“Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Cézanne
(This is a companion piece that I wrote the same time as the post I published yesterday over at Patheos called The Dangers of Witchcraft)
Time and time again, I find myself pondering the above quote from Rilke. It came to mind again recently as several people have remarked to me about the importance of making art in the years to come. I pondered it from both practical (making a living) and spiritual (making a cultural impact) contexts.
To make art - in a historical/evolutionary context - was a dangerous thing. Think about it -when you focus on creating something that isn't specifically devoted to food or shelter, it's taking a risk. Yet, it's an investment in fully living, an opportunity to enhance and transcend our experience, to connect with the divine and the Other. It was a struggle for our ancestors - yet it was the creation of art that advanced us forward as a species. Today, surviving may not seem so balanced on a razor's edge, but there's still risks in making art.
Art is the expression of the soul, the exploration and manifestation of intent. It not only suggests the vulnerability of the maker, it magnifies the whole of society - its best attributes, as well as its worst. The latter is especially disconcerting to the comfortable, the entitled, and those seeking to control. Art is fine, as long as it's on their side, promoting their ideals, matching their proverbial couches.
A struggle against the making of art may not have seemed so apparent in modern society, but the evidence has been slowing creeping in for decades. A little story for you to explain:
I didn't have any issues with sports until my teens. That's when it was starting to become apparent that schools were cutting back on the arts. There was often the explanation that it was for saving money, but suddenly the sports programs would see new equipment, more investments in stadiums and so forth. Yes, sports are great for keeping folks active and team-building, but there's also an undercurrent of herd mentality. Be part of the crowd, support the team, have school spirit. You could perhaps argue that maybe the arts don't benefit a school in the same way - but there are plenty of noteworthy competitions and events that involve the arts, and band, orchestra, dance, theater, literary magazines and newspapers all involve working in team structures. The arts also encourage critical thinking, valuing individuals for their diverse talents, and giving young people creative outlets to express and discover themselves.
So I don't think it's a coincidence that soon after we began to see the cuts to art departments in schools, we were rocked by Columbine and similar tragedies. We've continued to see a disturbing rise in school/mass shootings, to a point where it's become so much more common over the years, that it's become practically "normal." There are so many different reasons cited for the why and how, but not many correlate the lack of funding for the arts with mental and social well-being. Take away the arts and you cut off the stimulation of creative thinking, self-healing, and the access to reasonable outlets to channel expression through.
There's an illusion that art is elitist, that it's for the genteel and the high-end (an effort to take it out of the hands of all people), but art has always been a process for and by all. It is a product of and by the dangerous, of those who see differently, those who wish or need to make their voice heard. When art has not rested peacefully on a wall, it has been banned, shunned, and ridiculed - until its message is absorbed. Every major movement in art has gone through the eye of the needle before finding acceptance and understanding.
The truth at the essence of the concept of the "starving artist" is not a romance about a person unfit to make a "proper living" - but someone with a vision strong enough that they reject being silenced and risk being comfortable to see it through.
So many cultures have plundered and destroyed art that has come before them - as a means to silence history, to rewrite and change the narrative. From Nazis destroying the work (and lives) of European artists of the late 1930's-40's to fundamentalists destroying ancient artifacts in the Middle East and China imprisoning their artists who dare to speak out through their work. Whether it's through violence or a slow stealthy strangle, art has been attacked because it has been seen as dangerous.
All because art is the result of focused intent. Intent is the root of magick. Art is magick, and art is dangerous. Art can change our viewpoint and that of the world. Don't forget that, and for the love of all things human and divine, don't stop making art.
(painting: "Spellcraft - Psychic Power - by the author)