by Dan Sturn
A theory of art, architecture, poetry, music, technology, and God.
Let us consider "Creating Art" as a spiritual, organic process between the Artist, the Reader, and the Muse, which involves Listening, Crafting, and Reacting.
Then, an artist would “listen” with his heart, catching messages from his stream of thought. At the time he hears the message, the artist has no knowledge of the meaning in the message. The Muse sends the message to the artist, but the message is intended for the Reader of the art. Each Reader receives his own lesson. Thus, true art exudes as many meanings as there are Readers.
In other words, what you get from the art is up to you, not the artist. The meaning belongs to the beholder!
Meanwhile, the Artist's role is to fertilize, listen, hear, and then "craft" the message. The crafting process is like pruning an organic, growing plant. The Artist must be careful not to affect the original message. Some artists conform to cultural "rules" related to pruning (such as Form in Poetry, Style in Architecture, standards in Technology).
An Artist is driven to listen to the Muse, as doing so is in itself a spiritual act. But an Artist also enjoys Reacting to other art within the artist's field. This is done not only as a learning experience, but also to inspire the listening process, as well as to receive messages from the Muse. It also teaches the Artist to Prune. Thus, an Artist also acts as a Reader of others’ art, and completes the organic process in the act of Reacting.
This results in multiple interpretations of any creative work. We see it in art, poetry and architecture, of course. Bit we also see it in any creative endeavor. It explains the diverse reactions to modern music, or the need for menus in a restaurant. Multivalence permeates Technology (the making of tools). Other examples of multivalence can be found in quantum mechanics, the theory of evolution, and the definition of artificial intelligence. Multivalence is why one bible produces so many religions.
And thus Multivalence defines the theological trend of the twenty-first century: where millions are blending religions, cherry-picking the practices of eastern, western, and aboriginal cultures.
The Philosophy Born:
"We return to them again and again, not necessarily because of any particular meaning they may convey, but more because of the exciting and deep way in which the meanings are interrelated or fused together into a powerful pattern."
- Charles Jencks (1939- )
Multivalence became a principle of poetry in 2008 when the poet Dan Sturn began writing about it in the on-line writing portal, www.writing.com. He posted a “manifesto” that has been crafted, over time, to this current document.
Dan Sturn describes a phenomenon in Poetry and other art using a term he borrowed from architectural theory: Multivalence. This term, coined by Charles Jencks in the 1970's, articulates the phenomenon in art that different works have different meanings to different people with different backgrounds and different agendas at different times. There are many levels of meaning.
Not only was Jenks describing what we might call double or triple entendres in writing, but he also showed how meaning changes from one culture to the next, even one time to the next. We could be talking about Multivalence when we discuss turning our bedroom to a den; we see it in our neighborhoods where a church becomes a library that becomes a civic center that becomes a church.
While learning to read and write Poetry ising a methosd called “journation” where you “listen to the Muse,” Dan Sturn started observing a phenomenon that reminded him of Charles Jencks architectural theories. Interestingly, the Poems that seem to come directly from “the Muse” had an ability to present many different meanings. Different people would gather different opinions as to the meaning of these poems. It was as if a message came to Dan Sturn meant for others, and the others . . . the Readers . . . understood the message based on their own perspectives.
In reaction to this, Dan adopted the architectural design theory of “Multivalence” to describe this phenomenon in poetry.
The Two Tripods:
A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.
- Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
One of the more radical concepts one eventually discovers when pondering Multivalence is the notion that Poetry and Art in general serve an important aim: to connect people to their higher power. In doing this, art reflects culture. But culture is a reflection of spirituality. To describe this, one might postulate that Art is an action that requires the foundation of “two tripods.” The first tripod addresses who is acting, and the second addresses how the action is carried out.
The Who Tripod consists of Listener, Muse, and Reader. A listener just happens to be in the right place at the right time, in the right frame of mind, to “hear” a message from the Muse, who intends the message for many different Readers. What distinguishes Poets from most people is that they are actively listening for messages from the Muse, and they enjoy the “craft” of “pruning” the message according to certain artistic principles. Often pundits will become confused between the two, considering art with an excellent message as “poor” because they disagree with the craft. A great example of this is inherent in most religious debates.
