< Photographer Cyber Artist JAMES ELLIOTT - A Philosophy for Art and Life.

Art and Philosophy
Indulgence and Inspiration

And why we absolutely need Art

Written by Elliott
4150 words - reading time : 25 minutes

The question of 'why?' goes on forever.
An endless enigma. Philosophy is just the cosmic joker laughing back at our futile attempts to be definitive. Infinity exists in all things, even those things which given a cursory glance, appear definitive. In an infinite universe nothing is definitive. Hence the perfection paradigm. Philosophy is an endless journey, but paradoxically until the journey is over, the years of elucidation and enlightenment cannot really be brought into focus and made useful. The better that it may enrich your life. And yet, it never is over. Every day new distinctions are made. Either that or the analyticomaniac that I am, cannot switch it off.

In some ways I always knew that Life was the great teacher and a study of Life, per se, was in many ways superfluous. Twenty years of philosophical discoveries didn't completely change that view, but I discovered many amazing things. It has helped me to accomplish great things and given me the ability for perpetual evolution and a constant feel-good factor in my life. So I can't say the time was wasted. It's quid pro quo. My studies of philosophy and psychology were in any case, always pursued in parallel with other passions. Not least of which was my Art.

As a young man, I would not contemplate attending art college to learn photography. Hell, I was late teens already, I needed to get on with it! College courses typically involved four days theory and one day practice a week. Typical of English academia at the time. I always had a sinking feeling that Nikon were already making better lenses than I ever could, so we'll skip the lens-grinding theory if you don't mind. I understood even then, you can't live your life in the wings or waste your time with trivia, however intellectual its pretext or fascinating its subject matter. You have to focus your act and go on stage at some point.

So I adopted then, a naturally curious but pragmatic and empirical approach to life, which I believe in to this day. In the Nineties and Noughties I spent literally thousands of hours studying Philosophy and it's anxious lover, Psychology. I wanted to know how I had succeeded at certain things, as I had never had any objective cognisance of that. I didn't even know how I created my masterpieces. I create Art like a sleepwalker in a casino who constantly keeps hitting the jackpot. I just do things! I have also in life, sometimes got things wrong and couldn't figure out why. So I thought maybe if I could just understand process better, I could control it.

"To study philosophy is to learn to die" said ancient philosopher Cicero.

There is something in that.

Ironically, whether that statement is true or false one thing obviously escaped Cicero.

The statement is in itself Philosophy!

He needed Philosophy to express it.

Montaigne obviously thought there was something in the statement, as he wrote an entire essay on it. Philosophy can be a diversion, if you are not careful, as in a sense you have to withdraw from Life to take an overview. Life does not lend itself well to hitting the 'pause' button.

However, in another sense:

"To study Philosophy is to learn to live."

It is no different, in a way, to recreation.


You re-create yourself whilst relaxing and enjoying life.

Certainly, I know from my vast experience as an artist, that if you just create all the time, initially your work improves a bit, but then it goes out the other side and you disappear up your own vortex. Your output becomes predictable, repetitive and boring. Picasso, fell into that trap - just painting all the time - and ended up with a very low batting average. Sure there may be good Art in there somewhere. But there's a ton of worse-than-mediocre minor pieces as well. No question about it.

You cannot deliberately create Art in a perfunctory kind of way, as Art is an effect and not a cause. The cause is your Life. If your Life becomes dull, so too will your Art. If your Art is uninspired, your life is uninspiring. The point is you must LIVE in between creating Art. Go out and have fun, do exciting things, adventure and experience, have love affairs, scream at people, attempt great things, make errors..... experience pleasure, pain, exhilaration, success, control, chance, everything ....... do it all! Immerse yourself in the very fabric of Life. This is the secret of great Art. No question about it.

Ironically it creates the best Philosophy, too. And the best Life.

"The path of excess leads to the tower of wisdom" said Blake.

I'm not sure about that, but it certainly leads to great art. Of course in the strictest sense, excess also leads to death. Perhaps this also explains why so many good artists have this kind of general fucked-upedness. So don't become an alcoholic, drug addict or some such. That's just classic self-destruct. The answer to everything lies in the balance. The most important work in the English language. It does mean you should experience life in all it's shades of glory. For there is no pleasure, without the shadow of pain which gives form to the light. Without it, pleasure would be meaningless. Don't misinterpret that though. One can often achieve great things with extreme facility. An autocrucifixion is not always essential. Effort does not equal result.

So with Philosophy it really depends on what you do with what you know. Used wisely, philosophy and psychology can radically improve your life. It can inspire you to great things. By the time I had started to learn philosophy and psychology, I had already lived an amazing life, but I still had a desire to perpetually evolve. We pass this way but once.

