THE ART OF “RIPPING OFF”: SUN RA, DYLAN AND CREATIVITY

See entries to the “Caption Challenge” at the end of Post.

In last weeks post, you saw a video which was built on Sun Ra’s cryptic chant ” Gonna rip the mask, Rip the mask off batman.  Look out Robin, gonna get you too.”  At the time, I had no clue what the chant was about.  Similarly, when I made the video (over a year ago), I was not clear what meaning, if any, I was trying to convey (for a more in- depth discussion of the place of meaning in art read the exchange on the Forum page of this blog.)  In writing this post, I may have some to a better understanding of both the original chant and my video.  Let me know what you think of my interpretations.

As I looked at this video last week, I was struck by the realization that it would never have existed if I had not had my close encounter with Sun Ra over 20 years ago.  This realization, was sparked, in part, by having read Jonas Lehrer’s Imagination: How Creativity Works.  Lehrer starts off talking about the importance of the brain in the creative process.  But, the bulk of the book is about how we enhance one another’s creativity by being interconnected.  Lehrer refers to Bob Dylan’s compositions to make his point:

….the original folk compostion is obviously there, a barely concealed inspiration. While it would be easy to dismiss such songs as mere rip-offs–several of them would almost certainly violate current copyright standards–Dylan was able to transform his folk sources into pop masterpieces.  (pg. 246)

I’m not comparing myself to Dylan but “ripping-off” Sun Ra’s “rip off” chant was the start of a chain of associations that led to the final creation.  When I started the video, I felt that visual images of just Batman and Robin would get boring.  The Lone Ranger was an obvious addition, since he was a childhood hero for me and he wore a mask to rip off.  I had no idea what Sun Ra thought his chant was about but to me it entailed stripping superheros of their authoritative mystique. If so, I thought, why not incorporate other figures who might be seen as superhero, even though they don’t wear actual masks.  So Bush and Obama came to mind first and then Buddha and then Christ.  Now clearly, all these “superheros” are not the same.  They don’t all have actual masks and for others the mask is simply a metaphor for our conditioned persona.  One might argue that Buddha and Christs, as “authentic persons”, should not have any masks at all to be ripped off.  In their cases, I believe that the mask stands for all the expectations and perceptions that are piled on them by many of their “followers”.  Within the Zen tradition, it was legendary Chinese Zen master Lin Chi, who encouraged his students rip the mask off the historical Buddha (See Quotes from Lin Chi to the right) .

Having entered into issue of spiritual authority, I realized that the essence of most spiritual disciplines is to strip/rip off the conditioned trappings that make up our persona (ego) and that it made complete sense to include myself among the heros needing a mask removal.  The last part of the video attempts to convey that beneath our individual masks, we are all the same and we are all “authentic”, like Christ and Buddha.

I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to substitute “creative” for “authentic”.  Free of conditioned expectations or assumption about who we have to be, we can be truely creative in fashioning our own lives.

 

I’ll bet that that is the meaning behind Sun Ra’s silly chant.

 

Caption Challenge Results

This picture shows performance artists Hsieh and Linda Montano who spent one year between 4 July 1983 and 4 July 1984 tied to each other with an 8-foot-long rope. They had to stay in a same room while not allowed to touch each other until the end.  Below are the captions sent in for this image.  The next post begins a series on performance art

1. Being in a relationship.

2. Married Bliss.

3. “Give me two more inches please.”

4. “Let go that rope”.

5. The tug of war event was not very popular at this year’s picnic.

6. “Want to jump rope?”

7. “Coz I’m so tied, tied of waiting-

Tied of waiting for youuuuuu.”

8.  “Whatever.”

.

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “THE ART OF “RIPPING OFF”: SUN RA, DYLAN AND CREATIVITY

  1. Thanks, Manoj, for making the “authentic equals creative” connection. Certainly makes sense that the more authentic one’s life becomes, the more confidently and powerfully creatively one can respond to all of life. I also appreciate your observation that, among other things, the development of our ability to express more creatively can be dependent in direct proportion on the quality of the interconnectivity that we experience with others. Or did I misunderstand you?

  2. No, JR, you did not misunderstand. Lehrer makes it clear that what we might call the creativity of the “individual” is just a matter of perspective and that we are all “co-creating” our experiences. Thanks for your involvement in this little enterprise. It helps me keep going.
    Steve

  3. Hi again, Manoj: Just wondering . . . Can level or degree of creativity be measured somehow? Is it all completely relative to “where one was” as compared to “where one is” and known only relatively by the inner individual who may be measuring oneself? I guess it’s possible for experienced and trained individuals (Zen teachers???) to determine general degrees of growth in authenticity, and therefore in creativity, in others. What do you think?

    • Hi JR, That’s a good question. See below what I said in an earlier post called “Art, Zen and Creativity” (http://artandzentoday.com/?p=124) , but I want to think about it some more and maybe come up with a post later that addresses that issue specifically. I’d sure like to hear from other readers on the topic.
      Thanks,
      Steve

      What Lehrer, and most others, mean by creativity is the creation of something that is new or novel. Artist, by definition, create objects of art, but these objects vary widely in terms of their creativeness, in the sense that we are talking about it here. There are a few artists, like Picasso, who, have prompted “paradigm shifts” in art. However, any particular piece of art , whether produced by beginners or masters, could be judged to be more or less creative, depending on whether its creator found ways of introducing novel features into the artwork or not.
      Those who regularly surprise themselves (and others) with works that are different in some way from what has been their norm, may be said to be more creative. It should be said, however, that there is no direct correlation between an artist’s creativity, as defined above, and it’s appreciation or demand by those who view, read or listen to it