The object of art is to give life a shape.― William Shakespeare
We tend to think of creativity as a skill or a talent possessed only by a select few, commonly referred to as artists. We arrive at this mistaken conclusion due to the fact that we reserve the title of “artist” for those who are capable of generating forms or artifacts of monetary value. This subliminal belief system reduces the field of value down to only those objects preceded by a dollar sign and ignores the intrinsic value of the creative process itself; however, if we were to remove the metric that measures the legitimacy of the process by calculating the dollar value of the image it produces, then we will see that the creative process is priceless. It is an intrinsic characteristic of the human condition, and therefore an indispensable component of a healthy way of life.
Art can be described as both a noun and a verb. We can talk about the wave-like function of art, which refers to the creative process; or we can talk about the nouns or artifacts themselves—objects generated through the creative process. As first suggested by Plato, these artifacts exist primordially at the level of inspiration, as potential energy stored in the body. These potentialities are triggered by stimuli in our environment—relationships, conversations, a good book, or a sunset. The creative winds begin to stir, and this primal energy starts to surge towards the surface. This surge represents a phase change where inspiration is transitioning from potential energy to kinetic form. Life is given shape. This is the principle of incarnation and the execution of this principle is the function of art, as intimated by the above quote from Shakespeare.
Creativity is the pressing out of the human condition into individuality. It brings the realm of the transcendent in the world of time and space. We are all artists to the extent that we are all generating forms that represent our inner world. Everything that humans produce—from doodles, to conversation, to a symphony—is an artifact. Of course, the network of pathways that run from the source of inspiration to the conscious faculties and from there, stretch out through the limbs to the parts of the body needed to mold this raw, primitive force into an artifact are undoubtedly more developed in some. This much is obvious. However, this is due only to the frequency with which these pathways are traveled, not a biological predisposition. Artistic expression is innate.
As for the artifacts themselves, there are two categories, namely “proper” and “improper.” Art serves a higher purpose. It brings us closer to the Truth within ourselves, and therefore has a stilling effect. So proper art, as Thomas Aquinas once stated, produces the effect of “stasis,” whereas improper art pulls you out of yourself into an obsession with the artifact. A proper artifact is a symbol, which points past itself to Truth, as it is revealed in the mind of the participant, whether that be the author or reader. On the other hand, improper art fails to point past itself and as result is little more than a sign or an advertisement.
The gulf that separates proper and improper art is contingent upon the degree of internal freedom demonstrated by the artist. In other words, “proper” and “improper” forms are generated by “proper” and “improper” process, respectively. If the artist is internally censored by self-consciousness, then the artifact will be fragmented, inauthentic, and attention seeking. If, on the other hand, the artist is patient and capable of working with obstacles, then the artifact will be endowed with integrity, harmony, and authenticity.
An immature artist is too impatient.
Impatience is an inability to relate to the intensity of inspiration. They grab a hold of the first image they see and prematurely reach climax. The immature artist produces impoverished or incomplete forms. They are trying to seduce you. It reeks of insecurity and neediness, because it is stuck on the surface. This is what James Joyce called, “pornographic art.” The immature artist is like an adolescent boy leaning against the bleachers making fun of those dancing, while simultaneously being tormented by the desire to let loose and join his peers. Silently, he wants to dance more than anything, but is terrified of losing control. This is the fear that stunts the growth of an immature artist. To be truly creative, one has to give up control. When the artist is gripped by fear, all of their creative energy is spent explaining to everyone else—and themselves—why they aren’t dancing. Mediocrity and procrastination is fear’s masterpiece. Rationalization and justification are the medium.
A mature artist knows how to work with self-conscious states of mind. They can ride the wave of creativity to the shores of consciousness without manipulating it, because they are willing to let go of ambition and insecurity. They understand their role. They know that, above and beyond everything else, they must protect freedom. The artist is first and foremost a warrior charged with the task of protecting the roads going to and from the Holy Land. He allows her all the time she needs to come to fruition. He knows if he defends the honor of inspiration, she will leave her mark on the world. When she is ready he gives her shape or form—a body. This is the essence of calligraphy and the Ashe practices found in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It is the first thought, stroke, or gesture born out of chaos, out of nothingness. By nothingness, I do not mean oblivion, but no-thingness—the unformed nature of inspiration. She is raw and unsophisticated. Inspiration isn’t civilized at all. It has no rules, boundaries, or clothes. Imagination is naked and from this primordial nudity creation pours forth. In the imagination is where you find man’s stroke of brilliance. This stroke is supremely confident. Like a flaming sword it cuts right through all doubt and self-consciousness. This is proper art.