I studied all the best people and then threw down the books and started developing my own Psychology and Philosophy. Rather as I had done with Photography two decades earlier and more recently, with cyber art. With the Philosophy and Psychology I started in 1991 and it would have been about 1994 that I started to make my own distinctions. By 2001 and after thousands of hours of contemplation and study, I had found most of the answers I was looking for. Or at least I thought so. But the path leads forever on and even today I make extraordinary distinctions. I often discuss some of the things I have discovered, with the people I meet. The reaction is consistent. There is a point at which I say something and they go quiet and sort of gawk at me. Then they say "El, that is incredible! You MUST expand on this, you must tell people, publish it! Do something!" Or some such sentiment.

Many make comments, which show, shall we say, great generosity of spirit, which is all very nice, but it is not at all the reason I pursued this avenue of enlightenment. And anyway, I am unaffected by praise or criticism - something which is pretty well known. I simply thought that if I could just understand a little about Life (philosophy) and understand why people do things (psychology) then maybe I could make something even greater out of my Life. Perhaps enjoy it even more than I already do. I wondered if that were possible. "Who knows what is possible?" I thought. That cannot be anticipated. It can only be discovered.

Has it worked?

Yes, absolutely. The vast majority of my wonderful memories from the past decade would never have happened without my vast knowledge of all the incredible things I learned studying philosophy and psychology. Even just to take as a straight forward example, my Art, I was able to access levels of creativity I didn't know I had. And so from 1996 onwards you can see that the creativity in my work suddenly turns upwards and shoots straight through the stratosphere. It was already greatly evolved, I know, but it still improved exponentially.

Part of being able to do this, was my understanding of process and the distinctions I had made on this subject. It enabled me to create better. It also affected all other areas of my life, because philosophy and psychology concern themselves with general principles, which you can apply to many things.

One incredible thing that happened, was that the philosophical distinctions I was making enabled me to make better philosophical distinctions! It was incredible! The whole process went exponential! Initially, in the early Nineties, every time I made a distinction I would write it down. By 1994 I had a huge file two inches thick with paper and the ideas were coming so fast and thick my hand couldn't keep up, so I started recording my voice. Then I made all my best discoveries. I felt like an inventor who had just come up with something amazing! I would be doing something or other and suddenly my eyes would flash wide, and I would shout out "Oh my God, of course! That is fucking incredible!" and the most amazing insight would flash into my mind. I would dash to record my new distinction before it left me. It was fascinating stuff and there's tons of it.

Will I ever publish and expand on my findings? Possibly, but probably in laconic quotes and aphorisms. Or perhaps in 200 word bursts. It's just too intense for a book. Too much to absorb in one sitting. And anyway, I don't write books, I just do the good bits.

The great irony of Philosophy and Psychology is that the principles are invariably simple if you pursue them far enough. You could write most of it on the back of your hand. Unfortunately, without the journey and the massive network of knowledge behind these simple findings, they are meaningless.

Interestingly, in a way, Philosophy becomes a parody of itself, because you almost invariably make your greatest distinctions whilst doing something - not whilst thinking!

Are the Gods, nature, whatever, trying to tell us something? I think so.

I think the distinction here is that Philosophy should be an effect - not a cause. And the effect allows greater causes to create even greater effects in a virtuous upward spiral to greater creativity. In other words it should be contemplation after the fact and not before it. Contemplation which spurs you on to greater and greater things.That is the whole point. As long as you are thinking about a subject you aren't actually doing it!

Philosophy is all about trying to understand what Life is and how it works. Psychology is about trying to understand the brain and mind. Difficult as the same thing is analysing it. The great paradox is that the so-called 'Life' you are contemplating, is actually 'everybody else's life' and not your own. Few people have the capability to stare at their own life with any degree of objective cognisance and perspicacity, but it is an ability you absolutely must develop! There is no Life other than the one that you create. And it has no meaning other than the one you create for it. You have a blank canvas. The Gods intended it that way. Be careful what you paint.

Why do I create? Because although Life is a mystery, it is not entirely impenetrable. There are unspoken things to guide us. Pleasure and pain. All the nuances of our feelings. When I create something and be my best, I feel so high it feels like I am flying through the air! I feel an infusion of energy which feels spiritual.

The word 'enthusiasm' comes from the Greek 'en theos' - possessed by a God, inspired. "Inspiration" in its original form meant "to breathe of a God." And that is exactly what it feels like. If you have ever been moved by visual art, cinema or music, what you are feeling is what the artist felt at the time and was captured in the work of art. This is what real art is all about. Anything else is just a low brow intellectual nonsense. And don't be fooled by an art gallery or museum, they are no different to churches. Be careful you are not worshipping a false God. The environment can be conducive to that.

