HAPPY BLOOMSDAY–JUNE 16

By Paul M. Lewis

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful Jesuit!”

These are the famous opening lines of James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the great seminal works of the literature of the 20th century. Begun in 1918 and completed in 1920, it was first published by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922. All of the events of the seven hundred plus pages of the novel take place on a single day—June 16, 1904. This day is, therefore, the day that lovers of literature have long celebrated the great work, starting in Dublin in 1954 with the 50th anniversary of the events taking place in the novel. It’s reported that this small, initial celebration, wherein several individuals played a few of the main characters of the book (Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, Simon Dedalus—Stephen’s father—and Martin Cunningham), ended early in a drunken brawl in a pub. Subsequent celebrations of Bloomsday in many cities of the world have been longer, and have had happier, if not necessarily less drunken, endings.

The book was not officially printed in the United States until more than ten years after its initial publication in Paris, due to an obscenity trial during which the presiding judge famously referred to it as “the work of a disordered mind.” If that were so, then the world ought to have rejoiced at such astoundingly original, fecund and inventive disorder, and do all in its power to eschew and lament the tedious boredom and dreary ennui of the more orderly mind.

Let us lift a glass (alcoholic or not, as you choose) to James Joyce and to the astounding breakthrough in both form and subject matter that Ulysses represents. Long may this great novel be read, and long may it continue to wildly instill its elemental creative disorder in our otherwise overly ordered, humdrum and sometimes all-too-prosaic days!

THE SACRED, THE DECORATIVE, AND THE REVELATORY IN ART

By Paul

It was common practice among early Pueblo Indians, as well as many other indigenous peoples the world over, to “kill” a pot or other ritual object when it was no longer deemed to be part of the life of the family, clan, or larger community.  A hole would ritually be drilled through its base, and this “living being” would then be considered to have “died.”  From this we can deduce two things:  first, much more than plants and animals were (and still are) considered to be alive by many indigenous people, and two, objects created by and for people could take on a spiritual life of their own.

The issue, which may appear quaint or odd to so-called modern people, still in fact resonates today.  Just last week, for example, the French auction house Drouot sold off dozens of Native American objects, most of them belonging to the Hopi Tribe, in spite of the pleas and the lawsuit brought by both tribal elders and US government officials.  The 70 or so objects, mostly masks, that were auctioned off realized $1.2 million.  One mask alone, referred to as “Mother Crow” brought in over $200,000.  The objects had been “removed” from the Arizona reservation in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s.  How, why, or with whose permission, or lack thereof, is not clearly known.

Auctioneer Gilles Neret-Minet, as reported in an LA Times article dated Saturday, April 13, 2013, entitled “French Auction Defies Tribe,” said that he was “happy that French law had been respected.”  No mention was made of “Hopi law,” but we can surmise that the tribe was not as happy about the outcome of the matter as was Monsieur Neret-Minet.

One obvious question all this raises is, when is an object considered a piece of art (an “object d’art”), and when is it considered something legitimately held sacred by people, and therefore removed from the world of market-based negotiations?  Would it be all right with Drouot, for example, or with the French Government, or with people in general to sell the Shroud of Turin as a piece of art, rather than holding it, as many believe, to be the sacred and inviolable image of Jesus, imprinted by Christ, Himself, on the way to Calvary?

Enlarging the question somewhat, we can ask ourselves what actually constitutes art, and what constitutes the sacred?  Is there, indeed, a difference between the two, and if so, what is that difference?  We could even extend the questioning to ask when is something merely decorative, and when is it thought of as “high art”?   Some museums have whole sections dedicated to the so-called “Decorative Arts,” which suggests that curators and art historians the world over do see a difference.  That essential difference, as many would maintain, seems to hinge on whether or not the object could have been considered “useful” in some way.  In other words, “high art” is not useful, at least not in the everyday sense of that term, and is instead considered as a thing apart from the quotidian.  And yet a priceless Greek amphora, let us say, marvelously preserved and beautifully painted (i.e. “decorated”), would probably not be considered to be merely “decorative art.” This is so, even though its original use was merely as a kind of vessel to hold wine or some other such commodity.  Can we conclude then that it might not be thought of as “merely decorative” because of the antiquity of the object, or its market value, or simply because people the world over perceive it to be a thing of surpassing beauty?

