5 Question Interview Series with Matthew Dallman

In the blog world few artists progress into more than just blogging. Matthew Dallmen is one of them. Dallmen’s multi-talented, multi-disciplined approach to all things art has captivated my daily reading for the last couple of years. In a fortunate discovery I was introduced to Dallmen through another blogger that was interviewing him. Since that time I have developed into a fan and a daily reader of Dallmen’s works. Matthew has graciously agreed to be part of my 5 question interview series.

1) What is next for you? You record music, score independent films, publish POLYSEMY magazine, write countless essays, keep a daily blog. Any coming attractions in your life you wish to share?

What's next for me? Well, being the father of twins, perhaps my biggest challenge yet! My wife, Hannah, is doubly pregnant, and doubly due in September-ish. These will be our second and third children, after our daughter Twyla, who is 19 months and rockin' the dance floor, our sprightly music lover. Right now, we are figuring out where Hannah is going to deliver the twins, because we don't want an overly medical birth if it isn't needed. Birth need not necessarily be a medical event; it is a life event first, to be celebrated as an expression of deep, profound spirit. If high-risk medical procedure is needed, by all means; but we just don't think birth ought start there.

As far as adding to the pursuits you list above, I will say that work continues on my long-delayed book for working artists, called "A River of One's Own". This is long-delayed because I keep finding new areas of research, which I must master before I feel ready to ask artists to read what I have to say. I'm also exploring whether I can develop and sell any music specifically intended for commercial uses (TV, radio, web) because, well, babies gonna need some shoes. One thing I don't often talk about is that my day job is in advertising, as an editor. The initial feelers I put out within my agency about writing commercial music were responded to favorable, so we'll see.

Also, I continue the testing of my hypothesis that close-reading the great works of Western literature and thought (through my enrollment in such an adult-ed program offered by the University of Chicago) will help me be a better artist. I do verbal as well as non-verbal art. That this program would help the former seems like a good hypothesis; that it will help the latter is less intuitive, perhaps wrong, but my sense is that there is a good chance it will, at least indirectly. It is a four-yr program; year one has had me read works by Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Dostoevsky, Herodotus, books of the Bible, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Rousseau, Machiavelli, and Twain. Plus I've started to teach myself Latin. So look forward to the fruits of all that, whatever those fruits might be. I've chosen to lay roots in this ground; we'll see what grows.

2) Integral Art - Can you expand/explain about your personal philosophy towards integral art?

I take it you mean what I use as working principles in my own work, distinct from the more formal, impersonal principles that make up my various essays on integral art. I usually don't think in the way you ask, so here's a shot at an answer.

On the personal side, I can sum up a lot by saying that art comes from what you live with. Those sensations, feelings, perceptions, conceptions, perspectives, and meanings that have been part of my gut, my muscles, my bones, my mind, my breaths, my shadows -- the stuff you live with, that lives with you day in and day out, this is where your art comes from. I've written of the idea that the stuff that makes up you is like a river. To you, your river is boring as hell. Completely uninteresting (it is a temptation to think this way). But to others, it holds mystery, a mystery you can spoil by talking about too much or by down-playing it; yet it is a mystery that is so to others in the same way that "the grass is always greener on the other side". A lot of the battle of artistry is allowing your river just to be your river, to others. And not trying to make your river something other than what it is, because then it isn't as mysterious, isn't as evocative. You live with your river; in lives in you. Your art comes from it, and rides along it. Let that be so, I say. Don't fight it. Let it fill you up; let it flow out; get the obstacle that is your constricted fear out of the way by letting it flow, as well. Make it so that others can live with it, too.

3) You have written about classical education in connection with an integral approach, can you expand upon this?

Oh, of my favorite topics! Ok, here's the nutshell. Classical education has two goals. One is, at its essence, to embed the process by which we consciously learn how to learn. Whether engaged in by home-educated children, college students, or older adults, classical education is a graduated, macro-developmental approach that throws learning itself into open scrutiny, and shows us how we learn in the micro, moment to moment, in every new area we come upon. The other goal of classical education is to enter into the Great Conversation about the Great Ideas that have built Western civilization, and will continue to build Western culture. (Though those terms, "Great Conversation" and "Great Ideas" are only about 60 years old; the conversation and the ideas themselves of course
go back to ancient culture.)

