidoscopic wonders, in rainbow beauties of life thrown forth in multitudinous displays. Only man is nightmare, and Nemo has a better dream to give him as anodyne."

There is pleasure in the unknown. Images that try to disarm the viewer, to play with a sense of balance and scale, to become overwhelming. But a sense of the sublime only exists because we rely on knowledge - so as our mind tries to comprehend the view and find pieces of information to contextualise what we're seeing, it fails, and we're left in a rational abyss. But the abyss can also still be beautiful. The reminder of beauty can send us back to look and understand the physical landscape around us.

Starlight, acrylic on canvas 30cm x 30cm

See the coast paintings
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