Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Samhain Poem


                                                             I offer now bread,
                                                             red fruit, and red wine.

                                                             To life:

                                                              To the dreamers,
                                                              the planters and gatherers,
                                                              to makers and unmakers,
                                                              the innocent and the wise.

                                                              And to the inarticulate and the lost, 
                                                              those hungry, and those fallen,
                                                              To every transparent lover wandering
                                                              grey bardos in their solitude.

                                                              Come to the table, all.

                                                              Here is a rich conversation
                                                              harvested from the last
                                                              living garden.

                                                              A dappled pear, an apple, a pomegranate.

                                                              A butterfly in it's chrysalis,
                                                              winged, moist, 
                                                              the slow rebirth of color
                                                              deep in the depths of this dream.

                                                              The year  will turn again.
                                                              The wheat has a germ of new life in it yet.
                                                              The blessing will still be given.


Sunday, October 29, 2017


Recently I saw Blade Runner II, a terrifying return to the dystopia that featured Harrison Ford as a "blade runner" hunting down rebel androids.  Not long after that a friend sent me a video about "Sophia",  the latest darling of the AI community.  Sophia not only looks human, but she has thousands of facial expressions, she can reason and carry on a conversation, and she is continually LEARNING.  I had no idea that this technology had evolved to that point, where robots are continually learning to be "more human", and increasing their IQ's at a rate that far exceeds any learning potential of a human being.  Check out the last video below where a nerdy technician "interviews" two robots while they have an actual dialog with each other.  That is not sci fi, it's happening now.  

The industry is delighted, and already they are working on models of robot soldiers, and of course, sexy robot porn girls.  In watching some of the videos below, I saw how easy it was for people to project "humaness" onto this pretty machine, to superimpose human values feelings and attachments.   We cannot know the nature of consciousness, but these are still machines. That scares me.........a world where people no longer need to negotiate relationships with other humans?  And as Elon Musk has pointed out, there is no regulation on this technology whatsoever, no effort to consider the impact or potential dangers of such a development as, like Monsanto and others, men once again "play God".  

In the readings America's famous "sleeping prophet" Edgar Cayce gave about the civilization of Atlantis, he said that at the end "black magicians" became consumed with power lust, and played around with forces they were not meant to.  In the light of Global Warming, Nuclear War, and now this, sometimes I think about all those legends of Atlantis.





Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk and Bill Gates warn about extreme dangers of AI:


Data Scientist Jeremy Howard has studied machine learning for 25 years, warns of dangers:


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Lilith" Performance

Here is the second performance  I participated in at a  Performance Showcase at the Carport Theatre, the wonderful community theatre created by multi media artist Kathy Keler here in Tucson.   It was my pleasure to offer two pieces (which were  created and  pre-recorded with the great help of Kathy) and  performed by Diane Warren.    

This is the second, the voice of Lilith.   In Judeo/Christian traditions, Lilith was the first wife of Adam.  Because she would not submit to him, she left Eden, and was forbidden to return, and she made a dwelling in the deserts, with the fallen angel Sammael

My story looks at it from a different point of view, perhaps, that of Lilith.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

"Spider Woman Speaks" Performance

Yesterday I participated in a Performance Showcase at the Carport Theatre, the wonderful community theatre created by multi media artist Kathy Keler here in Tucson.   It was my pleasure to see two pieces (which were  created and  pre-recorded with the great help of Kathy) and  performed by Diane Warren.     The first performance was  Spider Woman,  who is found, sometimes, in the deserts of the wide South West.   Because you came there with empty hands.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Butterfly Paintings!

Every year I make a new Butterfly painting (or two), and my collection keeps growing all over the wall!  Each painting is only 8"x10", a mosaic of butterflies.  A Portfolio of the prints is available for $45.00 plus shipping.

Nature is an incredible artist!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Power of Shamanic Art


My friend Denita is an artist, teacher, and psychologist who specializes in helping others access their deep creativity.  She wrote this article for  AY Atelier Art  and Art 4 All People, and gave me permission to reprint her article here.  You can have a look at her  art as well  here.   All  artworks in this article are copyright Denita Benyshek.

Shamans were the first
Einsteins, bicyclists, and blue ribbon apple pie bakers.
Shamans receive their calling from blackberries and
commune with disembodied spirits through apples.

