Art as a Revelatory Tool
‘The difficulty is in trying to relate the imagined world to the authorised version of it, which is secure and which people don’t want to have disturbed.’ (artist Tom Fairs)
When my artist mentor and wise friend, the late Tom Fairs, once told me that ‘art is the conscious becoming conscious’ I wasn’t entirely clear, at the time, what he meant. Many years later, after I had been deeply immersed in my own creative process for quite a while, I began to dimly understand what he had been talking about.
The truth of it is that getting immersed in a creative act has an uncanny way of revealing inner truths - quite possibly some that we would prefer not to acknowledge - and so can help us to unravel our life’s challenges - provided that we allow ourselves to be open to those revelations. Here's an example of what I am talking about.
In the early days, when I was still very much a novice, my drawings of the models in the life class always had very thin legs and small feet. They were a perfect reflection back to me of how very ungrounded I myself was at the time. It was not something that I was consciously aware of and my reaction, at the time, was one of annoyance at myself for being an inept artist. A more productive way of responding would have been to recognise the message and do something to get more centred.
When we see the inner reality expressing itself as a drawing or painting or music or clay, it acts as a powerful confirmation to us that our small, inner voice which has been trying to be heard above the chatter of logic is speaking truthfully, and wants to speak wisely to us. The sad thing is that we should need to have that inner voice confirmed to us at all, but these days most of us have been so well-conditioned by society and our education to analyse our lives ‘rationally,’ that we have lost confidence in our intuitive powers - the ones that inform us in non-verbal ways.
For me, back then, the spindly legs on my drawings were revealing something truthful about my life at the time - the many uncertainties that I was grappling with after my recent divorce. But there are so many other ways that creative activity can mirror that other reality that is playing out subconsciously -the source of inspiration; the quality of the mark; the choice of musical key; the colour preference; the size of the work, your choice of medium or material...the list is endless.
And sometimes it takes an outsider looking at our work to see what is blindingly obvious - except to ourselves. I worked hard for many months on work for an exhibition, the year after my Fellowship in Stone Lithography. Much of the time the issue I thought that I was dealing with was finding ways of dealing with the fact that I had begun a series of work before the Fellowship ended, and I no longer had access to the singular essential element - one particular lithography stone. Somehow I muddled my way through and managed to mount an exhibition of over thirty works, which was very well received. But that's not the point. The point is one particular comment made by a visitor to the exhibition. The question asked was, had I recently suffered a bereavement?
When I thought about it and looked at the overall body of work, the scales dropped from my eyes. I could see exactly why the question had been asked and, yes, I was bereaved. On the one hand I had had to grapple with the loss of my stone but, more importantly, I had also lost my very dear mother-in-law, she who, for 32 years had stood in for my own mother who had been part of my life for just 23 years
I certainly wouldn't recommend going into deep analysis about what your work is going to reveal to you at the outset of a new project. That would be counter-productive and inhibiting. But, if you are looking for a deeper understanding of your own inner processes, or are facing difficult challenges in life, perceiving at what you have produced - once it has been made - as a mirror of your own subconscious workings might be quite revelatory.
Regardless of which particular metier we choose, when we immerse ourselves in some creative activity our ‘thinking’ process automatically gets put on hold, and makes way for non-verbal, intuitive information to surface and be heard or seen. Adding some physical element to the mix - the paper, the pen, the paint, the clay, the water, the dance… - starts to activate other inner processes that encourage new connections to be made and, lo and behold, the solution to the problem finds its way to the surface quite effortlessly.