Waking up from the dream.

  The World.

If you fear being alone or not achieving it is because you have not resolved inner pain.  If you suffer from being bored, it is because you have taken life for granted and not for its beauty. Life is an art and art the expression of life. We live moment by moment, but rarely do we saviour the moment so uniquely as we do when creating a piece of art. Art outlives us and it takes meaning to a new level beyond our original thought. Art can help us to better understand ourselves, that is our feelings of aloneness, rejection and alienation, our magnificence. Everything is made clear by art because art is an abstraction from which we can read ourselves; like looking into a talking mirror, art plays back to us who we are.

Art can be both beautiful and disturbing, but it cannot be ignored. Art forces the spectator to confront the fears and emotions that reside in all of us. Art opens up conversations that might otherwise remain dormant, including what is the meaning of art? And;  should art be used as a search for meaning?  Does art have an inherent purpose? Art raises many questions. Some people view art as a window into the soul. Our thoughts are  soul reflections and a window out onto the world, through art thoughts have the power of transformation.

  Reaching for Nirvana.

 

Mind and meditation.

In the 6th century B.C., the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, taught that life was an endless struggle and he showed us a way beyond the pain using mindfulness and meditation. Since then there have been many ways of calming the mind. Christianity uses prayer and contemplation to overcome pain as domany other religions and belief systems, but pain is not always obvious.   Pain can be repressed and manifest in mysterious ways.  Inner pain can affect our behavior and our happiness.  Repressed pain is like a vine slowly climbing the height of a tree, the higher the vine climbs the harder it is for the tree to grow and be healthy. The longer we have pain buried inside us the more it becomes an accepted part of our existence. We can be resilient. We can repress the pain, but what we end up with is anxiety, discontent and sometimes a chaotic journey through life.

Pain is many things. The world we know has been built upon pain. Pain can be felt as excruciating agony or it can be dormant causing a loss of balance and motivation. Pain can elude us and make us feel normal, because pain is normal.  Pain is not our enemy because without pain we would never know pleasure.   How we treat painful experiences will profoundly influence who we are and how we cope in the everyday events of life. All pain has links to the emotions. Latent stress, anxiety, depression, unhappiness, failure and despair are all states generated by the emotions of inner pain. Pain can be like a bad dream that sees us transfixed in a vortex of thoughts and feelings with no conceivable way out. Pain can come to us like a bad dream, but we can wake up from the dream.

 

Letter to the Mirror.

There is a wonderful exhibition of work executed by pupils of the Foster Secondary College  currently showing at the Stockyard Gallery, which I believe has generated many positive responses, but also some negative ones.  While I would normally ignore negative views putting them down to individual taste, I do believe this exhibition has raised some important issues that need to be addressed.

First, when one walks into the art show the senses are overcome by the colour, joy, excitement and a propensity to display youthful enthusiasm in the production of expressionist art.   What is on offer is an intense parody of love, vision, ingenuity, creativity, originality, imagination, inspiration and inclusiveness.  Everything about this exhibition demonstrates a proclivity to focus on all that is good in the world using a cleaver combination of semiotics (language, symbols and forms) to convey hope for the future.

The student exhibition reveals much about the optimism of young people faced with a world that is generally perceived as irretrievably troubled and wrought with pain and despair.  That said, not everyone can rise above the troubles with such enthusiasm and these voices need to be heard.   What impressed me about the show is the clear juxtaposition of an affirmative worldview and a small collection of despairing minds that should not be viewed negatively, but as an opportunity to demonstrate the possibilities of confident and constructive healing.    The honesty and integrity of  students who have had a predilection to suffering and despair is testimony to the healing potentials of creativity.

What disturbs me is the perception amidst some people that the education system is misguided in encouraging freedom of expression when it comes to identifying difference.  It is a view that heralds the all too vocal belief that students should be learning literacy, numeracy and the sciences over social and personal development, togetherness, trust and wellbeing.

