ART-MAKING, IN THE PUREST SENSE, involves the act of transmuting an inner experience–an idea, perception, understanding–into physical form. It is taking what is within oneself–an internal comprehension–and making it into a form perceptible to those outside of oneself. Making a work of art facilitates the transmission of unique, subjective information from one individual to the next. It constitutes communication between individuals via a third party: the work of art. An art piece is not solely the creation of the artist, however: it necessitates a viewer, an antennae to receive the information. Art-making on many levels is a sexual act: it involves the union of separate elements resulting in a third element independent of the original two, which is more than the sum of its parts (1+1=3 or more). The sperm (artwork) must be received by the egg (viewer) to be fertilized within the womb (culture). The processes of creation, germination, and integration are what constitute the whole art piece. Art which completes this journey is integrated into culture and subsumed into the records of art history as visions accessible to subsequent generations. Art, in this holistic sense, is the spiritual DNA of humanity, passing along the program of mankind’s evolution through the mechanism of history.
Before the artist can begin an artwork, he/she must have a ‘vision’ from which to draw from. A vision in this case is an inner understanding, an image, an idea, a perception, an inspiration which is unique to the individual. Mechanically painting from nature based on step-by-step technique, for instance, will not generate a work of art which speaks to anyone; the artist must have a subjective inner experience of what is being painted in order to communicate anything human, unique, and of value. If the artist is ‘tuned in’ with him/herself–and thus also with the ‘outside’ world–the relevance of this vision will extend beyond the artist: it will be a a source of insight to others. So where does vision come from? How can an artist ‘tune in’ to him/herself and the world so as to create art which truly communicates something of value? Over the centuries and across cultures, the human practice of ritual has functioned as a catalyst for generating insightful vision which is then made into art.
A ritual is a collaborative act constructed with the purpose of creating a meaningful shared experience. These are the ceremonies and traditions which are the foundations of culture. All rituals–whether it is a graduation ceremony, Thanksgiving dinner, a Catholic mass, a funeral, a Grateful Dead concert–use sensory (artistic) elements to generate meaning and cohesion among a group. Art forms–images, objects, words, movements, sounds–are composed within a theatrical setting to generate collective understanding, connection, and resonance. Ritual creates a structure within which an individual can plug him/herself in to the greater whole, connecting inner experience with outer reality. It encompasses both group practices and solo acts performed by an individual, i.e. meditating in nature (nature being the greater whole, in this case). A ritual builds common ground for separate entities to stand upon in communion. And we repeat these rituals when they successfully facilitate the experience of inter-connectivity and individuality, when they remind us of where we came from and where we are going.
Vision, which can be catalyzed by ritual, is the foundation upon which Art is created. Art must come from vision, and ritual can be a cave within which vision can be had. Art–whether it be a painting, dance, film, piece of music–is what constitutes the DNA which writes, charts and facilitates humanity’s spiritual evolution. Without the first element–vision–there is nothing to be communicated, no information within the DNA to be transmitted (eggs don’t want hollow sperm, and a fertile womb won’t have it). Without vision, real transformation and evolution will not occur. What we are left with is an un-integrated conglomeration of disparate elements, rearranged outwardly so as to appear new. Presently acknowledged (say, prescribed?) tactics such as juxtaposition, appropriation, and re-contextualization in art-making can only satisfy our truly creative impulse and thirst for the new for so long. At some point, bored of superficial comparisons, clever connotations and insignificant references, people will start to question if the art being made today is relevant to future generations–if it even constitutes viable DNA worth sowing. If the seeds we plant contain no vision of what they are to become, what garden will humanity be growing? What future culture or history can be created if there is no art to construct ritual, and no ritual to catalyze vision?
David Bowie got the idea:
Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision
Blue, blue, electric blue
That’s the colour of my room
Where I will live
Pale blinds drawn all day
Nothing to do, nothing to say
I will sit right down,
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Drifting into my solitude,
over my head
Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision
As an ending anecdote: Trying to bake a cake by only preparing the frosting, and serving that as the cake, however, will not please your guests at the table. Nor will it make you appear as the good cook you fancy yourself to be. As they say, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. And you can’t eat or even see a cake that isn’t there to begin with. Moral of the story? Eat cake; have a vision of cake; learn to make a cake; make your cake; share your cake with others in good spirit. Let there be infinite cakes! Cakes all the way down!
FOR MORE INSIGHT on the role of ritual in culture, see the article Shamanic Vision Quest: Native American Ritual, Depth Psychology, and Renaissance Natural Magic, by Kathryn LaFevers Evans, featuring images of my artwork.