Shamans journey to the spirit world and bring back moon rocks, 
postcards of the Eiffel Tower, and empty bottles of tequila. 

Shamans work for the benefit of their communities,
plug in their electric guitars and collect the garbage.  

During times of disbelief or persecution,
shamans secretly do their work standing
in lines, in banks, in grocery stores,
along the branches of family trees. 

When you are waiting for your turn at the high dive,
there is always a shaman somewhere in line behind you, 
beating a drum,
beating a drum.

Denita M. Benyshek,   © March 1, 2010

The Transformative Power of Shamanic Art 

by Denita Benyshek, PhD

Several years ago, I participated in a shamanic drum ceremony given by the anthropologist, Dr. Ruth-Inge Heinze. Her powerful, sustained drumming gave me a vivid, astounding, and meaningful series of visions. The progression of the visions and the symbolic conent of the visions were similar to what I experienced during artistic creativity. As I learned more about the calling, training, initiation, and practices of shamans, I recognized more and more similarities to my own artistic way of being. In shamanism, I found a model of how and why I make art.
Although I am formally trained as an artist (with both a BFA and an MFA in painting), I was so fascinated by the multiple relationships between artists and shamans, including the intent to heal, that I pursued a graduate certificate in the psychology of creativity, a masters degree in marriage and family therapy, and then a doctoral degree in humanistic and transpersonal psychology.

What is a Shamanic Artist?
My research (Benyshek, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c, 2013d) demonstrated how contemporary artists serve as shamans. Shamanic artists are socially designated spiritual practitioners who voluntarily regulate their attention for the purpose of obtaining information generally unavailable to their community, which is used for the benefit of communities and individual members of those communities.  All of these properties must be fulfilled for an artist to fully qualify as a shaman.

Artists might have some, but not all, of the shamanic properties. These artists can be thought of as having family resemblances to shamans. Like sisters who resemble their mother in certain ways, some artists are similar to, and also different than, shamans.

There are many different ways in which artists fulfill shamanic properties, such as dreams, prayer, ritual, purported psi experiences including divination and relationships with spirits, interaction with the Zeitgeist, genetic influences, neurological functions,  personality types, androgyny, learning to see, mastering craft, a symbolic kind of dismemberment and disintegration that is followed by reintegration and rebirth, relationships with nature, alternate states of consciousness, intent to heal, and much more! If you want additional information about artists and shamans, you may read some of my publications online.

For myself, formally studying artists as shamans confirmed my way of creating art and provided meaningful support. The model of shamanism “understood” how my psi experiences and dreams relate to my artistic creativity, how many ways of being and many realms and different times and memories and insights and immediacies are integrated into one work of art. In my paintings, poems, and performances, I represent a kind of visual/mythic/symbolic stream of consciousness, those seemingly disparate elements that are intimately associated in the imagination. I realized that I could perform my work, whether making art or conducting research, as a spiritual practice for the purpose of providing beauty, knowledge, meaning, and healing.

The Benefits of Art: 
Have You Taken Your Dose of Art Today?

Contemporary artists are most likely to fulfill the shamanic property related to providing benefits to their communities. These benefits are found in statements made by many artists as well as studies on the benefits provided by the arts. Art can provide for psychological, social, physiological, and/or spiritual needs of individuals and communities.
There are many studies showing positive effects result from art engagement.

The visual arts can provide topics for conversation that strengthen relationships and form community (see Wikström, Theorell, and Sandström, 1992). Novels like Black Beauty (Sewell, 1907), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Stowe, 1852)and The Heroic Slave (Douglass, 1853/1975) contributed to major social changes. Artists today work to create beauty amidst despair, provide spiritual experiences to a materialistic society, build bridges between different ethnicities, help folks form deeper relationships with their own souls, and much more.

An artwork can provide a screen onto which an individual can project internal conflicts or emotions, safely experiencing dissociated emotions in an externalized form, for a limited time, within a beautiful container. Ecstatic catharsis can result, with greater insight resulting, and then these insights can be intergrated into an individual’s sense of self.

Listening to music resulted in surgical patients needing less anesthesia (Ayoub, Rizk, Yaacoub, Gaal, & Kain, 2005), reduced pain, anxiety, depression (Guétin et al., 2011), lowered heart rate and blood pressure in cardiology patients (Bradt, 2009), decreased anxiety from pressures to excel in gifted students (Cadwallader & Campbell, 2007),  positively effected intelligence, mental health, and immunity (Avanzini et al., 2006), and improved fluency, ease of movement, and levels of antibodies, while also decreasing levels of stress hormones in people with Parkinson disease (Enk, 2008).