God, nature, what you will, gives us this clue as to what is good for us and rewards us with this incredible buzz. It's the same with sex. Similar thing. Art is the sex of the soul, everything else is just rock and roll. Creating is such an incredible whizz I don't need drugs. I'm up there anyway. Like a kite lost in the stratosphere. The artist just knows when he is capturing something incredible, as you get precisely that feeling. As if your spirit suddenly lifts. Also, on another level, it's all about discovering one's capabilities, because I am intelligent enough to know, that I don't know. If you catch my drift.

My Philosophy for Life is simple. I am simply trying to be the best I can be and get the greatest pleasure out of it, because I love and value life. I am not trying to be perfect. Life isn't about being perfect, it's about being your best. Perfection is an attempt to make the infinite definitive. Unwise objective. Impossible endeavour. Life is about becoming everything you could possibly be. It's about making the most of the gifts you have been given and those you have created. I am not competing with anyone. On the contrary, the better everyone is, the better I like it and the more we all benefit.

This is something which is often misunderstood about me. I openly praise things which I think are good. Sure I torpedo the rubbish, but most of what you see in the art world is just begging for it. It's just that if you have an evolved critical ability, you don't often encounter great things. But it makes it all the more amazing when you do. Exponentially so. Oh sure, I joke and have fun with criticism sometimes in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, but the truth is, I am very grateful to every one of the thousands of artists, musicians and other creatives who have created something I liked. It has enriched my life. Interestingly, there is more great music than great visual art. Perhaps humankind is more evolved aurally than visually. Most people seem to know when something is out of tune but few understand colour harmony.

When I was young I thought some artists were better than me. With aspiration comes comparison. One day I noticed that more and more people were saying that they preferred my work to these huge Art Masters and I thought "Wow! I must be getting somewhere!" That was years ago. As I write this, I no longer look up to any artist, or take any notice of what people say. I hear it, but it doesn't alter my trajectory. I just realise I am on a level equivalent to any artist living or dead and it feels great to have accomplished that by the time I was 45. Arrogance? No, I'm much too intelligent to be self deluded.... hahahahaha.

Had you asked me when I was 18, I would have told you I was talentless. What would you have called that? Modesty? I call it honesty. I prefer it to hypocrisy. So my self evaluation is quid pro quo. Life's great paradox is that in order to create great things you must first be honest enough to realise that what you are creating initially is rubbish. Few are capable of such self criticism. To do anything worthwhile you must be your own harshest critic. The sooner a neophyte artist realises he's rubbish the better. Becoming an artist is like being born again. You are a blank. They say genius is born not made. Really? I've never seen a newborn baby create anything at all.

Also I have long since figured out philosophically, that comparing things is often a bit of a nonsense. Let's take for example, my own work, that of Dali, that of Renoir and Unknown of Wigan. You can like this or that, in varying degrees, but it doesn't really mean anything. It means something to you personally, but that is where it begins and ends. So one can like Dali or like Renoir - I like them both! But for completely different reasons. You can't compare them. That is nonsense. You may as well compare an apple with a truck. It just depends what you want.

With me it's the same. I do this extraordinary work, but not everyone has to like it. I seriously don't mind. It's not essential that I get everyone's vote because fortunately for me millions of people do like what I do. And even if they didn't, again, it wouldn't alter my trajectory. I have met many people in Life I didn't warm to. Do you think I care whether they like me? Of course not. So you can like Elliott, Dali, Renoir or some obscure artist I've never heard of and it doesn't really matter.

My philosophy for Art is just an extension of my appreciation of life. A celebration of life. For me it's all about quality. I don't see things in terms of quantity. A week with the right girl is worth more than a lifetime with the wrong one. One masterpiece is worth a million minor pieces. It's worth more! In fact, there is no parallel. One man can experience bliss with a grand. Another man squanders his millions. Quality of thought.

The only difference between Champagne and cider is art. The only difference between the Eiffel Tower and an electricity pylon is art. The difference between amazing sex and a crap shag is art. The only thing that separates a Ferrari from an average saloon is art and it's the only thing that separates fantastic clothes from rags. The list goes on.

Of course, the inevitable corollary, is that not everyone who calls themselves an artist, actually creates any art. That is unquestionably the case. There is no magic in attaching an epithet to someone. The people who accept any old trash called 'art', are as daft as the cretins who create it. Don't think for a second, that this has anything much to do with opinion. It is more a question of wisdom, insight and perspicacity.

