What is art? This question was put to me recently with the suggestion that, in addition to answering it myself, I ask those of you reading this blog to give me your thoughts. I would love to hear from you (if you go to the “contact” tab, you’ll find a form you can use or you can just leave a comment below) and I will post some of your responses. I’ll also put the question to my artist friends and share with you what they say.
First, let me say what I believe art is not: Art is not of the head. I have said many times I think the most important thing I can do as an artist is to get out of my own way. What I mean when I say this is that I need to step away from ego (head) and let the “creative force” move through me. For me, making art is all about connecting to a force or a power greater than myself. I become something of a vessel, a conduit. It was for this reason that I didn’t make art for twenty-six years: As a young woman I found it uncomfortable to stand in the energy of that connection. So, in this way, art comes from a very deep place–from a willingness to let go of all control, all knowing; to trust, instinctively—and let Spirit create through me. I believe that, when we allow it, the painting paints itself—it tells us what it wants. This is something of what I mean.
I’m currently reading William deBuys’ lovely book, The Walk. In it he describes what I’m trying to say better than anything I’ve ever read. He’s writing about walking, but I really think we’re talking about the same thing. He says, “The moment itself was the important thing, for in its brief span it allowed the interpenetration of this world with the world of spirit. It was also a moment of peril, for although the hero gladly surrendered to benign forces, he might easily find himself confronted by a demon… The point lies in making oneself available to the numinous, opening to see what comes… one stops, looks, and listens. And what comes, comes.”
My very first student, who pursued me for private lessons before I knew I had anything to teach (he taught me otherwise), is a perfect example of what I am trying to say. He is a retired neuropsychologist. All of his life’s success had come from headwork. It was like pulling teeth, at first, to get him out of that space and into his heart/soul. We would spend the first hour of every class, at least, getting past his objections. But when he was able to let go to his art, to open his heart, he painted magic. He says, now, that when he approached me for painting lessons, little did he know he was embarking on a journey of the soul. Painting literally changed his life. This is what art is, nothing less.
This happens, I believe, because art is of the magical realm. It asks that we suspend reality and go into a place of inner wisdom—the old knowing—where we are connected to Spirit, to Jung’s collective unconscious. Art is so much more than we can know; more than we can say– like our night dreams—when we try to put words to them they dissipate as fog in sunlight.
For this reason I suggest you go to your favorite gallery or museum, alone, and spend some time there. BE with the art. Live it, breathe it; experience it. Go home and paint or draw or photograph or sing. Read a great book. Watch an inspiring movie. Then ask yourself what art is and you will know the answer because it lives in you. It lives in us all.
My beliefs are just mine. No one person can say what art is. If we are lucky, perhaps many voices may come close. Will you write and tell me what art is to you?