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Artists Statement 1998

Personal Philosophy 2004




Joseph Kinnebrew

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Draft 7/12/08

Hope verses what?

I do not think “hope” is a useful emotion.  It is like trying to make the sun rise earlier or set later. 

To prove their intellectual prowess some people “pick” at the smallest and sometimes most insignificant of meanings.  The mindless 24/7 effort of cable news talking heads is an example.   But hope is not insignificant.  It is a big concept and in need of new definition to reconsider its usefulness and limitations.   While we struggle to continue finding our place in a world that repeatedly challenges our most sacred tenants we need to update many long cherished concepts ideas and clear the landscape of previously useful but no longer functional if not primitive ideas.  There is no alternative to this process and furthermore it just gets bigger as science, technology and art present us with new visions of cosmic integration.  Seeing and experiencing the revelation of heretofore unimaginable ideas appears to be the destiny of cosmic intelligence in its many forms.

I examine the concept of hope because there are no free rides when dealing with the essentials of life.  Hope is viewed by many as an elusive free pass bypassing the realities of life.   Why…?  Because like dreams of winning the lottery its chances of success are random at best and predatory on our despair and perceived helplessness at worst. Philosophy and religion both of which promote the notion of hope will continue to feel relentlessly pressed by change and in effect need to take out what has become their own garbage.  They offer up “hope” as a membership incentive.  A condition of faith.  I will not here debate whether they (philosophy/religion) have been useful in the past but now and in the future there will by necessity be greater pressure to give us “news we can use”.   “Less spoof and more proof”.  The promotion of hope needs a measured overhaul.  I agree that for many but not all we are going to need both of these precious abstractions of philosophy and religion but in a new form.  Spooky wishing (hope) does not make “it” so.

I am generally not considering those casual references to hope such as, “gee I hope your side wins” or “I hope the tooth fairy shows up tonight”.  Instead I am referring to the really big HOPE.  The emotionally laden yearning that thwarts the onslaught of a terminal disease, turns the tide, satisfies revolutions, confirms immortality, stays off the inevitable and will bring on images of the virgin to the side of a real estate office in Alamogordo New Mexico.

This kind of big hope is like trying to be determinate in an indeterminate universe.  But it’s not a plan that can work.  Best we look elsewhere for the solace we seek through hope.  A better notion might be acceptance and finding comfort in being a part of the great continuum which, while a vague concept, is none the less more realistic and in the end beneficial to us all.  Finding ourselves “living in the question” as Rilke suggested or finding peace, reconciliation and revelation in the simplest of situations or objects can bring us the most meaningful of outcomes we seek through hope.  The manifestation of this desire may well not be the one which we expected but rather one of greater and more lasting meaning.  Not hope  but awareness and engagement that can bring us to resolution no matter how difficult as it reflects the ecology of our life experience.  Too often we only see what we intend (or hope) to see and that may well not be what is actually there it the situation.  The clearer more realistic and engaged vision may be greater and even, in its simplicity, more profound.

I am well acquainted with the desire expressed in hope and what I have come to believe is its misdirection.  When my wife of 34 years was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor the most commonly heard comment was “don’t give up hope”.  Dear friends said it, books were kindly delivered to our door on the subject and the doctors said it.  What I wondered early on was were they saying that to our tortured family or themselves?  What was being shadowed because we didn’t or couldn’t look at it directly?  How deeply were we programmed to say this because we could not conceive of any other possibility and this at least seemed to offer some lottery like aspect of participation in a better outcome?

I read and listened to the science of this medical issue, which would become a tragedy and end in great sorrow.  I looked at the statistics and the treatment regimens as well as the options that others described and some pursued.  All were predicated more on hope than anything else and yes some justified their outcome by citing serendipitous success.  I took precious spare moments from my care giving responsibilities to desperately search for a magic solution that “hope” would reward.  But I must admit I felt (with considerable private guilt) from the beginning that hoping these outside chances might work would in all “probability” not work.  E.g. I moved steadily away from hope in an effort to come to terms with my own developing grief and that of others who sheltered and hid theirs with hope.  Instead I searched for tranquility and acceptance and wished that I might bring that to others who looked on with such heavy hearts.  I found the job of trying to help others and myself increasingly difficult because often their clinging to hope was obscuring sight of the train bearing down on us all as we stood in the middle of the tracks.  I kept my thoughts about the futility of hope to myself.  But I could not escape the feeling that I could have contributed a greater understanding and showed greater compassion to my children and others had I spoke more of engagement.  This help through our recognition and acceptance of this pronouncement: the statistical probability of the impending end of life.  Such efforts to understand and accept I believe yields new appreciation of the life process in its multitudinous forms.  A reverence for the possible and that which, at least for now, seems impossible or unknowable.

Hope is like nostalgia which I have observed is an alluring but dangerous mistress.  Dangerous because we are temporarily lulled into a nether world where we lose a sense of time, place and substance.  Being lifted from the emotion of grief from tragedy is a good and generous feeling but even more it is enriching when we experience epiphanies, before later settling back into the place where we live our daily lives with insight and love of what we know as life.  We see, at best, a precious and temporary existence even when there seems to be so little mercy.  The cosmos of which we are such an integral part does not know mercy. 

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