The Artist as Shaman
If I can uncover and develop my innate wish to listen, then I can access something far more valuable and powerful than our contemporary art culture generally offers, or even suspects is there to be actively engaged with more than occasionally and accidentally.
The artist, by the nature of his way of working, of following his visions, can access the impersonal, the supra-personal, and see things that are not usually seen or felt or understood in our normal daily lives. It is a great responsibility he carries. All too often it is not understood as such and the necessary responsibility is not adopted and nurtured alongside the visions that are given. The gifted artist has, after all, been given a gift. There is the artist, and there is the gift. It can easily be understood that any gift has to have come from somewhere, and this reality needs to be felt and honoured if great fruit is to be borne by the recipient of the gift. Without this sense of respect and gratitude for their gift, the artist is more likely to suffer, and to only produce art that is a reflection of their subjective view of the world through the filter of their neuroses or psychoses, rather than to produce something that rises above the passive shouting of the personality.
It is a treacherous land the artist traverses and nothing is guaranteed.
The traditional shaman within a community, is a healer, a bearer of insight and a carrier of the group wisdom. He or she will have been recognised as a possessor of a gift, and will have to undergo very demanding training in order to handle their gift with due respect and skill. The responsibility is great. They not only risk their own psychological and physical well-being on such a path, but they gradually take on a broad and deep responsibility for the health of each individual within the community, as well as the well-being of the community as a whole.
The modern artist, in whatever guise, is potentially stepping into this same shamanic role, which through many centuries, has been eroded from and rejected by our Western communities, often violently, always ignorantly. Fear of the unknown has driven this social erosion, fear born from the over-inhabitation of our heads has rejected the connection with the unseen realms. As any psychologist worth their salt will tell you, if you suppress something from your immediate awareness out of fear, it will make its way to deeper parts, and manifest itself powerfully throughout your life.
Thus the shaman types, not actually extinguished from society but merely unrecognised as such, have found themselves in many undercover shamanic roles in modern society: as doctors, psychotherapists, ministers and artists of all kinds. People with a gift for healing and second sight. In our advanced civilisation though, the structured disciplines they find themselves encumbered by, can only give reign to their gifts in limited ways. The witch hunt is still on.
This whole notion leads me to ask fresh questions:
What is the artist's responsibility in contemporary society?
How do we distinguish art that comes from the ego from that which comes from the universal?
What are the higher purposes or possibilities of art?
So, as a gift receiver, the artist is also then a gift bearer, and our artistic manifestations are our gifts to those who see, hear or experience them.
One of my own criteria for assessing a work of art relates to this idea of gifts.
If you only had a few minutes to meet a fellow human being and give them a gift, the very best gift you could, as they continue on their way, which in essence is what I feel happens when a person stands in front of a piece of art, what would you wish to give them?
At the very least you would try to give something of value. Do you give in order to make a good impression and flatter your self-image? Do you give to enrich the other person? Do you give in order to horrify and anger that person? Do you give them a playful tickle under the chin? Do you hand them some excrement? Do you give from the ego or the mind or from the heart?
As receivers of such non-physical gifts, we can ask other questions too:
What have been the most impactful gifts you have received, today, this week, this year, in your life? That you still treasure, that continue to nourish you and even to guide your life's path? What is the nature of the most substantial gifts?
The shaman's role is to selflessly serve the highest part of every person. In contemporary society the artist tends to fall very short of such a possibility, a potential that is within their capability, but which in the majority of cases, they evidently do not know they carry.
Why are Men afraid of Women?
On a very deep level, a woman calls a man to himself. Something in her asks for a response of consciousness, of true manhood from the man, for him to be present and for him to inhabit himself in a rightful way.
This calling is to leave behind the childish inner gibbering and chattering which we ‘men’ occupy ourselves with the whole time, to inwardly walk away from the automatic in us, to rise above it, and courageously stand, silent and listening, to what calls us from above. This is to be a man. Something, even in modern woman, just as lost as modern man is, requires us to be grown up men, responsible for our inner and outer lives. She yearns for the authority that emanates from this way of being, and which can help her rise within herself to responsible womanhood: a mutual assisting, on the way to consciousness.
I am afraid of women while I occupy my unconscious sleep. And from my observing of myself, I evidently love very much, to be asleep. Yet I don’t like being afraid of women. That certainly tastes wrong. So in my sleep I react to this fear I feel, with condescension, aggression, self-pity or outright hate, to try and attain a feeling of superiority, which will blot out the fear. Thus the wheel turns.
