Cummey as Oyr - Art, Meaning and the Human Mind



People have been depicting the forms in their mind for at least 30,000 years. Clay pigments smeared with finger and thumb on a cave wall, egg tempera on canvas, pixels of light on a screen… and for that long the viewer has been trying to decipher them.

This piece of art is a statement made by one mind, to be heard by another. How it resonates inside the mind of the viewer is unique and personal to them. If this piece really speaks to you, then a bridge has been made.

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Resolution: 8000 x 3667 px
Tools: GNU Image Manipulation Program
Edition size: 10


"Cummey as Oyr"

This universe is replete with an abundance of complex and beautiful forms, but perhaps none more so than the sapient mind.

The stars, nebula and planets that form our galaxy are but clay in comparison to the living mind. We are inert matter that has been uplifted to the lofty status of sapience. Self-aware and capable of creation, our imaginations are engines of meaning, our bodies the tools to manifest our dreams and sculpt the worlds about us into glorious forms.

This piece of art is a demonstration of this process and I’ll explore what that means to us as human beings in this article.

The bulk of the universe is composed of inert, nonliving clumps of matter that simply are. These entities, though beautiful in their own right are nothing else other than themselves. The electron knows not of its fate in life. The neutron star is unaware that it is radiant and awe-inspiring. A passing cloud has no sense of where it ends and where the sky begins. It simply exists. And that is all.

This would be the story for most of existence but for that incredible, fragile arrangement of proteins, minerals and fatty acids that we call Life. Life takes inert matter and transforms it into something more. By arranging it just so, the matter takes on a new depth of being - a pattern that can be decoded with the proper interpretation - information.

All life makes use of information - at its base level life utilizes DNA. And the more complex the life, the more information it can behold: but when a mind perceives information it transforms it into that wondrous, ephemeral quality called meaning.

The mind is an engine of meaning, and by that I mean that it is capable of taking a thing, it’s context and properties and making it represent something else entirely - often something profound.

A person can pick up a stone, and interpret it not merely as the thing that it is, but also as a tool, for example; or a weapon, a number, an obstacle, a toy, or a part of a home; or indeed any number of contextual forms. On the material level, the stone simply is, but depending on the viewer and the circumstance, it can come to mean almost anything. How often I have seen my daughter play with pebbles as if they are a family, each one a complex personality unto themselves.

This may not seem that unusual to us, but in reality, it is a profound act, and to me it feels borderline magic.

The molecules of liquid in an ink bottle can be so arranged to form a story of exquisite beauty, encompassing an endless variety of complex ideas. These molecules have being imbued with information. But in a material sense, it is simply ink that has been spilt in a deliberate way. Without a conscious mind to interpret it properly, it is just a string of meaningless splodges.

In this piece of art, I have chosen to arrange colours in such a way to create meaning for me, and meaning for whoever views it - though all of these meanings will be unique to the mind that experiences it. Indeed, such is the power of your mind that you can choose for this piece of art to represent any thought you wish - even to model things that would be impossible to exist in the physical realm.

In short, we lend the universe meaning by constantly overlaying the world around us with our own Layer 2 of information and context. In a universe that may otherwise be devoid of concept, the sapient mind transform reality simply be observing it. By looking at my piece of art, you are changing it.

If there is a meaning of life in this universe, it is we who define it. Collectively and as individuals.

And so, since we became more than sentient, since humans became sapient, we have used art to represent the exotic forms we see in our minds. We give physical form to the dreams we concoct. Sometimes, we watch weather patterns and imagine that they have a life of their own. We stand at the mercy of the elements, and see them as gods.

And these semi-living entities reside in our minds, and we communicate them to our peers. And we tell stories about them, we depict them in our art. These beings reside, not in the external, physical world, but the meaningful realm of our culture. A form of meta-verse.

Artists depict ideals and concepts, such as Liberty or Justice and bestow personality and human form. The term “living rent-free in our head” is particularly apt for these kinds of meta-beings. Religious deities, urban myths, aliens, historical figures - whether they have real-life counterparts or not - are given a cultural life that resides in the collective consciousness of a given population.

Whenever we stare at a piece of art, there is meaning there to be extracted. We try to decode its message, understand it and in turn, we allow art to reinforce, update or inform the bustling population of idea-beings that live in our minds.

As sapient creatures we give life in our imaginations to virtual ones, they walk with us, and talk to us, and inform our judgments and actions. Heroes and heroines, gods and demons, our in-laws, our friends, caricatures of famous people, the whims of the stock-market, and the collective identity of a country.

We draw shapes on cave walls, on canvas and on screen, and we depict these concepts through our art. As seeds, they lie dormant, awaiting the next pair of eyes to absorb them and allow them to take root once more, in the humus of the mind.

About me

I’m a Manx artist, living on the Isle of Man – a beautiful island in the Irish Sea.

I’ve been creating art for many years. My work can be found hanging on walls in Manhattan, Tokyo, London, Abu Dhabi, Madrid and even at sea on a US Navy warship!

You can see more of my work at my site.

The title of my pieces are written in Manx Gaelic – the language of my island.


Take five

Take five minutes out of your day to stop and reflect. Art is like a portal, it can transport your mind away from the relentless stress of everyday life and give you the space to experience something profound.

I invite you to stop everything- everything – just for five minutes. Stare at some art (and I mean really stare), and open up your mind to feeling and thinking whatever floats to the surface.

I’m always surprised at how powerful this can be. Finding art that really resonates with you, that speaks to you, is one of the most profound things a human mind can experience. It can lead to insights about yourself, life, and existence in general.

Go on, try it! And if you like, you can let me know what you experience.

Get in touch

Art is all about communication and I’d love to hear your thoughts on my work, or art in general – why not head over to Twitter and drop my a line? Or leave a comment below.

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