“The imagination is that which is the least human in man. It wrenches him away from himself and plunges him into ecstacy; It puts him into secret communion with the powers of nature. Who speaks to me, with my own voice? From himself comes a marvellous stranger called Art.”
THE VISIONARY capacity of artists is so famous that it is often considered by western standards to be a bit bizarre – even mad. This is understandable given the lack of vision in a society that has become obsessed with mediocre imagery, and the mainstream media. In many ways the society we have inherited today is based on over logical and rational political-scientific-religious structures of the mind. These mind-sets are purely masculine on the surface and allow little room for the balanced female/male to bring out the artist within us all. When we stifle the artist within we also leave little room for the visionary to appear and offer new direction in life. In my opinion a civilisation that is based totally on the dominance of masculine power structures, with an obsession for suppressive technologies, relates to the immense destruction of our environment. All torture, war, famine and imposition are an expression of the destructive macho mindset, which is found in all sexes. The heart, on the other hand, is the creative, nurturing and artistic aspect of humanity. It is a place that can move us beyond ‘thinking’, duality and the material-world. The heart and mind have been separated in our modern world, so much so that people ‘think’ too much and feel (through the heart) even less. The head has dominated the heart for too long and any civilisation based on mechanical, programmed lifestyles needs the creative spirit within to open the heart. Visionary art can help us to find that balance and open our heart to the mysteries of the Universe.
True Vision Does Not Separate Life into Categories
Science and art have also been separated through the dominance of over logical power structures, especially since the time of the Renaissance. It was at this time that the spiritual became further separated from science and dogma replaced the philosophy and teachings of the ancients. However, despite the separation of science and spirituality, the visionary can be seen at work through artists and scientists from the Renaissance period onwards. Before this period in history the visionary was a shaman or a pohagunt who would communicate with ‘unseen levels’ of creation. Today, we are beginning to remember that both science (esoterics) and spirituality (not religious doctrine) stem from the same knowledge. The discovery of dark luminous matter, which according to physicists constitutes 95% of the mass of our universe, is the home of the creative non-physical aspects of our Universe. The other 5% are what we see as ‘physical mass’. Turn off the lights and we see nothing, but what we sense, imagine and intuit with our finer senses dwell in that darkness too. The higher percentage is the ‘invisible’ universe and the source of our emotions, feelings, higher senses, much of which comes through our art and creativity. The imagination is the catalyst for these ‘invisible’ worlds and it is the power of the imagination that can aid us in seeing our own unique connection to the many dimensions that interpenetrate our reality. Subjects found in Science Fiction are also revealing the ancient and modern connections underpinned by ‘real science’. As I have been saying in my lectures over the past few years, ‘Science Fiction’ is a cover story, to prevent people from realising the truth regarding the eternal nature of reality and how humanity is part of an infinite stream of consciousness that cannot die. The truth is stranger than science fiction and our consciousness, in the form of archetypes, extraterrestrials and non-physical realities, exists above and beyond the physical world we dare to call ‘reality’.
Transformation as a Source of Imagery
Through the eyes of native people past and present, everything on the planet was ‘alive’, something modern science has only recently come to realise through the ‘Gaia hypothesis’, spurred on by modern ecological physics. Native cultures were impelled by their primeval imagination. Spirits of animals and archetypal gods were made tangible, using art as a form of ceremonial initiation. To the shamans of Palaeolithic cave art, their artwork was believed to be active or illuminating their present reality. In some ways much shamanistic art could have being created as a form of celebration, depicting a successful hunt, before it actually began. If so, then the images became agents of transformation, or the power to change reality through the imagination of the artist. Today this process is recognised in art therapy as ‘Image Dialogue’, or what Carl Jung described as ‘Active Imagination’. To the native artist all images contained sequential ‘fantasies’ that want to become conscious, and by deliberately concentrating on those particular images through meditation or trance, all art in the shamanic sense became a tool for transforming realities. In other words the artist in this sense expresses and learns things by turning into them. This idea was summed up perfectly by W. B Yeats, when he said: “Who can tell the dancer from the dance?”
From a much wider perspective art is so important to the process of transformation, from visualising a world of limitation and seeing it change into a world of abundance, through exercising our creativity. Every art form in the native sense came through the notion of bringing abundance into everyday reality. Therefore all native art was intended to communicate and manifest many truths, which were hidden to the five senses; and to focus and direct ‘supernatural’ powers that would facilitate that abundance. These powers are still part of our life energy, a force that is never static or regressive in its natural state. I would say the artist, as an instrument of the natural forces in nature is very capable of nurturing this expansion of energy to forge new channels of expression and experience. In fact you could say it is the primary purpose of the human imagination to expand the life energy that encircles us. Therefore, our imagination is our innate gift, which can be called upon to help visualise a very different physical existence. By imagining and realising our visions in any creative form, we are creating realities that will eventually manifest themselves in our world. As Mahatma Gandhi once said: “We have to become the changes in our world”. Our vision, through our creativity is important to this process.
Art as a Psychic Tool
All art in its native sense is concerned with stirring our spirits, our soul and stimulating our extra-sensory perception. As always it is the art of storytelling, whether oral or pictorial, that is the real sign of creative vitality in any culture or society. Creating, or re-creating our own personal myths helps to eradicate negative feelings generated by dogma, which in the end can only cause disempowerment. All myths and legends inspire and fuel our imagination and, from a creative point of view, help us dig deeper toward understanding our unique relationship with the universe. Creativity, when viewed from an indigenous perspective, was not just a physical process, but a necessary ongoing spiritual journey. It was something that was practiced and woven into the very fabric of our native ancestors’ lives. Whether we consider the natives of Easter Island creating enormous effigies and stone heads in honour of their spiritual ancestors or the European aristocracy placing hippogriths and dragons on their clans ‘spiritual’ coat of arms, the use of art to reveal the mysteries of the Universe was paramount.