The How Tripod consists of the three phases of creating art: Listening, Crafting, and Reacting. The listening phase may come during a shower, in a meeting, while painting, etc. But it is that moment when the Muse speaks to the Listener. This occurs millions of times in a person’s life. Unfortunately, most of us are not trained to listen; and even when we are trained to listen, we sometimes are so caught up in our past or future that we do not recognize the Muse. (This is what Dan Sturn calls "stuck on the bank of was or will.")
The Crafting phase separates an “artist” from a “lay person.” In this phase, the message is presented for consumption by the “Readers” through a process of “pruning” or shaping the original message to conform to specific rules of a craft.
The Reaction phase is often overlooked by theorists. However, Multivalence establishes that the Reaction phase is equally important to any other phase, for this is when the message from the Muse is actually delivered. For example, consider the phenomenon seen in “feedback blog sites” like www.writing.com, which formalizes the reaction phase for thousands of “Readers.” Art is actually created DURING the reaction phase.
Message from the Muse:
The essence of bravery is being without self-deception
- Pema Chodron (1936 - )
The message inherent in art comes from a higher power, whether that is God or Allah or Jesus or Ram or what Dan Sturn refers to as "the Muse." However you look at it, art must be treated as sacred for the process of creating art is a spiritual process. The most basic way that man emulates God is in creation.
"The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood."
- Jean Cocteau (1889 - 1963)
Often a Poet is surprised by the "meaning" the Reader gathers from his poems. But Multivalence proposes that this is a natural process, and explains why the Poet rarely understands the meaning in his own work, as it was given to him, from his Muse. When a Poet sees that somebody has gathered a meaning from a poem that did not occur to the Poet . . . . Multivalence has occurred. Dan Sturn believes that Jean Cocteau is thus wrong. The best thing for a Poet is to be admired because of meaning the Poet did NOT "intend."
Manifesto in Verse
To better understand the theory of Multivalence, consider reading "Style" which presents the theory in poetry, or "Multivalence" which establishes a perceived history of the ultimate expression of Multivalence, which is the history of man's theology. Beyond that, Dan Sturn's book, "Bottle in the River" is a complete work of Multivalence. This book, which proposes we use a river as the metaphor for the Muse, is about a Poet's journey down that river. It was developed through the use of journatation as a meditation process.
An Organic Process
It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written.
- William Carlos Williams (1883–1963)
As a strong advocate of "free verse," William Carlos Williams also believed that meter and form were imposed upon poetry by man. In other words, form and meter were not a fundamental part of Poetry's nature. The structure arising from meter and form was forced into the process.
Dan Sturn takes that philosophy a step further. In this global economy, where poetry is being translated from one language to another across all barriers, meter and form are simply not possible in order for a poem to reach all potential Readers. Thus, structure and craft as a whole must take a back seat to meaning.
Still, as William Carlos Williams says, free verse does not allow us to escape standard poetry principles. It's more about deciding when the Poet should start to finish his work, so as to not meddle with the message, rather than what form of poetry is being used or what meter is being followed.
The artist's role is to fertilize, listen, hear, and then prune the message. This is true whether the artist is an architect, a computer programmer, or a Poet.
Dan Sturn learned to listen to his Muse, and after much pruning and fertilization, grew an organic book he titled Bottle in the River. The pruning process continues and probably will continue to continue until this book is finally on the way to a printer. After that . . . . well . . . it was Walt Whitman who became addicted to the pruning process. His collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, was republished nine different times!
"A poem is never finished, only abandoned."
- Paul Valery (1871 - 1945)
In fact, way too often a Poet will "trim and prune" a poem to the point where it loses the original message from the Muse. This is why the use of free verse has produced poetry with so much more multivalence that earlier, tightly structured forms.
The opposite can occur as well, especially with Technology, where a profit motive often drives a product to market prior to it being safe.
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
- Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)
The trick is to learn when to CEASE the pruning process. So often a song will be so mechanical by the time the recording process is finished, it loses part of its message. This indeed is why live music is often more enjoyable than the original recording.
One of Dan Sturn’s controversial poems, “"Shag Bark Pruning" ,” establishes what Dan Sturn thought were his beliefs about the pruning process gone too far. What is very interesting about this poem is that the reviews expressed Multivalence in the Readers reactions to the poem. Some thought it was a diatribe against form and meter, others felt it was a complaint about people cutting down trees, while still others thought it was a complaint about the messy nature of shagbark hickory trees. Dan Sturn didn't really know what it was about . . . . it just appeared in his journal during a period of time when he was pruning Poetry into form.