Back in 2015 when the Wellington Shire Council along with Mental Health Services and Anglicare conducted their survey of mental health issues in Gippsland it was found that one in four young people experienced some form of mental dysfunction.  The overall statistics show Gippsland to have one of the highest rates of suicide in Victoria, which if ignored can be the fateful outcome of mental disorders, especially when the feeling of being ostracised from the community is not taken seriously.

There has been a consistent effort to improve the public understanding of mental breakdown and what has been gleaned from the research is the earlier a problem is dealt with the better the outcome.  In order to improve the outcome(s) the entire community needs to have a serious conversation, not about other people, not about the education system, not about what anyone might judge as good, bad or inappropriate art, but about ourselves.  In other words, what are we all doing to improve our mental health?  Further, how can we all contribute to a mentally healthy and stable community?

We live in a stressful and unpredictable world and if anyone feels they are not impacted by the uncertainty of worldly dilemmas they are lying to themselves.  It begs the question; how can we avert the consequences of an adverse global environment?  We criticise it, we protest over it, we make judgements, which only make us feel more powerless and poorer about ourselves and others.    We have to live in a global system that is always changing and there are better ways of dealing with the problems, particularly at a local level.

Over my adult lifetime I have given considerable thought to the state of the world and most of my work has been devoted to people who struggle with it.  Allow me to be bold and share with you   what I have learned. Life will always be a struggle, but how we deal with it determines who we are and whether we are happy and confident or bitter, antagonist and miserable.

We are the sum total of our thoughts and all of our thoughts stem from memories. Some recollections we can access, most we have forgotten.  Those issues we don’t want to confront because they are too embarrassing or painful get projected onto the world and they can have an impact on other people; possibly a group, even a state or a nation; or seemingly a local art show.   Whatever it is that triggers the internal discomfort will be vented on the external world unless we  intervene in our personal processes.  Repressed memories cause anxiety, pain and illness, which are often contagious.  There is good news; we have a way out of the negative judgements and it begins by calling it out.

Our brains are structured by the language we learn though our early development and over a lifetime.  To put it simply, this language creates pathways in the brain which we use to project who we are onto the world.  However, what we appear to be thinking; is often an example of not thinking clearly. The brain is often thinking for itself using old and unsuitable data.

Consider this, you are driving a car to work in the morning and navigating the road.  You are on a road you travel along every day so you don’t have think about where you are going or where the turn off might be; you just turn when you have to.    Your brain is on automatic pilot because it has a system of stored memories that guide you. The scary thing is, most of the brain’s responses to  memory data are guesswork. It might get the turnoff right, but it won’t tell you what is three kilometres ahead if you haven’t already experienced it. The same thing happens with opinions and judgements, they are based upon what ‘might be’, not ‘what is’.

We can change the brain’s pathways by mindfully changing the language. Sometimes we need to circumvent the common spoken language and learn another language for our change related purpose, one that works with images not words.

Art is another language, a language of imagery which taps into the more quiescent areas of the brain.  Art brings its own challenges, it requires commitment and focus, but it also brings rewards because it touches the pleasure centres of the brain. When we feel happy the world is a different place, if only for a moment. Suddenly, we can believe in  a good world and our place in it.

Everyone needs something to believe in and art offers an innocuous means of belief that will carry the mind into feelings of confidence and self-worth.   Art helps the individual know they can be valued as an able person because art creates a distance between the creator and the created, possibilities are revealed because the internal  pain is dissipated.

In my working life I have explored a number of different trends and therapies for healing what troubles humanity. Today, I look to my children and grandchildren’s future in the hope that the world will be a better place because we have learned more now than when I was young, but the progress needs to be nurtured.

We have tried almost every known method to bring contentment and happiness to the masses, most have failed.  There is a postmodern consensus amidst some philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists that aesthetics has more influence on mind and behaviour than politics.  Or, to put it differently the cultural image is mightier than the word.  Ancient people have used art for healing for tens of thousands of years and we are only now rediscovering art’s potential.