At the root here is the principle of "paideia". This ancient Greek term is quite alive today. It means the process by which a person's character is educated, enriched, and enlightened. Permanently, enduringly upon the body, mind, and soul. Through genuine paideia, we amplify and cultivate our true nature, and in the process, uplift all with whom we interact. Thinking about, wrestling with, and creatively expressing our insights about the Great Ideas means we, in our own ways, are participant in the Great Conversation. By mere virtue of contemplation of the Great Ideas, we are in the company of the great minds, and the great artists. This is character-forming, for one, and a fantastic method to open ourselves to the same river of intuition in which all great thinkers have swam.

Art, as "imaginative fullness", and whether verbal or non-verbal art, has in its objects encoded, discreet information, for those sensitive. Art reflects our symbol-making techniques; our symbol-making techniques reflect our consciousness; our consciousness reflects our experiences; our experiences reflect how we learn; how we learn reflects what we've learned; what we learn reflects what we study; what we study reflects upon what we deliberate. Thus what we deliberate upon is crucial, and I say there is nothing more sustainable to deliberate upon, to befriend, to wrestle with, than the Great Ideas and how these are woven into our greatest works of art and thought. What is art? What is beauty? What are sign and symbol? What is memory and imagination? And on through the over 100 Great Ideas. All roads lead to enlightenment.

Because there is no strict formula for "imaginative fullness", nor laws to dictate how artistry ought occur (not that anyone would want such things), the best we can do -- in fact, all we can do -- is gather the best available information about artistry, experience life to its fullest, trust our imagination to coalesce intuitively as play, and hone the manifest expression as the art object we make and show others. To the extent that comprises a formula, it is a very loose and open-ended one. But it is the best way I can see for artists to overcome the aesthetic malaise of "postmodernism". The great stories, the great themes, the great perceptions -- these all ought be the basics for today's artists, verbal and non-verbal alike. Plus, the Great Ideas provide substance for conversation between two people, no matter their background -- a handy perk for those moments we
are low in inspiration.

4) Do see any advancement in the foreseeable future for the working arts? Either in technology, social networking or a general philosophical approach for the working arts?

I wouldn't know where to begin as far as technology or social networking go. I'm a lover of lyric poetry and all things classical. (Though, of course, I like plenty brand new; for example, this will be the second summer that my wife and I will attend the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, a showcase for so many great, indie rock bands, many of whom I like quite a bit. I would in fact argue that the best indie rock bands are often classically-influenced, but that is an argument for another day.)

But as far as philosophically, I will say this: I think artists will stop wondering whether meaning exists. Knowing profoundly that, in fact, commonly-shared meaning does exist is the single magic bullet that forever exposes the sham of postmodern art's skin-deep worship of fashion, nihilism, and novelty for their own sakes. Relatedly, I think that artists will continue to explore how all the arts are knitted together, and what that means today, rather than what it used to mean. The rise of the multimedia artist dramatizes that the disciplines can be integrated beyond opera and cinema (the two original multimedia arts). Multimedia artists face, I think, the problem of content -- namely, what to fill their multiple mediums with? The medium is the message, as McLuhan said, and the content of a medium is one or more mediums -- of course color, tone, word, shape, gesture, material, these are all mediums, too. And our minds create meanings from them.

5) Your life seems to be a voyage that is perfectly expressed by blogging: Do we know the real you or do you keep a private life that is not told to your readers?

I didn't tell you I was blogging all this time from an Illinois State Penitentiary?


Well, it's funny. You actually aren't the first to tell me that the blogging is a medium where I seem to thrive. I have no idea why. I'm a lover of words (grammarian that I am), and I enjoy blogging as an outlet to my thoughts and intuitions. I particularly laugh when I talk to friends in person or on the phone, and I start to recap recent life stuff, and they say, "oh yeah, I read about that on your blog". It is kind of weird to have the two worlds meet. My guess is that if you read my blog, you know a particularly honest side of me (Orwell bemoaned the honesty required to be a genuine writer). But you probably don't know a lot about what it is like to hang out with me. Which is obvious but at the same time, it is one of my favorite things to do -- hang out with Hannah, Twyla, and a couple friends. At home, preferably. Quentin Tarantino said his favorite kind of movies are "hang-out movies". Usually, mine are, too (one example, "Dazed and Confused"). I'm sure this reflects on my personality. But before this self-inquiry gets too creepy or weird, I'll stop. :)