Wednesday, October 30, 2019


I am basically agnostic, but for complicated and boring reasons I am reading the Pauline Epistles (certain books of the New Testament which are presented to as as letters written by the Apostle Paul to various early Christian churches around the Med.) It's been interesting.

Paul has a reputation for being kind of a rule-bound prick. I have certainly been known to blame most of what is bad about the Catholic Church on Paul (not the pedophilia, he's pretty down on that kind of thing.) Turns out I was pretty much wrong.

There are a number of themes running through the letters, and yes, there are certainly outbursts of slightly weird and detailed rules, but a major theme is this: Do whatever you want, but do it for the right reasons. If the intention and meaning of what you do is good, then what you do is good.

This strikes me, in general, as a pretty good way to run your life. I am, as usual, intending to stretch and distort this thing to cover photography.

Paul is interested in meaning, internal and external. He wants his followers to act motivated by godly things, and he cautions them to be aware of what their actions look like. Do this, but not if someone seeing you will be led astray. Paul assumes a certain empathy on the part of his followers, an ability to fairly reliably guess what other, different, people will think and do.

This is, of course, not a particularly strange notion. For most of history, in most facets of life, people have simply assumed that we can pretty reliably guess what's going on in one another's heads: because we can. In the modern era there has been a little trend, especially in Art, toward what we might term individualism. The artist is responsible only for their own navel. In some cases we're not supposed to know what they're thinking, and in others we're not allowed to.

Anyways, Paul has no truck with that. He demands that his guys be tuned in to what the hell is going on around them.

Another theme one notes in Paul's writing is the idea that good motivations will lead, by some alchemy, to good results. Paul was a big expounder of that Christian notion that it is not by works but by faith that one achieves salvation. Which, any wag will instantly note, boxes you into a corner in which, apparently, you can do whatever you like.

It is a box, and Paul doesn't give us any answers, except to rail angrily against what might be termed not-good works. Well, Paul, if works don't matter, why u mad? Paul does not say, but he's definitely mad.

And thus with art and communication, in a way. Having the right intent, the right motivation, should produce Art that is worthwhile, somehow, by some alchemy that is difficult or impossible to explain.

No, no, it doesn't matter if you expose correctly, as long as you feeeeeeeel it, except no, you fucked that up, maybe you should expose better and feel less?

The way out of this rhetorical corner, as I see it, is to treat Good Art (and Good Works) not as the ostensible goal, but as diagnostic of the proper mind.

One does not purchase Christian salvation by giving money to the church. One gives money to the church as a natural consequence of faith. It it not the path to salvation, it is an indicator that you are on the path.

In the same way, one does not set out to make Good Art, one sets out to do something else. To make ones own Art, perhaps. Or to express something deeply felt. The Good Art arises when you're doing a good job at this, it is an indicator that you're on to something.

Good Art is, essentially, a side effect of being a Good Artist.


  1. which reminds me of Jay Maisel's remark:
    "If you want to make more interesting pictures, become a more interesting person."

  2. Although it seems that being a Good Artist is rarely a side effect of being a Good Person: quite the reverse in many notorious cases. Clearly, Paul's "good" is by no means the same thing as Picasso's... As many have noticed, it seems the Devil always has the best tunes.

    It's certainly true, from what I hear, that Paul was a really terrible painter; but then, so was Hitler. Put them together, though, and maybe the Lennon-McCartney Effect kicks in?


    1. So many Pauls, it IS hard to keep they straight. Yours was struck down on the road to Rishikesh, mine, Damascus. You can think of them as "Indian Paul" and "Syrian Paul" if you like.

    2. "Here's another clue for you all: the Walrus was Paul"...
      Of course! Suddenly, it all makes sense.


    3. So Paul, the Walrus, wrote two letters to the Corinthians, who as you know are closely associated with a type of column. A colun supports a statue of Nelson who was an oceanic military officer, while the Walrus is a creature of the ocean.

      I believe the second column is Jaswon Zweig's column on finance (Jews) in the wall street journal, connecting to Paul's letter to the Hebrews.

      The conclusion clearly is that Queen Elizabeth is a Jew.

    4. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus"
      Galatians, 6:28

      The Greek reference, obvs, is to Prince Philip.


  3. Some intereting stuff in the big book of fables. General advice and some odd stories. Love Baalam and the talking Ass - and now we see Donald Trump so maybe it can happen?