Making an authentic, insightful judgement requires three things:

1. Wisdom (or at the very least knowledge)

2. Perspicacity

3. Opinion

It's the rolls Royce or Ferrari argument. Which is best?

Well you will need knowledge of these cars

Your perspicacity should tell you that they are both excellent cars.

Your opinion will tell you which you like best. This is subjective and personal.

And utterly meaningless to anyone but yourself. Bear this in mind when expressing pure opinion.

Opinion is as common as dust and about as useful. It is a random element.

It can be completely devoid of perspicacity, or indeed wisdom.

Even a pig scoffing in the trough can say, "Snort! Scoff! Snort! I know what I like!" Hahahaha......

Only when a judgement has wisdom, perspicacity and taste can we glean meaningful insights.

And don't for a moment fall into the modernist 'good to be bad' cliché. This attitude is only adopted by losers, who perceive themselves incapable of great accomplishment. Bad taste is a bad idea. And you can keep the quasi-validational theories. Darkness can be expressed brilliantly without resorting to vulgar taste. As Wilde laconically said, if you admire ugly things you are "Corrupt without being charming".

So think about Art in this universal context for a moment. Anything creative, done incredibly well. Created by people who pause amidst the maelstrom of everyday life and say "I have a better idea. There's a better way to do this." And it makes no difference whether it is Edison inventing his light bulb, Carese Crosby inventing her bra or an artist creating his masterpiece.

Of course, one could make the distinction about so-called fine art. I perceive this, as art itself at the highest level. Pure expression of Spirit. Some might say that fine art serves no purpose. I say the converse. Art may not get you from A to B or give you something to put your cup of tea on. But it certainly allows you to do those things in an exciting kind of way. Life without that dash of excitement would be pretty prosaic. You don't have to go to a night club or a fun fair. No-one is forcing you to drink Champagne. All the things that metamorphose an existence into a Life, the artless observer could described as inessentials. I beg to differ. They are the essential inessentials. The very essence of Life.

Art is a simple but profound thing. It should elicit a sense of wonder, or move you. It should be awesome, brilliant and beautiful. It should inspire you to greater things. These are all spiritual things and that is why art is so important.

All the things that transform an existence into a Life could be viewed as inessential, but that is predicated on the argument that it is only necessary to exist, not to live. Necessities fulfil our needs, not our desires. If art makes life more exciting, glamourous, indulgent, hedonistic, fulfilling and even at times spiritually moving - then isn't that something incredibly important? If these things, in short, make us feel more alive, more infused with spirit - isn't that something very, very special?

And my T.S. namesake quipped: "Humankind cannot bear very much reality".

Why do you think people pay such staggering sums of money for Art? For people will not pay for things of no value. Art, in fact, serves the highest purpose on earth. Art has the power to inspire. That is the greatest gift you could ever give anyone. It is actually the most important thing we do (other than sex). The body has its desires and apetites, so does the soul.

Shakespeare's great, but you can't beat a really good shag.

Inspiration creates better lives, for it shows us possibilities. My own life, has become exponentially more then it ever could otherwise ever have been, had I not been inspired by beautiful, sexy, gorgeous, awesome, inspiring things!

My influences were complex and diverse. Life, love, glamour, adventures, movies, mysteries, girls, sex, advertising, music, painting, photography, astronomy, quantum mechanics.... the list is endless. But there was one common denominator. I ignored everything unless it was exceptional, amazing and brilliant and unless I found them inspiring. And it made me want to live, in the real sense of the word. There's a world of difference between inspired living and mere existence.

So the bottom line is this (metaphorically not literally):

I create art, because I believe in the quality of life.

Wherever in Life you see quality, look a little closer and you will see the art. For creativity of any kind, when taken far enough becomes art. Take art from life and there is no cinema, no TV, no radio, no music, no video, no theatre, no painting, no photography, no sculpture, no rock concerts, no beautiful cars, no fashion, no elegant furniture, no stunning architecture, no beautiful interiors and nothing gorgeous in the shops to buy. That's obvious.

Less obvious is that you also take from life, everything of quality.

Without art we could still live. But would we want to?

Now imagine, if you will, just for one moment a world in which everyone, in all walks of life, did everything they were capable of, with a quality and excellence. Can you imagine the difference it would make to all of us? The answer to that is "No, you can't". Because the difference would be so incredible it is unimaginable!! And yet inspiring beyond belief.

I am grateful to all of those who have gone before me and inspired me to create great things. The world is a better place because you have lived.

And if in some way, I enrich and inspire the lives of others who come after me, then my life here on planet earth, will have had more than enough purpose.

21st November 2002
4150 words