The Arts have a crucial role to play in the evolution of consciousness. From the beginning, the evolution of humanity has been catalyzed by progressive leaps in our capacities of creativity and imagination. Many anthropologists now recognize 'art-making' to be as fundamental as 'tool making' in distinguishing the emergence of Homo sapiens. The imaginative intelligence demonstrated by our cave painting ancestors in Lascaux enabled them to imagine new ways of adapting to sudden changes, while their contemporaries—proficient in tools but lacking in art, perished. In our current confrontation with the perils of sudden climate change I would venture that once again our greatest danger is a failure of imagination. It is not our technology that will save us, but our capacity to envisage new worlds and new ways of being.
100 years from the publication of Einstein's theory of spacetime relativity, our paradigm of reality has transformed completely, and our knowledge in virtually every field has burgeoned exponentially. We are poised at the edge of a new world, vaster and stranger than we could have ever imagined. My mother was taught that the world we inhabited was the size of a single galaxy. Scientists in her generation hoped we might one day discover 'an other' galaxy. A few decades later we aimed our Hubble telescope on a part of the night sky that was dark and empty space and gazed with astonishment at thousands upon thousands of galaxies dancing in one tiny aperture of our vision. And as we peered into the microcosm our gaze penetrated further still, from atom to electron to quark until we plunged into quantum foam of virtual particles popping into and out of existence. The foundational tenets of physics quiver at these mysterious thresholds.
The universe is immeasurably more immense than we could have dreamed. From cosmology to quantum physics, the world we live in has expanded by exponential proportions. So too must our worldview. For at this same historical moment of unprecedented discovery, we stand also at the brink of a world unraveling. The cumulative impact of an unsustainable mode of consciousness has wrecked havoc on the eco-system of the planet. In our unrelenting pursuit of opulence, the simple staples of life—clean air, drinking water, wholesome food, have become a luxury. The pollution and pesticide poisoning of earth, air and water have reached critical levels. Hundreds of species plunge to extinction; burning rainforests sear the lungs of Gaia; and whole eco-systems lurch out of balance careening toward whole system collapse. As exponentially as our world has expanded, so has the collateral damage of our ignorance and hubris. The fabric of life is tearing.
In this tension between the exponential expanse of our worldview and the cascading breakdowns of a global crisis, there is a desperate call for a new way of being. We need a depth and breadth of vision to match the magnitude of the urgency and the enormity of the world now emerging. In times such as these we need our prophets, our visionaries, our artists and troubadours, seers and mystics. We need precisely what the arts have to give; the capacity for profound insight, generative creative possibility, expanded vision, even epiphany and revelation. And yet, the enormous potential of the arts to expand and elevate consciousness is stunted at the very moment when it is most needed because the Arts have become indentured to materialism. They decorate, they amuse, they hedge stock portfolios, but they have lost the vitality that transforms culture and consciousness. Treated as a commodity to be sold in exchange for money, prestige, and power, the tremendous potential of the arts is hijacked. They have become 'frosting', a frivolous decoration that cannot nourish the soul. Without living vitality they are reduced to the equivalent of junk food, tantalizing and entertaining 'eye candy' that is ultimately vapid.
In art and culture we face a moral imperative. We can no longer afford a shallow and superficial kind of art. The lurid titillation of the perverted, vulgar and kitsch has little place in an imperiled world. The arts, flattened by materialism, must re-inhabit the spaciousness of the soul—a territory alone sufficient to meet the pressing needs of our time. It is time for a more profound originality than a contest of shock value. True originality is not merely 'breaking the rules'. The root of 'Originality' is 'from the Origin' or that which springs directly from the Source. The 'Origin' is that empyrean in the human heart that intersects with eternity. This source is the font of Being within each individual that taps the multi-dimensional spectrum of existence. Delving to the origin within, the artist touches the fountainhead of existence; "God, whose center is everywhere, circumference nowhere." In its origin, and in aboriginal cultures to this day, art is a living reality, a way to tap cosmic forces and to commune with the living presence of the cosmos. Mystic seer, shaman and scientist meet at this confluence; the wellspring is within. When artwork springs from that deep fount, it draws from the same creative potency that exploded the stars into being. What is truly Original springs forth with vision and vitality—it is drenched in what is eternal and universal for it reverberates from the source of all life. Here also is the waterfall of emergent and evolutionary energies descending from higher realms. Graced among our many human endeavors, the arts have a unique capacity to transport us past the confines of matter, time and space. In this timeless realm we perceive beyond the paradigm of our predicaments.