In my view art is the safest, the most rewarding and the most inclusive form of healing and anyone can share in it.  Art is neutral it can complement a variety of systems and beliefs.

I would encourage everyone to visit the Stockyard Gallery and view the Secondary College student’s exhibition from a position of honesty, openness, integrity and optimism.  Take in the sentiments of what I feel to be a ground-breaking time in history when we can share the pain and healing collectively.

I think the student art show is a panorama of where we are now as a community and where we can be if everyone accepts that a better world is possible, but it can only happen when people see in art what they might be afraid of looking at in themselves and own up to it.   Commit to positive and creative change,  dispense with the negative judgements and feel the calm and contentment that comes with reality, you will not look back.

 

Yours sincerely,

Chris James

Control, when is it not appropriate.

We all need a level of control, but sometimes we try to use control when it is not the best way to  live in peace and harmony.  I am a person who likes order and I tried to apply my order to my land.  I could not win the battle over nature so I decided to let go of the control.  The result has been an abundance of trees, flowers, birds and other wildlife, yes, including snakes, but a happy snake will not hurt anyone.  Here is my new garden.

Peace and harmony.

Art is a language.

The Seer: Goddess of Wind.

Art is a language that can be read by everyone, because it deals in the colour and vibrations that govern all of life and the universe, As above, so below.  Moreover, we have to think about art whereas we acquire many other forms of language by rote learning. Yet,  art is not always easy to think about, because it comes from the senses and touches the emotions.  Art both conveys and depends upon memory. In order to draw an animal on a cave wall one had to recognise the animal in the landscape and remember it.

As the human brain developed so too did the imagination appear to be more real, humans saw line and shape more clearly. However, is what we see real?  Or are we living a fantasy?  Artists are often told they live in a fantasy world; nonetheless, the world of art might be more real than the world as we perceive it.  Much has been discovered about how the brain creates perceptions and how these perceptions impact our daily lives turning  perceptual trivia into the real.

Hybrid creatures.

In ancient Babylon gods were carved into stone to represent the rising sun in the east and the setting of the sun in the west. These depictions signified the fundamental rule of life, that everything in must come and go. There is no such thing as permanence, everything is constantly changing. The disappearance of the sun and the moon may well have triggered curious minds to invent invisible creatures who might be perceived as shifting the planets. As clouds passed over the sky they formed shapes that triggered the imagination of early humans. These shapes were turned into giants and other hybrid creatures such as the Chinese Awang and the Philippine Tambal, as well as numerous other mythological creatures much like the mythical creatures invented today in movies and video games.

                                                        Hybrid goddess of birds.

Early humans were not concerned with art as a thing of beauty, art was a mirror of life and a necessity for interpreting the earth and its inhabitants.  Art conveyed the messages that were linked to survival. All forms of communication have since been ascribed in some kind of art form; languages are an art form with many variations and mediums.  Historically, art has pointed to the sources of food, to the dangers that might lurk in the area and how to make weapons in order to overcome danger.  Today, manufacturers, architects and builders still work from blueprints.  Art was also medicine and closely linked to rituals of administration.  Shamans summoned the spirits of animals to help in the task of healing humans. Art decorated sacred places like caves, grottoes and covens.

 

                                                                                Fairy.

Later art would cover walls of great cathedrals and the tribal shamans changed their dress to long elegant robes donning precious jewels and metals. However, their status amidst the populous has barely changed. Some of the greatest artists are actors.

Replicating nature.

 

Figure 2: The Venus of Wilendorf Wikipedia.

The Venus of Willendorf is a small statue standing only an 11.1-centimetre-high (4.4 in) and it is estimated to have been made between about 28,000 and 25,000 BCE.  It was found at a paleolithic site near Willendorf, a village in Lower Austria.    This tiny figurine, known world-wide for its shape, size and inherent depiction of motherhood brings home the significance of life and reproduction to early humans. As one can see from the illustration, the features of the carved woman were highly exaggerated and this gives us some idea of how an early culture based on procreation was formed and continued for thousands of years.   Culture describes the ideas, beliefs and identities of a group of people. Over time every gathering would develop some sort of conventional behaviour we would call culture and when we think about it, today’s culture is not very different to that of our early ancestors. Sexuality and reproduction still sit at the heart of what is considered important.

