Tag Archives: What Then Must We Do?

What Then Must We Do ?
Solitude! If I must thee accept

There is a lot that could be said on the subject of solitude; my views on it, change every hour, suggesting, if I observe carefully, my reluctance with it, dread of it. It is like that, in my weakest moments, I imagine, as of a lamb having just realised, that it is being led to its slaughter, and which trembles and cries but in vain; its agitation is irrational, but it cannot see it. However splendidly supreme the acquiescing in it may be, in one’s loneliness, it is acquiescing nevertheless. This is the first picture I have made for which I find myself clouded in my mind to such an extent that words truly do fail me; producing anything less than tomes and tomes of the deepest poetry- the absolutely highest Romance, seems to be insufficient, lacking in the seething sharpness that is really felt. But whatever be the case, I am convinced, that it is prerequisite for many important things. All farthest-reaching significance can be achieved only by the true individual, who must not, never, despite everything, surrender truth for merely happiness. I’m afraid I can say nothing more at the moment, not because I have nothing to say, but rather too much, and not because I expect un-thought-out sympathy, but because I have begun to loathe it. It is only due to the last shreds of that delusion which sees art as a profession, I admit, left in me, that I make myself still public in this way, knowing in my more honest self, that it is not in fact much more than delaying what must be done. This, should be the last instance of such self inflicted humiliation; until I can see more clearly, there is no point in my sharing this pathological wallowing in melancholy. What has been seen, cannot be forgotten, but it can, I have faith, be transcended.

Featured image: Solitude! If I must thee accept (partial) by Arjun Jain

Medium: Watercolour on Paper
Year(s): 2016 (February)
Size: 56×37.5 cm

What Then Must We Do ?

It has been pointed out to me, by artists, that I give much more description of my work than is necessary, thereby decreasing its effect as work of art. And it has been pointed out to me, also, by non-artists, that description is just what is missing in most modern artwork; and, that they are being enabled to understand it, is a relief for them. From both of these I conclude that my work is weak in how it currently is. Compare with something like Dickens’ Christmas Carol or Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief or Van Gogh’s Wheat-field with Reaper or Breton’s Song of the Lark or much by the Peredvizniki group of artists. Ambiguity is rarely a defining quality of these works; what is really ambiguous is left ambiguous and not attempted to be clarified, and what is clearly unambiguous is not purposely made ambiguous to impress. My painting is inferior in so far as being a work of art it requires words at all to be explained. Admitting that however, I must proceed as I have been.

The title I originally intended to be ‘Philosophical Confusion’, however, just ‘Philosophy’ is preciser. For a person seriously concerned with it, it is not punctuated, with spells of confusion, but consists solely of it- and the often torturous need to overcome it.

Philosophical confusion- I have used that phrase in almost every serious conversation I have had since some time. Trials of ridding myself of it, is what marks my days and nights. The picture may best be described to an uncomprehending (through no fault of his own) viewer as follows: ‘You remind me of somebody who is looking out through a closed window and cannot explain to himself the strange movements of a passer-by. He cannot tell what sort of storm is raging out there or that this person might only be managing with difficulty to stay on his feet.’ But let me not describe much further; I hope through what conclusions I am presenting now, and with what I have written previously, the mood I hoped to convey, and the spirit in which the work was done, would be clearer. What I’ve been struggling with since so long to get into words, and which I hope to be able to conclude with this very expression, let me summarise as follows:

  • ‘Everything is what it is, and not another thing.’
  • ‘Am Anfang war die Tat’ (In the beginning was the deed)
  • ‘I am my world’
  • ‘To suffer without complaining is the one lesson that has to be learned in this life.’

The first is possibly the closest to what the picture mainly conveys, warns against. The second, is in a sentence, Manifesto Part #7. The third and fourth may need further explanation. ‘Idealism singles men out from the world as unique, solipsism singles me alone out, and at last I see that I too belong with the rest of the world. In this way idealism leads to realism if it is strictly thought out.’ An eye in a visual field, it is part of it, and yet everything is seen by it. An honest idealist, strives to change himself to change the world; an honest realist is led to nothing other than stoicism. And how many great men have there been, who are both stoics and who look within for faults they find in the world. The last, has primarily to do with Satyagraha. In the realm of affection, it can be summarised by saying that what ought to be sought is to be able to give, and not to be able to receive. ‘And this giving is not giving up, not being deprived, sacrificed. Also, it is not where giving without receiving is “being cheated”. It must not feel like an impoverishment; it is the highest expression of potency.’

Wittgenstein describes as a quality of every great work of art, it having in it, ‘a wild animal, tamed’.

Consider as a final elaboration of this, and of Manifesto Part #7, the third movement of Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. It is vulgar in its expression, and desperate; but necessarily so. It describes, exactly!, the wildness of the wild animal, restrained, striving to erupt into the open. A fracture in its cage, it has caught sight of.

Featured image: Philosophy by Arjun Jain

Medium: Watercolour on Paper
Year(s): 2016 (January)
Size: 56×75 cm

Ending video: Piano Sonata No.14 in C minor, Op. 27, No. 2, Movement 3, by Ludwig Van Beethoven, performed by Valentina Lisitsa.

