I find it interesting that in English the substantive “ignorance” and the verb “ignore” have different meanings. Ignorance is a state of not knowing – which can be a state of innocence – whereas “ignore” means to turn away and not see what is to see.
Do people see your art? Or are they just interested in seeing what they have already seen, perhaps a hundred times? If you show them something new, are they interested? Or do they put it in a large dustbin which they carry along tagged “incomprehensible”? Sure, everybody needs such a dustbin now – I carry one myself.
Collective and individual
Technically, a group of people, large or small, should know more than an individual in the group. We know from experience, however, that knowing does not always work that way. Which knowledge a group can apprehend as a group, depends on communication. In any accidental, temporary group, communication is difficult and may not arise at all – say, people waiting in line, or a dozen individuals who happen to be present when a car accident occurs. If one of them knows that there is a doctor’s office on the other side of the street – does this vital information surface?
Still, a permanent and well organised group, say the staff of a company, is also at risk. They tend to develop collective habits, like following identified markets and known competitors, and may ignore a changing reality. The one employee who sees something new may have a hard time calling attention to it.
The latter type of problem also goes for society at large. That is where artists come in, isn’t it? Creative, complex individuals with a deep understanding of life – intuitive or explicit – who try to call attention to what other, perhaps more simple-minded people, do not see – and perhaps do not want to see?
Or have the artist given up? Did you learn already as a child that new thoughts (so simple that only a child could think them) were not welcome? Did the ignoring adults around you laugh at you? I am sure they did! No child grows up without this experience (including simpleminded children). Every society has a surprising number of taboos and conventions of which every child at the outset is ignorant. Some taboos and conventions are beneficial, I will claim, but others are not (even if they once were).
To ignore is to refuse to see what is positioned before your eyes. Also in the special case when there is nothing there, it is possible to ignore. You can then act as if you see something. Exactly this happens in the story „The Emperor’s new clothes“ by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875).
Why don’t people trust their own eyes? In Andersen’s story, mass deception starts on top. As the story goes, two fake tailors set out to manipulate the emperor’s potential self-doubt. Albeit holding the most powerful position in society, the emperor also has the greatest potential for doubt. Do I, the emperor, carry my responsibility properly? Moving downward step by step, the deceptive “tailors” succeed in bringing the whole adult society into a collective state of ignoring what their own eyes tell.
Only when a small boy finally says there is nothing there, the spell is broken. In a true democracy, ordinary people are on top. If they doubt that they carry their responsibility properly, also they may be prone to deception.
Seeing like a child
Seeing reality as a child sees it, and at the same time feeling the presence of a guarding adult – yourself, perhaps, or your potential? – this, I will suggest, is the secret of Paul Klee’s art. Magic beauty in every corner.
Artwork of the fortnight
According to the Jewish-German political philosopher Hannah Arendt, Jesus of Nazareth, as she named him, invented forgiveness. As we know (but do not always understand properly) this is a way of dealing with wrongdoing and injustice. The ultimate example was set by the inventor himself when he said “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing”.
But what exactly did he mean by “do not know”? Innocent ignorance is certainly included, outright ignoring perhaps not. Just in case, you are wise to diminish your ignorance, to not ignore and hold anybody in power responsible!
- See also Judgement