Saturday, August 22, 2009
Creativity Without an Agenda
In the early '80s I was twenty-something, living in Southern California, and way into the born again Christian thing. When someone in my church found out that I was an artist, he pulled me aside and said what a blessing it was that I could use my talent to bring people to the Lord. And even then, in my impressionable twenties, I thought, fat chance, buddy. Devout as I believed myself to be, there was no way in hell that I was going to use my art to try to convince anyone of anything. That would be a misuse of my talent, and it felt wrong, deathly wrong, like a sin against myself and God.
It still feels wrong, and I just want to say for the record that I'm not an evangelist, and my art isn't an attempt to rope you into any belief system. I don't care if you're an advaitan like I am, a Buddhist, a Christian, or an atheist. If it works for you, that's all that matters, and if it isn't working for you, then you'll figure it out, and I'll bet you don't need my help. I'm sure that evangelizing has its place, but it's not with me, and any ax that I have to grind is far removed from the arena of spiritual beliefs. My art is as much a self-interrogation as anything else, and I'm even willing to cozy up to the possibility that God doesn't exist. So even though my art is about spirituality, it's not intended as a pulpit, and there will be no altar calls.
My art is about pure creative expression. That's it. The subject matter - spirituality - is an ongoing obsession and a way of life for me, so it's not difficult to understand why I would use it as a launching pad. But the art itself is really nothing more than the byproduct of creative energy wending its way through me. I have this overwhelming need to make something, so I do, and then whatever comes out is my art. It's pretty simple. At the moment I'm intensely interested in eliminating all the superfluous elements of formalism (such as color and composition) in order to arrive at the purest expression, which is achieved with line. A continuous, unbroken line, winding and looping around the white, rectangular surface - this is extremely satisfying to execute. The process is my bliss, my launching pad, if you will. And this is the only reason that I bother to do it.
If I was to use my art as a platform for persuasion, it would stain the process. I'm not drawn to art that has an agenda. It's a form of prostitution, and, like sex with a prostitute, not terribly persuasive. If I had a political ax to grind, I wouldn't waste my time with art - I'd be a lobbyist. If I had passionate beliefs about racism or sexism, I'd get involved with community efforts to end this type of ignorance.
But I'm neither of those things - I'm an artist. My sole intention is to express my creative impulse with as much integrity as I can muster. This may seem self-absorbed or unproductive, but in fact it's one of the cornerstones of civilization. So you see I'm just doing my civic duty by expressing my creative vision. And from the advaitan perspective, I am pure consciousness expressing itself. Consciousness, which has no agenda other than to exist and perpetuate.
Above: Untitled, passage from The Tablets of Baha'U'llah, with letters cut from the Book of Mormon. This is a new series, in which I'm experimenting with wax and other glazing mediums to achieve a weathered appearance, like an ancient text. The piece is small: 3" x 2".