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
- Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
True art exudes evidence that the heart has collaborated with the mind. The Muse and the Poet have worked together to create a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts. The gestalt is present in all aspects of the art. All principles of design have been considered. The work inspires emotion as well as thought. This is nothing new: preachers of the Gestalt have been holding this philosophy long before the term "gestalt" was coined.
But the essence of Multivalence is that the collaboration is expanded to include the Reader! What separates Multivalence from other artistic principles is that there are two tripods: Muse, Artist, Reader; and Listening, Crafting, Reacting.
"The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it."
- Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)
Some Readers bring their own knowledge to the experience. For example, Readers from the information security profession, knowing Dan’s work in the area, comment that Dan wrote his book as a witness of a new “culture of fear.” Bottle in a River can be seen as an illustration of “the awareness response” to threats and vulnerabilities. And you can see it in the reviews on this very website. A reciewer whomwrites about drum circles sees the book as a chronicle of a person’s spiritual transformation. Some Readers have expressed their belief that the book is an approbation of nature’s cycles, others just a humorous chronicle of Dan’s latest canoe trip. One thought the bottle was an addict’s last chance.
One phenomenon that is beginning to explode in modern culture has been made available to us via the concept of the “blog,” where Readers can “post” their reaction to a work of written art. This is especially true on various writing forums such as writers.com, poetry.com, etc. The act of Reading is quickly becoming an art in itself, completing the third leg of the How Tripod.
Dan Sturn tries to separate his own reaction phase into two distinct reactions: one to the craftsmanship, and one to the message. The first is merely to help the Artist improve in the actual craft of pruning the message. The second reaction is done more as a method of self-analysis, spiritual study, or just pure fun.
"I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings."
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
The Poet should also consider himself a Reader of his own poetry. To Dan Sturn, the meaning of Bottle in a River exists on many different levels. The meaning that currently resonates the most for Dan is that there are many different meanings, many of which he has not yet discovered. This is true of all poetry and on a broader sense, all of art.
One result of Multivalence is that the Listener is often surprised by sincere reactions of Readers. There is a consistent reaction to Readers among artists that Readers have discovered an “Unintended Message.” Moreover, it is typical to find “camps” of philosophies about the actual Crafting phase, but most sincere Readers agree to disagree regarding the Message inherent in art. For example, Wordsworth may put forth an excellent argument about the vices of form and meter, but he will always enjoy the multivalence available in a Shakespearean sonnet.
Multivalent art contains messages that cross cultural, language, and time barriers. Poetry can be translated into different languages and still be appreciated for it’s meaning regardless of the “craft.” Buildings designed for worshipers of the Ancient Egyptian Sun God (Ra) continue to have artistic appeal to “Readers” of the 21st Century. Music written for Renaissance Operas still resonates with listeners of Rock and Roll.
Though Dan Sturn is careful not to make declarations about the quality of art, he does note that “good art” is often accompanied by this Universality. Meanwhile, he also points out that simplicity of craft is often accompanied by complexity of meanings. One of the greatest examples of this is the work by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Though his craft often includes form and meter, the majority of his books are written so that pre-school children can read and understand them; and yet they offer complex Multivalent messages.
The Ultimate Multivalence
All religious traditions carry the same message of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, and self discipline.
- Tenzin Gyatso (the Dalai Lama) (1935 - )
If one were to back away from the basic meaning of this essay about poetry, and perhaps move from the “literal” into the "sublime," it would be easy to see that Religion is indeed the ultimate Multivalence. The first art, the first poetry, the first architecture created by man was indeed a connection from the “Reader” to the Muse . . . otherwise referred to as Ra or Jupiter or Yahweh. It is evident in the violence over interpretation just within the Judeo-Christian-Islam history that the same “poem” can be interpreted in many different ways.
Meanwhile, there is a growing trend within the global culture of “personalized” religion. Dedicated students of theology all over the world are beginning to mix meanings from several different religions into an assimilation of practices and beliefs. This practice could easily be called “Multivalence.”