Art is a form of nourishment (of consciousness, the spirit).
Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness.
Alain de Botton
CREATING FOR FULLNESS
The process of creating should surely be one that provides long-term sustenance for its maker. This is a mindset we can apply to creating art, or any meaningful pursuit. It might be exercise; cooking; or service of any kind: We are more likely to persevere with these things by releasing the expectation that doing so will make them our vocation or produce results. Rather, we find that engaging with them provides something essential to our sense of fullness and overall satiation in life. We feel more ourselves and better fed as a result.
Art is food for your inner being.
This post was inspired by a video interview I recently watched (below) featuring American visual artist Richard Tuttle. Over its course, Tuttle describes what art can do and work inside of us. He discusses a number of pertinent beliefs, including the idea that artists require creative expression in order to live first and foremost. And that being an Artist has less to do with education and success, and more with creating and expressing as a means of acquiring spiritual and emotional nourishment; that this is not only useful, but imperative for the artist`s well-being. How one’s work is received, or whether it gets demand, is another matter.
It might seem that Tuttle identifies fully with the role of ‘Artist’ as his purpose and vocatio, though he promotes the idea of detaching from success. Many of us however, maintain this ‘role’ as one facet of ourselves, and not all that we are. This can be a healthy way of keeping ego and expectations in check. Regardless of how we choose to identify ourselves visa-vie an identity, his ideas and advice are applicable for anyone attempting to weave their own path and connect to a deeper sense of meaning, purpose and expression. But especially if this is connected to making creative work a priority.
Tuttle has been a leading figure in the postmodern and minimalist art movements for several decades. The work he has produced during his long and prolific career thus far spans a diverse range of media including drawing; painting; printing; sculpture; and instillation art. The interview below features some of his drawings, which are immediate and playful in their use of color, line and form; but there is also an intensity there that is hard to describe. One senses the artist’s love of paintings formal properties, which would seem to reflect his description of engaging creativity as spiritual food or medicine.
My work is the food for my inner life; a way to get much need nutrition for the soul. The wisdom of society tells us it is better to stamp out the inner life as quickly as possible and emphasizes learning how to operate in the world and know objective values.
NOURISHING THE WHOLE BEING
As a culture we tend to place greater emphasis on feeding and nurturing our physical bodies: Caring for the `inner being,` as Tuttle calls it, is secondary–an after thought. Furthermore, advertising industries have taken good intentions behind our embracing attempts to embrace healthy exercise and nutrition, and morphed this into an obsession with achieving “optimal health”. Often reducing our idea of “wellness” to something that constitutes outer appearances.
Addictive, or avoidance based behaviors as well as past trauma can lead to the physical body being abused and/or neglected. This can manifest in visible signs of distress that are hard to ignore because, in a sense, they are “public”.
Yet our emotional and spiritual being suffers too, often for longer, and in ways that might not become obvious until years after the abuse or incidents occurred. In-fact, physical signifiers are usually rooted in our emotional and spiritual center, calling attention to something that is wrong or missing here. But these deeper causes often go unattended, or unbeknown to the outside world due to their lack of visibility.
There is a duel disregard for what is suffering in us below the surface, and how we are caring for our emotional well-being on a long term basis.
We are all effected by systems of exterior validation in one way or another: Fulfillment, it would seem, is contained within things that can be seen and purchased. Too often we judge our self-worth with this yardstick, taking less pride in the private rituals we enact in order to feed our inner lives.
The deeper work of recovery involves discovering where, and how, we have neglected our center –and taking action towards re-feeding and maintaining that. We locate values and needs that are important for our long term mental, emotional and spiritual well-being –rarely things that can be shown to others.
Often, living along these lines might cause us to feel at odds with what society deems “normal” –this probably means we are on track. Becoming more conscious and aware allows us to ask what our whole being needs in order to be well, even if it contradicts what others might think or tell us is right. We begin to separate our our personal values from those that are imposed upon us from exterior sources, and decide whether or not these are conducive to our personal vision of health and happiness.
I have fought so hard to live in the world as I need to. I am never going back.
Collective demands and expectations we place on ourselves to be brilliant; successful; healthy; kind; generous; humble ––to prove our (self)worth and right to be here, is simply too much pressure for most of us, and we often experience chronic stress, anxiety or burnout as a result.
