ART AS SPIRITUAL ACTIVISM

Art can show us a picture of how the world might one day be – as a warning or as an aspiration. Art can represent an ideal that is just out of reach, the pain of the sight of beauty, the beauty that is not reliably held in our own lives.


by Claire Zakiewicz

CREATRIX Magazine invites you all to the conference
Art as Spiritual Practice, Art as Activism
December 28, 4:30-8:30pm

Part of NOUMENA: deLIGHT December 21-30th
Magic & shamanism series
With an art show Altars, Portals, Grottos

The Power of Water with Damali Abrams, Jennifer Taves, Megwyn White moderated by Jana Astanov.
Art as Spiritual Activism  with Jill McDermid, Jaguar Mary X, Hector Canonge, Nilton Maltz moderated by Claire Zakiewicz.


LEXICON

SPIRIT

  • Animating or vital principle in man and animals
  • Derived from the Old French espirit, which comes from the Latin word spiritus (soul, courage, vigor, breath, wind, aura) and is related to the Latin spirare (to breath)

SPIRITUAL

  • Derived from the Old French spirituel (12c), which is derived from Latin spiritualis, which comes from spiritus or spirit
  • Matters concerning the spirit
  • Relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things
  • A sense of something bigger than ourselves
  • A search for meaning in life, or an ultimate or sacred meaning, or the deepest values and meanings by which people live
  • Universal human experience
  • The belief in the supernatural (beyond the known and observable) realm
  • Religious experience
  • Personal growth – to evolve human beings to a more mature, higher level of existence, a more advanced version of itself
  • Subjective experience of a sacred dimension, an encounter with one’s own inner dimension

SPIRITUALITY

While religion is a set of texts, practices and beliefs about the transcendent shared by a community, spirituality on the other hand is about a person’s relationship with the transcendent questions that confront one as a human being – perhaps in this sense the rise of spiritual practices over religious practices highlights our growing individualism in society. 

The term ‘spirituality’ was used within early Christianity to refer to a life oriented toward the Holy Spirit and broadened during the late middle ages to include mental aspects of life. In modern times, the term both spread to other religious traditions and broadened to refer to a wider range of experience, including a range of esoteric traditions and religious traditions.

Nowadays it is less about belief but more about stepping out of an identification with a stream of thinking. It’s about presence, stillness and waking up. Houtman and Aupers suggest that modern spirituality is a blend of humanistic psychology, mystical and esoteric tradition and Eastern religions.

Materialism vs Spirituality… Mind/Body Debate – Dualism vs Monism

The historian and social scientist Yuval Noah Harari has been proposing in his recent books, in particular the last chapter of Homo Deus, a potential future for mankind which depicts the emergence of new form of religion that he names Dataism, in which ‘information flow’ is the ‘supreme value’. Dataism is a term that has been used to describe the mindset or philosophy created by the emerging significance of Big Data. It was first used by David Brooks in the New York Times in February 2013 when he said ‘If you asked me to describe the rising philosophy of the day, I’d say it is Dataism’ 

Criticisms of this idea include the problem of consciousness, which Dataism is unlikely to illuminate.

This leads us a discussion on Materialism, which is the doctrine that nothing exists apart from the material world and its movements and modifications. Material psychologists generally agree that consciousness (the mind) is the function of the brain. Materialism is the philosophy that everything can be explained in terms of matter.

Cosmologist and theoretical physicist Max Tegmark from MIT proposed a hypothesis in his 2014 paper, published in the journal Chaos, Solitons & Fractals, that consciousness is a new state of matter – just like a solid, liquid, or gas – in which atoms are arranged to process information and give rise to subjectivity and ultimately consciousness. He names this proposed state of matter Perceptronium. To be clear, he isn’t suggesting that there are physical clumps of perceptronium sitting somewhere in your brain to impart a sense of self-awareness. Rather he proposes that consciousness can be interpreted as a mathematical pattern (he proposed in his book Our Mathematical Universe that everything is a mathematical pattern including consciousness itself – he has an interesting Ted Talk that helps explain what he means). Just as there are certain conditions under which various states of matter – such as steam, water and ice can arise, so too can various forms of consciousness, he argues. 

We might also look to the definition of materialism that was first articulated by Karl Marx (1818-1883), which looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans collectively produce the necessities of life.

The performances and interventions of the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion aim to raise awareness and call to action against the ‘unprecedented global climate emergency’ as we become increasingly aware of the damage we are causing to our planet and environment due to the excessive materialism in society. 

On our panel we have three performance artists (including myself, the moderator) and director of the performance art gallery, Grace Space. Performance Art typically only need involve 4 elements: time, space, the performer’s body or presence in a medium and a relationship between performer and viewer so in this sense it is one of the most immaterial of art practices.

A Spiritual Practice Within the Studio

This is a Buddhist philosophy that is depicted within traditional Eastern arts and increasingly in contemporary art. An example is the Japanese enso – a circular ink drawing, symbolizing enlightenment and the ideal state of meditation. It represents the aesthetics of imperfection or wabi-sabi. In Eastern pottery the idea that something can be flawed and marked but still be on the ‘right’ side,  attractive and compelling is represented by imperfections in the pottery. This philosophy is something that our society, in particular, can find difficult. 