When surgeons listen to their favorite music during surgery, their surgical skills improve. For two weeks, seniors listened to music from their youth. At the end of that time, they stood straighter, grew in height, were happier, and had improved physical signs of health. Amazing!
At a certain neurological level, the brains of people reading novels respond to stories as though the readers were really, physically part of the story. In the mind of the reader, fiction becomes reality. Is this a form of magic?

During receipt of benefits from spiritual, healing art, art audiences are partly functioning as shamanistic (shamanlike) communities. A contemporary audience might not label individual artists as shamans. Nonetheless, when an art audience receives benefits from a work of art, the work’s artist is implicitly designated as a shaman.

When an individual is engaged with art (as an artist, member of the audience, or collector), art can evoke memories, make new connections, heighten awareness, discharge repressed emotions, halt patterns of repression, lead to self-discovery, create empathy with individuals or cultures, remind society of social ills needing attention, and lead to individual and societal healing.

Audience members utilize their own creative processes during art engagement. The efficacy of shamanic art is quite dependent upon the talents (inborn) and skills (learned and developed) of individual art audience members. I believe that audience members and collectors will benefit even more from art as they learn how to invite, engage, undergo, and accept the transformative benefits offered by art.

The Role of Art Collectors

Art collectors play a critical role in the artist-artwork-audience-society system, providing a type of social support and acceptance to shamanic, healing artists that is unavailable elsewhere. Collectors give themselves opportunities to develop deeper  ongoing relationships with works of art, through repeated encounters and a prolonged, appreciative gaze. The artist has thrown the ball. The collector catches the ball. Both roles are important!

I’ve always found it fascinating that whenever I meet someone who owns my art, we are immediately elated and enjoy a deep sense of connection. It is a special relationship that continues no matter how far apart we are. Collectors purchase art that is personally expressive of who they are. Thus, my collectors and I have some quality, experience, memory, dream, some phenomena in common. Somewhere in the Venn diagram of spirituality, our souls overlap and unite.

Surrounding one’s self with art can strengthen one’s self knowledge and contribute to self actualization. Buying art is an unabashed act of personal strength, expressing individuality and freedom: This is what I like. This is what I choose to live with every day. This is who I am!


Sources of Inspiration, Doorways to Soul

If I find myself mentally thinking of some tune, I begin whistling or singing that tune, to bring it further out into the physical, sensate world. Moving my body with the tune strengthens the kind and level of integration with self. Sometimes such movements feed ideas for my works of art.  In my studio, I listen to music to establish mood, sustain creative flow, and facilitate entry into light creative trance. Listening to Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro over and over and over supported me in making art that was profoundly personal, feminine, honest, strong, and caring. I also learned all of their songs and can sing every word of their lyrics, copying the singer’s inflections and expressions. But, when I play piano and sing Joni Mitchell’s songs, or sing Laura Nyro a cappella as a birthday gift for a friend, I offer my own interpretations and the songs are transformed into different shapes and colors.

When I was at the Ucross Art Foundation in Wyoming, I decided to paint spontaneously. Yet, while working on the oil painting, Woman and Man: The Human Animal, I realized I had dreamt about this painting – and my studio at the Ucross Foundation – months before I arrived. In the realm of dreams, I already knew what the art studio looked like.

In the graphite drawing, Prelude to Confluence, multiple sources of inspiration are present: wilderness and culture, male and female, growth and harvest, dream and fulfillment. Shamanically, I am bringing together phenomena considered opposite. In my drawing, the opposites dance in a conjunctio oppositorum, making love and creating beauty.   The large collage, Sonata in Joy Major, was created in response to works made by other artists that were dark, desultory, destructive, aggressive, or victimized. I wanted to make a work of art that was enlivened by color, movement, nature, that would give viewers a sense of joy. The watercolor Thanks Giving is a quiet and mystical celebration of the natural qualities of fecundity, pregnancy, possibility, birth, growth, and fruition. The Sacred Ladder of Light, engraved and collaged glass with embroidery, celebrates the spiritual, creative power of women.

