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Archive for February, 2007

INTERVIEWING MASTER BEN LAU

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

Ben Lau was interviewed in 1995 at the Gremillion & Company, an art gallery in Houston. Here is an excerpt of the transcript for that interview. The accompanied arts represent some of the best works by Ben.

The Defining Reality of our Times

I once asked a high school girl what she thought of an Age that consigned the best poets to manual labor; great hardship; or dire poverty. She began by preaching work ethics, declaring that no form of labor, if lawful, should be unworthy of even the best poetic minds in our times. One could see her home values had a hand in this so I gently hinted that perhaps she should approach the issue head-on since that was in fact a simple question. But my attempt in taking her back to an alternative, perhaps more relevant course did not succeed as empty-minded Zen is no match for cold climate Christian upbringings under a Minnesota sky.

A youngster may not be able to fully comprehend the art of African Egyptians; Ancient Greeks; or Dynastic East but anyone who is aware of them and becomes in awe of the poetic intensity permeating those lofty heavens is ready to concede that the defining reality of our times has been underwritten by none other than Mediocrity most bland and shabby… . And to get back to the original question, it is only fair to say one should reap what was at first sown on the good earth!

Introduction

The supreme order of things in relationship with one another is the order of the universe, or the Tao, as the ancient Oriental sages had it. Such an order finds expression in all things healthy, beautiful, and sacred. Ego comes along and immediately the concept of good and evil is formed. With Ego’s desire to exist forever,or through its fear for expiration, that dichotomy has become a rich soil on which religion flourishes. It is a convenient thing to say, for example, good will be rewarded with Heaven and bad is punishable by Hell.

Religion, sprung from such an origin of insecurity is itself very insecure. Its corruption of the innocent and the holistic is inevitable. (One needs only think the Roman Catholic Church… .) Freedom is repressed as religion quickly becomes a vehicle of control. Its tyranny includes the various systems of social economic beliefs,(e.g. Communism) as well as beliefs in academic precepts (e.g. Academia) with its power successions and struggle, and the long trains of High Priests in tow (e.g. the great leader, the Fuhrer, Emeritus Professor,… .) Conflicts and disharmony are the regular seeds sown by religion on the good earth! Religions are the agents of annihilation as they can lead to wars and killings.

Religious beliefs in Academia come in all shapes and sizes. The simple belief of an “ism”, for example, is an academic belief. As soon as there is “ism”, there are bound to be schisms. In Art, for example,–with the Academia endorsing one form of “ism” after another, we have seen the like of Classicism, Romanticism, Realism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Impressionism, and what not.

The Alpha Seer sees art with clarity. He has been born with that native endowment. Through his awareness he can tell you: the sacred is unthinkable. The various “isms” endorsed by Academia only represent the delusions of the blind man who believes Beauty is in sight even though he has only heard others talk about it. The various “isms” also testify to their spawning of a false sense of security characteristic of all religions. Academics always make the false claim of Salvation, characteristic of typical religions, even though the ideals being upheld are memories dead and worthless. (Think Association of College Arts, or mnartists.org,– all their publications have uniformly proclaimed that Conceptual Art is the new Salvation, their equivalent of the Second Coming of Christ!)
Q: What is artistic greatness?

Ben: Beware of the question since one is prone to ask a question wherein the answer is already hidden. The question has become self-serving. Greatness, like the word “god”, is merely a symbol based on a lot of assumptions to parallel a sense of wonder. In other words, the kind of “greatness” as understood by Academia does not exist!

One finds something wonderful and “WOWs!” it–says it is great, etc. The word greatness must have originated from there.The kind of “greatness” hanging in the mouths of academics is just a form of self-delusion. From what an Alpha Seer understands, there is only true art, which serves Beauty.

The Alpha Seer opens a window to Beauty so the others may feel her face in their blindness.
He is keenly aware that to think of “greatness” as though it is the oldest story we have ever heard is very silly since greatness cannot be known. One may know and deduce a list of criteria from a past masterpiece –indeed it is possible– but that is not the thing itself. So when one says, “Cezanne is a great artist,” one is simply using a symbol to represent a timeless state. The precise meaning of that symbol remains unclear. Whatever that state is remains unknown. Thus one needs not be too serious about the symbol. On the other hand, being able to intuit Cezanne’s work is much more fruitful than wishing to learn all the criteria or precepts for “greatness.” What is Cezanne’s greatness then?–you want to know.