It is a brave, and seemingly arduous task to take responsibility for locating our specific needs and values, rather than only consuming what’s readily on offer. Opting to surrender this need to proving ourselves to others; feeling enslaved to outside praise or fitting into what is deemed normal or good, is actually available to us at any moment.
When it comes to nurturing our inner being, we can ask ourselves what feels like good spiritual food for us beyond what others say they feel sustained by. In the same way that opinions about what constitutes a `good` or `satisfying` meal vary; we get to consider how we are going to nourish and support our physical, as well as our emotional/mental/spiritual systems.
Learning what this looks like can be both exhilarating and challenging: First we just try and connect with what we seem to need and like. If you are reading this, you most likely desire freedom of creative expression. The next step, then, is tuning into what that frequency sounds like, and leaning how to navigate its fluctuations.
Tuttle describes what he, as an artist, needs in terms of creative and spiritual sustenance in order to survive and be well here:
Artists are like clouds
According to Tuttle, one does not make art in order to become an artist: Artists occur in the world just like clouds. They are a part of nature; “…they just happen.”
The same could be said of a chef or athlete: We all have different potential within us -what one might call gifts or inspiration. Thing that are just `there` or appear with less effort.
Artists feed their creative hunger in order to thrive and be spiritually well. Neglecting to do so will cause some form of distress. Simply allowing more space for creative expression in our lives can boost our vitality. Since few of us received adequate grounding for security or confidence in childhood, we often learn how to provide this for ourselves later on. Sometimes it is appropriate to wait until it is safe, or we have a greater sense of ourselves, before we can nurture the creative and provide it with the proper food for growth and sustainability.
Recovery affords the opportunity to discover, relocate and tend to deep or suppressed callings. By taking a more mindful, balanced approach to creating; allowing ourselves to be expressive in ways that feel good and natural to us; and for this to be a way to live and process– we can set a new tone for our lives.
When adopting a more balanced way of eating, for example, we might research ingredients and learn appropriate preparation skills in order to make something nourishing that our body can digest. In the same way, we can attempt habits that allow creativity to flow rather than approaching it (and ourselves) with excess strain.
We are in charge of acquiring unconventional knowledge for ourselves.
Teaching ourselves what we need to know:
In a separate interview, Tuttle explains that he embraced academic texts and literature later on in life. He decided to take responsibility for his own education:
That is the difference from school: If I had studied the works there, with exams, etc., they would have given me too much. I give myself one hour a day, so I’m always hungry. I can’t wait for the next 24 hours to pass.
…if Aristotle can’t be my teacher then I’ll have to teach myself.
To be sure, life will provide the lessons we require in order for us to transform –even if they feel unnecessarily painful at the time. Formal education is helpful, and mentors can assist us; but we are ultimately responsible for choosing to acquire the knowledge we most need, and then seeing how we might use our experiences to negative or advantageous affect.
My dream is to be myself in public. The only way I could survive growing up was to construct a persona; it had nothing to do with me. I was a popular kid, functioned in the world, but I lived in another place.
By re-calibrating our thinking we form a springboard for shifting personal narratives about what drives, or holds us back.
Tuttle`s thoughts about art and artists are compelling: Equally intriguing is the way he talks about his life and the narrative he has shaped for it. He appears to view art as his vocation; but moreover as his savior from life’s challenges and upheavals. Embracing a creative life has allowed him to form an empowering relationship with early struggles and pain.
This is something that might resonates for us: When we feel at our most vulnerable, in pain or grief, creating–or simply thinking about doing so–offers a sense of hope, salvation and purpose. Observing and experiencing the work of others can also have this effect, and this is partly why art can have such a healing force. It provides a sense of hope and confidence in human resilience, and the desire to create out of any situation or experience.
As Tuttle puts it:
…there has to be all of life because if you don’t have all of life, then how can you make anything that really has importance.
Most artists have terrible childhoods. On a certain level, you don’t have art unless you would die without it.
Tuttle speaks of a painful childhood which included neglect and a lack of understanding or support from his father. Yet he does so with a degree of gentle detachment; reflecting with gratitude on how these formative experience encouraged him to develop his intuition and the confidence to teach himself the lessons others could, or would not. Taken from this angle, so-called struggle and disadvantage become the very things that can define our strength and character if we so chose.