The walls separating these various categories, in other words, are not as clear-cut as they would at first seem.  Many anthropologists and students of world culture have noted that even the word “art” itself is not a term that exists in the lexicon of the majority of indigenous peoples.  That is to say, things are not made by them for the sole purpose of sitting on a shelf, or merely to be hung on a wall, but because they are organic participants in the spiritual and the psycho-social lives of the people.  In many traditional instances, masks were ritually “put to bed” after particular ceremonies in which they were worn, and during which the individual wearing the mask became one with the spiritual being it embodied.  There the masks remained until, in due course of time, the moment came for that spirit to again reappear and assist the tribe in some specific way.

It was only as societies became organized on a grander scale that objects were begun to be made by specialists, and eventually by “artists,” who later came to think of them as expressions of their own private and personal artistic vision.  But note even here the use of the word vision.  And does that not in some sense harken back to the ability to “see” into another world, another dimension, another reality, akin to but different from our normal world, and which can either help or hinder the life of the individual or the community?   As recently as the nineteenth century, for example, monastic painters creating Russian icons would never dream of signing their work.  That was because it was considered a sacred task, not a “personal expression,” and the “object” created was in some real sense the embodiment of the holy image it portrayed.  The same could be said regarding so-called religious art in virtually every culture of the world.

To the modern mind, art today is mostly about either the private and the personal, or the political.  And we do not claim that it represents, or certainly that it embodies, anything more than its creator meant.  That, and of course, any interpretation and speculation either on the part of art experts or of the public in general as to its meaning.   In most cases, though, that representation is not normally thought of as sacred.  Why?  Perhaps in part at least because we have lost the knowledge or the feel of the sacred in today’s world.  And it has been replaced by – might I even say reduced to? – the manifestation and the insight of a given individual about him or herself.

Even so, it is not at all unusual for people to think of contemporary artists as gifted in some special way, as possessing insights and perceptions that go beyond the ordinary.  Great art, as least as I understand it, both plunges to the depths and rises to the highest heavens.  It cuts through and helps us to experience a profundity of feeling that is beyond what any of us can normally experience or express in our everyday lives.  And I am not talking here only of the plastic arts, so called, such as painting or sculpture or even film, but of music, literature, theater and dance, as well.  The best of the best embodies something that it alone can express, and only in its unique way, which can then reach across the unspoken divide between its own vision, transferring itself into the hearts and minds and spirits of those viewing, or otherwise experiencing it.

And is this so very different from the great “Mother Crow” mask of the Hopi, ignominiously sold in a recent Paris auction?  In one sense, and perhaps taken to the extreme, could we not even say that no art ought ever to be sold, since it is (ideally) the embodiment of a particular vision of that which is beyond price.  Of course, we all know that this is not the modern world we live in, and that artists also must provide for their own living and make their way in the world.  I only mention this at all in order to highlight the fact that all true art is, or can in some sense be, sacred.

One of the great ironies, not to say discourtesies, of the story of the sale of the Hopi masks is that tribal tradition never even allowed photos to be taken of them.  Again, it should be emphasized that, at least by the Hopi, these are not considered “art.”  They were never meant to be objects hung on a wall and admired; they are the embodiment of otherworldly beings, who have come to us in order to help in some specific way.  The LA Times article itself, in fact, even references that these masks were to be kept out of public view, and that it was considered “sacrilegious even for pictures of the objects to be shown.”  And yet – and yet – there at the top of the article, proudly displayed, if I may say so, are four photos of the very masks themselves!  What are we to make of this?  Is it merely an example of ignorance, or of arrogance or even provocation, or of some subtle, but deliberate, kind of editorial statement on the part of the paper about what art ought to be?

