The Art of Protest and Protest Art
Get Up, Stand Up
Stand Up For Your Rights
Get Up, Stand Up
Don’t Give Up the Fight
- Peter Tosh
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
“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,
(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)
"If we focus more on the end result - the product - more than we do on the process, we teach ourselves and others how to consume instead of how to create." (Quote by me.)
I may have woken up with a tad bit of a ritual hangover this morning. But that didn't stop my brain from diving down a fascinating rabbit hole thanks to a facebook post from Byron about art and witchery.
We often look at art in terms of being an end result, without much thought to the process. I'm not only talking about visual art here, but all of the arts: dance, music, writing, theater, etc. The end result rarely speaks of all of the hours of work, training, editing, practicing, derailed personal lives, lack of sleep, cuts, bruises, sweat, blood, and a whole slew of other things that really aren't slick, sexy, or appealing in general. Yet the result is often something of beauty - profound, moving, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually compelling. Unless you're involved in that art yourself, it's hard to fathom or understand everything that went into it. Which is another reason why art is so often devalued in our society - that it's merely entertainment, dressing, something easy and amusing, full of pleasure and indulgence.
Yet, it's also not just some combination of elements that make it into art. Just because you have a canvas, some paint, a brush, and some time does not mean you will have a great painting at the end of it. You'll have a painting in the basic sense of the word, but that doesn't mean it's art. Nor does a beautiful work of art mean that lollypops, cupcakes, birds singing, and sunshine were the stuff that made that piece happen. Inversely, a dark and painful appearing work of art doesn't mean that blood, tears, and thorns were involved in the making of it. Really, unless you were there, you can't know or say, you only have your own personal experience with the end result to base your opinion upon. Which leads us to, when we add in the concept of "beauty is in the eye of beholder" and the lines between real and fantasy, experience and validity become very wispy indeed.
Regardless of the end result, a skilled artist calls upon their experience throughout the process of making, transforming and changing materials through focus and intent.
Similarly, a lot of folks look at spellcraft by the results without understanding the process. They see the results, and they see a list of ingredients, and assume that's all that is needed. But the experienced practitioner knows that it's the will that transforms and causes change in recognition of the elements and materials. It's the application of will and focus in the process. You can follow the motions (burning a candle, digging a root, inserting of thorns, etc), but without the understanding and focus, they're often just actions that fall flat.
Ask any artist where the magick happens, and they'll most likely tell you it's in the making of the art. The need and desire to create comes from the actual process. While the ego may be pleased by the end product of the process - and yes, it's definitely the thing that everyone else responds to - it's the art-making itself that satisfies the spirit.
Though I certainly hope that for my own work, the ordeal and experience of the process is something that the end viewer gets a glimpse of. Not so much a look at my personal process, but perhaps that it speaks to their own experiences and processes.
In the end, it's not the telling of the process nor displaying of the art or spellcrafting that makes the magick, but the actual doing of it.
Do you truly value your work?
This weekend I gave a lecture at 2nd Star Festival in Florence, OR. Originally the idea was to give my "Visual Alchemy" lecture, which looks at the history and intersection of art and magick - but at the festival itself, there wasn't much description for attendees to read besides the time and "Tempest, artist/dancer", so I decided to go off the rails a bit, and hope no one complained that I wasn't dancing as I lectured.
2nd Star is a neat fledgling festival that is a cross-section of steampunk, fairies, pirates, mermaids, and other sorts of myth/creative folk - a little of everything fantasy. Just before I took the stage, the previous lecturer Josh Kinsey was answering a question about the title/use of the word maker. I think that seeded the field a bit for the direction I went.
I started off with my basic introduction of defining art and magick, showing some slides of various kinds of art from early civilizations. Then I talked about art that is temporary - such as sand paintings, and art that is long-lived (temples, henges, etc), yet they are linked by intent and both equally important. And then I talked (ranted) about the value of art in today's society.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of today's society does not recognize the importance and inherent value of art. Art is more than something that matches your couch and looks nice, or is tucked away in a museum. It's essential for human expression and well-being. It defines and advances civilizations, building cultures. It bridges the gap between different people and finds a common soul. It connects us and teaches us.
When you, as a maker/creator/artisan/artist/master of the ephemeral exist in a society that doesn't understand the value of art, you're most likely going to have a hard time valuing your work. When the artist doesn't value their work, then the society doesn't see value in the work or the worker for that matter. It's a vicious ouroboros.
So in my rant--err--lecture, I challenged the folks present to reconsider art as something that is integral to their lives, and especially to the creators present - to re-evaluate how they see their work. If you value your own work, then others in turn will start to see the value in it. It should be priced with respect to the quality of the work, the materials, the amount of time, and true market value - versus what you think others (especially yourself, your friends, etc) may pay for it. Nor does it matter if it's what you do for a living or as a hobby on the side, the effort and the result is the same.