My paintings can be seen as acts of celebration, wisdom, insight, and healing self-expression that are also intended to move and heal viewers, communities, and society, even relationships with nature. Many works, such as the drawing Beginning of a Long Journey, depict the journey of individuation or stages in the hero’s journey.


I invite you to slow down and linger, gaze meditatively at my artwork. You can  discover your source of inspiration within the reality of my artwork. Enter through the painted door, cross the collaged threshold into a living realm of beauty, meaning, knowledge, experience, and reality of self, where you can meet your self and embrace your soul.
Many blessings,

Dr. Denita M. Benyshek
January 19, 2013, Snoqualmie Valley,


Dr. Denita Benyshek is a professional visionary artist, an internationally recognized researcher on contemporary artists as shamans, and a psychologist who provides psychotherapy and coaching services to artists and creative individuals. The artist-researcher-healer’s education includes a BFA and MFA in painting, training in dance and theatre, study at Pilchuck Glass School, a graduate certificate in the psychology of creativity, an MA in psychology – marriage and family therapy, and a Ph.D. in humanistic and transpersonal psychology.  
Dr. Benyshek’s conference presentations integrate scholarship, visual art, poetry, dance, and theatre. Articles, chapters, and PowerPoint presentations by Dr. Benyshek can be read and downloaded online.  

A recent study (Cardeña, Iribas-Rudin, & Reijman, 2012) entitled “Art and Psi,” published in The Journal of Parapsychology, described some of Dr. Benyshek’s precognitive and remote viewing experiences as part of the discussion about artists and paranormal phenomena.

  © 2013, Denita Benyshek

Art: http://www.denitabenyshek.com

Avanzini, G., Besta, C., Lopez, L., Litta, E., Koelsch, S., & Majno, M. (Eds.). (2006). The neurosciences and music II: From perception to performance (Vol. II). New York, NY: New York Academy of Sciences.
Ayoub, C. M., Rizk, L. B., Yaacoub, C. I., Gaal, D., & Kain, Z. N. (2005). Music and ambient operating room noise in patients undergoing spinal anesthesia. Anesthesia and analgesia, 5, 1316-1319.
Benyshek, D. (2013a). An archival exploration comparing contemporary artists and shamans. PhD, Saybrook University, San Francisco, CA.
Benyshek, D. (2013b). Art audience as shamanic community: How art meets psychological, social, and spiritual needs (Wang, Trans.). In G. Shuyun, W. Weibo & Q. Fang (Eds.), Modern artists and shamanism (Vol. II of Encyclopedia of shamanism). Beijing: 商務印書館 (The Commercial Press). Retrieved from Art Audience as Shamanic Community: How Art Meets Psychological Needs.
Benyshek, D. (2013c). An Overview of Western Ideas regarding the Artist as Shaman (Wang, Trans.). In G. Shuyun, W. Weibo & Q. Fang (Eds.), Modern artists and shamanism (Vol. II of Encyclopedia of shamanism). Beijing: 商務印書館 (The Commercial Press).
Benyshek, D. (2013d). The artist as shaman. ReVision, a Journal of Consciousness and Transformation, 32(2), 54-60.
Bradt, J. A. (2009). Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Vol. 2). New York, NY: John Wiley.
Cadwallader, S., & Campbell, J. (2007). Gifted students beat the blues with heavy metal. Coventry, England: University of Warwick.
Cardeña , E., Iribas-Rudin, A., & Reijman, S. (2012). Art and psi. Journal of Parapsychology, 76(1), 3-23.
Douglass, F. H. (1879). The heroic slave. In J. Griffiths (Ed.), Autographs for freedom. Boston, MA: John P. Jewett
Enk, R., Franzke, P., Offermanns, K., Hohenadel, M., & Koelsch, S. (2008). Music and the immune system. Paper presented at the meeting of the 14th World Congress of Psychophysiology – The Olympics of the Brain, St. Petersburg, Russia. Retrieved  from http://pubman.mpdl.mpg.de
Guétin, S., Giniès, P., Siou, D. K., Picot, M. C., Pommié, C., Guldner, E., . . . Touchon, J. (2011). The effects of music intervention in the management of chronic pain: A single-blind, randomized, controlled trial. Clinical Journal of Pain. Retrieved from http://www.prohealth.com/ibs/library
Sewell, A. (1922). Black Beauty: The autobiography of a horse. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, & Company.
Stowe, H. B. (1852). Uncle Tom’s cabin or life among the lowly (Vol. I & II). Boston, MA: John P. Jewett & Company.
Wikström, B.-M., Theorell, T., & Sandström, S. (1992). Psychophysiological effects of stimulation with pictures of works of art in old age. International Journal of Psychosomatics, 39(4), 68-75.