One way or another, the more general question remains, whether art is a private and personal expression of the individual who creates it, and who can therefore sell it, or otherwise dispose of it, since it belongs to that creator her or himself.  Or is it an unspeakable and ineffable representation of a higher order that both permeates and transcends the day-to-day reality we live in?  Is it, in other words, sacred or profane, decorative or of a higher order, societally or self referential, or is it revelatory of some unexplained and unexplainable metaphysical/spiritual essence?  Or, yet again, some highly idiosyncratic, mysterious and mystical combination of any and all of the above?

Perhaps, in the final analysis, the answer depends on what you think of yourself, of the world you live in, and of what you believe exists, or does not exist, beyond the boundaries of the everyday sphere we normally think of as home.

IN AWE OF CREATION

Caravaggio’s “Conversion of St. Paul”

By Paul

A couple of things have surfaced recently to make me think of one of my favorite painters of all time, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.  

Caravaggio, as he is simply known to most of us today, merely by the name of the town in which he was born around 1571, was an artistic genius of almost unbounded proportions, a great lover of life in all its varied permutations, and a murderer.  We know for sure that he did wind up killing someone, although the reasons and circumstances surrounding the act remain somewhat unclear.  He lived in Rome, and in a number of other Italian cities, depending on where he got commissions, or on whom he was hiding from at any given moment.  Some biographers minimize or completely shy away from the fact that he was also a lover of boys (and women too probably), but I see no reason why they would do that.  It fits perfectly into his character, which was one of thumbing his nose at many societal constraints, while at the same time being smart enough to use the social construct of the age to his best advantage.  He received a number of his commissions directly from the Catholic Church, and many of his most famous paintings remain in churches today.  

The two things that have recently brought Caravaggio and his life to mind are, first of all, a review that I read not long ago entitled “Empathy,” by William Kaiser, of a new biography of the painter, published in the Oct. 25, 2012 issue of The New York Review of Books.  The biography itself is called “Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane,” by Andrew Graham-Dixon (Norton, 514 pp).  The other thing that makes me think of this great Renaissance rascal of a painter is the piece that my friend and fellow blogger, Kevin, posted on the blog site recently. 

If I were to attempt to summarize in a few words Kevin’s posting on why artists create art, I think I would say this: it is because they have to.  Caravaggio even went on painting while on the run from the authorities, who were in hot pursuit for the charge of murder that hung over his head.  He went from city to city in Italy, and even to Malta, all the while keeping one step ahead of the law, stopping long enough to create things of astonishing beauty and to earn a few florins to keep body and soul together, until he inally died of a fever, alone and friendless, in the town of Porto Ercole, just south of Florence, in 1610. 

It is also true that, during his lifetime, Caravaggio did receive a good deal of praise and recognition from his contemporaries.  His friend, Marzio Milesi, even went so far as to write in his epitaph, “in painting not equal to a painter, but to Nature itself.”  I would quibble with this to the extent that, in my view, Caravaggio never tried to equal nature (or Nature), but instead to infuse his own view of life (or Life) into his paintings.  In the end, therefore, the paintings wound up being something more like “Nature Plus,” in the same way that a painting is never the equal (being both better and not better) than a photograph, or even more so, than the actual, physical scene being portrayed.      

But what if no one recognizes your paintings as somehow worthwhile?  What if the world finds you, not objectionable, but unnoticeable?  Would Caravaggio have continued to paint, for example, if the Church, or other wealthy benefactors, had not given him both recognition and the money that flowed from it?  No one can really answer that question, I suppose, but my guess is that he would have found a way to do so.  Of course, things were very different in the late 16th and early 17th centuries when he was painting, and it might have been extremely difficult for someone like Caravaggio to be able even to buy paints and other materials, let alone to afford room and board, unless he sold his paintings.  Today, many artists earn their keep either by teaching art (although as Kevin says, rightly I think, “teaching is not painting”), or by doing something else entirely.  