The role of the artist living in watershed times must be to awaken. The Arts have always served as the vanguard in renaissances of thought and culture and they must do so now. Human beings are 'heliotropic'—like plants growing toward the sun we grow toward our dreams. It is not an exaggeration to say that our capacity to vividly imagine a future makes it more probable. Reality is not only filtered and reconstructed by our minds, but is in fact profoundly created through our anticipatory images, values, plans, intentions and beliefs. The 'placebo' and 'nocebo' affect demonstrate this fact. Mind and body are interdependent and symbiotic; our thoughts and feelings affect chemical and hormonal interactions, nerve impulses and even DNA. In a convergence of insight across disciplines that include medicine, psychology, cultural sociology, and athletics, the power of images is revealed to significantly affect the future. In every field we see that vividly imagined realities are as psychosomatically real to our mind and body as actual experience. In light of these discoveries, what is the role of the artist as image maker?
The artist of our times must be the 'imagineer' of the future. We need "new art forms of a society in which humanity lives, not innocently in nature nor confidently in cities, but apocalyptically in a civilization cracking up to the universe." Sri Aurobindo described the 'supreme creative stimulus' that occurs in renaissances of culture as "a pouring of a new and greater self-vision of man and Nature and existence" into receptive minds and hearts. The arts can either uplift or erode the vision and ultimately the future of humanity. Our current images of the future are often dark cyber futures, post apocalyptic nightmares, despairing futures of reversion and degeneration. Where are the images that come from a future worth living? When we begin to imagine these new realities we will shift the rudder of our collective course with the magnetism of positive potentials. It is not naïve to see the light. "Naivety and cynicism are opposite ends of a defense against life. They are both moves that deny the soul—naivety by refusing to see the depth dimension that is given by darkness, and cynicism by refusing to see the redeeming and transfiguring power of the light" Art can no longer afford to reflect the wounded and fragmented psyche of humanity when it has the power to heal and harmonize it. Art conveys vibration and consciousness and it also has the capacity to transform consciousness—both personally and collectively. It is no longer sufficient for the artist to express the darkness or simply to show that we are lost. Artists must reclaim the heroic task of finding the light and showing the way. Art moves in territories outside of words and the boundaries of what we already know. Images, stories, and myths have the power to reach us in deep ways that enable radical change beyond the capacity of the personality. They can bypass the defenses of dogma to touch the heart directly.
"Only those convinced by their own dreams can see the hidden designs behind the troubles of the world. To the common eye, Noah looked particularly foolish. Yet he would have been foolish in a worse way had he refused the inner project. Who can explain this to those whose eyes have not yet opened to their own inward seas?"
Who are the artists called to pollinate our future? Just as we cannot be saved by the very institutions that are now crumbling, neither can we turn to the 'professional artist' for our vision. The most urgent evolutionary imperative is for each one of us to awaken to our own creative and visionary power. We are called to the inner project. As we face the coming deluge we are all Noah's this time. What is the right thing to do? How can we save the world? What is the most important work to be done? The answer is not outside of us in any doctrine or ideology, or in the latest scientific or new age theory. The answer is within each one of us. Each one of us has a great work to do—a work that is both essential for our own evolution and critical for the salvation of the world. As we turn within, as we cultivate our intuition, as we learn to tap and trust the 'origin' of our Being—we are unfailingly guided to our path of contribution. When we live from within we know what to do.
As we recalibrate to the 'song of creation' we remember the 'song we came to sing'—and we find that just that very expression is what the world most needs from us.
Dana Lynne Andersen will be presenting a lecture and workshop at East West on Friday-Saturday, November 4-5, 2011. Dana is an artist, writer and teacher. She has a Master's Degree in Consciousness Studies from John F. Kennedy University and has exhibited, published and taught in Europe, America and Asia. She is the founder and director of Awakening Arts Studio, Fine Arts Press and Global Artists Resource Network. Please visit www.awakeningarts.com