WHAT ARTISTS CAN DO
It’s a service to do the most with your life that you can do in the world. The job of the artist is to give people something to see, not to give them something to look at. You have to know the difference between looking and seeing.
Tuttle likens the artist’s position in society to that of a philosopher; both address similar questions and themes. A philosopher typically attempts to approach quandaries directly and come to some form of resolution, whilst artists convey and point to perceptions through abstracted means, inviting mystery and awe to remain and the viewer room to enter the debate. Artists–no matter the means of expression they adopt–frame life’s questions; hardships; and difficult conversations in a manner that appeals, and speaks to the senses. Allowing even the most distressing questions and situations to take on an air of life-giving or affirming poignancy.
Art is a human invention, a system which produces freedom and is necessary for keeping society healthy.
The experience of making and interacting with art reminds us that we are free to interpret life as we wish, and that we each have a unique way of doing so that is of value. This willingness to take risks; question assumptions and seek out the transcendent is partly what makes boldly creative and artistic figures essential to a functioning society.
There is no “must” in art, because art is free.
ART AS FREEDOM AND LIBERATION
Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), is know for his interest in the connection between art and the spiritual. In particular, he saw how music could connect us with something transcendent, and wanted to explore how this same spiritual quality could be evoked through the harmonizing of color and form in painting. He felt modern culture had become separated from the spiritual, beyond the confines of religious doctrine. He viewed the art market in terms of this structure; both being products of their time and subject to shifting trends in belief and understanding. He believed that the essentials of art and spirituality were beyond taste and social needs.
Writing about Kandinsky, Maria Popova states: “…the true artist gives credence only to that inner need, and not to the expectations and conventions of the time.”
If religion can be said to impose rules on spirituality; then spirituality itself, like art, is ultimately free and open to interpretation. Kandinsky, like Tuttle, felt that art could be an “anchor” when other aspects of life are uncertain or overwhelming.
Art then, is not the traditions and education systems imposed upon it: But the act of creating and expressing, un-tethered from historical or socioeconomic influence.
In a passage from his sermon on The Spiritual Element in Art, Kandinsky summarizes his thoughts on this whole discussion, whilst eluding to this idea of art as a kind of inner sustenance; as a tool for mental and emotional resilience:
“When the outer supports threaten to fall, man turns his gaze from externals in on to himself. Literature, music and art are the first and most sensitive spheres in which this spiritual revolution makes itself felt. They reflect the dark picture of the present time and show the importance of what at first was only a little point of light noticed by few and for the great majority non-existent. Perhaps they even grow dark in their turn, but on the other hand they turn away from the soulless life of the present towards those substances and ideas which give free scope to the non-material strivings of the soul.”
“The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended. And for this reason it is necessary for the artist to know the starting point for the exercise of his spirit.”
In each picture is a whole lifetime imprisoned, a whole lifetime of fears, doubts, hopes, and joys. Whither is this lifetime tending? What is the message of the competent artist? … To harmonize the whole is the task of art.
In recovery we are often encouraged to look to something greater than ourselves for guidance and support. We are not being asked to adopt a religion –but to seek out a connection to the spiritual. And thus, it comes as little surprise that many come to recognize a desire for greater creative expression as a result of connecting with something beyond themselves.
Even then, we often prevent ourselves from allowing creativity to nurture us because we are jaded by what society says is “good art”. So when it comes to allowing creative expression to feed our spirit, we might consider shedding ideas about what constitutes “serious” work; fearing that we are not adequately educated; what others think or whether what we make will become a source of income. Instead, we allow ourselves to be nourished by the process first and foremost.
Art is the best tool to conquer our fears.
In terms of blue- if we’re going to try to draw blue- then the concrete is going to contribute and so is the ideal. But the division of the real and the ideal is basically about the ideal saying that the experience happens inside of you, which would mean that everything- from the conception of drawing to the color itself- is inside you, and the real saying that everything is outside you. I think the truth is that, yes, those are polarities that one can discuss and they can be useful, but finally it’s art and art alone that can actually say what is the truth.