A case might well be made for the fact that the Renaissance provided great opportunities for artists of all stripes to pursue their art, while the modern world does not.  In doing so, of course, they had to follow the requirements of the time and, for the most part at any rate, depict so-called religious material.  Occasionally, they could get away with doing a painting of a Greek or Roman god, but such depictions were minor in number compared to the Biblical scenes which were the norm.  Great artists, like Caravaggio, however, were able to rise above such limitations and succeeded in somehow showing us more than the painting itself depicted.  Take, for example, a painting called “the Conversion of St. Paul.”  It seems to me that the horse, not Paul, is at the center of this painting.  That is the first thing our eyes light on, not the prone and blinded figure of the Apostle to the Gentiles.  My personal reading of this is that Caravaggio is telling us that the world is paramount for most of us most of the time.  It is also enormously powerful and beautiful beyond measure.  The light shinning on the stead’s side and his haunches is its own kind of miracle, and the power and grace of the animal is almost beyond measure.  Yet we humans do all we can to control those natural forces (the horse is bridled and held in place by a groom).  And it also happens that we are occasionally dumbstruck, thrown, as it were, blinded by something that is beyond our control and our understanding, by something utterly sublime.  

I believe that it is this combination of the love of all that the natural world is and represents for us, this attempt at depiction (vain, always vain, but nonetheless tried over and over again), along with the blinding Light of Vision that hurls us to the ground and makes us throw our hands up in awe, that is the nexus of what makes for great art.

Such power cannot be contained.  It is for these reasons, as Kevin says, that art – and I would add authentic creation of any kind – in the end supersedes all need even for recognition.  It bursts forth entirely of its own, it erupts, it nails us to the wall, and if we don’t do something about it, it crushes us with the enormity of its force and power.  That “doing something about it” is what I call art.  For artists, for all of us who feel the call for creation, it’s not just a requirement in the same sense as food or even sex, but it is instead something akin to air.  Breathe in and you live, stop breathing and for the most part you die.  

In the end, for the artist in each of us, all that can be said is: create!  We must create, or get out of the way, and let the flame burn where and what it may.

THE MARS LANDING: LONG MAY WE BE CURIOUS

By Paul

The team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has done it again.  This time they have succeeded in landing a highly sophisticated, roving mobile science lab the size of a compact car on a planet located some 154 million miles away from home.  And what a landing it was!  Fraught with complication to a degree that even a tiny error could have put a killer kibosh on the entire multi-year effort, they were nonetheless successful down to the smallest detail.  By chance, coming at a time when millions are simultaneously celebrating great athletic achievement in London right now, it could equally be said that this in its own right is part of the Olympics of American space discovery.   It is a Gold Medal for science, engineering, and generally for intellectual – dare I even say, spiritual? – achievement. 

Even so, the question remains, why (literally) in heaven’s name ought we even to want to send machines, let alone (at a later date) humans, to another planet?  Isn’t it enough that we have messed things up royally here on Earth, and wouldn’t it be wiser if we were to put all our resources and efforts into making things better not just for the life forms residing here (ourselves included, surely), but for the magnificent planet as a whole that we call home?  Indeed, I confess that I was exactly of this opinion in the past, and I will, with your patience, attempt to explain in brief how and why I changed my mind.

I still vividly recall July 20th, 1969.  It was a warm summer evening on Earth when Apollo 11 touched down on the Moon.  A Sunday, in fact, if memory serves me correctly.  I was living and teaching high school in a rural part of upstate New York, not far from the Massachusetts border.  Still drinking alcohol in those days (too much, to be sure), I happened to stop at a favorite watering hole of mine, as chance would have it, more or less as Commander Armstrong was stepping onto the surface of the moon.  The first human ever to have done so.  And what were my thoughts in that bar as he spoke his famous words high above?  Was I proud of this great human achievement?  Was I excited that people had used their great intelligence, not to create weapons of destruction designed to kill one another, but instead to invent a technology that channeled our energy and creativity into reaching out to the universe around us?  I greatly regret to say that was not the case.  My thoughts were entirely earth-bound on that day. I felt nothing but criticism that we had chosen to spend so much money sending men to another celestial body, when there was so much pain and suffering on the one we currently inhabited.  I remember thinking: “We spend millions sending men to the Moon, and next to nothing on the homeless and the dispossessed, on education, or on trying to cure humans of the diseases that kill us in the hundreds of thousands.”  None of which, of course, was any more true in those years than it is now.