I am sure that an artist as great as Cezanne is free of all extraneous desires in his intimate moment of creative activities. He is not driven by a desire to become a great artist, like the wannabes, nor does he wish to produce indelible stuffs for others to remember him by. On the contrary, he paints alone, and very much enjoys his one-ness. Artistic genius — Nature’s gift to him, is his birthright–so all he does is enjoy that endowment, like a function of life, such as breathing.

What fortunate man, god or freak!

He has found fulfillment in his creative activities–in and of themselves. When he has a lucky day, that enjoyment would climb to a state of ecstasy. Eventually, whatever flows out of his brush are the dispensations of the gods; always full of life, love and humor.

Q: How does an artist deal with the fact that people may not understand his art?

Ben: A genius like Cezanne,–I am sure he does not strive for public recognition or attention at all. He does not care one way or another what they think of his art! It is true that a leap of fame may improve his financial status, allow him to sell his work better,– but it is not the kind of satisfaction an Alpha Seer lives and dies for. A well-dressed man does not seek the praise from a blind crowd!

It is the citizens who should address that issue! Imagine the setback to civilization had Cezanne or Van Gogh never been discovered! It is therefore the obligation of the citizens as civilized beings to study, understand and recognize the work of an artistic genius. We should give up the bad habits of listening to the academic “gurus” and start seeing art for ourselves. Rely on your intuitions like a best friend when it comes to the art of seeing. And compare, yes, absolutely compare! Without comparison, there is no learning! The academics are blinder than bats. (At least you still have your intuitions to lean upon! Academics have all been set in their old habits of seeing and for them to break out from that prison is like asking them to give up their identities or livelihoods. It is “over my dead body!”,– though a zombie’s body has negative life to its credit!)

But an academic’s credentials impress you. You allow them to lead you on. I call that gullible and very unfortunate!

*********************************************************************
Q: Please enlighten us there!

Ben: We cannot see extraordinary things if we give up our rights to determine what is truly beautiful. It is a sign of inexplicable laziness– surrendering ones native rights. If you are thirsty, just take a drink! Nobody can drink for you! In darkness, you wait for other people to help you, or a seeing-eye-dog maybe?–so as to gain the light of day? That is pathetic!

There is no “wise man on mountain top” in this deal! Seeking advice, even from the Alpha Seer, is to repeat the vicious cycle of following the art gurus again! Only your intuitions can give you the best counsels. If even your intuitions fail to advise you on art and poetry, just seek beauty in Nature. Your soul desperately can use that nourishment!
True art has been the result of an Alpha Seer’s meditation in Beauty and it only speaks to a viewer who is patient enough to be awake to it. Viewing it with intense interest and love is the key to understanding greatness.

Q: What is new about this art of yours?

Ben: The mind, bored by the patterns of its own repetitions, searches for sensations to alleviate that pain. Against an unforgiving reality, the mind always asks,” What is new?” So the mind can only understand new-ness in terms of an illusion in time? One must cut that habit in order for vision to be renewed.
The first beam that pierces through the clouds; a boat moored in a blue lagoon; an innocent face startled by a starry sky, a lass yearning for the return of her lover–such are new-ness– in and of themselves. Can we see anything new if we look in the wrong direction?

Q: You often say the art of our Age has gone astray, misled into a dead alley by the postmodernists. Would you elaborate?

Ben: The postmodernists are the blindest fish in the mud! It is simply a proverbial case of the blind leading the blind when the public follow their lead.The blind fish resents its own creative impotence and is desperately driven by its envy for the Alpha Seer. For that reason, the postmodernists or Academia have been attempting to substitute true Art for the expressions of Ego in the last 60-70 years. Ego is of time, which is nourished and sustained by thoughts. So an expression of Ego is an illusion in time. The art of the postmodernists are all narratives of Ego at its various stages of being. They are illustrations focusing on meanings only. They are religions that promote poisonous Good/bad dichotomy. True art is beyond illustrations. It has a life of its own.

Look into antiquity– at the Egyptians, the African, the Greek, the Indian, the Medieval, the Islamic, and the Oriental,–those arts that are timeless and beautiful!Their beauty hits you in the here and now despite its ancient origins. Its power is omnipresent. That is the art that once came alive in front of kings and pharaohs, now you are looking at it with renewed interest! They have come alive for you despite their ancient origins. There is supreme, unrelenting newness despite their antiquity!

