Many of us believe artists are the mirrors of society. It is my intention that this collection of paintings, currently on the walls at Fabulon, gets us to look at the nature of desire. Here’s my exhibition statement:
This exhibition, “The Quench Project and the mire of desire,” explores how human desire undermines our bliss. Anyone with a little experience living on this planet will agree that we are slaves to our desires. It is part of the human condition. Desire has a way of tricking the human organism. Our body tells us if we satisfy this desire or that desire we will be happy. So we go about trying to satisfy our never ending list of wants. No faster than we satisfy one desire than another takes its place. Humans will effectively put themselves into economic servitude in their unrelenting quest for satisfaction. It is our human desire which the religious leaders, politicians, ad agencies, loud-mouthed influencers have become expert at controlling, harnessing and exploiting. We are controlled by our desires; not the other way around. Therefore it follows, if you can appeal to a person’s desires then you can control the person. Unfortunately, the loudest and most assertive among us rarely have our best interests at heart.
Our desires can be benevolent or malevolent as well as everything in between. The desire for youth and beauty, among other ephemeral pursuits, are powerful indeed. The desire for fame, success or control usually come at a cost to others. So I have included works that point down this slippery slope as well. The desire for material things, the transfer of wealth to the most successful, is considered by many a virtue in a capitalistic society. While to regulate this activity, to protect the vulnerable, who struggle to provide the labor, is unAmerican.
The desire for the forbidden fruit, for more, for pleasure as its own reward, tends to lead us on a path toward misery, no matter how harmless it may seem. Where does ambition and the American Dream intersect with greed, envy and cruelty? When abuse, coercion, bribery or excessive persuasion are required to satisfy these desires, perhaps that should give us pause. There are always consequences for our actions. The moral act is to do no harm, but its nearly impossible not to harm someone, just getting out of bed in the morning.
Desires which seem “noble” or those which restore things to their “former glory,” which are intended to persuade others to uphold our own belief system, often have unintended consequences. The desire to make America “great” again or to restore the white race to its former glory become nefarious pursuits and lead to despair and destruction. It seems clear that selfish desires, or those we pursue with the intention of elevating select groups over others, pitting “us” against “them,” which don’t take into account the rights and desires of all living things, inevitably lead to oppression and tragedy. This Tribe Mentality is what leads to the Dylan Roofs, and to a great extent, the Donald Trumps of the world. Selfishness is not virtuous; it always leads back to misery.
The desire for what “should be” most often leads to despair and anxiety. Shoulds place the past and future at odds with the present. This leads only to a dissatisfaction with the present moment, interrupting our bliss, leaving us in the mire.
The desire for consensus, harmony, equality, peace, justice, liberty, freedom, compassion, forgiveness, fairness for all, are but a few of the global values which ultimately lead to satisfaction. The question is how do we get there? And yet these are not empty, unreachable or naive platitudes; they are worthy ends and must be our individual and global pursuits, if our lives are to have any meaning. Anything less, is the definition of cynicism.
Maslow developed a hierarchy of human needs. But our desires often interfere with our ability to satisfy these needs, at every level.
It is clear the only desires that do not lead to misery, are those we have for the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The Judaic tradition of the law of Moses, intending that humans regulate our own actions according to establish morals, has resulted in our cherry picking laws and customs, deciding which of man’s archaic attempts to control ourselves and others we will heed and which we will ignore, depending on what personal ends we wish to serve in this moment. Excellent laws are twisted and broken all the time. Even murder can be justified, whether your aim is to purify your race or exact judgment for a crime.
Secular Humanism suffers from the same relativistic pitfalls. Those who say they don’t need God to do the right thing, who believe knowledge of right and wrong is innate, may also be missing the mark. The key to peace and joy is in forgiveness and grace. But since this is a secular venue it is not my place to preach about the deep need we humans have to call upon a higher power to take authority over our desires. But feel free to talk to me later.
Forgiveness = Peace
The people in Haiti gave me a glimpse of how this paradigm of desire can be reversed. Most of TQP paintings are about the ways in which those with little, excel in focusing their desires on the things that really matter. It is only by focusing our attention and resources on the desires that actually make the world better that we can break this cycle and change the world. Focusing on making our own bank account bigger, with the idea in the back of our minds that we will help the needy as soon as we get enough money, is what keeps us stuck in misery. Getting and having more “stuff” will not make the world any better. Doing something, anything, right now, with whatever you have, talent, energy, influence, money, is the only desire that will make the world any better. You may recall, it was only when Bill Gates became the richest man in the world that he started his foundation to end AIDS in Africa. What was he waiting for? What are we waiting for?