If I look back even further into my own personal history, I recognize that I was equally critical of earlier human achievements, those great soaring cathedrals of Europe, for example.  Were they not the Medieval equivalent, in terms of technology and the great expansion of human imagination, to a space flight of the 20th (or the 21st) century?  Instead, all I could think when I first saw them was: how many people suffered and died, while these temples were being created?  And wouldn’t it have been better to spend that money on food for the poor and the dispossessed, on education, or on attempts, however halting they may have been in those days, to cure humans of killer diseases? 

The answer to these questions, I think, can be divided into at least two parts.  First of all, neither can, nor should, humans ever do only one thing.  As a race, we are big enough to attempt multiple creative feats, and we are more than capable of both working on those never-ending quotidian problems that plague us day to day, and have always plagued us, while at the same time setting our sights and our minds on the bigger, the higher, the grander.  Even the Olympics, that great paean to the physicality of the body (and to the mind, as well, it has to be said), uses as its motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” Faster, Higher, Stronger.  These words themselves point to the second part of the answer to our original question of why do any of this “other stuff, beyond our daily needs?   The second part of that answer is, in fact, deceptively simple: it is because human beings not only can do it, but in fact we ought to do it.  It is part of what it means for us to be human not only to take care of the business of everyday life, not only to help others in need, feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless, work for the cure to diseases and to eliminate poverty, all vital and unquestionably great and worthy goals, but it also to strive for what is, if I can call it so, “beyond the merely human.”

And what do I mean by the beyond merely human?   I mean all those things that take us outside of ourselves, that show us that we are capable of dreaming, of imagining, of conjuring not just what has to do with our “daily bread,” the sustenance of our bodies and our immediate physical needs, but that which feeds the spirit as well.  Every age, and every culture, has done this, so why not ours, as well?  What else is art for, except in some way, however imperfectly, to actively participate in the Great Creativity of Life Itself, and in so doing to express in a highly individualized and personalized way what is beyond the life of any one human being?   Science, too, at its best, does the same thing.  Physicists look into the very Mystery of Being, they use their intelligence and their practical know-how to delve into questions such as where do we come from, what is the origin of life, and why is there something rather than nothing?  

Whether I knew it at the time or not, Apollo 11 was following in the giant footsteps of such great thinkers, and so is the aptly named Curiosity, which landed last night (Earth time) on Mars.  This latest attempt is designed to research the origins of life in the universe.  It is an attempt to help us understand where and how life came about.  It is taking us beyond the cares and the duties of our everyday lives, as important and as crucial as they may be, and it is literally lifting our spirits.  We can look up at the sky and, in a sense, see that we, too, are there.  Mystics have known this for millennia, that we are part of the Greater Universe.  But for most of us, it may be enough to realize that some real part of our (intellectual) selves is actually roaming about on the Red Planet high above us.  What better way than this to express our need to look higher, to see farther, to go beyond, to focus our attention on what is greater than any one of us, and to give voice to that curiosity by which we realize we are human, and at the same time, hope that we are also far, far more than that?

The Power of Creative Expression

 By Kevin

Many of the men and women in my extended family were public speakers, ministers, and educators — teachers from grade school through graduate school. My role models were always speaking and writing in public about their beliefs, values and opinions. It was clear to me in childhood that they were both praised and persecuted for those activities, and sometimes that spilled over into my life as a “PK” (preacher’s kid.) When my dad was the pastor of a small Midwestern church, and we sold our old church building to the 2nd Baptist African-American congregation, causing them to move two blocks farther into the white neighborhood, my bicycle tires and basketball were slashed, and death threats were phoned in to the parsonage. When we built our new church using a lot of volunteer labor from the congregation, some vandals came the night before our first church service and threw molten tar all over the exterior brick walls and on the cross. I was about 13. As long as I live I will never forget my father in the pulpit that morning, setting aside his prepared sermon and delivering an incredibly powerful extemporaneous address entitled “Tar on the Cross,” in which he asserted that Christians who don’t have some tar thrown on their crosses are not really doing their jobs. To this day you can visit that church and see some tar on the cross out front.