At MCAD, I was informed by an Emeritus Professor that it was our mission to seek an expression that could appropriately represent our Age. We? Our mission? The gentleman clearly did not know what he was talking about! He probably thought of artistic greatness as an everyman’s game. Then he went on to suggest that the artistic genius is a myth.

But we are all aware that a suggestion of that sort is rubbish. Even an average person can see the delirium in it,–a delirium born of certain beliefs! One could also see the kind of agendas and motives in a pronouncement like that. It had stripped naked an envy for the genius– complete with a self-hate for the wannabe’s own creative impotence. To that I had offered the following reply: Do what you want, and say what you want to say, my learned friend!– If your work fails to speak for itself, all missions that are required of it will be in vain!

Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Bacon, Lichtenstein, Marc, Hirst, Turner, Dine, Rauschenberg, Richter, Polke, Bacon, Monet, Hawkins,… the wannabe list of the last 200 years goes on and on, all ill-begotten sons of Caravaggio, who “was born to destroy art and poetry!” according to the great Knox Martin.
When all contemporary voices are stilled, what would exalt a work except through its own artistic merit?–The substance of that merit is artistic greatness, or Beauty.

Artistic greatness is indeed a very specific thing, it cannot be the kind that is generally assumed or understood. Beauty and Artistic Greatness are, in fact, one and the same thing! That render the specificity of artistic greatness essential.

Q: How should one view great art?

Ben: Do we not often look at the sunset and feel a sense of wonder and reverence from top to bottom? We are not thinking about it at all. We do not say,” Wait, this is not the same sunset as the one I saw some time ago, which was probably more beautiful!” The admiration for the timeless glory has startled our person into speechlessness, and it has cast us into complete abandon. Do we have knowledge about our condition? A person in a trance–under the spell of beauty– ceases to be cognitive–we all know that. But once that person’s consciousness returns, the spell expires. For that reason, Beauty cannot be known–only intuited.

Recognizing Beauty can be instantaneous, something that is akin to a gut feeling. Is this face beautiful? If so, he/she is a charmer– that sort of thing! Are you really in tune with true art or are you looking in the wrong direction? Are you really looking, or merely listening to what the “art gurus” have to say?

The gurus tell you that Pop art or Conceptual art are the vehicles of our times. They are Existentialists.They have the advantage of authority and positions (e.g. museum directors, celebrities, professors from the academia, and what not). You are impressed by their credentials and do not consider their assumptions seriously enough nor do you care about how public funding and venues are being used,– always to further their academic agendas, of course! To strengthen the power base! Life is probably too busy for you and division of labor seems to be the dominant theme in modern life.Why be concerned with the metaphysical? Don’t we have enough cares in life?

You have decided to leave those matters to the “specialists.” You end up believing those charlatans… . That is the wrong approach!

Conclusion

The term “Alpha Seer” is just another name for supercreator or major artist or artistic genius. There are about a dozen artists in our times who can be so called in the last two hundred years. They are Ingres, DeKooning, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Degas, Manet, Juan Gris, Arshile Gorky, Van Gogh, Renoir, Manet, Miro and Seurats.

There are probably a handful of known and unknown Alpha Seers in the 21st Century. Of that group, one is a genius with an I.Q. of 197. His name is Knox Martin (refer to www.knoxmartin.com). Needless to say, Knox has formidable artistic talents as well. His innovations and creations enhance each other to make him one of the greatest Alpha Seers or supercreators of all times.

It must be continually stressed that I have no grudge against the academia, even though I find mediocrity on the good earth unbearable and despicable.
It is never beyond our intuitions to taste the bliss of great art. Leave the door open, and verily the breeze will enter.

All ideas have thoughts as their origin. What are thoughts but the fragments of memory, which are dead and mechanical? So any kind of ideas (or gimmicks) without the blessing of creative energy is only a lifeless entity. Postmodern arts are the lifeless, mechanical illustrations and expressions of the Ego.

Remember: it always takes an artistic genius to produce great art! That is his/her birthright and mandate. We expect no one lesser than Einstein at the helm of Science,– why do we allow the postmodernists,–the blindest fish in the mud, to lead us on indefinitely?

Ben Taishing Lau

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