One of the fundamental components of the creative process across disciplines is working with the tension between failure and resolution, and the balance between control and surrender. The experience of producing art can draw and shed light on the processes that underlie our emotions, cognitive and we might also add ‘spriritual’ relationship with art.

Developing a craft is to conduct a dialogue between concrete practices and thinking. This dialogue evolves into sustaining habits, and these habits establish a rhythm between problem solving and problem finding. To control is to compose, plan, set standards, organize, edit, direct, perfect, correct – to influence a behaviour or course of events. The more one practices, the easier it becomes to let go. As artists we experience first-hand the philosophy that failure creates new pathways; it disrupts prescribed patterns. 

Our educational institutions generally teach us to consider failure as the opposite of success but it can also be a neglect of expectation or a state of not functioning, not completing, not fulfilling dreams, not caring, not keeping going, rejection, rubbish, imperfection. Traditionally the public doesn’t see creative failure, yet failure is an important part of a studio practice, which entails a constant emotional navigation through anticipation, tension, struggle, striving, surrender, submission, resolution, abandonment, and so on. Improvisers embrace the aesthetics of failure, the unfinished and uncontrolled – the accidental and the incidental. Improvisation involves letting go, acting intuitively, allowing for and perhaps embracing disruptions and mistakes, taking risks, and a good performance involves moving past one’s identity and persona – being willing to look bad, to fail, and to lose control.

Art can make an argument for what life is about – it is OK if we are wonky and misshapen. Art can represent and provide a philosophy for life. 

Artists sometimes speak of entering a trance-like state where they feel as if somebody or something else is controlling their performance or art-making – that takes the willingness and courage to give up control.

Art has the ability to harmonise the different parts of us – such as the conceptual and the sensual and our various faculties of understanding.

Art helps us to see better and to listen better. It can help us to see the beauty of life’s actual conditions, the fragility of our beautiful planet that may not last long. Art reminds us of values that we have grown tired of, bored of or blind to.

Art can be an emblem for curiosity. A method for research to find things out in addition to imagining and projecting.

Art can show us a picture of how the world might one day be – as a warning or as an aspiration. Art can represent an ideal that is just out of reach, the pain of the sight of beauty, the beauty that is not reliably held in our own lives.

Art also develops our sense of perspective and dimensionality both physically and metaphorically. It took artists a long time to find perspective (in terms of seeing and depicting it in paintings) and it takes us as adults a long time to find perspective. The idea that we are small in the grand scale of things can be a challenge but some things make us feel small in a way that can be redemptive because they are so large, dignified and beautiful and they have within them a sublime quality that has the ability to still our ego. The hubble telescope gives us an example of this sense of perspective.

The role of art can also include a compensation for our lack of memory. It helps us to remember political moments and all aspects the world around us and what is happening in society. It makes something permanently available – something precious that we might otherwise lose sight of. We put it in a frame/box/archive for future generations.

A Spiritual Practice for the Viewer and Society

The Swiss Philosopher Alain De Botton noted in his book Art as Therapy that the role of the museum and the role of the church have a lot in common.

Up to the middle of the 19th Century the UK was a pious nation. The purpose of art was to serve our souls and to teach us to be more like Jesus Christ. But since then religion has been on the decline. At this point, the leading thinkers started to worry about what people were going to do without God holding society together.

UK-based critics such as Matthew Arnold and John Ruskin began to argue that there was something that could fill the gap created by the decline of organised faith and that thing was Culture (with a caplital C) – culture could replace scripture.

At this time the cultural historian Theodor Zealdon said that ‘Art is nowadays our new religion and museums are our cathedrals’. This was the great promise of 19th Century political thought.

We can graph the number of people who go to church and the number of museums that are built – the two graphs intersect at around the mid nineteenth century.

Commonalities include: a feeling of community, guidance, morality, consolation, dignified portrayal of the darker side of our existence and our fears of mortality, of losing or being a loser and reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering.

However, the modern art world is founded on the idea that art has no clear meaning or purpose – it is enigmatic, not really political, it is a private existence with no real intention to change the world – it exists on it’s own planet. Outside the art studio, we could argue that art is experiencing a crisis of decadence – we don’t know what we need from art. The modern art world has lost a lot of its former ambition as a didactic force to help us live and die.

Claire Zakiewicz will moderate the panel discussion “Art As Spiritual Practice, Art As Activism” with the following panelists:

Jill McDermid – director of Grace Exhibition Space, and Rosekill a farm and an outdoors performance space
Nilton Maltz – psychoanalyst and visual artist
Jaguar Mary X – ritual performance artist and filmmaker
Hector Canonge – interdisciplinary artist and curator
Moderated by Claire Zakiewicz – interdisciplinary artist

Location:
The Park Church Co-Op
129 Russell St, Greenpoint, Brooklyn
G-Nassau, L- Graham

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/590481908190032/

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