Friday, October 13, 2017


Re-incarnate, to become physical, carnal, carna.........I was told by a psychic this summer that I should write.  When I asked about what, he said I should write about my life.......

But what part of  that highly subjective  story  should I write about?  Lately I've been thinking that the deepest, most timeless moments, outside of moments in awe of  beauty and the many intimacies and conflicts and  discourses of relationships,....are for me the visionary moments I have been privileged to experience.   In the realms of visioning,   art manifests to the imagination, and many-layered answers and truths reveal themselves in ways that cannot always be understood in  a concrete, "in-carnated" sort of way.   Or even in an immediately temporal way. 

There was a time in the 80's when I was very interested in re-incarnation.  I belonged to a group that met weekly to do meditation  work, I worked with a psychic who did past life regression,  I tranced with the our group using Robert Monroe (the Monroe Institute)  tapes,  and I read anything I could get my hands on, from Edgar Cayce to Roger Woolger*** and numerous others.  The most meaningful discoveries I made on that subject  I have  continued to learn from as one learns from dreams, they remain and return.  Dreams exist outside of time or space as we understand it, and I think time and space is much of what the   "in-carnate" experience is all about.  And dreams, like  visioning,  remain for me as vivid and lucid in memory now as they were 30 years ago or longer.  They are.......footnotes on the unfolding story perhaps.   Their meaning unravels as the story unwinds, the story being my life.

"The Demon Lover" (1980)
What made  reincarnation work striking for me  was how very mundane what surfaced usually was.  I have an excellent imagination as a trained artist, but alas, I never turned up a lifetime as Cleopatra, or a priestess of lost Atlantis, or a great Renaissance artist.  What came up were scenes  of  impoverished lifetimes, short lifetimes, and almost always, lifetimes in which I was a servant, slave, or otherwise indentured to a group or individuals.  Which, when you think about it, is basically what most human lives are and have always  been.    Only a few elite have ever had the freedom  to define their own lives and/or  the lives of others in powerful or creative ways, and if you were a woman or a minority of some kind, your chances were even less so.   Perhaps, I might add, consensus and egalitarianism was more so in tribal societies, or pre-patriarchal societies.  But certainly,  for what little we know of history and the advance of civilizations, for the commoner, life was pretty constrained. 

I remember very clearly, for example, a regression to a lifetime as a young foot soldier.  The regressionist  asked that I look at my legs, and I saw that   I wore some kind of knee length tunic, had sandals and brown skinned, hairy legs.  When  I was asked to go to an important event, I found myself at a rough table in some kind of smoky,  dark room.  I was with a group of young men, all dark eyed and black haired.  We were drinking some kind of beer, and were joined by an older man with a beard (he actually could have only been about 30 or so, but I was in awe of him).  I was completely delighted that this person of authority would join us.  

Later in the regression, I saw myself killed by a spear at about the age of 17.  I hadn't done anything in that short life really,  and it says something that the most exciting thing that  ever happened  was I got to drink beer with a Captain.  Now that is a lot more convincing than had I seen myself on a throne surrounded with gold.  And there were other regressions along those lines with very little self-determination, and much hunger.  

"Light is the Left Hand of Darkness" (1986)
I sound grim, I suppose, remembering this subject.  But actually I think the lives that surfaced in doing that work, and at a time when I was getting my Master's Degree, were important to the empowerment and sense of self I sought as I struggled to become a professional artist and teacher.  It was as if Divine Wisdom needed me to look at those lifetimes, which brings one to the idea that we need to balance or heal traumas not only from this life, but perhaps from others as well, that their are  patterns that persist within the integral "story" of our souls.  

