On Art and Healing

"The artist is not a special type of human being, but every human being is a special type of artist." (Art Scholar Ananda Coomaraswamy) Jonny Watson's PS article ( Sept 2014) nails the problem with regard to 'education' in general. The affirmation of the individual is the sine qua non. That is what education ought to be about in art... or anything else. You treat kids as God's children of infinite worth and there is a chance you may give them a regard for themselves and others against which no amount of cultural brainwashing via media or television will prevail. Much of what passes for culture is about who we think we are, imagine we are or want others to imagine we are. Our own efforts as muralists have been directed to helping heal a people by depicting their experiences on gable walls. In this manner, we endeavoured to help them to reflect on a shared history and to ponder the price they had to pay for democratic rights. Not to have commemorated the struggle in this way would have meant that we failed in our vocation as artists for, make no mistake about it, art really is a vocation. It is most unlikely any reasonable person would endure its vicissitudes, its hardships or its social stigma if this were not so. Art too has its martyrs and many of them. In the world of art, and increasingly so, I regret to say, it is the sincere and the honest and those with some degree of moral integrity who go to the wall first. Bad art done with a bad heart can do no good for anyone, least of all for the one who does it. The making of art, by its very nature, is healing. We, who teach this in our workshops, can attest to this simple fact. It is for this reason, if for no other, that we believe the arts should be and must be properly cared for in a sane society that has any interest at all in the spiritual well-being of its citizens. Art can help to undo some of the suffering inflicted on all of us by the myriad forms of socially accepted violence. "Man does not live by bread alone"... and to ignore this revelation is to degrade him. Indeed, it is from the opposite belief that all our woes arise. Will Kelly Will Kelly is one of the "Bogside Artists." See also a UTV report of the recent event jointly hosted by Contemporary Christianity, Irish Churches Peace Project and Garden of Remembrance on Art, Faith and Peace - The Bogside Artists: the Story Behind the Murals. Click here to view.
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2 Responses to On Art and Healing

  1. Puran,
    Labels mean little… or they can mean an awful lot to whoever chooses to wear them. “Artist”, “critic”, “work of art” etc. To give the label substance is the business of the ego which is always trying to give itself real substance hence the inordinate importance given to labels and titles and all the rest of it that stuff that keeps the funfair going … from knighthoods all the way to sainthood.

    Sorry if this sounds pedantic but it merely a way for reiterating my main contentions which are simple enough. (1) The artist knows what he is about EVEN IF he is deluded. (2) The work of art is a gift to humanity. No strings. No expectations … or demands. (3) The work of art divested of egoic concerns helps undo the damage done by art that is in the service ego, success, fame, wealth, the art market etc.

    The Enlightenment that you mention was surely necessary but its adulation of reason and science at the expense of spiritual development of the human race is not something we should kow-tow to as we live at the mercy of nuclear bombs in every country’s garage.

    I know people who, having followed the path of reason and logic to its bitter conclusions believe that they are only their bodies and that when the brain ceases so does the individual consciousness. You cannot talk them out of it. Art can do what argument cannot. At its most curative and effective it POINTS ELSEWHERE. Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son one of the best examples of this.

    What Jesus meant by “overcoming the world” was “overcoming the Mind” and the lies that govern it. If the Enlightenment boys got that they weren’t telling… although Kant did finally relent and postulated reason as incapable of fathoming the ultimate nature of reality. He believed in God therefore.

    Apologies for going on a bit but ideas are forces in the world and many of them percolate in the art world and have very detrimental effects on artists and popular culture in general. Hollywood hovers between half-baked existentialism and self-serving atheism. Who does not look at their movies? The slaughter rate in the first five minutes of your so-called “blockbuster” seems to be escalating. It’s okay to kill people … is the message. They don’t matter. We have seen a fair bit of what belief can do in Northern Ireland.

    Thanks for your considered and sincere comment.
    Best wishes.

  2. Puran Agrawal says:

    Comment on “On art and Healing”

    I agree with Will Kelly that “the arts should be and must be properly cared for in a sane society that has any interest at all in the spiritual well-being of its citizens” because “(a)rt can help to undo some of the suffering inflicted on all of us by the myriad forms of socially accepted violence” and because “”(t)the making of art by its nature is healing”. But in the context of contemporary cultural and intellectual mind-set, I feel certain reservations and concerns with the above claims and the claim that “(b)ad art done with bad heart can do no good for anyone, least of all for the one does it”.
    My concerns and reservations arise from the fact that since the Reformation, especially since the Enlightenment, it is universally accepted by the artists, art critics, and art patrons, and a large of part of the art-consuming public that there are no intrinsic and universally accepted criteria by which one can judge a work of art as good or bad. A work of art is what the artist says it is and it is solely in the eye of the beholder whether this is a good or bad art. No work of art can be dismissed as not being a work of art.

    The origin of such view of art and artist lie in the affirmation of the individual as sine qua non according to which an individual is the sole arbiter of what kind of values one ought to have and what kind of life one ought to live. An increasing number of Christians seem to espouse this view, contrary to, in my view, the teaching of the Bible. True, an individual is of infinite worth in the eye of God but he or she is not an island in the kind of the world he or she exists this side of the Second Coming. A believer is to love his or her neighbour as himself or herself

    An individual is born, grows up and lives his mortal life in a communal setting and thereby he or she incurs certain obligations and responsibilities to the members of that community. Unless this is recognized, it is meaningless, in my view, to talk of one’s responsibilities and obligations to the fellow-human beings at large. From this follows the conclusion that an artist lives and works and a work of art is produced in a social context, and, therefore, an artist must be aware of his or her social responsibilities and obligations. Only then one can meaningfully judge whether a work of art is good or bad or whether it promotes the well-being of the individual and the community by healing the suffering inflicted on us in myriad of ways by the fallen society and the world at large.

    Puran Agrawal

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