Today there is a lack of a spiritual principle in art, especially schools of fine art, which concern themselves mainly with intellectualising and rationalising creativity. There is more to creativity than the physical processes, or art for art’s sake. The most important aspect of being creative is not the product created but what it reveals to the one who has created it. What is unveiled through our art and creativity often relates directly to what we feel, how we think, see and how we move through the world on different levels. Humanity often gets caught up in a world of illusion, when it fails to see beyond the physical limitations and into other dimensions. Therefore art as a vehicle for our psychic abilities can provide us with the necessary insight for discovering the mystery of our being. In other words visionary art is a vehicle for expressing the true nature of our world.
Today’s artist will always find him/herself stifled against controlling forces that do not understand the need for the visionary at this time. Rest assured an unfulfilled society can only verge on the mechanical and apathetic outwardly, if internally we are unawakened to our creative calling. And this is one of the reasons why the mechanistic view of life is prevalent in our world today.
When we consider ancient civilisations and how we have evolved, one cannot help but notice how our ancestors married the physical with the ‘spiritual’. Temples, halls, even homes were adorned with original art, which constantly reflected back at society their needs and understandings of the creative spirit in life. William Blake echoed this point at the beginning of his poem ‘Jerusalem’, when he wrote:
“Nations are destroyed, and flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting and music are destroyed or flourish. The primeval state of man was, wisdom, art and science.”(1)
I believe much modern art (especially the Sensationalsim Movement) reflects back at us, as a Western civilisation, the current state of our soul loss. If we go back to the 1930’s, for example, the Surrealists and the Dadaist art movements in Paris were responding to this soul loss through attempting to shock the public through their art. Surrealism was a natural response to the destruction and mechanisation of the human spirit through war and growing industrialisation. Much modern art today doesn’t go far enough, in my view, when it comes to reflecting both the spiritual and political truths of our time. Much urban art is mediocre therefore what we need desperately today is the return of the visionary so to open up new channels of revealing the mysteries. Art in all its forms, if we dig deep enough to the depths of our soul, is a device by which we can inform and cleanse our current civilisation. The use of ancient archetypes and symbols in art can ignite this process of lifting the veil so to bring back to humanity the true wonder of life. Visionary art is the little boy who dares to shout out that the emperor is naked, when the rest of the world has been conditioned to believe he is wearing ‘new clothes’.
Spirit of the Artist
Art in the native sense was much more than going to art school and making pictures. Art for our ancestors was about creating abundance, expressing individuality and manifesting beauty in the world around them. At the same time much of the ‘art’ of the ancient Amerindians for example, was more of a careful representation of iconography or symbols given to a person during a Vision Quest(2). The images they placed on shields, drums, homes and such, were perceived as alive and coming from the world of spirit. Therefore native art was more of an apparition that came from not what they were, but from their experiences in perpetual exchange with nature and the cosmos.
From Ancient Egypt to the Miracle Plays of Medieval Europe, people maintained a personal connection to the spirit of the artist, through their crafts, rituals, dances and festivals. Making raw art or imagery that stems from the inner most part of ourselves also helps us to ‘feel’ the sacred in life. You might say we have to get to know the creator within or what I describe as the ‘Spider Inside’ in my book Through Ancient Eyes. Doing this can help us realise what ecological science has discovered in recent years, that we are part of a pulsating amazing web of life, and therefore we hold a special place as co-creators in the world.
Journeys in the Dreamtime
In today’s society we are encouraged to believe that art must imitate material appearances. Yet to the artist of many primal peoples, dreaming and visionary art was a device that could open the portals within the imagination. Our intuition, apparitions and the experiences that are not always of this ‘ordinary reality’, were considered by the ancients to have substance that could be made visible through art. To the native (primal) mind, just because something is concealed it does not mean that it does not exist. To understand this way of seeing we need to stop speaking of reality as if it were necessarily ordinary. We need to de-automate consciousness in order to cleanse our perceptions, especially in terms of how we see art and life. Our reality is everything that we experience both in the dream and the awakened world. How do we know which is the real world anyway? Are we so sure of everything that exists within the realms of the imagination? As the Chinese Sage Chuang Tzu (369 -286 bc) once wrote:
“I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.”(3)
In my book Journeys in the Dreamtime I go into greater depth regarding the multidimensional aspect of humanity and the esoteric symbolism that speaks of the different dimensions that have been constantly tapped into by visionary artists. From my own experience of making pictures, a natural ability to ‘see through’ the appearance of everyday reality, occurs, when I re-focus the mind’s eye. Much of my art is about seeing and depicting forms that unlock the imagination. In my world people can look like animals, clouds can take the shape of everyday objects and rocks can seem to carry personas. See the photograph of the sleeping rock person and tree person below.
Accessing the worlds occupied by microbes, plants (like the blue corn stem pictured above) and other natural phenomenon, as captured by visionaries since ancient times; comes form our own ability to see through the façade of this virtual three-dimensional reality. I call this type of seeing, accessing our ‘ancient eyes’, or seeing the next layer of the illusion we call the physical world. Seeing in this way is symbolic of putting your head above water and noticing that there is another world teaming with life, shapes, colour and sounds, while below the surface one image of the sea is presented to the immediate five senses. The mission behind visionary art, for me, is to unlock the imagination, ignite our soul and move us into worlds’ that are unique to whom we are as individual co-creators in an infinite universe.
1) Blake, William. Jerusalem, The Emanation of the Giant Albion. Plate 4
2) A Vision Quest is a rite of passage practiced by many indigenous peoples. It was done in the form of a
3) Songs Of The Earth. Running Press. 1995 p 62