Archive for Manet

On An Artist’s Responsibility to the Light

Opening to Love by Sybil Archibald Opening to Love (back view) by Sybil Archibald
Opening to Love
by Sybil Archibald

Light

Light
devoured darkness.

I was alone
inside.

Shedding
the visible dark

I
was Your target

O Lord of Caves.

by Allama Prabhu
English version by A. K. Ramanujan
Original Language Kannada

My esophagus and I have had a lovers spat. But after 3 months on a liquid diet I am happily eating solid food again. What a trying time. Some days it took more than 2 hours to drink a single cup of fluid because it simply didn’t want to go down. Each time I go through a difficult spell with my health, I know that there is divine purpose. I always come through healed in mind and soul as well as body.

Though my esophageal quarrel was extremely difficult, I made it through because of painting. Painting allowed me to connect to the deep well of creativity that regenerated me even as I felt my body slipping away. Painting became my anchor to life and each time I lifted my brush I felt I was reeling myself into safe harbor. This time made crystal clear the personal value of making art and also made clear why art is so important to the world.

Anyone who has read this blog will know I believe art and healing are deeply connected. As an artist is healed by the process of their work, that energy is captured. This energy resonates within their piece where it has the potential to heal its viewer. This is my highest goal, to create work that heals. I also think that is what art does at it’s best. Art can do other things: educate, shock, bring beauty. But all these fall aside when measured against the sacred calling to heal and transform.

This may seem a lofty goal that is not often reached but it is important to set lofty goals as Henry Moore says:

The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.
-Henry Moore

I would change that quote slightly from something you cannot do to something it seems you cannot do. It is too easy to limit what we can do by dismissing goals as unattainable.

Art has the ability to change people on a very deep level and therefore artists have a great responsibility. Some might say they have a responsibility to themselves or to their vision, but I would disagree. Instead, artists have a responsibility to the Light / Creativity that they shepherd into the world. It is a flickering flame that must be cradled and cherished that it may heal and guide us forward.

Unfortunately, the art world and many artists have forgotten the sacred nature of their charge. Many are trapped and blinded by history’s model of the bohemian artist shocking the world. This model began in 1863 when Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet was first shown, it shocked audiences by placing a nude woman with a pair of clothed men in a landscape. At that time, the strict prescriptions of the 19th century salon were stagnating art and needed to be shattered. Younger artists liberated by Manet’s courage were inspired into a sort of 19th century “Fight the Power”. Manet’s model of shock eventually led to the great movements of 20th century art like cubism and abstract expressionism.
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet
Each of these movements sought to shock the art world and bring something completely new. For example, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, generally recognized as the first cubist painting, was incredibly controversial. At first it was considered immoral and scandalous and later revolutionary.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso

This became the pattern for success is the art world. Shock your audience by reacting to the art currently in vogue. Be the bohemian outsider attacking the collective notions of what is acceptable in our society. And this model worked well for a long time and gave us a lot of great art. However, now, this model is failing both the art world and society as a whole.

Today, it is almost impossible to shock anyone. We have all seen countless murders and even really war causalities on TV. We are even jaded to the point of numbness.

Yet artists still doggedly cling to this notion of shocking the establishment. No longer able to shock the public at large, artists have settled for shocking the artworld with increasingly self-reflexive works that are no longer accessible or meaningful to the average person. Works that paradoxically become more and more cerebral the less they mean. Works that deconstruct and criticize what has come before and call attention to everything that is wrong in this world.

It seems to me that as a society all we can see the darkness: the murder and crime, the wars, the destruction of our environment.

When I said artist’s have a responsibility to the Light it meant it. We need to start carving a path of Light out of the darkness we are mired in. Artists have a unique opportunity to praise what is good and beautiful in the world and to point the way to healing ourselves and our earth.

I don’t mean artists need to become Pollyannas. Showing only Light is just the other side of the coin showing only darkness. We must acknowledge the darkness and transform it, hold the world’s darkness on our canvases along with it’s Light, the pain and the joy in a way that allows the release of the pain and the movement toward joy. By praising rather than complaining we add to the Light in the world, we add to a movement of healing that will in time reach a tipping pointing where darkness and Light can rebalance in a healthier way.

Where does this leave artists who deal with dark subjects? I say that if an artist is authentically engaging their own pain and not just making an intellectual statement they are healing themselves and adding to the Light. It does not do to deny the dark, day needs night, as summer needs winter. What is important is the intention of finding the path of Light for it is there for those who search. And the world so desperately needs us to search. So artists, I say, be brave, be ever so brave and enter your own darkness to find your path to Light. The world is depending on us.

With love,

Sybil

St. Francis by Sybil Archibald

The stigmata of St. Francis altar by sybil archibald
The Healing Stigmata of St. Francis Altar by Sybil Archibald