But can I respond to this call from woman instead of re-acting unconsciously? She doesn’t wish me harm and she doesn’t want to be faced with the man of sleeping violence. She is calling me to be strong and to fight the sleeper within. She asks me to be awake, and this deceptively simple action, needs true bravery on my part. To stand, present, within my self, to occupy the place of this moment, Now, demands real courage.
‘Now’ needs to be re-occupied at every new moment. It is not an object that I can get and keep, I must pay over and over again without end. I must renew my effort of searching for presence, continually. Woman helps me, because this deep call from her womanliness is constant, and I can see that when I stop paying attention, my fear of woman returns instantly, there is confusion and vacillation, there is a loss of manhood in that moment. It is all sensed within man and woman instantly and at a very subtle level, without the involvement of one’s everyday consciousness. As a man loses his sense of self, a woman becomes disappointed with him or separated from him, he in turn senses this and without consciously knowing why, becomes fearful.
This all rests on the fact that each man and woman, in their essence, wishes to become conscious. If this were not the case, which is what the machinations of the modern world propagates, then life would be meaningless and relationships between men and women would quickly become coarser and more base, putting more emphasis on sexual attraction alone, which is what we see increasingly clearly in today’s western society. By believing ourselves to already possess consciousness and by our secular media and education persuading us that life on Earth is accidental and indeed pointless, we have lost our fundamental reason for existing, and end up vainly searching for comfort from this inner lack, in material and sexual gratification.
The attention I need to pay with, to begin fearless relationship with woman, is not the attention of compliments, which I must pay her to assure her that she is attractive and loved, it is the attention to my own presence. In being with a woman, there is a strong call to maintain the search for this attention. There is she, and there am I, and we must remain separate in this inner way to become one, we must work hard to each fulfil our individual oneness, to be of any genuine help to each other, to have any possibility of real love between us. It is a never-ending work, the striving to love another person, and when I am not in contact with myself, I am essentially fear-full, which is the opposing state to real love.
There is a mystery at the heart of the whole thing that I now recognise. Why, once we have seen the situation and experienced the difference between fear and love, do I actually choose to remain fearful? I return continually to an unconscious state in which I am afraid of women and they are afraid of me.
We can only really help ourselves. But by making this effort to help ourselves, there is a lawful reply from woman that is her helping herself. This symbiotic action helps us both. If I come into contact with a woman who is striving to become conscious, then it will either prompt me to search for my own attention or it will make me fearful.
Re-examining this question, I see it leading me to exactly the same place that all my other questions do. It is that I have to return to a sense of myself, or of my being, here, now. I must take occupation of this moment with awareness of myself, something that I can renew continually, that I must continually renew because of this phenomenon of losing my attention, or falling asleep, which carries on relentlessly.
So the situation is this; the only time I am truly not afraid of woman, is when I am present or when I remember myself. At the same time there is some mysterious, ever-present force that makes me forget. I cannot relax my search without losing what it is I seek, and I can never find what I seek in the way I can find an object, which can result in the possession of something once and for all. It is my destiny to continue searching my whole life, yet it's through the act of search itself that gives rise to something over time, that is far more valuable than the ownership of any object.
I Create Nothing
We are mistaken, in the very first place, in thinking that we are the source of our creative output. This essential miscomprehension about who we are and what we might be responsible for, distorts everything. It's a fatal assumption that leads us down the path of least resistance, a path to nowhere in particular, or worse still, a path to self-delusion, ego and pointlessness.
If we are fortunate enough to encounter a depth of profound meaninglessness within our hearts, along this barren way, we may find ourselves blessed with the means and sense to turn back, to re-treat and repair our root/route.
People who become artists are looking for something. All those I have met have been seeking some answer, following some question, asking for meaning from their living breath in some way, often without realising this is how it is. The question I have is; do we know how to ask a question? Do we know how to ask such a vital question? A question that guides our direction through the world, along the great path of our lives?
To arrive at the entrance to the Hall of Creativity, keep asking the question with no expectation of an answer. Gently hold the question close to the surface of your mind as you go about your business.
This action is the key to the door of the Creative Response.
As the question stands waiting at the door, it is patient, it is undemanding, yet it remains present and constant. In time this steadiness of intention is rewarded and the door is opened, allowing access to the abundant creative energies within.
This is what children do, before they are absolved from their reign of insight and learning. Once enough impatient adults have told the child not to ask their endless questions, in whatever manner has been handed down to them in their own youth, the child walks away from this marvellous entrance, which has granted insight, learning, inspiration, real knowledge and direct creativity, which has taught them to receive, to give freely, to make, and crucially, to understand that they are not the origin or the owner of such gifts.
