Wandering the savage garden…

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This category focuses on the role of Art .

Art and Noise

I’ve been thinking more about the role of art and self-control (as referenced by Self-Control and Art, if you can imagine.)

I thought to myself, “I wonder if this can be illustrated somehow?” and the answer, of course, was “yes.” As an artist and musician, there’re countless ways to illustrate such a concept.

Since I’m primarily a musician, I thought of cranking up a MiniMoog and recording a sine wave (as an example of “full control”) – such a sine wave would be a horribly dull sound. Then I’d introduce other things, like perhaps a LFO that affected the note or the wave (creating warbles or beats), with the variations eventually degenerating into pure noise.

That’d work, but to really illustrate the point I’d need to introduce some other toys into the mix, and by the end of it you’d have a soundtrack that evoked Wolfram Alpha’s music generator.

The problem with that is that Wolfram Alpha is exactly contrary to the point I’d like to focus on: Wolfram Alpha generates music that sounds random and is certainly complex, but is actually deterministic in nature – it’s fully and tightly controlled, and can sometimes sound beautiful, but it’s not art.

So then I got the idea that I’d use something a little more visual – which would be more appropriate for the web, in any event.

That means I got to play with a tool I’ve used only in passing: gnuplot.

So let’s see what we get, trying to illustrate self control and art as a mixture.

It’s not going to be perfect – and I wouldn’t call it beautiful (or, really, “art”) but it certainly gives a better idea than just a rough explanation.

First, let’s look at total control. Here we have a rather ingenious graph, which plots y as a function of the square root of the absolute value of x. (In gnuplot, the command was plot sqrt(abs(x)).)

Now, is this “beautiful?” Well, it’s certainly sort of… regular. It has some aspect of beauty, especially to mathematicians.

Now let’s look at something where the control is less managed – or, well, not managed at all:

This was created with a gnuplot command of plot rand(0) which means there’s no correlation whatsoever between… anything. It’s a line where the vertical point is entirely random.

This is “irregular.” It may qualify as “beauty” to some, especially those who find beauty in randomness.

But it’s not “art” either.

Let’s try one more, and with this one, let’s use some imagination:

Here we have a bit of a mix between the two original processes. The gnuplot command was plot rand(0)/sqrt(abs(x)); this means we’re following our original (“controlled”) formula, except adding a bit of a jagged edge to it. (And inverting it, to boot.)

Now we have something… unique, at the very least. And if you wanted to see something in it – the Tower of Barad-dûr, for example – you could see it as a tower reigning supreme over a mountain range.

It may not be good art, but I’d dare say it’s more artistic and meaningful than the random noise image, and more meaningful also than the “fully controlled” image.

The use of control gives it structure and the ability to have meaning.

Self-Control and Art

Michael Moorcock (who wrote the Elric books) counterbalanced Law and Chaos in his books. In Elric’s universe, Law was total order, and was in itself complete stasis. In the world of Law, nothing changed.

In the world of Chaos, on the other hand, nothing was predictable (except unpredictability, I suppose.) Everything was corrupted; black was white, straight lines were bent, a circle had an ending, triangles had four sides, and so forth and so on.

Mankind, in the Elric universe, was caught in the middle of a cycle of Law and Chaos, being a representative of a balance: the act of creation was of a chaotic mode, constricted and restrained by Law to give it constant form and meaning.

I can’t say that Moorcock’s representation is anything more than entertaining fiction (which it is), and I can’t imagine Moorcock himself would see it as anything more than that, but the concept is actually pretty valid.

Sunday, our pastor was speaking on Galatians 5:16-24, which talks about walking in the Spirit and not gratifying the desires of the flesh, and how those two are opposed and held in tension.

The critical verses were verses 22 and 23:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

With Elric in mind, self-control stuck out to me.

We’re created in the image of God, to be able to create, yet we’re required to be controlled.

The process of creating art is to introduce structure to something new, such that the new thing gains meaning through the structure – or to introduce something new to a structure such that the structure is redefined.

The challenge is to create art that isn’t unbalanced, art that’s not so constrained by the structure that it loses any new meaning it might have had, or art that’s so unconstrained that any meaning it has is lost.


We are born with a shotgun to our heads
Born to die,
Live to kill,
Heal to harm,
Constrained to will
We think that hatred's only fair.

We die to self to be forgot
Remember woe
Forget all peace
See the ills
Blind to sin
We remember only things of little worth.

What does it mean to be focused on Christ?

One of the things that I like about the church that I currently attend is that it maintains a very tight focus on Jesus – but what does that mean?

Well, the church has two primary focuses, two goals.

One is to make the body larger, to bring people to Christ. The other is to strengthen the body, to make it stronger, to make the body more knowledgeable or more spiritual – to educate.

Making the body larger is a matter of communicating that Jesus died for your sins and mine, that man is sinful and in a fallen state, and needs Christ to enter into the presence of God. This is what people traditionally think of as the purpose of the church, to make the body larger. It fulfills the commandment to go speak to people around the world, found in Matthew 28:19, and really is the primary mission of the church.

This is a good thing.

However, the church that focuses only on making the body larger is, while a good thing, a seeker church. My family and I have attended seeker-oriented churches and greatly enjoyed them; there’s nothing wrong with them. However they tend to have a basic focus, a tendency to refer to very basic things; man is sinful and needs Christ, over and over again.

For one who isn’t a seeker, it can get a little… tiresome, even while the energy and excitement can be infectious.

For one who wants to become a mature believer, seeker churches tend not to be the ideal place to spend the rest of your Christian life. Because the focus is on bringing new Christians in, the learning tends to be very basic, very introductory.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Some churches go the other way and don’t focus on seekers at all; they focus solely on maturity. They tend to be fairly conservative, and take a lot of things for granted that new believers might have a hard time understanding at first. That isn’t to say that new seekers can come to Christ in such environments but it’s a little bit harder because the energy is different. The knowledge that leads one to Christ is assumed, rather than continually illustrated.

There’s nothing wrong with this, either.

However, there is a medium.

You can focus on Jesus Christ without being solely maturity-focused; you can also focus on Christ without being purely seeker-oriented.

You can actually serve both audiences – the ones who need to grow stronger as well as the ones who need to join the body of Christ – without losing either one and it’s actually one thing that our church does very well.

That’s what being Jesus-focused is really about, being focused on what’s important – pointing everything to Him.

That can present difficulties for people like me.

As a writer, it’s very easy to present my point of view, just like in this paragraph, and therefore, it’s very easy to allow the focus to stray away from Jesus and perhaps on to what Jesus has done in me, without properly focusing on Jesus in a way that illustrates Him to others. It’s a very fine line to cross. I find that many of the things that I do artistically focus on effect rather than cause and that is not really what I want to have happen in a Christian expression.

Consider this expression: “I feel wonderful because Christ is in my life.” Is that a Christ-focused expression? It could be. However the primary focus of the expression is not Christ – that’s the cause. The effect (“I feel wonderful”) is the main things in the expression.

Perhaps it would be more Jesus-focused if it were to be expressed as: “Christ is in my life, this makes me feel wonderful.”

However, I find this wanting as well. It still focuses on me, more than it should. It would be better if I were left out of it and perhaps it focused on us: “Christ has come to us. This is wonderful.”

Now it’s an expression that leaves me, as the believer and author, out of it; it now focuses on the beginning and end of what’s important: Christ.


Originally posted on January 4, 2012.