A few notes about Schopenhauer

After watching the you-tube posted Bryan Magee programme, he’s in discussion with Frederick Coplestone about Schopenhauer. I think it related to what Im doing in my work, it certainly caught my attention.


These are the notes I made……

Reality, layers of reality and the thing(s) in themselves as they really are, I guess this is what we might think of as Truth.  The Hindu/Buddhist idea of an underlying reality is useful. Sch wanted to understand it. Kant said its unknowable. We have empirical knowledge only, self-knowledge that is in the context of time and space. The phenomenal world of experience, that which we can measure, understand, engage with. But just because it appears this way to us it doesn’t mean thats the way it is. Think about those early life forms evolving sensory apparatus. It helped them find food and avoid enemies, they evolved in different ways. Some crawled on their bellies and had simple eyes or feelers, their world was a very small place, to them. We have no means of access to this other world or in fact how the world really is. Sch said the underlying reality was (like) an unknown unconscious driving all things. Will.  He got to this by using our knowledge of our own bodies, here is something we know from the inside, a non-sensory and direct knowledge, eg pain. However we don’t even fully know ourselves, we have an unconscious life driving us. He pre-empts Freud. He wondered if there were clues about this unknown world in the knowable world, clues from our experience (like dreams). This will is striving, an energy, like sex or the laws of physics, motion, the planets hurtling through space, everything rushing moving forward, but destructive as well as creative, devouring, hurtful, uncaring and cruel. This is the pessimism.

The world to Sch is a horrible place. We oscillate between desire and boredom. The best responses were ascetic, losing the will (how does Batailles annihilation of the self fit in with this?) or through art. For Schop art is a way of knowing, not a means of expression. Im so glad to hear this, its what I’ve felt and never knew how to express. I’m not sure I understand how to express myself emotionally through art other than to explore a way of knowing. The two are connected. Pure expression is not art, thats just mess, we express ideas. There is some brief mention of Plato in the discussion but it isn’t actually discussed. Copleston prefers Clive Bell’s Significant Form idea, I must look this up. It must refer to Platonic form, idealised form. This talks about having access to a world unknown to us. Having written down my notes, I understand this better.

These are not my ideas about Sch, they are Magee and Coplestons, the tv philosophers form the 70’s. I make some connections. I see Dawinism, in the drive the will to live. Also in the sensory stuff. There was a David Attenborough programme on recently, First Life, they described early forms of life developing this sensory apparatus, watching this I realised that while we look at these primitive creatures feeling their way blindly through mud and feel smug that we know the world and the planets etc..that this is still limited by our sensory evolution. Our knowledge related to this driving will. Our senses allow us to strive forward, to find food, mates, shelter. And While we have evolved rational thought we are still striving for the same things. Sch said we are just better at it and ultimately more destructive. The atom bomb is made from such cleverness, it kills so many more than bare hands.

Art is a good response, not just in a distracting way as Copelston suggests, going to a gallery can calm us down, he said, but after we go back to violence. Mind you I’m not against the distracting power of art, or in losing ones self, ones will in art. As an artist if I see art I get an urge to make some, it drives my will. I think art can respond to these problems by questioning, or rather exploring these states of knowing, not-knowing. the nature of self-knowledge is fascinating, being subject and object. I immediately thought of David Lynch’s films, in particular Mulholland Drive or Inland Empire. He plays around with narrative to speculate about dream and reality, which is which? Time and space are moved around in the films in a way thats difficult at first but bears resemblance to the reality we know that incorporated the unconscious life. If read literally these characters inhabit alternative realities. Unravelling this as a viewer is a beautiful distraction. I don’t think arts purpose is to stop us making bombs, however the methods, the forms of art make us less likely to be monsters. Back to Lynch, he said somewhere that the horrors he explores in his work have nothing to do with his real life, to live like that would be awful. I don’t want this to become about morals, or ethics and the positive power of art. I’ll be thinking about this as I work and see what I come up with.


Started, in a semi random way dictated to or guided by circumstance.  Two little flowers become eyes. The kind of flower you draw as a kid, in your school book, or while talking on the phone. Its relaxing. Meaningless.

Taking doodles to a logical conclusion. The work is repetitive and absurd. I’m simply finding something useful to do with all this dead matter. Each new intervention is like a way to keep going, finding an aesthetic reason to exist. Each line is an extension of desire and boredom. (I was listening to someone talk about Shopenhauer at this point)(Art is the only response to desire and boredom).
The doodle is semi-psychadelic, I could have a problem with that, or I could be re-discovering it. Falling in love with it, seeing it with fresh eyes. It seems overindulgent, the build up of pattern ad-absurdum. Associated with mind-blowing drug use, new age, false consciousness and groovy posters. Especially the way it comes out of the eyes. I can’t help it. Im drawn to the eyes. I don’t care if it looks like visions coming out, naive. I’ll embrace naive if it helps get the job done.
This endless doodle of boredom is filling time and space. Use, usefulness-uselessness.The way it looks, overly frilled, pleated and patterned, is a bit baroque. Indulgent and difficult.Hallucinatory, fractalised, mathematic. A physical effect, illusionary, invoking a so-called mystical experience, contact with the infinite, an infinite number perhaps. Relaxing, meaningless, endless.
(apologies for blurry images)