This is one level of psychological meaning within the story of Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden.
After we have passed through this discouragement, the ability to stand at the en-trance and re-quest permission to step in to the great hall behind the door, becomes a distant memory, an unknown territory, and the domain of childishness in the minds and hearts of many adults, and we join the vast ranks of question-dampeners.
The way back, though accidental most of the time, or induced with artificial means, is in fact still available to each of us, once we have unlearned some of the despoilment we have been forced to undergo in our early lives.
What can re-mind me of this, amidst the embroilment of modern life?
Art & Money
We cannot escape this question. Not in these materialistic times in which we look at everything through the filter of finance. So we should look carefully at this relationship.
Art and money are both concerned with energy. The exchange of energies, the expressing of energies. How closely linked are these energies today? Has this helped the contemporary artist to make greater art?
It is clear that the bottom line has increasingly infected all aspects of life over the last few hundred years, to the point now that very little is embarked upon or achieved in the modern world by anyone, without considering how it can make a profit, or at the very least, break even.
God forbid we should lose money by accomplishing anything!
For instance; when did the British National Health Service (apparently still admired across the world) cease to be truly free at point of service and become a business that should not lose money? If people are healthy because of the work of the NHS, then no money can actually be lost. The intended end product or state has been achieved and the amount spent is simply what it has cost. In theory, tax payers are paying for exactly this result of a healthy nation.
(I have plenty more to say about the subject of health, but not here.)
Sadly the NHS system is intrinsically linked to a powerful business model; that of the pharmaceutical industry, which requires a healthy profit to be made. This model is the complete antithesis of how some ancient medical systems operated. The old traditional way saw the doctor getting paid while a person was in good health and not getting paid if the person became ill. The system was designed so that it was in the doctor's interest (both morally and financially) to keep his patients in a state of good health.
Health = profit.
As the NHS is now a business rather than a pure health care system, it is obliged to make a profit, and money is only earned in this system when people are sick.
Sickness = profit.
This is one clear and very large example of how capitalism has encroached on an area of human life where one could argue, that it shouldn't be in such an underpinning, controlling position.
This is also the case with politics, with sport and with art.
It is a real & necessary question for any artist to ask; How can I earn money from my craft?
In response to this, my next question is; Should making money be the primary motivation for making art?
I have been struggling in front of these questions for almost 35 years. It is an ongoing search for balance, drawn now towards the need to eat and to buy materials, to pay the rent of a studio and a home, and now towards the need to paint without any consideration in my mind or heart as to whether this particular painting will make any money for me or not.
If what primarily drives me is to make a sale, then in a very real sense, the purity of the work is compromised and it can be tasted in the resulting work. Yet I do wish to sell my work. I don't make these paintings for myself.
During the time since I started painting in the early 1980s, I have noticed a very pronounced swing towards making money from art, towards fame and profit, and away from talent and purity. With a quick, general glance at the contemporary art scene, one can see the abundant evidence of this practice.
But it has become so subtlety pandemic that it is not even questioned that artists need to consider how to sell their work first and foremost. Marketing and self-promotion lead the artist instead of following the making of his work. Quality, sincerity and true culture are the victims of this way of working, and with the decline of culture into a competitive marketplace, the genuine great possibilities of art are soon lost to view.
Maybe others too have noticed how The Arts are no longer The Arts, but are The Arts Industry, or The Arts and Entertainment Industry. The use of the word 'industry' has legitimised the debasement of art to a manufacturing process for economic gain. In this sense art really is dead, or at best, in a very poor state of health.
Even the grouping together of art, entertainment and sport, takes away from each of these essential human activities and lessens the intrinsic power of each. The blending of art with design has also been one of the more obvious calamities of the monetisation of the arts. The principles of design are very far from those of art. Quite separate skill sets are needed for each, and in fact, quite separate basic motivations are called for, for each, in their purest, most inspiring forms.
All this low-key, unconscious mis-use of language is part and parcel of the degradation of art, a terrible lessening of the extraordinary possibilities of art, and the powerful role that art can have in human society.
Art is impoverished by serving Mammon.
And this impoverishes culture and the lives of people in general, because artistic culture is an absolute necessity not a luxury, and if the pinnacle is lower, the overall quality is lowered even further.
How can we encourage the arts to thrive financially, while keeping commerce away from the act of making art?
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