Figure 3: Babylonian Sun Gods. Wikipedia.

The identity of this small Venus was located in her large genitals, otherwise, the passage for the creation of a new life. The swollen belly and the gestation of a life were depicted in the large breasts.   Both life and the desperate need for sustenance (food) for the new born are demonstrated by size and exaggeration.  The earliest of human beliefs, values and cultures were centred around fertility, which was extended not just to cover    humans, but also the animals and crops. Nature was the supernatural god who was present in every aspect of nature.   Further, supernatural forces in the idiom of humans were said to have control over all the natural occurrences.  Before long, human leaders saw themselves as gods, or at very least able to elevate themselves to this position in an afterlife.  Rituals were enacted to help important people into their heavenly existence in the hope that they would be beneficial to the living.  Gods were appeased with sacrifices and rituals, sacrificial gifts included animals, plants and sometimes humans. Numerous ritual sites have been uncovered by archaeologists all over the ancient world.  To be succinct, reproduction itself was not understood by early humans so it was considered mystical and the work of supernatural forces, these forces had to be constantly pleased.   Gods and goddesses generally had their own hierarchy, from the great and almighty to the servile fairies, elves and nymphs said to live at the bottom of caves and gardens.

                                                                               Elf.

Art heals trauma.

 

   T  The World.
 If you fear being alone it is because you have not resolved the inner pain.

 Trauma.

Everyone experiences trauma, the first trauma begins in the womb, the second in birth, the third in drowning on oxygen.   From time immemorial homo Sapiens have used art as a tool for healing as well as for general health and wellbeing. Art also provides   a guide for better understanding of human existence.  The story of art is the story of human evolution.  Humans made art and art made humans. We know this because anthropologists and historians have reconstructed the earliest beginnings of humankind through the ongoing archaeological excavations of bones, tools, implements and other objects made and used by the earliest homo Sapiens. What really stands out in these discoveries is the sophistication of the human mind even at its most primitive level.  Many instruments were created for hands-on use and drawings depicted how the implements should be used. Modern humans have expressed awe at the extraordinary etchings discovered on cave walls in France, Spain, Italy, China and elsewhere which give a detailed picture of how our ancestors lived.   These ancient arts described the animals that roamed in the landscape, the hunting and gathering of foods and the ritualized religious practices that stem back tens of thousands of years. Religion was a tool for healing long before it became an instrument of power and indoctrination. Cave drawings have revealed the methods and the materials used for survival. In ancient drawings mineral pigments were manufactured from burned bones and natural clay deposits in the regions and matched with a keen eye for the natural world in order to recreate the environment.

All of nature is made up of shapes and colours and the earliest forms of art demonstrated the evolution of humans that would develop into the most extraordinary examples of ingenuity and ability. Art was a way of looking at the world.  Art enabled humans to develop the powers of reason.  Art would be used in an attempt to duplicate the environment and marry what is the inner and outer environments of all living things.

One can only imagine how early humans must have felt when they first looked upward to the heavens and saw the sun by day and the moon by night. The universe was inexplicable.  It was a mystery, perceived as a miracle of nature.  How did early humans explain the evening stars and their relation to the earthly environment?  All of these phenomena were attributed to greater supernatural forces. However, not all of the forces were useful or friendly.  There were great storms, floods, earthquakes and flashes of lightening that must have been terrifying to the innocent minds of early earthlings.  There could only be one explanation; there must be a unique master controlling everything.  These unknown forces would be the basis of the earliest forms of human culture and humans would become beholden to them. Everything was attributed to the power of gods and goddesses.