As an artist and writer I have learned that public expressions of all kinds have consequences. Everyone thinks they are experts about art, and people feel compelled to render judgments ranging from rave reviews to condemnation. A few people offer astute analyses and critiques, while many others have no idea what they are talking about. I try to accept both praise and blame with equal objectivity. But I learned early in life that reviews can also have serious consequences. When I was a senior in high school one of the English teachers asked me to bring a painting to his class and talk about the creative process. A student complained that there were stylized nudes in the painting. The school board confiscated my painting and fired the teacher who had to leave town. On the other end of the spectrum, Robert and I were lauded, featured, and praised in the newspapers and in a fancy formal banquet for 125 of the most powerful and influential people in our nearby city, for our exhibit of 65 canvases during the opening months of the new library. So… It can go either way, and any individual who wants to engage in public expression in the arts, education, activism, politics, or other forums, has to be ready for whatever comes, from honor to persecution. One has to develop a thick skin.

Regardless of the specific reactions that occur, it is clear that creative expression carries real, mysterious power to change consciousness, life and society. The power of speech and art is every bit as great as the power of money and position. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that speech and art are much more powerful than money and position, because words, images, music, poetry, dance, philosophy, and spirituality endure through the ages, whereas money disappears and position is often forgotten almost immediately when a wealthy, influential person leaves the scene. But it is a different story when someone leaves behind a creative legacy that lasts for generations or longer.

It is only natural when confronted by an opportunity to speak, write, perform, or exhibit in full view of the world, that many people feel somewhat daunted by the implications of “going public.” It is very human to feel inadequate to the task. It is normal to experience stage fright, anxiety and fear. Sometimes, a certain degree of nervousness heightens one’s energy level and concentration. But, of course, too much anxiety can have an adverse impact on our ability to do a good job and say or show what needs to be said or shown. When making and sharing art, writing, music, dance and creative public expressions of all kinds, and when engaging in public discussion about them, it may be useful to keep some basic principles in mind to alleviate fear within ourselves and in others:

