Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Artwork & spirituality do's & don'ts case study

Don't worry, I'm not going to make this all alarmist and heavy, ha. People who know me know that I enjoy arts and crafts, and I sure enjoy being around people who love art, hobby or professional crafting, and who understand the daily urge to buy art supplies ha ha.

I also have observed through my significantly length life, ha... that art has become more intertwined in many people's minds with personal quests for spirituality and mysticism. People who know me know that I have to be honest and point out that a lot of "New Age" thinking is total garbage. However, people who really know me do know that I respect genuine, how shall I phrase this....hmmm....genuine attempts to interact on a deeper level with the materials of one's art, and any spiritual heritage, legit or not. Here is an example of to me the difference. It's one thing to give a nod to birthstones, and so utilize the traditional meanings of birthstones for each month in one's artistic craftings and expressiveness. I would also think there would be room to be quirky and droll, such as how one mixes and matches the supposed assigned months. This, however, is a vast distance from marketing and using stones for their supposed powers and abilities.

Again, I'm not going to be all heavy and school marmish and a party poop and warn about meddling with magic etc. Rather, I'm going to point out that whatever you believe, I am going to give you some tips to make your art genuinely more authentic, and to recognize some misguided thinking that may have affects via your art, unknowingly, on your mood, your outlook, your health and so forth.

Here's my main example. I bought a nifty book today with some cute crafting suggestions, and I'm just beginning to leaf through it. As is so often the case (it's almost trite now, and this is not a criticism of the author, but of the societal mindset) there is the usual construction of a bracelet with "power stones." By the way, I love the bracelet. Anyway, the author reiterates the same old tired stuff about chakras and the "meaning" of colored stones and the "powers" associated with them. So far pretty typical, but while admiring the bracelet (while rolling my eyes over the spiritual psychobabble) I realized how to turn this into a case study.

One of the stones the author uses is "black onyx" for "grounding." (Excuse me while I roll my eyes some more, ha). I see the usual flags of "why" to use this stone because it "has protective qualities," (*roll*) "absorbs and transforms negativity" (*roll roll*) "without storing it" (meaning the negativity). So just to recap: I love the bracelet, each bead is terrific, the color scheme is wonderful.....but then I read how it has this supposed mystical and spiritual function. One runs all the time into this thinking with crystals, which is why I've stopped using crystals in my art as I do not want anyone watching me to think I buy into that bull hockey.

Anyway, here is what I want to point out to you. How logical is it to make permanent in one's art something that should be a temporary or transitory experience in life?

Let's for a moment pretend that black onyx really does "absorb and transform negativity." OK, how often does one really legitimately encounter spiritual negativity in a day? Does one really need to wear a negativity vacuum cleaner on one's wrist all the time? So think of black onyx, particularly the stone in this otherwise beautiful bracelet, as being a miniature vacuum cleaner (I think Brits call it a "hoover") and that the only dust and dirt it sucks up is "negativity." What is it saying about your outlook of life, rather that just enjoying a beautiful black stone for it's color, texture and workability, if you think you need a piece of jewelry that has a vacuum cleaner constantly on?

Work with me on this visualization. In the real world where sure we are bummed out by high petrol prices, traffic jams, nasty bosses, demanding customers, long work hours (or loss of one's job), how much of that is really "spiritual negativity." Please, put Avatar aside just for a moment, LOL, and remember that you are not spiritual warriors wading through a mass of negative spiritual molasses being hurled at you while you wave your vacuum cleaner bracelet around to suck it all up and transform it like some warrior princess. Goodness. But it says a lot about your mindset (which you reinforce every time you wear the bracelet, or tell that to your customer who bought it) that he or she is wading through the slings and arrows of outrageous "spiritual negativity."

So pretend that it is true, that this stone does "absorb spiritual negativity," but if it does, that means it acts like that vacuum cleaner. So you are walking around with a vacuum cleaner on your wrist that is constantly whirring and sucking and swooshing and trying to pull in the dirt it is supposed to clean. Um, are you not attracting the negativity to you that would otherwise have just wisped by you? Remember the cartoon character Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon strip? If he walked around with a running vacuum cleaner on his head all the time, pointing outward, would he be cleaner? No.... he would actually be dirtier as now all the surrounding dirt would be sucked toward him, adding to what he already has.

Thus, even if you believe in the totally bogus "power" of black onyx, you have a problem. You, rather than ridding yourself of the supposed routine negativity floating out there (that you must be unaware of because if it was directed to you verbally or with someone's bad behavior, you'd deal with it rather than wave your silly wrist at him with your best spirit warrior princess look), would actually be having that "spiritual negativity" attractor on full time. It does not matter that black onyx supposedly "transforms" and "stores" it in a harmless way because just like dirt caught in a really expensive filter in a vacuum cleaner, the dirt still has to be sucked into your face and all around you until it is inside that filter, no? Pigpen would have not only the cloud of his own natural dirt around him as in the cartoon, but with that live vacuum cleaner on his head an extra large cloud of all the passing dirt, including that which was harmlessly on the ground! (read my analysis a few years ago under label "debunking cults" where I explain one reason one knows tarot cards are bogus is that they assume a high percentage of negative events that actual life does not reflect unless one is being bombed in Darfur or something, and even then people would not have 25% or more horrendous days).

