Sunday, August 28, 2011

New Work and Immortality

Centerfold 1, mixed media with encaustic, oil paint and cold wax, 30"x30"x1.5", 2011

Centerfold 2, mixed media with encaustic, oil paint and cold wax, 30"x30"x1.5", 2011

Here are some other new pieces that I have been working on. The center rectangles are patinated copper and my usual horizontal elements have been overpainted with oil and cold wax medium. (Yes the encaustic was fused before the oil paint mixture was added.)

These pieces are related to the Building Blocks series (see my website) but take it a couple of steps beyond.

Notes on Immortality
Today, because of the enforced couch time brought on by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, I actually got to read the Sunday NY Times. I haven't done that for quite a while. One of the articles, by Stephen Cave, contained excerpts from his forthcoming book, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization. His premise is that the quest for immortality is "the motor of civilization" and that without our constant striving to be immortal, civilization would cease to function. This, he claims, has been proven by scientific research.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The original research study that he cites records the difference in subsequent actions by two groups: one group reminded of their mortality before the subsequent test (Hey, dumbo, you're gonna die) and the other given the same test but without the warning. (They didn't really say the "Hey, dumbo" part.) The two groups were composed of "court judges" (to distinguish them from Judge Judies?) from Tucson. So the test was that they had to rule on a hypothetical case of prostitution, and the result was that the group who had been reminded set a higher bond on the prostitutes than those who hadn't.

The results of this study, and the subsequent "more than 400" other experiments aimed to test the "worldview" of participants, claim to support the "Terror Management Theory" which holds that we (humans) attempt to manage our fear of death by adhering to "cultural, philosophical and religious systems" that offer immortality [if followed] - my brackets.

My Take On This Thesis
Personally, I think this all sounds totally dubious. Now, it may be true that I do not subscribe to any system which purports to offer me immortality, but if I had just been reminded that I was going to die, why would I care about some poor working girl trying to make a living? Haven't I got bigger things to think about? Although I try not to think about dying because it kinda adds a bad taste to the moment, if cruelly reminded that it's bound to happen one day, I think about those near and dear to me, my giant collection of stuff that will have to find a home, and how glad I am that my body will not go to the Fisher & Sons Funeral Home (Six Feet Under for those who don't recognize the name). Wouldn't that make you more lenient instead of more strict - or am I just out of step with the test subjects? (I would like to have your comments on this.)

Death as the Engine of Life
Continuing with the article, the author claims that if there were no death, civilization would grind to a halt because our drive to seek immortality propels all our actions. Therefore, with the achievement of immortality, "We would have no need for progress or art, faith or fame." We would all wander around aimlessly for eternity, purposeless and timeless.

My assessment: first, I think he's been reading too much Anne Rice. This sounds an awful lot like that vampire series. Secondly, I think that many of us are more concerned with improving our life here and now on this planet and in this time than we are with making ourselves ready for some illusionistic future life with halos, clouds and harps. Do most people really believe that if they follow all the rules and don't step on the cracks, they will be guaranteed entry into the promised land? And is that why they make the choices and lead the lives they do? Does anyone really want immortality? Is that why we make art - to become immortal?


Catherine Carter said...

I agree, Nancy, I would think that being reminded that we're mortal would make us look more rather than less kindly on someone who had broken the law ... And while I do believe that we are spurred to certain actions by fear of death, we are (as you point out) far more attuned to what we need and want in the here and now. We all have the need to love and be loved, and to feel productive and as though we're contributing to the welfare of our world. With those things, it's easy to forget about impending death.

Sue said...

Just found your blog and wanted to say how brilliant your encaustic artwork is. Sorry, but I didn't read the article, as I was overwhelmed by your paintings...

Tanya said...

I'm with you; I'd be more lenient. Perhaps this study shows us more about the nature of judges than anything else.

Anonymous said...

If you really care to learn about your life in respect to your death, then read the Pulitzer prize winning book "The Denial of Death" by Ernest Becker. As a very brief primer to this you could watch "Flight from Death - The Quest for Immortality" a recent documentary film available on dvd (or elsewhere if you look for it).