With the coming of fall, my pace has slowed and my eagerness to go go go, north north north, has finally calmed. I am meditating more regularly again and creative thoughts float up more frequently. (Hmmm...correlation?) Snippets of scenes on the "stage" of a boat play across my mind: amplified sounds of rigging creaking in the dark, a spotlit acrobat swinging from the top of the mast whispering almost inaudibly to a rapt audience about the plight of the seas, flutes and drums beckoning across a quiet anchorage conjuring a skiff in a gush of bubbles from the bottom of the bay... some mythic sea story is seeking a mind through which it can come into being. Again.
Fall has always been a fruitful time of year for my imagination. Perhaps this stems from those childhood days when autumn signaled the return to school. My siblings and friends mourned the end of wild, dusty summer, while I secretly celebrated the first sign of autumn and the promise of new things to learn and new friends. If I can kindle my imagination now, it may burn through winter and yield some roughly forged story for the future dramanautical productions. The key is not that I need, nor even want, to create a "something" for some future group to execute, but rather that I get in touch with the source of my creativity and exercise it. My muse has been drowsing for a bit too long (a little seasick perhaps); it is time she awaken and blossom again.
For the past week here on Orcas Island, while lazing in bed, or rowing the dinghy round Fawn island, or sitting amongst the work clutter of half finished projects, or while gazing into a fire in the midst of dinner party chatter, the questions of the role of art in my life and in society at large have been haunting me.
Artist, writer, and teacher, Suzi Gablik in dialogue with James Hillman:
Hillman: Now suppose the question doesn’t become what art should do, but rather how do we find that which art should serve? Art is already in service, so we could perhaps change that to which it is in service?I am tangled up in this notion of art in service to something. Many artists proclaim that art is for art. Period. Art as aesthetic. As ornament. Decoration. Something to brighten up the den. While I strongly agree we need more beauty in the urban world of waste and decay, and that art should be beautiful (as in the eye of the beholder), I also want art to have be socially relevant at some level. Is it our responsibility as artists to bring light to this dark world, or to reflect back the darkness? Should we represent the way things are or conjure other possibilities? In the past decades discussion of art seems rarely to center on beauty, and when it does it often points toward the impulse to deconstruct beauty. Life is often ugly in our day and age, but we humans need beauty in all its forms, visual, rhythmic, and aural. The earth is fantastically beautiful. To see beauty is to witness the divine.
Gablik: So the question is what could art better serve than the things it has been serving, like bourgeois capitalism, throughout our lifetimes?
What we have lost is the ability to feel the divine in all things. Institutionalized religion in our lifetimes has once again become a war-making tool. How, then, do we get past our embarrassment about God? Everything in modern society has progressed except our spiritual understanding. We have yet to learn, for instance, that we can't survive without beauty, and that the loss of it is killing us.If you are a sailor (as I hope many of you are) then you already appreciate visual beauty and the beauty of motion/rhythm. For what is more beautiful than a boat under sail on the rhythmic sea under a vibrant ever-changing sky?
Beauty heals, so I want art that soothes both the artist and the audience. Art that acts on our souls. Not mind numbing entertainment, but spirit raising and awe inspiring. Art as a call to action and to kindness. Art that offers something different and serves something greater. We are all hurting, and we are hurting each other and our environment. Art must stop being "more stuff for sale" that will eventually fill another landfill. It must become a salve for the diseased cultures so many of us are living in. Art can be useful and promising. Art can be a guidepost for the lost, and a seed for the fertile.
How? It is easy to theorize such an art, but how can we produce such art. Gurdjieff referred to Objective Art, art that transcends the personal experience and communicates truth. This is a tall order, for sure. I can't say how to do this but I suspect that ultimately we must live an artful life to produce this art. The experience of living intentionally together-- doing our best, learning, giving to and caring for one another and the environment -- is the raw material, the very food, for the metaphoric excretions we call art. I want to be with folks who turn life into myth and travel a life path paved with choices. Sharing our words, images, and songs with the communities we encounter, will do that magic thing that makes Art a necessity: it will transport experience from one mind to another, from one heart to another, and in the process plant seed for a new way of being. I'm not talking about high brow art; I'm wishing for art that serves something other than ego, capitalism, and individual self. Art that cleans up after itself, and leaves the world a little better.
Maybe I'm crazy. Maybe my ideals are ridiculously out of this world. Maybe I am lost in a fantasy. Or maybe I am on the right track. How? I don't know. For starters I'll write about it, sit with it, and send out this electronic beacon.