ALLEVIATING THE FEAR AROUND CREATIVE EXPRESSION

  1. Be compassionate toward your audience. People who engage in creative public expression are often moved to do so because they see a compelling vision of how things are today and how they will become in the future. Their pronouncements, art, writings and performances, therefore, often take on a rather prophetic quality, predicting significant changes in life as we know it. That can be frightening to large segments of the public who are quite happy with the way things are now and more than a little resistant to change. In fact, for them, the idea that the world might change in directions that are revealed by artists, authors, speakers and thinkers, is frankly terrifying. This is not a cause to refrain from creative public expression, but rather a reason to engage in it. Society requires visionaries who will define its needs and suggest alternative futures. However, in doing so, the compassionate speaker, writer or artist will hold some private empathy for the individual who reacts violently and negatively out of fear that reality as they know it may be crumbling and that they will not be able to survive the change and adapt to new forms and directions. It is kind and effective to acknowledge their anxiety and offer empathetic support.
  2. Learn how to harness your ego to useful purposes. The individual who even conceives of engaging in creative public expression has to have, of necessity, a big and healthy ego. Otherwise s/he would never consider opening herself / himself to the inevitable praise and blame, support and attack, success and failure, that come when one makes oneself vulnerable in all kinds of public expression. The successful writer, speaker and artist learns by trial and error that ego is both an asset and a liability. One must have a strong ego in order to believe that s/he has something worth sharing with the world, and to survive all manner of responses. But one must also learn how to suspend ego attachment to outcomes and do the art, the writing or the speaking for the joy of the process regardless of worldly success or failure. Moreover, it is essential to banish all thoughts of ego gratification and get completely out of the way while creating, or the result will be stilted, didactic, and lacking in authenticity. The expression is not about you… It comes through you. The creative individual practices, studies and prepares to become a receptive and open channel through which the expression flows. Authentic creativity requires its own intrinsic balance between intentionality and spontaneity, which are both destroyed by egoistic desires for success, notice, praise, power and monetary gain.
  3. Look at both praise and condemnation as two sides of the same coin. Human responses and behaviors are ever unreliable until anchored in Ultimate Love and Wisdom, and how many of us have achieved that lofty goal? So it is essential that the presenter of creative public expression must not take himself / herself too seriously, nor the praise or criticism that comes inevitably. In fact, it is wise to develop an internal attitude that receives both commendation and condemnation with equal skepticism, as one and the same thing. One is not better than the other, because they are both founded on flawed human likes and dislikes, based on both lowly and lofty motivations from fear and anger to understanding and wisdom. At one of my first one-man shows, over 40 years ago, I overheard a man say to his wife, “This artist is insane and should be committed to a mental institution!” I instantly thought “Eureka! I got to him.” I have always thought that the most devastating reaction is not rage or condemnation, but apathy. Lack of reaction means that the work had no impact. But the creative must become his/her own ultimate critic. It is only the authentic inner vision and voice that can finally render judgment regarding creative expression. Having said that, every creative seeks and finds trusted private critics to whom s/he turns for evaluation, advice and an objective opinion. We all get too close to our work and need that outside perspective from time to time. But the final decision belongs to the creative alone.
  4. Be courageous. Creative expression, especially if it is prophetic, can have very serious consequences as history attests in the tragic lives of scientists, artists, writers, performers and other creatives who have been imprisoned and even executed for their public expressions. For 20 years I wore a decorative T-shirt sporting the slogan “Art Can’t Hurt You!” Of course, that’s not true today. It’s an unrealized goal for the future. Today art can hurt you, the artist, and you, the audience, because we have not yet learned the art and science of civil discourse. So it is essential for the creative to be certain of his/her convictions and think through the specific expressions of those convictions thoroughly before going public with them. If the courage of conviction to withstand persecution in defense of a public creative expression is not there, then cultivate it! Go public when you are so full of the courage of your conviction that you cannot any longer repress its expression. Then you will be able to accept the assault of condemnation and commendation with equanimity anchored in the essence of your very identity.
  5. Accept your role as an educator and welcome attacks as “teachable moments.” Persecution is often rooted in ignorance. If the public presenter who is attacked can suspend ego and remain calm and objective, it is often possible to use that occasion to gently engage in a dialogue to educate and inform both the perpetrator of the attack and those who are watching, listening or reading. In this way we have an opportunity to educate the public not only about the specific subject at hand, but also about civil discourse in general. A few years ago Robert and I hosted a two-man art exhibit at our studios and grounds in the woods. One man complained to me that he simply could not comprehend Robert’s abstract expressionist paintings and he said that they looked like infantile scribblings to him. We happened to be standing by one of Robert’s paintings entitled “Wildfire.” I asked him whether he saw any connection between the title and the painting. It took him a little while, but eventually he said that the brush strokes looked like flames. I asked what he felt when he looked at those flame-like marks. “Hot!” he said. I asked if there was any sound, and he said that he could hear the crackling of a fire. Then I asked him where he was relative to this fire – what was his vantage point. Slowly his eyes opened very wide and he gasped, “I’m right in the middle of the fire looking up through the column of heat!… Now I’m going to have to go back and look at every single one of these paintings again. I have been missing the point.” Admittedly not every “teachable moment” dialogue ends up being quite that gratifying, but when we remain calm and make the effort, both parties walk away richer for it.
