As we study the history of Art we discover that Artists and the spiritual beliefs of the people of that time period or country for that matter have a symbiotic relationship. This causes one to wonder if it’s the Art that forms the Religion or the Religion that forms the Art. I think that perhaps it’s a little of both for the Artist merely interprets the stories of the belief system set into place and therefore adds their personal vision of what that might look like into what they create.
Early man used the creative skills they had to bring their spiritual life alive. The Artists would draw shapes and images on many of the important tools they used to survive like spears, clothing and bowls believing this invoked the spirit of the animals to offer themselves up as sacrifice for the needs of the peoples continued survival. The Artist themselves often served a dual purpose as shaman or spiritual guide as well as creator of the images that had special significance to their belief system.
Even if the shaman wasn’t that gifted at visual art, they may have the ability to dance, play musical instruments handmade themselves or tell stories of the beginning of the world that laid the foundation for the moral code they lived by. If any young member of the tribe showed a skill the Shaman lacked they would be sent to live with the elder to be trained in the mysteries of life. The gifted individual was revered as the people believed they had a special relationship with the Creator of all things.
In the next 10,000 years the Artist was moved from this place of high esteem and leader of the human community to the place of entertainer and decorator. The reason this happened is the same reason all civilizations fall eventually; the struggle for power and control. When the lust for Power outweighs the spiritual and physical needs of the people the creative mind is only useful to those in Power if it gains them more power.
Another interesting fact about the relationship of the Artist and the tribe was while Matriarchal societies where women were the leaders (which was most of the world until Rome decided to change their place in the world) flourished so did the role of the Artist in the community. Once Rome showed the world that the way to have power was to control the female population so too did the power and importance of the Artist diminish.
So where do we stand today, we the Artists of the 21st Century? What role do we have when it comes to the Spiritual health of ourselves and our world?
In the next few columns I would like to explore that idea and welcome your input and feedback to add your voice to what I am saying.