This is an example of how art should not codify or make permanent something that is by its natural and ought to be a transitional or transitory part of life. I know that this will be a bit hard to let go of because you've been raised in several generations where people think every burp and fart they make ought to be enshrined in a record of artistic merit for others to either admire, be shocked by, or accept your art authenticity street cred, ha. But I am assuming that artists who try to combine mysticism and spirituality in their art are sincere and well meaning, and thus I am responding to you in kind in an effort to coach you and get you to recognize an error in your logic.

Thus, practically speaking, I would have used the black onyx as it is beautifully worked in that bracelet only for its color and texture, in other word, the aesthetics (and budget) of your materials. I would not use any material that you "believe" has some sort of "power" because legit or bogus you are codifying a percentage of exposure to that supposed spiritual world that does not actually exist in reality. This creates two problems. One is that it occupies space where a genuinely more spiritual and proactive attitude could reside. The other is that it works to keep your unconscious pointed toward the very thing you seek to avoid. It's like the old joke "Don't think about pink elephants" but of course you have to when you hear those words. If you wear something you think is a vacuum cleaner-transformer of "bad things," well, you sure are thinking about bad things and it becomes like a computer virus that makes your computer consume resources and ultimately slow down or crash your meaningful work.

Let's get a little deeper into this, as I envision what someone (and trust me, I know a lot of people who are in that mindset world) might reply. If that person is really caught up in the fantasy that he or she IS indeed walking around in the world "meant to defeat invisible forces of spiritual negativity" and thus must wear the bracelet, um, hold on there. Here's my reply. Look, I studied Chinese spirituality for many years, including tai chi and kung fu. I did not walk around with a photograph of a really good tai chi movement on my wrist, LOL, I learned how to actually do it. Likewise you do not defeat presumed "negative spirituality" in secret by wearing bogus "power bracelets" and letting people continue to have whatever negative thoughts or feelings plague them. You, um, I know this sounds strange, but you actually, um, fight negativity by 1) not encouraging it and 2) learning better real ways of thought, action and prayerfulness.

One of my favorite expressions and one that has profound truth is that "Truth is the greatest antiseptic." If you think there are negative spiritual forces in the world (and there are, but nowhere near as much as people think, since all of God's creation is made in his goodness) the negativity comes from thoughts and deeds of human beings, thoughts and deeds that obviously are able to be identified, discussed and corrected in the light of day and real facts.

When one starts to think that amulets, stones and whatever human made objects, and here we are discussing arts and crafts, have "special powers," one is running from rather than dealing with the presumed issues of the times. I mean, do you think mailing a lot of rose quartz to Darfur would solve anything? *reality phone ringing*

The second thing that I envision someone in dialogue with me would say, "Well, do you mean that people should not capture in art form something they felt very badly about in a moment, but got over. And so are you saying that a really angry, sad or depressive piece should not be made if the person is to transition through that temporary state?" Yes, I am saying that to some degree, and that's the part I know is controversial.

Too much value is falsely ascribed to "venting" and "letting it out." As a counselor I have read the literature and also through my work have witnessed that as satisfying (and addictive) as "venting" or "catharsis" is, it is the least helpful of all the measures of improved mental and emotional health. It's one of those myths of the 1960's, starting with "scream therapy" I reckon. Art that is depressive, venting, cathartic and "letting it out" is codifying and making permanent something that the healthy human brain is supposed to experience, move through and let go of by transforming it to the next step. Art (and now I include music) that puts into concrete and makes viral to the viewers, listeners and purchasers is inadvertently keeping people stuck in the artist's temporary space. The artist, of course, too is likely to remain in that space.

There are obvious exceptions to what I am saying. The great painting Guernica captures the horror of war via a specific war atrocity. This is where art has a huge noble purpose. Art can indeed help to capture and make permanent the expression of something that would otherwise be lost or less understood if it were not on canvas or paper. But you see, that is a world of difference between being an unhappy depressed young person or adult in your personal life and thinking you are "cathartic" and "authentic" via repeated morbid art, versus a thoughtful piece of art that you are using not as catharsis but to snapshot or capture an admittedly transitory event or emotion that you can express with others.

Here's another way to understand the difference. Wyeth has a painting of a dog that is kind of stuck in a sandpit, and you see his or her sad and confused head looking over the rim. That work is brilliant on all levels by expressing alienation, entrapment, confusion, etc. That is a world of difference from painting over and over the body of your pet dog that was put to sleep when you were a teenager! Or of wearing a bracelet that you think invokes the "protector goddess of dead dogs," *gentle ha* or that has a stone that "fights dead dog negative spirits" *goodness gracious.* Genuine art knows the difference between capturing a moment of expressiveness versus getting on an unsatisfactory and even counterproductive supposedly "cathartic" treadmill.

When I select colors for my artwork I do so to 1) make an attractive piece and 2) aid in the expression of what I am trying to depict. I do not choose a color because "Thor's fairy aunt's dogwalker has wings in that color" or "my mom washed my mouth out with soap of that color when I told her to shut up" (ha ha, one of my proudest child warrior moments, true story, the soap I mean, not Thor LOL).

Likewise you need to discern the difference between art that, yes, may express a sad and transitory time, and that can be painted or crafted legit, versus viral "cathartic" art that keeps both you and the viewers stuck in an emotional and mental state that should be progressed through with maturity and left behind or, at the very least, remains in a better holistically integrated state within you.

I hope that you have found this helpful and even droll and amusing :-)