The Alchemy of Art

big chief tabletFor the last few months, I have been thinking about the Artist as Shaman: a person who acts an intermediary between the People and God [via]. An oracle who can shed insight into the future, albeit not in the most direct forms of communication. Not to sound pompous or anything, but that is always how I’ve truly felt ever since I was a wee tot drawing figures on Big Chief tablets my mom bought for me at Winn’s 5-10. The drawings weren’t coming from me, they were coming through me. I, quite simply, felt compelled to observe, to experience my surroundings and thoughts, and sketch. I remember drawing several times about age 6-7, a boat in the middle of an ocean at night, a man in a raincoat seated on a tropical island in a rainstorm. Many other adult artists who say they’ve been drawing from a young age seem to have felt as a child, and continue to feel, the same way about why they do what they do. A recent example that comes to mind is Edgar Huerta, who told me he found his muse many years ago in an figure called Apolonia, an image he keeps returning to in various forms. I also think of designer Marc English in Austin, who approaches graphic design as an artist might, as in intermediary communicating messages between the awesome clients he happens to get and the public. Heck, his email is shaman[at]marcenglishdesign[dot]com.

So when I came across this listing on the Tucson craigslist, I felt I finally had a good scenario in which to apply/learn from this spiritual viewpoint. A 21st century Christian, in their words, “village” promoting the same aesthetic-spiritual process/envorinment, i.e. liturgy, as the post-Reformation Catholic Church, as the medieval Church, as the Eastern Orthodox church, as the Muslims (I have to say I am infatuated with Eastern Orthodox and Islamic art), as pretty much all indigenous peoples of the Americas (as I am fast learning from living in modern Arizona/Mexico), as the Hindus and Buddhists… as religions all over the world have done since the beginning of documented art, to provide the viewers/followers with a connection to the God of our understanding.

However, as much as it is about intermediation, art is also a way for people to connect with power structures: institutions, authorities, spiritual, political, economic. Connecting with  subversion as much as preservation. Although irony has been the name of the game in, at least, American art for the few decades, we keep insisting of late that “sincerity is the new sincerity.” But I’ve never equated sincerity with seriousness. I don’t think I’m a “serious” artist, I suppose because I equate “seriousness” with “discipline.” I suppose the only thing about art I’m disciplined at is that I keep at it, although my subject and style always changes. In defense, I say variety can be sincere. Humor can be sincere. My craw is full up to here with insincere seriousness, consistency, irony.

I think we are in a state of flux right now, between fully feeling the effects of/understanding/interpreting/reacting to the power structures of the past and forecasting the future. In a state of flux, you can either progress, i.e. shed the past while learning from its mistakes, or decline, i.e. implosion under its own weight a la the Roman Empire. I believe artists (visual, movement, literary, verbal, sonic) must accept our archetypal status as oracles and shamans in order to usher in the progression of culture, society and its power structures. For to progress is to change, in order to preserve, to survive.

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