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Painting by Tomas Sanchez

“Poems do not endure as objects but as presences. When you read anything worth remembering, you liberate a human voice; you release into the world again a companion spirit. I read poems to hear that voice. And I write to speak to those I have heard.”

— Louise Glück

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“Our training is the DSM and categorizing and being a good clinician means being able to spot. Now, I have nothing against that. You should have a good sense of spotting, of listening acutely, looking for peculiarities and strange little keys. But that’s almost secondary. You wouldn’t look at your child that way, would you?” — James Hillman:

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What does the money machine eat? It eats youth, spontaneity, life, beauty, and above all, it eats creativity. — William S. Burroughs

You learn very quickly as a student artist of any kind that the rules can only take you so far. Acute seeing and listening are basic to creating. Children do this naturally, but soon learn to force themselves not to pay attention to what they love. They learn to adapt themselves to a system that has no use for sensitivity. Great emphasis is put on comparison and success. Grades replace hearing the birds sing or watching the bees visiting the roses. They learn not to see or hear the world.

Gradually the mind fills up with abstractions and worries. The world of nature recedes, and with it, God and the angels.

Humans try to break into that closed and airless room with a long list of tools, from drugs to Sufi dancing. Forcing the door like that may work for some, but for others the door is a Pandora’s box that can’t ever be closed again. More than one friend fell into a psychosis from which they never recovered when I was in my twenties. Prying open your mind by force underestimates the unconscious mind and its powers. It’s not a source of entertainment, it’s a volcanic source of intelligences that speak in symbols and dream images, not all of them benevolent.

Ego is puny compared to these forces. Integrating these energies, once unleashed, can take a lifetime of rigorous and tenacious effort. Any Eastern anchorite who has unleashed the kundalini process knows this. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not something to be toyed with. It’s not entertainment.

We Westerners live in ignorance of the deeper mind. We can wander into that jungle and never come out again. We call it “trips.” We are tourists in a realm that is mythological, religious even.

Art cultivates a sensitive mind. I decided early in my life to approach the numinous via art making, learning to see and listen acutely. My early dreams indicated that nature would speak to me if I learned to listen. Yes, there is inner wisdom to be discovered, but for me it was necessary to work slowly to uncover it little by little. I was not attracted to any rocket ship that might transport me there instantly no matter how vaunted it was.

Seeing people whose rocket ships had gone off course instilled a healthy bit of caution in me.

So, art for me was a psycho-spiritual endeavor that was part self expression, part devotional. Making art and looking at art worked together. Finding art that I admire and learn from will stop only when I die. I’m amazed at what artists have created and continue to create. I’m talking about art of all kinds, of course.

Protestantism has detached art from religion. I find such ascetic minimalism disappointing. Perhaps such a reaction to the rococo over decoration that held sway for a few centuries can be understood, but for me beauty and spirituality are linked.

The heavy weight of dogma and sectarian precepts runs counter to any religious feeling I might have, but I can still admire religious art as full of spirit and soul in its own right.

For me, the artist is a priest of beauty.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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