Art as War (Part 3)

So the tension of the artist will always be wanting people on one hand to receive his exposed, bared soul work and on the other wanting them to stay out. The intensely private nature of the initiation process bangs against going public in every way.

There is a word for this: FEAR. The artist is deeply (and wisely) afraid of bearing his soul to the world. A vision, after all, is like a baby. You don’t want everyone touching a baby. The artist learns to protect and keep others at bay with the best of them.

Some great emerging artists are so good at keeping others out not even their good friends or family really know about their creative gifts. They chalk it up, incorrectly, to humility, not wanting to appear arrogant or full of themselves. Who wants to hear someone talk about their selfish obsessions, especially when that person is unwilling to actually pursue that obsession all in. It becomes either a sob story or a strategy meeting on how to “follow your heart” or “chase your dreams.”

In an effort not to appear normal (a curse for artists, see Ennneagram 4’s), the artist avoids any disclosure of artistic pursuits till the work is near a perfected state. The dangerous problem: utter isolation is a trapped door that corrupts creativity.

Soon everyone else, instead of potential receivers of your artistic endeavors, become potential enemies to your process. You get locked away further and further. Some creatives have gotten so locked in they have never come back out.

Art in the end is collaboration. It is a collaboration of human experience. Only when receptive to the human needs around us does the creative process really work. Locked inside of ourselves we are locked outside of true creative inspiration.

That is the counter-intuitive logic of inspiration. It is not found gazing upon beauty. They get a room with a view and expect the words to come flowing. It doesn’t work like that. Inspiration comes looking honestly and brutally at suffering.

Of course part of the process is isolating, but always within that context of shared suffering. If I am not really part of the human experience of life I will have less and less to really contribute to the experience of art as healing.

Art is war, but it is also healing. Art is the salve on our collective soul. It somehow unifies and connects otherwise random, disconnected pieces of the world. Without art, there is no chance to dream in color, to imagine stories of infinite meaning.

“Reason is the organ of truth. Imagination is the organ of meaning.” Art relates our experience. Without it, the world is meaningless. Sounds overstated, almost arrogant. But from the Song of Creation till now it is true, art bears meaning.

We just have to believe in it. Getting artists to believe in the value of their creative projects is no small task. They often, to a fault, assume no necessity with their work. It is simply a nice ornamentation if desired, but it is probably not desired.

It starts with the artist desiring it - believing in the potential of the project to bring healing, hope, connection. As the artist visualizes that healing and hope it starts to attract the people who need it. It’s truly a beautiful process of the universe.

When the artist gets caught in strategic marketing plans they sometimes don’t get out. That work may be necessary, but focusing on the what is the primary concern of the artist. Our job is the what, not the how. Creative spirit flow!     

Art as War (Part 2)

Some will undoubtedly see art as compromise, escape from the brutal reality of true relief and development work. Can anything actually replace the fierce truth of holding the hands of those who are dying, forgotten and forsaken by their people?

Is anything as real as that? Perhaps not. And as immensely important as it is, the workers are few, and the harvest overwhelming. So the logic of pulling one off the line so to speak to pursue art seems more than mildly narcissistic and crude.

In the face of brutal reality how is pursuing artistic impulse a legitimate way to be “part of the solution/cure?” Artistic vision is by nature very isolating, very consuming, and very persistent. Once given credence, it all but devours one’s life.

But, if artistic vision is truly born in the cauldron of compassion, in the tensions of brutal truth and what could be, that vision can literally birth justice bearing fruit. The art literally bears the longing, the hope, the suffering, the pleading.

That sort of art carries with it, embodies, incarnates the very Spirit of God. It moves people beyond flimsy, mild intentions, or philanthropic charity. It profoundly messes with their vision of reality. It draws them into the suffering. It penetrates their comfort.

