As The Voice Of The Soul: The Art of Making Life Special
As I think about writing for this new magazine Artesian,
I am aware that as its first issue is being
prepared, a network of people who draw, paint, make
things and write, is forming and growing to
create something special to them. The energy and excitement
that has been released by this
venture is palpable.
The impulse to create and to connect with others is
strong in us all. We are born with these
impulses and spend much of our lives living by them.The
image of the artesian well is then a very
apt one to describe the creative process in its natural,
creative and energetic form. The well holds
something dynamic and flowing, a gift from mother earth.
In all traditions wells are endowed with a
sacred character. They are symbols of plenty and sources
of life. We find soul when we drop beneath
the surface of life and tap into this well.
In his discussion on how to preserve the soul in corporate
life, David Whyte says: "Like water flowing
from an underground spring, human creativity is the
wellspring of greening the desert of toil and effort."
If we use language from psychology we could say that
we have an unconscious part of our mind from
which springs image and metaphor, the voice of the soul,
or the bridge between our inner and our
outer life. Art is the expression of this soul work.
It is innate and universal and expresses something
very basic about human behaviour.
Ellen Dissanayake, in her book "Homo Aestheticus", argues
that throughout history human societies
have always shown some form of behaviour that could
be called "art" and that this behaviour has an
evolutionary and a biological purpose. She argues that
this behaviour is communal, and integral to daily
life. By taking a broad historical and anthropological
perspective she invites us to consider art as
behaviour that embellishes and enlarges life, that it
is fundamentally about making things and activities
She includes the everyday things like taking the time
to arrange a bunch of wildflowers that you have
collected on your walk in the country, as well as being
moved to mark a particular occasion by writing
a poem or paint a picture from a dream. Each event is
important to the person and they find a way to
make of it something special. In industrial societies
we are driven by deadlines so much that we have
few opportunities to mark special moments. But such
times are so important as they allow us to dip
into that well of creativity that helps us preserve
Thomas Moore in his discussion of art and its place
in life said, "Our lives are fashioned, not by our
intentions, but by responding to those invitations that
come from fate, and from other people and events,
mysteriously. And I think that what art can do that
reason can't do is provide us with images that help
contemplate those mysteries"
In traditional societies each person has the opportunity
to contribute in an artistic way to the growth
of their society through a variety of forms, many of
which have a ritual element. I see this happening
more and more in our society as we seek the meaning
of events which touch our lives.
example, few of us were unaffected by the sudden death
of Diana, Princess of Wales. When
I looked at some of the many collections of floral tributes
that grew in mounds all over the country
at that time, I noticed amongst them many drawings and
poems by both children and adults. For a
brief moment a spontaneous and collective ritual held
some of the grief that was evoked by this event.
Places were marked out and made sacred for a short time
to honour both the real human being that had
died, and also gave an expression to what she had come
to mean for people. This grief was expressed
in a variety of artistic forms. Some said that this
gave an opportunity to grieve for loved ones lost some
time ago, grief which had not found expression in a
society that has few public rituals left to mark major
are also being developed by ecologists all over the
world to mark events that concern people
about the state of mother earth, doing something that
makes her special. For example, in a collective
ritual set up by Dominique Maizeaud named "The Great
Cleansing of The Rio Grande River" , we see an
opportunity for people to express their collective concern
through action. They make the river special
and work to rid it of its pollution .
In another example nearer to home, the eco-warriors
who build beautiful as well as functional temporary
homes in woodlands are expressing this impulse to create
and to make special a place on earth that has
become threatened by developers. In such projects art
connects with ecology and has already moved
out from individual protest to become a participatory
and a communal event.
Perhaps a more obvious expression of creativity can
be seen in the many carnivals and festivals that
are held all over the world to celebrate and to mark
special times and places. In some, people are given
opportunities to be somebody different for a day, perhaps
a man to become a woman, or a whole
community to reverse roles of all kinds.
Here art is used in mask making , costume making, music
and dance, to create a ritual that allows
people to live out some unexpressed part of themselves.
This is a time and a place that sanctions such
behaviour, and therefore has an important function,
to allow for the widening of experience, to hold the
tension of the opposites that lie within each of us.
I believe that we are in the midst of a shift in our
conception of art, a movement to broaden this
conception is expressed already in the notion of outsider
or visionary art. The idea of artists as people
with a particular training whose work can be sold in
the marketplace is widened to include others who
have no formal training. Here I would like to suggest
that we leave behind the categories altogether and
see art as art for life's sake. In this conception of
art we open ourselves to that way of being in the world
which honours the mysteries of life, which marks out
and gives time and space for the movement of the
soul. I think we are now beginning to see the broadening
of the concept of art and the artist in the
sense that Dissanayake describes as that activity which
is about making something special. I see
as an expression of part of this shift in our conception
While we remain wedded to the idea of art for the "artists"
per se, we lose that potential that art has to
build community and give expression to those deeper
human longings in us all. Through art we can all
express the fullness of who we are, we can experience
our connection with one another and with the
earth we live on, and we can make sense of the world
we live in.
Ellen (1992) Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes from
Gablik, Suzi (1992) The Reenchantment of Art. New York:Thames
Gablik, Suzi (1997) Conversations before the End of
Time, Dialogues on Art, Life and Spiritual Renewal.
London:Thames & Hudson.
Moore, Thomas (1992) Care of the Soul:
A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday
New York:Harper Collins.
Whyte, David. (1994) The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the
Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America.
New York: Doubleday.
Fiona Adamson. October,1999.