  6. Avoid strong emotion in public discourse and business. Put all the intensity of your passion into the private creative work. Then when expressing yourself in public, strive for a more neutral tone. Corporate experience has taught me that one can say almost anything if it is uttered in measured, professional tones, with a neutral expression, and without emotion. Strong public expressions of emotions such as grief, rage, or euphoria are almost always immediately discounted as being hysterical in some way. But when one says the very same words in a professional tone with a neutral manner, the very same ideas are received and considered. Rage, grief and euphoria are at the root of the concept, process and ultimate form or performance of many creative expressions. That is as it should be. The emotion belongs in the art. But when the time comes to talk about the art or creative work, dialogue is best served by cooler heads.
  7. Do your work thoroughly and with integrity. Work hard with an attitude of pure enjoyment. If any piece of work makes you feel dead inside, abandon it, for it is not an authentic part of you and you will not be able to stand by it. Do all the required research. Be disciplined in your creative output. Do it every day and do not work by default, but by intentional conviction and design. Be deliberate and mean it. When you work diligently with joy, self-discipline and rigor, opportunities to share your work in meaningful ways will simply materialize out of the ether. Even so, do not rely on magic, but be bold and make your opportunities for public sharing even while you produce the work. Bake the cake and invite the world to eat it with you. Too many would-be artists, writers and other creatives live in a fantasy world in which they imagine that some benefactor will discover them and coax them into creativity with support and money. That is not how it works. Do the work with excellence first, last and always, and then push yourself to go beyond what you believe to be your limits. The opportunities will emerge from the work, not visa versa. If all else fails, and everything overwhelms you, forget it. Just do the creative work! The rest will come.
  8. Never show works in progress to anyone except your most trusted advisors. Respect the difference between the very private and personal creative process as contrasted with public sharing and dialogue about your finished work. Do yourself a big favor and make it a rule to keep your work private while it is in gestation. The embryonic form of any creative effort is extremely vulnerable and can be severely damaged when exposed to external influences. Your personal creative acts from conceptualization through completion are as private and sacred as your love life or your spiritual practice. Do not discuss them or show them to anyone other than your long-term trusted creative counselors, and even then it may be wise to set boundaries regarding what kinds of reactions and comments you will entertain. Some creative projects involve highly collaborative phases. Be certain that your private preliminary creative concept and preparation work are completely finished and solid before opening the project to collaborators. Then consider any worthwhile changes that they recommend. Flexibility emerges from strength and conviction.
  9. Let your public art or statement marinate for a day or two before releasing it. It is smart to sleep on a creative public expression at least overnight before publishing it. I always find that I edit my initial statements and artworks considerably before publishing them. It’s like counting to ten. A little cooling off time and perspective are the better part of wisdom. I have sat on this very article for well over a month, because I knew it was not quite ready to hatch. Even after going public, be willing to suspend ego and make some improvements and changes or corrections when it becomes apparent to you that you can make the piece stronger by doing so.
  10. Honor and value your own work and the work of others. Creative work is a precious gift to the world, especially when it is shared in public. Such gifts must be nurtured if civilization is to thrive and grow. Cultivate an attitude of pure gratitude and respect for your own creativity and for the creativity of others around you. Thank and support anyone who is willing to take the risk of becoming vulnerable by presenting creative expressions to the world and inviting comment. Support and encourage your fellow creatives as you would like them to support and encourage you. They are not your competitors. They are your collaborators in the grand creative design.

To close the circle, let us return to the beginning and ask, “Where does the impulse for creative public expression come from and why does it happen at all?”  I can only respond with another question: Why do we feel moved by another human being to know and fall in love with them? As we live and move through the world, one of the most fundamental and natural human reactions to everything we experience around us is to attempt to “know” it with such a thorough understanding that we merge with it. As with the merger that takes place in some kinds of interpersonal love, this “knowing” leads to offspring – children, in the case of some couples, and art or other creative expressions when individuals attempt to achieve unity with All That Is. Just as it is natural and desirable for us to present our children to the world and to ask them to play a role in making it a better place, so it is right and proper for us to present our creative expressions to the public. We believe that the motivating desire behind our art, to overcome separation and merge with Creation, will in some small way inspire people to overcome their alienation from one another and from Nature. It is humanity’s fond hope that our children will find a way to save the world. Creative expressions are our children as well. We send them forth to lead their independent lives and do their work. And if we are lucky, sometimes, now and then, they make us proud of them, and we smile alone, privately.