There was a very intense regressive process that occurred with a psychic we worked with as a group in Sedona.  She took each of us into a trance state separately, and in my case, I found myself a young girl of about 16 in what seemed to be  17th century France (and it's interesting that I've always been in love with the French language, and pronunciation comes easily to me).  Essentially what happened was that the girl was a peasant in a country estate, and was taken to the manor house by  a youngish aristocrat to become  his servant and occasional mistress, of whom he quickly tired.  She didn't have many choices about the situation.  He was married, and the girl (me) became a nanny to his children.   There was a fire, the wife was killed, and the aristocrat and family, along with servants, moved to a city, where I continued my life as a servant.  Eventually he found another wife, a young woman I felt great affection and sympathy for, as he was both negligent and abusive to her.  When carried to the time of death, I was apparently in my 50's, alone and exhausted in a grey room.  I felt "grey".  

"Spirals" (1985)
The therapist called that an "unclaimed life", that I had cared for other people's husband, other people's children, lived in a house that was not mine, had no value other than as a servant.   She said it came up because I needed to understand what it would be like to have "my own" life now, to claim "my own" power so to speak.  This was a theme in these sessions, and now, with the perspective of some 60 years, I see that it has been a theme running through the life of Lauren Raine.  And the lives of many others, of course.  

There were some surprising regressions that I still ponder over.  In 1987 I began working with crystals, and making crystal jewelry.  One regression that I did with our group (we would share our experiences after trancing) was entirely inexplicable, and yet, still strikes me as very lovely.  I seemed to be an old person who was a kind of village shaman or herbalist.  I was so old, or perhaps so on the periphery of the tribe I lived with, that my sex didn't even matter, I couldn't tell if I was male or female. and it didn't matter.  I seemed to live in a hut of some kind that had lots of herbs and bones and rocks I had gathered.  

There was a woman who came to us, a teacher.  She was so different from us, racially, and also she was from a much more sophisticated culture.  She had fair skin, she was tall with dark hair, and wore black, and I was completely in awe of her.  She taught me that everything I believed was wrong, was naive.  And one of the things I saw her do was she sat down with a big crystal, and placing her hands on it and concentrating, she "dematerialized" - she and the crystal just disappeared.  And then she came back.  I still have that vision clearly in my mind, and the deep reverence "I" felt for this person.  The last part of that regression concerned me watching her die.  I was with a lot of people, and we were gathered around her, and strangely, I could hear what she was thinking.  Which must mean that I was not incarnate myself.  She was very frustrated to be dying!  She keep thinking that her work wasn't finished, while a multitude of souls were gathered around her in love and in respect.  

I still think on this priestess or whatever she was, and wonder.  Was she from Atlantis?  Was there an Atlantis?  Did people know how to "dematerialize" with crystals?  Was it all just from imagination?  One of those elegant mysteries.

"Me" (1979)

***Roger Woolger was a psychologist, therapist, and researcher into Past Lives Therapy, Buddhism, and metaphysics.  His many articles and books are well worth reading.  He also collaborated with his former wife, Jennifer Barker Woolger, in one of my favorite books about the Goddess and Goddess Archetypes.  Roger Woolger died in 2011.  And there is a story I could tell about Jennifer Barker Woolger that concerns synchronicity and the Goddess, but I'll tell that later.

The Goddess Within: A Guide to the Eternal Myths that Shape Women's Lives

Two Jungian psychologists discuss the influence the classic Greek goddesses have on a woman's psyche and how women can bring the different goddess energies into harmony for greater strength and new insights into their lives.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Requiem for Gaia

(Ancient Greek Homeric Hymn)

To Gaia,
Mother of all, shall I sing:
The oldest one, firm foundation of all the world.
All things that move over the face of the earth,
All things that move through the sea, and all that fly:
All these are fed and nourished from your store;
With the pains of child-birth you bring forth all life,
From you all children come forth,
O blessed one, Mother Earth,
The giver of life and the taker of life away:
Happy are those you honor:
Your fertile earth yields up riches to satisfy all their needs;
Their cities and their homes are filled with good things;
Well-ordered lives of men and women you bless:
It is you who bless, it is you who nourish,
Sacred spirit, Mother Earth.

(English translation © Alec Roth)

I painted GAIA, the painting above,  when I was in graduate school, in 1987.  Although I didn't know it, I was accessing not only my deeply felt sense of the Gaia Hypothesis, but also very ancient archetypes of the Triple Goddess and the great Mother Goddess Asherah, often represented as a tree.  I worked so hard on that painting!  It was only exhibited once, and like all very large paintings (it was lifesize), it was destroyed in a few years (which is invariably true unless the artist was fortunate enough to either become famous, or to have loving relatives who cherished his or her art, neither of which was true for me).........and all I have left is a photograph.  Still, I love this painting, and am sometimes saddened that I did not respect myself and my visions enough to try to preserve it.  For me at least, self-worth and identity as an artist has been a long and slow growth.