Quotations are by Bishop Butler, Goethe (Faust, Vol II), Ludwig Wittgenstein,Van Gogh, Erich Fromm but the same have been expressed in multiple ways by multiple thinkers.

What Then Must We Do ?
The Tremble in the Soul of an Idealist

I decided, after reading through Walt Whitman’s Song of the Open Road for the fiftieth time in two days, that I just had to start making bigger works again- start working on my own ideas and not just go on doing studies. And this experiment of mine- to complete a picture in a day- entirely from imagination, with the condition that it had to be at least somewhat realistic, showed to me how far I am still in that respect. It is like my mind has transformed into that of a painter, but my hands haven’t.  Figure drawing in particular, when I draw purely from imagination, added with the complex compositional ideas that I come up with, I am utterly unable to handle with the degree of realism that I’d want. The laws of perspective too- my intuition has not yet become able enough in them. The work is in watercolour, and style-wise, may look like that of a child, of a child who has a great idea but is too impatient to work towards expressing it as best as he can. But of course, only practice is how he can improve. The circling prisoners in the high-hanging birdcage over the vast mustard field, and the officers and businessmen on the side, are after Van Gogh’s Prisoners’ Round (which itself was after Gustave Doré’s Newgate Exercise yard).

Here, I have tried to express the terrible inner conflict- the birth pangs- going on- absent at one moment, roaring the next- inside the mind of a person with high ideals; who having collected enough courage, is at the brink of breaking free and pledging allegiance to the truth, but pauses to reconsider.

The great works of art he has seen, the great books and poems he has read, the great philosophies of universal love he has thought through, all seem to be saying to him, ‘Come with us, do not be afraid. What we say, has been tried and tested by us, have faith. Jump. Stake everything on your values, take the plunge. You will not fall, we will catch you. Wings will erupt out of your sides and you will soar, high, high in the sky. We have spoken honestly, from the depths of our hearts! Have the strength to open your eyes; let the unimaginable glory you have hidden from yourself all this while flood them. This is how we all really ought to live.’

But just then, when he’s about to jump, ‘escape’ from his prison of lies and hypocrisy and thoughtlessness, he is struck by doubt again. Familiar faces, and his own stale, over-employed thoughts begin to vex him. ‘Practical’, ‘real’- these words annoy him when they come out of another person’s mouth; because he knows what he will be reminded of. That he may fall. That he may fail. ‘Granted that  life is meaningless here, and according to you, false and dull’, he is told, ‘ at least, every one here believes it to be as it is, and considers himself fortunate to have so much comfort and convenience all around him’. ‘What will you gain by going against everyone? Nothing. You will lose. You are deluded. Do you not want to be loved and respected by us? Like the rest of us? Why would you ever want to leave all that humanity has achieved- the heights to which we have risen in all these centuries? Do not be a fool! Look at how well your friends and family have done. Come back to your senses! Step back before you injure yourself.’

Still, the man waits- he cannot retreat now, he has so often been lead astray with such arguments- and tries to reorient himself. There are vast fields, fresh cool air, loving creatures full of life that await him, that call out to him. Yet, it is difficult to remain calm among all the discouraging chatter of the living but dead machine people behind him, bleating, one behind another, to the bang of a gunshot or the ruffle of banknotes. He cannot stay with them any longer; he would have liked to help them directly, but he has realised, that only by example can he make them understand. He must not get scared he says to says to himself. ‘There is much to be learnt; and I admit, I may be wrong, but I am willing to take all responsibility. And I have thought carefully, my decision is not based on a whim. Really, there is no other way now.’, he says to himself. The man might wait a little longer, but he has made up his mind. It is his own decision; he will jump.

What Then Must We Do ?
Cotton Fields at Sunset

I lose myself sometimes, in fields of some sort, cotton I imagine, at sunset. A familiar kind of fear overwhelms me, and temporarily at least, I am filled with seemingly incurable doubt. But I then see, if even after some  while, that the cotton field in which I find myself is really quite exquisitely beautiful; it is only that it is night right then. Morning will surely come, as it always does, and smoldering white brilliance will abound.

For I wander lonely as a cloud
That floats on low over gullies and knolls,
When all at once I see a crowd,
A host, of snow-white cotton bolls;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretch in never-ending line
Along the margin of a day:
The billion see I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them sway; but they
Out-do the sparkling waves in glee:
An artist could not but jump with joy,
In such a cheer-filled company:
I gaze and gaze but little thinking
What wealth the show to me was bringing:

For as now, when on my bed I lie
In vacant and in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with courage rolls,
And dances with the cotton bolls.

-I wandered Lonely as a Cloud by the late great William Wordsworth, adapted

Featured Image:  Cotton Fields at sunset (partial) by Arjun Jain

If you’d like to see the work in person, kindly check the upcoming page for a listing of future exhibitions. Shown above is only a fraction of the complete composition.

Also, If you’d like to buy them, prints are available here.