Thursday, October 19, 2006

Your Inner Artist-Child

October 19

I have mentioned in several posts the book The Artists' Way by Julia Cameron. The book is helpful in a specific way to a general audience, and perhaps more to the readers who yearn to produce art but are blocked and unable to function.

The premise of The Artists' Way is that there is in every soul an artist which needs to be set free. Why the need, we would wonder. Perhaps it is, as John Vedilago, now of Sweden maintains, that we have set up an unnatural separation between a few practicing their art; a group in the audience, and a vast number totally indifferent if not hostile to the enterprise. The artist as oddball, and then there's everybody else.

This notion of the artist as special has been universally accepted by artists of every discipline. While I maintain that there really is a difference between artists and other people, this difference is celebrated by a few (think Salvador Dali, who parlayed the perception of himself into a multi-million dollar business by playing the role of "artist" so that everybody could see him as one). In a way, the artists of the world have been doing a version of this charade probably since the dawn of time -- in order to set themselves apart and establish a glorious, unattainable persona for the masses to observe -- and pay money for the privilege of doing so.

This separation makes it difficult to enter the realm of the artist. It puts most people in a position of thinking, "Well, I like to draw pictures, but I'm not like -- that." The pictures we draw and the essays we write get shoved in a drawer to be discovered after our death. But doesn't the mere fact that much is found in this way testify to the validity -- or necessity -- of art being the province of everyone?

"John Sweden", the artist and teacher I mention by his real name above, writes: "The professionalizing of our arts and culture with the attending attitude of artists it produces, 'don’t try this at home,' has rendered artistic expression and its potential benefit to our societies meaningless entertainment for the masses and overly expensive, wasted entertainment venues for the rich. The ultimate debasement of the arts is the belief that a few artists can provide a culture for all. It robs us all of our true voice and its potential in the chorus of human development."

Marietta Johnson, in her extraordinary school in Fairhope, saw this as early as the turn of the last century. Her school required all children to participate in arts and music, which she saw to be as elemental to their lives as any other aspect of their education. She saw adults who had not been allowed artistic freedom in childhood as deprived of an obvious basic need, and living lives of "arrested development." Poor creatures! And what has become of them? A more stratified, compartmentalized, frustrated world, with adults having never been children, and children being accellerated and pressured to forego their very love of life so that they can be part of "the real world."

There is something to be said for art as a means to enjoying life. More has to be said about the value of enjoying life, period. One way to do that will always be to be reached by art -- or better yet, let's take that from passive voice to active: One way to find the meaning of life, which is to say to enjoy it, is to reach to art, and produce it ourselves. It's not a parlor trick for the talented; it is, on some level, the birthright of us all. Yet we fear exposing it as inferior or unworthy, and we venerate those who are willing to show us their art.

There's something wrong here. But is it not the timorous individuals who are wrong. All they have to do is explore and trust their own instincts to creativity. It's a step on the road to self-discovery.


Bert Bananas said...

I've always felt ill at ease with the term "Self Discovery." It immediately brings puberty to mind. Well, it does to me. Puberty hit me pretty hard.

But I agree with your final paragraph when I change the last sentence to "... on the road to growth."

Finding Fair Hope said...

Change as you please. Growth and self discovery go hand in hand -- and don't tell me that reminds you of puberty too.

John Sweden said...

Although there is a lot here I want to comment on. At the moment I don't have the time to write anything myself. I will however leave you with this.

”What is art,

But life upon the larger scale, the higher,

When, graduating up in a spiral line

Of still expanding and ascending gyres,

It pushes toward the intense significance

Of all things, hungry for the Infinite?

Art’s life,—and where we live,

we suffer and toil.”

”Elizabeth Barrett Browning
English poet.

PS. I hate all references and connections to children, inner and otherwise, with Art. Art is an "Adult" process and activity that reaches its fullest potential and meaning in the mature complex nuances of adult experiences.