Just the simple act of believing and acting on the sense of value of your work causes a shift - in yourself, as well as those who interact with your work. If you define magick as the art of changing consciousness in accordance with will - then valuing your work is also a form of magick. You see value in your work, your work will be empowered, and others will respond to that shift in value, and see it for themselves.
Success in the arts is never overnight. It doesn't come through one perfect connection, but rather years of hard work and dedication. However, that sparkle of success rarely comes without belief in one's work, and a dedication to value. Go forth and do some magick.
AP: Washington, DC
The Postmaster General announced today the upcoming release of a series of stamps commemorating the eight holidays celebrated by the vast majority of contemporary pagans.
"Pagans have been an integral part of this nation since its founding and before," said Postmaster Tamar Penrose, acting head of the US Postal Service. "It's time and high time for such a public acknowledgement."
The stamps will be released later this year on November 1, the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain, celebrated by many contemporary pagans as their New Year.
The release coincides with the opening of the Smithsonian's new exhibit, "Pagan America: The First 400 Years." The exhibit will include the unveiling of the original prototypes for the stamps.
The prototypes were created by the Minneapolis Collective of Pagan Artists (MCPA) which, since its founding in 2013, has spearheaded the mainstreaming of pagan art and culture into American consciousness. It was the MCPA that first vetted the idea to the Postal Service.
The Minoans loved color. The vibrant colors are usually the first thing people notice about Minoan art; the second thing they notice is how natural and realistic much of it is. That naturalism and realism might lead people to wonder about some of the color conventions in Minoan art. So much of Minoan art is realistic, it's kind of jarring when something is the wrong color.
If you have a look at the Bull Leaper fresco at the top of this post, you'll see that the two athletes to the right and left have white skin (not a natural Caucasian peachy color or a natural light tan, but literally white). The central bull leaper is a deep reddish tan, like a bad sunburn. This is due to a set of rules in Minoan art that says women always have white skin and men always have reddish tan skin. If you've ever had a look at Egyptian art, you'll see something similar there: The men always have reddish tan skin and the women always have yellow skin (with a few special exceptions like Osiris, who occasionally appears green because mythology)....
I first found out about Eliza Gauger's "Problem Glyphs" project through my partner Nathaniel, and I was instantly fascinated and intrigued. They had been in a band together years previous, and he continued to follow her artistic pursuits after that on tumblr and Patreon.
How it works is that since 2013, people have anonymously submitted to her some sort of problem or issues they have been facing. She in turn creates an image to ward against that problem. In her words, "These symbolic illustrations draw on my background in esoteric occultism, aesthetic symbolism, mythology, psychology, and hedge "magic" to encourage, support, and counsel the people who seek them out."
Nathaniel had anonymously submitted to Eliza his lifelong struggle with a faulty memory and its possible ill effects on his health. (I lovingly call him my goldfish.) He is a diabetic, and had a hard time remembering to take his medication, despite a variety of tactics. Eventually, his turn came and the Glyph was created. He decided to get it tattooed on his right arm, where he can see it every day, and I'm glad to say it's worked beautifully. (It was also his first tattoo, and we're working on his next one...)
The Problem Glyphs have a strong style and imagery all of their own, yet pull from a diverse mythology and encyclopedia of symbols. As an artist, designer, and sigilmaker, I love the amount of symbolism and movement she packs in to a single image, without overdoing it. It's just the right amount of linework, balanced, and clear.
Besides the effective use of line and contrast, it's the process of making them from start to finish that pulls in the magick. The querent expresses their problem, the artist considers it and carefully crafts the glyph, and releases it. The querent is not only rewarded with an image to reflect upon, but it's the core fact that someone else, outside of them, contemplated their plight, and produced a piece of artwork based upon it. Just that exercise in itself goes a long way to helping someone overcome an issue, regardless of the art itself. That someone else took the time to care, to think about THEM, and gave them a physical reminder of that process goes a long way in strengthening the spirit.
In this blog, I've talked about the magick that can be involved when an artist creates something for their own needs and visions, as well as for the Gods. There's another level of fascinating interaction that occurs when the work is created specifically for someone else. And in the case of the Problem Glyphs, we can add on the additional level as us, the bystanding audience, who upon viewing the images and their source issues become involved as well. Suddenly, we too are thinking about the querent, their issues, and our own relation to it. Which I believe adds more energy and power to the image and those who it is made for.
There is a currently a kickstarter for making a book featuring 200 of the Problem Glyphs that Eliza has created so far. Check it out here, it's almost funded with a week left to go.