I recently made a collage with this photograph  and the beautiful, ancient Song of Praise to Mother Earth by Homer.  This is the  kind of worship humanity would do well to reinstate in today's world. The reason I called the piece, which I made for a commemorative Day of the Dead show, 'REQUIEM FOR GAIA" is because I feel the Three Aspects of the Goddess look forth, with the barren tree, in sorrow and accusation at a world that does not  honor them, does not honor  what is being lost, and what is lost.  

What I wanted to say with this painting so long ago I still want to say.  SHE wants to say.  Blessed be Her name.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Remembering the Muse as we approach the Day of the Dead

I wrote this article in 2004, but it still matters, maybe even more now.  Felt like re-posting it today.

The former Muse Community Arts Center, where I used to have my studio, is fenced and empty, in preparation for her imminent demise.  Like so many arts communities in American cities, we have been evicted by gentrification, real estate development, and urban "development".
I've been told She stood empty some 7 or 8 years ago, the old YMCA building no one, except a few visionaries, wanted any more. I'm not writing about the history of the Muse, or the brave people who founded her, and why. I don't know if they feel saddened, or rewarded for their efforts, or just relieved to have the building sold and done with. I’m also not writing about those who are trying to relocate some part of her essence else where. I just want to remember the life, and death, of an urban Muse.

In those 7 or 8 years, a theatre developed, and classrooms opened. Reasonably priced studios filled with painters, sculptors, alternative healers, and non-profits. An occasional gallery hosted shows of professional artists, aspiring artists, and young people just learning to express their imaginations. Drummers drummed, dancers danced, actors created personae, students came and went with easels in hand. A reiki master and a new age minister held classes on Sundays, along with the Vineyard Church, who also provided donuts and coffee for the homeless as long as they sat through the service. A Buddhist lama taught for a weekend, and people in red and orange robes filled the halls. A month later, the Fetish Ball took over the Muse, and people in leather and tight corsets filled the halls.

Kucinich gave a rally to an enthusiastic crowd, the Gay/Lesbian alliance held their Christmas party, and teenagers in tuxedos and pink chiffon held proms to loud rock and roll music. At 7:00 in the morning shoes were lined up outside the door of a classroom as the morning yoga class stretched and ohm’d. In the afternoon, high school kids made graffiti art in the parking lot, while pottery kilns shimmered their heat in the sun. At 7:00 in the evening, the building vibrated to the studded feet of a flamenco class. The Muse was more, so much more, than a building. She was alive, a celebration of Tucson's diversity, an engine and generator of creativity.

Sometimes residents fought with each other, and artists gossiped in the halls. Dirty dishes in the community kitchen were always a point of contention. Management came and went with various degrees of competency. The owners burned out or left town, utilities were often in danger of being cut off. But the Muse struggled along. Because, for all of it, the Muse was full of love, and human diversity. Her last year found her depressed, like someone with a terminal disease. People began leaving, doors stood open to empty studios, fighting among those who remained was more bitter than it had ever been before. And now the Muse is empty again. Haunted, and awaiting burial.

Who grieves for her? Certainly, I do. The Muse, who hosted so much vitality, who delighted in the sounds and colors of so many, now is abandoned on the corner of 5th and 6th, her parking lot empty, a chain link fence around her to keep out squatters. On her grave, I've been told, condo lofts will rise.

I don't know the the corporate developers that bought her, and I don't care. They represent the forces of gentrification, "real" estate, and unquestioned "economic progress". In Tucson's so-called Historic Arts District they have imminent domain, and as downtown becomes more profitable, artist studios, galleries, and gathering spots, like the Muse, have become increasingly sparse.

I'd like to draw attention to the word "lofts", which used to mean live/work spaces in industrial buildings in places like New York and San Francisco. Artists built lofts above their studios to save space. Why did they live in industrial buildings? Because it was cheap, and because artists need each other’s support and inspiration. I used to live in a famous space in Berkeley called the Warehouse (it's now an architects office with a rather pricey restaurant on the first floor). Live/work "lofts" in the Bay Area now mean highly profitable condos, often in former industrial buildings, that rent for some $2,000.00 a month. By advertising them as “live/work”, developers got around token restrictions the cities of Oakland, or San Francisco, made in recognition of their former use by arts groups. I don't know many innovative artists who can afford that kind of rent, which is one of the reasons why so many left. Hence, many individuals and groups are displaced, cultural creatives in an economy that increasingly does not provide enough resources to flourish.

