1. “Freedom, Fear, Faith”.  A sculpture based upon the symbol of the triskelion, and the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard

 

The triskelion motif consisting in three connected spiral forms, is as beautiful today as it was thousands of years ago.  It seems to me that its symbolism is still significant and useful to us nowadays and wonderfully fitting for an aspect of modern philosophy.

 

The triskelion has been a symbol with deep meaning for millennia.  It has been found, for example, on pre-Celtic remains in Ireland (dating 3,200BC) and on precious ceremonial Neolithic stone axes.  It is thought to have symbolised, for the Celts, their three realms:  the mortal world, the world of spirits, and the world of unseen energies.  It also symbolises:

 

Human development, personal growth and spiritual expansion;

Body, mind and spirit;

Creation, destruction and preservation;

Power, intellect and love.

 

Over the ages the triskelion has, furthermore, come to represent action, cycles, progress, revolution and competition and is also associated with mystery, intuition, the feminine, illumination, and hidden desire.  This makes it a perfect vehicle for the kind of abstract sculpture that I have had in mind for the past year or so partly because these qualities are important on more than one level.

 

Whilst staying in Switzerland last summer and whilst admiring the majestic panorama of  mountains from a balcony of a friend, it occurred to me that there was a striking parallel between some of the triskelion’s tri-partite symbolism (such as those of body, mind and spirit, or power, intellect and love) and aspects of the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish religious philosopher.

 

He believed that there are three states of being, the aesthetic (living according to appearances and pleasure), the ethical (living according to the dictates of morality), and the religious (total freedom due to a teleological suspension of the ethical – or going beyond the rules). [1]

 

My specific aim in this sculpture is to use the triskelion as a basis for representing man’s spiritual predicament described by Kierkegaard in his seminal work “Fear and Trembling”.  This predicament also has three parts and occurs as a person attempts to make the transition from the ethical to the religious state of being, and is very briefly as follows:

 

A person, having gone beyond the aesthetic and living in the ethical, firstly, fully realises his individuality and that he has total freedom.  This is represented in my sculpture as the largest spiral “Freedom”.  Secondly this causes him to experience unbearable dread (or “angst”) and is represented in the sculpture by the second largest spiral, “Fear”.  The only way out of this predicament is the third stage, a leap of faith.  Kierkegaard startlingly, but rightly, says that the sole object of faith is the absurd, as one can’t have faith in the rational since that would be knowledge; this is represented by the third spiral, “Faith” and is also why it turns in the opposite direction to the others.

 

Kierkegaard’s “Subjective Truth” and Art

There is a tendency to believe that realistic art is objective and that objectivity is better than subjectivity.  I suggest that ultimately these views are wrong.

 

Subjectivity is sometimes looked down upon as a “wishy washy” trait, ambiguous, feminine, unreliable, unscientific, and unimportant.  This is a mistake, as it constitutes a very significant part of all human reality.  Furthermore, the trait of ambiguity can, in the field of art, translate to mystery and be used to convey qualities such as intuition, the feminine, illumination, and hidden desire which are, as mentioned earlier, part of triskelion symbolism.

 

Philosophers, linguists and even scientists, have shown us that true objectivity is problematical.  The idea that we can describe or even just observe the world without putting something of ourselves “into the mix” is ultimately not possible.[2]  Similarly, one cannot be completely objective in portraying things in art.  For example, a camera, which is supposed to be objective, must be pointed at one thing to the exclusion of another and the precise framing of the shot and choice of settings, can greatly affect the mood of the image.[3]

 

This is where Kierkegaard is again useful to us, as he elegantly sidesteps the problem.  He is more interested in the “how” rather than the “what”.  For example, lengthy accounts of what is the self are not important to him, rather, how does the self respond to situations and especially how does it relate to itself.  He claimed that the real battle is in taking a stance, in the deciding.  Thus being “true to oneself”.  He was concerned only in what he called “subjective truth”.  We are what we decide.  We are what we do.  Thus our actions define us more accurately than anything we say or that is said about us.

 

Kierkegaard teaches us that it is our internal reality that counts, our response to our surroundings; just as in every day life, it is not situations that are stressful but it is how we respond to those situations that determines how much stress we feel.

 

Similarly, I suggest, that in the world of art, when we look at an abstract sculpture it is not so important to know what it is that we are looking at, but to feel what it does to us.  Does it move us or is it vacuous?  Does it cause us to feel unclean or is it uplifting?  Is it powerful and moving?  Are we intrigued?

 

One may ask why should I explain the thinking behind the “Freedom, Fear, Faith” sculpture to then say that it is not important to know what it is that we are looking at?  This is not a contradiction, however, since this verbal expression of the ideas is merely a supplement to the main expression which is the sculpture, and probably has no bearing on whether the sculpture is enjoyed or not.