This vision of art as agitator, as literal voice of the voiceless, can be over-bearing, unseemly, aggressive, almost obtrusive, but it does not have to be. There is still style and tact; if executed well, the average person initially won’t know it is wrought with such. The real tension with artistic vision often comes in the marketing. In other words, creating a compelling, prophetic piece of art in one’s basement is one thing. It has merit in its own right. But how does one get an audience for such a piece of art?

We’d laugh to think of the Biblical prophets on the street corners today with no serious audience. In the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah the words of the prophets, though not always heeded, were heard all the way to the throne of the kings. In other words, the message had an audience. It may sound silly or unremarkable, but the difference between Jeremiah and the guy on the corner today may be context, or audience. One was called into a significant role, one was not really.

Can we think of making art without an audience? Can art be made in isolation of an audience? Will compelling art make a way for itself? Will it wriggle itself into a place where it can infect a group of people with holy discontent?

How can we free art to be an agent of change? How can we release it without being sucked into a system of selfish ambition that tends to favor things that are flattering to the system? Does ambition for our art to succeed necessarily taint the art?

Can art be experienced as more than promotion for the artist? Yes. Yes. Yes. If done well the art will take both artist in creating and audience in receiving well beyond the realm of cash flow. The business reality will be overshadowed by the eternal presence.

This, after all, is sort of the goal of art: to transport artist & audience beyond cause and effect, to transcend transaction, to on a soul level actually connect deeply to what is important and eternal. If not this, we have not art but mere temporary distraction.  

Art as War (Part 1)

So, most conscientious young people want to do something important with their life. In the face of earth’s horrible injustices, they are deeply aggravated, disturbed, and profoundly saddened. They know business as usual is a morally appalling option.

Such deeply feeling young people are susceptible to many conflicting philosophies offering to be “part of the solution.” There are currently 1.5 million NPO’s in the country, all doing things to help, all with remarkably different views of what help looks like.

So these zealous emotions to do something wonderful to help, while truly beautiful and benevolent, are uniquely perplexing. And while proposed solutions are rampant, social problems are in no short supply either, especially on the global scale.

Then we compare our domestic US problems to 95% of the world and ours can seem rather trivial. Still we innately know thinking globally does not excuse ignoring locally. If your head is not starting to hurt yet, I am failing to make the point: It’s overwhelming!

About now I love to think about international relief and development workers coming home to their middle class US neighborhoods. Do they possibly have anything left to offer their local community? What about their own families?

To what degree can we naively (though genuinely) propose to care about everyone in the world (I must quote Woody Allen in Annie Hall here1), yet we neglect the needs in our own home. Soon the bleeding heart has bled out and what’s left ain’t so pretty.

A burnt out social worker or relief worker may be one the most sarcastic people alive. They are rightly annoyed by the desperately shallow “first-world problems” demanding the attention of so many. Compared to emergency care work...what really compares?

So predictably the petty lethargy and self-obsession of the locals can be maddening. How many people around the world are in completely dire situations - starving, homeless, abused, neglected. Yet we fancy our problems worthy of absolute attention.2

How does the unfortunately conscientious person find a way to manage normal middle income America, where they collide with the dangerous trifecta of realized American values: security, comfort, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e., my happiness not yours)?

Some of our best don’t figure out how to balance this tension. They are forced to turn off the inquisitor within. They are forced to silence the inner-prophet. They eventually permit themselves to enjoy some of those comforts but not without a big helping of guilt.

This is where art enters. In the heart of one deeply wounded by the overwhelming suffering of so many, almost too wounded, a deal is struck. A way is discovered to focus the red hot heat of such compassion and indignation: the way of the artist!    

1 Annie Hall: Alvy, you're incapable of enjoying life, you know that? I mean you're like New York City. You're just this person. You're like this island unto yourself. Alvy Singer: I can't enjoy anything unless everybody is. If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening.

2 The American marketing machine, in fact, is so good at occupying the consciousness of the people we can believe we are the only ones left on the planet.