Artists are marginalized in America. I don't know if this is true elsewhere. Maybe it's easier to be an artist in Rome, or Paris. I’ve spent my life on this continent, and have observed that my peers spend considerable emotional energy trying to justify their endeavor in the face of a popular culture that, essentially, considers them superfluous. A few of my colleagues got famous; some landed jobs that made them middle class. Most of us didn't really care that much; we got by, and the rewards of a creative life were enough. But now, urban life is becoming expensive, even in Tucson. And rural enclaves, like Bisbee, and Sedona, and Jerome, have also become costly.

The land the Muse was on is valuable, because the surrounding area has become interesting. Thanks to the artists, writers, cafes, bookstores, and clubs that have come to inhabit the area. For the past 10 years, people fleeing the cost of living in California are coming to Tucson, and developers are, from my perspective, barely able to contain their glee, by the proliferation of housing developments also blossoming like mushrooms in the surrounding, pristine desert. That most of these are inappropriate for their use of energy and water is another issue.
The city of Tucson says it wants an arts district. And yet it is an irony that as Tucson grows, its downtown cultural center is emptying out. As of this writing (2007), the past two years have seen the loss of the Muse, Orts Dance Space, the Sanjin warehouse, Muse Pottery, Biblio, and now  the Seinfeld building.  The Arts Partnership gallery will be moving in May of 2007, as their building becomes converted to condos. There are empty storefronts and warehouses now, with high rents, that undoubtedly await the advent of a Starbucks, or a Gap, or a Cost Plus. And meanwhile serve as a tax break.

In fact, there are precious few art spaces left in the "Historic Arts District", although where there once were there are gourmet coffee shops opening along with artisan beer restaurants.   Will anyone remember what generated the ambiance and energy that brought people there, other than food?  My question is, what is real value? In my book, the energy the Muse generated is "real value". If the city of Tucson really wants to encourage an arts district, why not give artists, and other social innovators, what they need: space. Inexpensive leases, rent control, protection, and respect for the energy they bring?The Muse was not derelict: it was full of tenants, a well insulated building. The waste of a creative community is a terrible loss to all of us. And I personally find the waste of the building as well is obscene. The roof could have been fixed, the air conditioner renovated. A few professional arts administrators could have been employed to keep it in the black.

Property speculation is intrinsic to our economic value system. But what about community goodwill speculationCreativity speculation? What equity do the people who inhabited the Muse get for raising the monetary value of a neighborhood by, in essence, raising its energy? Real estate investors that buy up arts areas for gentrification are sometimes beneficial, but more often they are predatory, too often displacing the lively, and vital innovation of these areas with calculated, and expensive, formula. Without any motivation other than profit, they have no concern for the living organism that is a community. They are making money from the unpaid creative energy of people, well, like me.

Recently I learned about a nonprofit in Phoenix called Arizona Citizens for the Arts. The organization is described in it's website as "the charitable arm of Arizona Action for the Arts (that) increases discussion and awareness of the importance and impact of the arts in achieving quality of life, educational excellence and economic health for all Arizonans and Arizona enterprises."

While I am glad such an organization exists, there is also something deeply disturbing to me about the notion that we need charities devoted to convincing Americans that art and creativity is something that can, just maybe, contribute to education and the quality of life. Is it possible it's no longer obvious? And, in the language of profit, I find it very depressing that the arts need to be justified because they can make money, providing "economic health" and accommodating, in some fashion, capital "enterprises".

What is real value? Can we can no longer justify even the creative impulse, the masterful creation of beauty, and the healing depths of self-expression - unless we are convinced they can make money? What, then is "real value"?
I'd like to affirm that the arts are the soul of any given community, and of any given civilization. They embody the conscience, the aesthetics, the history, and often, the future of an evolving culture. They celebrate what is best in the human experience, our highest aspirations and our complex human diversity.

Farewell to the Muse. You will be missed.

Copyright Lauren Raine 2005