The artist who has plummeted into the depths of his or her being cannot honestly take credit for his or her work, especially not the original motivation. It happens before they do. “I have had work or ideas come through me from a source that I honestly cannot identify. What is that thing?” asks Elizabeth Gilbert. “And how are we to relate to it in a way that will not make us lose our minds, but, in fact, might actually keep us sane?” This sounds like spirituality, because the creative process is a relationship with the divine. It is prayer, literally, not metaphorically. It is a medium though which we make conscious contact with a Power that goes beyond the framework of our normal everyday level of consciousness. Whether it is polytheism or monotheism depends upon the individual’s degree of integration. If the artist is fragmented, then inspiration will appear to come from innumerable sources—the gods of love, war, music, food, and sex—but if he or she is whole or individuated, then inspiration will come pouring forth from a single source, which one cannot claim as one’s own, but from which cannot separate oneself. The mature artist is an authority. The mature artist is a prophet, an author, a scribe in the court of Truth, and the creative process is an act of authenticity. The Bhagavad Gita reads, “And then He realized that he was this creation, as it had poured forth from Himself. In this way He became this creation. Therefore, he who realizes this becomes, in this creation, a creator.”
A mature artist knows who they are on the deepest level.
That is why the great musicians and painters are so insightful. They have seen deep into the human soul. In truth, art is a secular way of talking about spirituality. Spirituality is a composition with two primary movements. These two movements are ascension and descension. The process of descension is commonly referred to as meditation. We are relaxing into the body. The body is the temple. The temple is the house of God. God lives in the body. Meditation cultivates a sense of openness and receptivity to the creative winds which stir deep in the core of our being. The second movement is commonly referred to as prayer. It is the “pressing out” of spirit. In the second movement, inspiration begins to ascend the divine ladder of creativity, until it is born into the world. This is the incarnation. It is spirit infused with flesh—the union of form and emptiness.
Inspiration originates deep in the abyss of the body where “I” is not even present. In fact, one might talk about perfect art as not being art at all. Artifacts are man-made objects—teeth are not artifacts, dentures are. Take for example, a mango tree. In mid to late summer this tree is going generate mangoes. It does not consciously will them into existence. The tree isn’t concerned with attribution or recognition. It freely dispenses of its fruit. Mangoes, in potential form, are simply embedded in this particular tree’s makeup, in the seed itself. When the conditions become inviting, mangoes are discovered at the tip of its branches. So it is with a great artist. True art grows out of the artist, in exactly the same way that mangoes grow on trees.
Art is contained within the seed of humanity or the imago Dei. In the West, it is said that we were made in the image and likeness of the creator, which is to say that at a fundamental level we are pure creativity. Imagination is the most fundamental human attribute. It is the source of our basic goodness. A great artist simply brings forth these forms from the timelessness of their being. “Popular art” is surfacey and resonates with current trends, but timeless art is discovered within the vaults of humanity.
Popular culture is not Lady Gaga.
It isn’t Shepard Fairey or Bill O’Reilly. That is consumer culture or pop-culture. Consumer culture is based on consumption. It is advertisement. It brings us into what it is selling and then leaves us lying there disappointed. Like a Styrofoam cup, we use it once and throw it away. Real popular culture comes from the hymns our grandmother hummed when she made biscuits. Those are the songs and the stories that live in each and every one of us. That biscuit recipe is true popular culture. It has been passed down for thousands of years. It is “the bread the Lord has given.” To replace manna with consumer culture is to file for cultural bankruptcy.
The quality of an artifact is contingent upon the resemblance it bears to the original spark of inspiration. Organic art—fruit that grows out of the body—is here to stay because it strikes a chord deep in the human soul. The artist is truly an archaeologist of the psyche. He digs deep into the cosmos, deep into the earth, both of which are suspended in the deep space of the human body. There they discover the source of creativity. The first movement of descent—meditation—excavates the body, while the movement of ascent—prayer—gives the winds of inspiration a voice. No great art can come from someone who does not know themselves. There must be some degree of self-realization, at least in the moment of production. A mature artist is an embodied person. They remember how to make biscuits.
We have outsourced our creativity.
We have forgotten how to make biscuits. We have been told that it isn’t important, “just run to the store and pick some up.” We’ve become consumers. But we all remember how important it was to sit down at grandma’s table. We have to recover that for ourselves, for our kids, for the next generation. That is culture. Each and every one of us—not just the creative types—must sit on the “seat of the soul,” which, as Novalis said, “is where the inner world and the outer world meet.” The unconscious wants to be made conscious; God wants to be man, and Creativity wants to become creation. It is not the responsibility of a messianic few to fulfill this prophecy, no more than it is the solitary responsibility of professional athletes to exercise. The God within you wants more than anything to be you. Each of us must become a creator, an artist.
We are all creative in nature, but we become artists when we gift ourselves to the world we live in. We do this by generating forms that authentically represent our inner world, not by writing a New York Times bestseller. This requires courage. We paint and sing, write, tell our stories, speak up and share our ideas, regardless of what others might think or how they might react. We do this because the value is not found in the final product, nor in the money, but in the process of craftsmanship that births that product into this world. In that process “our inner and outer worlds meet.”
“The seat of the soul” is the artist’s throne.