03 April, 2013

#atozchallenge: [C]osmos in Chaos

"Leonard Bernstein tells me...that for him music is cosmos in chaos. That has the ring of truth in my ears, and sparks my creative imagination. And it is true not only of music; all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos." -Madeline L'Engle, Walking on Water

Among my favorite authors, Madeleine L'Engle is one of the top few for just such quotes as the one above. In it, she is framing the idea that the universe is chaotic but art - true art - brings order and harmony and good to a disorderly and confused world.

Today's artists would do well to keep this thought in mind. Modern art, especially in writing, holds less and less cosmos and more chaos. This is not to say that these writers don't have talent. There is skill and talent, yes, but it is becoming much more rare to find the harmony in disharmony

Andrew Pudewa, from the Institute for Excellence in Writing, gives a wonderful explanation of why in this excerpt from his article, The Art of Teaching a Skill:

"Often we link the idea of artistic activity with creativity and self-expression, but we are infected with a modernism that actually impedes the development of skills. 'If it’s creative, it’s good; if it’s good, it has to be creative,' is the dominant mantra so evident today—a tragedy so often outplayed in the fine arts departments of most universities, where the way to an A is not to draw or paint or sculpt something beautiful, but to do something that no one else has ever done before, no matter how ugly or grotesque....Imagine a method of teaching where we give the student a violin and with cursory directions on how to make a sound, encourage him to 'be creative' and 'express himself.' The result won’t much resemble music....When originality and creativity are esteemed above all else, basic skills decrease and true artistic expression becomes impossible."

Many modern writers today, in the attempt to be the most creative, end up focusing only on the ugly nature of mankind and its base impulses because no one else has done it. Even worse, some deliberately reveal chaos in chaos, glorifying the fragmented and disordered inclinations of humanity with no uplifting thought to turn away the darkness of broken and bent lives.

The reproduction of chaos is not art, as Madeline L'Engle writes. It is the beautiful, the orderly, the something beyond ourselves that makes the great works of art that have endured through the centuries.

As a writer, how do you reveal that greater good in your work?  As an admirer of art, what is your definition of true art?


  1. I agree entirely. This type of thought was the basis for series of posts about poetry. Just because you write it in verse doesn't make it so.

  2. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Whether it's structured, chaotic, or has any aspiration of being for the greater good - those distinctions are subjective, as is the value of the art - or the value of art as a whole. The critics of art, like fashionistas who declare what's in and what's not, should probably take themselves a little less seriously.
    But that's only my "subjective" opinion, and like a**holes, everyone's got one! :-)

  3. Really like this concept of balancing chaos and cosmos to create art. I think lots of people may see different things as artistic but I can see this... the drama and yet peacefulness has really stood out for me in paintings, photography and music! (thanks for coming by my blog http://janiceperson.com)

  4. I love this! The L'Engle quote is great!

  5. One has only to look at the new series on television for proof of much chaos and little cosmos. If it wasn't for hockey and PBS, I consider giving up my tube. But as humans we tend to revolve in circles, returning to what feels comfortable and safe and familiar. Maybe this new generation will appeal to the beautiful and the chaotic and make more sense of it, appealing to our wonderment once again. Hope so.

    Great post, Jessica. I like the way your mind works.

  6. I dislike chaos, and am amazed when people pull art out of it. I find it tiring. Agree with Joylene above not much on tv these days worth watching. We've gotten into series through netflix.


  7. An interesting post, Jessica. While I do believe that often art needs to challenge us by presenting what may at first feel upsetting, unpleasant, or even chaotic, I also firmly believe that it must in some way reach beyond that, so that we can sense something larger as well. Chaos is a part of nature, but so is cosmos, and I think that art needs to acknowledge both. I agree with you that some modern art has focused only on the side of chaos and on humanity's "ugly nature". I was thinking something very similar lately when I read several fantasy and science fiction stories that essentially all ended with some version of, "and then they all died painfully". I don't want to read stories like that. While not every story needs to have a happy ending, I do want to feel some sense of hope at the end, the idea that, in all the darkness, there is still some glimmer of light, however small.



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