Monday, August 31, 2009

On Sacred Arts

"A Navajo rug may be a commodity for trade.

It also may be the voice of the weaver’s prayers and dreams"

It's my great privilege to be a resident artist at Wesley Seminary this fall, and I'm excited to be in Washington D.C. as well........excited to be learning all that is to be learned and shared here. They are very generously also giving me an opportunity to realize my "Circle of Hands" piece, which has been in my imagination for a long time; now to figure out how to execute it. Finally I can get this image out of my head and on to a wall!
Yesterday I had a brief conversation with a young woman who mentioned that spirituality (or religion) is often discouraged, almost "taboo" in the world of contemporary art. I had to agree, although perhaps things have changed a bit since the 1980's when I received my MFA. I remember emerging from that time with a body of work ("A House of Doors" and "When the Word for World was Mother") very much concerned with metaphysical and spiritual exploration, and felt quite angry at the resistance I received at the U.A. for my subject matter. I had an enormous desire to find out who, what, and where art and spirituality were united in contemporary life.

"If you bring forth what is within you it will save you.

If you do not bring forth what is within you, it will harm you."

.....from the Gospel of Thomas

So I did what I've always done, took off travelling on a "vision quest" that lasted almost 5 years, visiting California and New York City, and points in between. The result was a collection of interviews I intended to make into a book called "Seeing in a Sacred Manner"; the book was never published, although some of the interviews were published with the kind permission of those artists who granted them to me, among them Alex and Allyson Grey (The Sacred Mirrors), Rafael Ortiz (Physio-Psycho-Alchemy), Rachel Rosenthal (Pangaean Dreams), Kathleen Holder (The December Series), and others. In retrospect, I wish I could have made their conversations more available to others, because what they had to say was so profoundly inspiring to me, and so important to others seeking to understand the same questions.

Artists in our world have an "identity crisis". We are surrounded with structures that say art is important - schools, museums, galleries, magazines, books, churches. And yet, a contemporary practicing artist is often not given credit for pursuing her or his profession, often not seen as doing something with social significance. I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me what I do, and afterwards responded with "so what's your real job?". We define value in monetary terms, and equate quality or "professionalism" to how much money a "product" makes - which is an insane way to evaluate the "worth" of an innovative work of art, or any innovative work for that matter.
Illuminated manuscript by Hildegard Von Bingham (11th century)

Many of the greatest, and most profoundly transformative, contributions to our world had no "monetary value" whatsoever. Among them, the works of poets such as Rainier Maria Rilke, Rumi, and Gary Snyder, the solitary musings of Emerson at Walden Pond, the great visions of Lakota Medicine Man Black Elk and Hildegard von Bingam. When Van Gogh went into the fields to ecstatically paint the energy he saw in sunflowers or a star strewn night sky, when Georgia O'Keefe gathered bones she found in the New Mexico desert and contemplated them in her studio, when Louise Nevelson found pieces of cast off wood and furniture in the rain- slick streets of New York city.....they were not thinking about anything except the beauty and story they each saw, the creative energy that welled up from that source.

"Compassion is the rooting of vision in the world, and in the whole of being"

....David Michael Levin

Jesus of Nazareth lived as an itinerant teacher, living no where except where he was offered a place to sleep, asking no money for the teachings he offered to all who came to listen and to learn. I can think of no greater example.

I often think of Bali, the amazing way art making, ritual making, music making are so much a part of daily life, from the woven offerings that women make first thing in the morning to the elaborate festivals held on specifically auspicious days. For the Balinese, art is a devotional activity, constantly renewed within the traditions of their Hindu religion.

The Sacred Mirrors (Alex Grey)

"Vision that responds to the cries of the world and is truly engaged with what it sees is not the same as the disembodied eye that observes and reports,that objectifies and enframes. The ability to enter into another's emotions, or to share another's plight, to make their conditions our own, characterizes art in the partnership mode. You cannot define it as self-expression - it is more like relational dynamics.......Partnership demands a willingness to conceive of art in more living terms. It is a way of seeing others as part of ourselves."

.........Suzi Gablick (The Re-Enchantment of Art)

So what is "art process"? Well, for me art is a spiritual practice. I think if one considers it in that light, it becomes so much easier! Making art gets me out of the tyranny of my mind, and into a greater world of seeing, sensing, color, light......being. Sometimes (like with the "Prayers for the Dying" series I did this winter) it helps me to understand grief, to heal emotional losses or conflicts. Increasingly, I am interested in sharing the creative process with others, finding ways to connect with others in creative community.

Form is Empty, Empty is Form (2009)

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