 

 

 

Conclusion

Other than Blake and to some extent Da Vinci, I am not aware of visual artists making many connections between art and philosophy.  I think, however, that I am justified in trying to point out that there is or can be, a strong connection between the two and that this also has relevance to everyday life.

 

The important qualities that the triskelion represents have been denigrated and ousted by the western world’s obsession with reason and science and I believe their value, therefore, needs to be brought to light.

 

There appears to be a striking parallel between the triskelion and some of the ideas of Kierkegaard.  If his philosophy seems esoteric and obscure, which it does, that is because some truths are not readily accessible to the intellect and to reason.  However, since there are other forms of expression such as art, that use neither words nor intellect, but speak directly to us, I hope to use it as a vehicle to express something of what he was describing.

 

It seems that the triskelion motif is a small “chunk” of universal truth, the importance of the qualities that it represents have endured over the ages.  We can recognise truth from different historical periods, different religions, and cultures, whether ancient or modern, Celtic or Christian.  Truth cannot be pinned down to one point, it is universal.  According to Gandhi (and, incidentally, echoed in the recent film “The Life of Pi”) “all religions are true”.

 

My father used to say that the truth is like a beautiful crystal ball that got broken.  Ever since, men have been finding  individual shards and saying “Behold I have the truth.”  Each shard being different from the others and each man disagreeing with the next, without realising that they each only hold a fragment and that all truth is one.

 

 

2. Abstract Art and Modern Life

I wish to show that simplification is important and helpful to the art lover and in everyday life.

 

When a sculpture is based on simple shapes or is stylised it causes us to focus on significant aspects such as mass, proportion, balance and line.  We are not distracted by detailing.  Some detailing, of course, is usually necessary, as without it a sculpture risks being clumsy or boring.  Thus in simplification, the artist is asking us to focus on the subject’s deeper, subtler and more important truths.

 

We are made aware of the power of these truths when we are appreciating a Brancusi sculpture, marvelling in the Royal Academy at the beauty of a recently discovered Greek bronze, the key to whose harmony lies largely in the perfect simplification of its anatomy, or being riveted by Picasso’s ruthless deconstruction of a female figure into simple geometric shapes.  Thus simplification in art can be a blessing and a benefit.  It can be too, in day-to-day modern life.

 

In an age awash with information, where we have as much trouble choosing a breakfast cereal that won’t kill us as we do in sorting out the pseudo lies of mobile phone tariffs and where we are just as confused as to whether it is better to buy fair trade products or else local produce, to just have more information does not help.  We need to filter, to simplify, that information.

 

To simplify our lifestyles, enables us to see the more important truths of living.  For example, one way of doing this is to spend less time in front of the television and computer.  The loss of pleasure from not seeing the latest shows, news or Facebook postings will be more than compensated for, by the wellbeing gained from more rewarding pursuits such as actual interaction with family and friends, reading books and outdoor activities.

 

Another way to simplify, is to buy fewer things and less food (I am told that we throw away over one third of the food we buy and a staggering 99% of all we buy within six months![4]).  This will reduce both clutter and fat!  An ancient Egyptian saying states that we live off one third of what we eat and that the doctors live off the other two thirds.  A simpler lifestyle promotes wellbeing as well as consuming less of the planet’s resources.

 

In other words, we should not squander our energy on things that don’t really matter but focus our attention on those that do.  Or as the maverick contemporary philosopher Rick Roderick said “Don’t sweat the small stuff!”[5]

 

Conclusion

Simplification in art causes us to focus on the more important aspects of the subject.  Simplification in lifestyle causes us to appreciate the things that matter most.   Perhaps a subconscious realisation of the latter, makes us appreciate the former and, maybe, also visa versa.


[1] It should be noted that these ideas have been considered both unorthodox and controversial.

[2] In science, light can be either a wave or a particle, but it cannot be both at the same time, it depends on what one chooses to measure.  Thus the nature of light depends on us, or, the nature of light is our relationship to it!  In Linguistics, words cannot be completely objective as each word contains a package of meanings specific to culture, gender, religion and even to specific individuals.

[3] Also when we look at an etching or painting by Rembrandt, although we feel a genuine attempt at objectivity and a suspension of judgement, I suggest his work is as much, or more, about inner truth as it is about external accuracy.

[4] This is partly based upon figures for the U.S. but there is no reason to believe we are significantly behind them.  Please see the excellent video “The Story of Stuff” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLBE5QAYXp8

[5] Please see the funny yet profound Rick Roderick series of videos eg.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AILpwUTPRGQ

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