The human fear of the unknown was instinctual and necessary for life in the ancient wilderness and it was recorded in the primitive arts for future humans.  Ancient art provided a map of life for succeeding generations.  Art also provided the earliest system of values, medicine and some knowledge of reproduction.  The evolution of the species was dependent on natural selection and the continual passing on of good genes and although this could not be explained by early humans, survival made this a workable system. Survival determined who would pass on their genes.

Art heals trauma.

Art heals trauma by creating new pathways in the brain.  The more I work along these lines of creativity the more committed I become to finding avenues for promulgating this experiential belief. Art has been used for healing throughout the ages, we simply have not appreciated its potential. I have had several examples lately of people who have lost skills recently due to illness and breakdown and the recovery using free drawings of association have been very  quick and rewarding.  Brain plasticity is something we still have a lot to learn about, but seeing it in motion is just amazing.  Moreover, I have found that  the production of art as a methodology reduces the possibility of relapse.

 

 

Celebration of the Spirit.

I had a most enjoyable Sunday afternoon in Toora at the invitation of the Baha’i Community of South Gippsland who were celebrating the Bicentennial of their prophet Baha’u’llah.  Thank you to everyone.

 
 

 

 

Why is art important?

An exhibition of work by the Foster “Art for Fun and Wellbeing” group is opening on November 17th and I have been preparing some text explaining what the group is all about.  Some of the text follows below:      

About “Art for Fun and Wellbeing.”

The “Art for Fun and Wellbeing.” group has been in existence for approximately two years during which time a variety of participants have been able to meet new people, find friends, share common interests and learn new skills for expressing their ideas and aspirations.  The group meets every Friday from 12-3pm, other than during school holidays.  There are no rules, judgements or expectations and it is free to members or as a gold coin donation. People can drop in at any time to chat, bring lunch and/or engage in exploring their hidden talents. Skilled artists are also encouraged to come and share their experiences for the benefit of others.

The practice of art is an enjoyable and rewarding pastime, it is both meditative, healing and good for maintaining mental balance and good health. In addition, art can assist memory and concentration and it is known to reduce stress and anxiety.  Science has shown that art has a strong impact on happiness and well-being because art taps into the more quiescent areas of the brain to bring about feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

People work to the sound of soft meditative music, but are still able to participate in conversation.  The objective is to fill a need for human communication and companionship as well as to bring awareness to the changes that occur when people start to see the world creatively. We cater for all forms of art, writing and asemic writing, (patterns made from letters and symbols), mail or postal art, craft, painting with oils, water colours and acrylics, drawing, colouring, collage and much more.  Come and join us. We would love to have you.

Method and Informality.

Community based groups work best when they are informal, inclusive and welcoming, but they also need some form of method that helps people to integrate and achieve their goals.   The objectives of the “Art for Fun and Wellbeing” group are to help people to move forward towards a fulfilling and enjoyable disposition brought about by becoming aware of their talents and skills.  Particular and subtle techniques are used to help everyone participate in what is a very natural process.

  1. Language. Language can feature effectively in changing an individual’s perspectives of themselves and their abilities. Terms used to assist this process are positive and encouraging, they feature words like imagination, fantasy, symbolism, abstraction, redefining representation, metaphor and of course, letting go and having fun.
  2. Dynamics are also important. Generating a warmth and making people feel welcome is especially important. Terms used are sharing, thinking, looking deeply, exploring, mirroring, repetition, positive feedback, encouragement, letting go, acknowledging the emotion.
  3. Practical experience awareness. Being in the moment, giving focus to the journey not the destination, experimenting with space, time, materiality, colour, shape, texture, volume, condensation, choice and organization of materials. Exchanging the felt experience of a work. Interfaced learning and sharing.

The “Art for Fun and Wellbeing” group is facilitated by Dr Chris James and it is  based on Community Development and the principles of the Human Potential Movement and its methods.

Specific objectives for guiding the group.

  1. Getting acquainted with the group.
  2. Establishing interaction and the compacity to use materials.
  3. Introduction of language for overturning feelings of inadequacy and fears.
  4. Deepening group interaction and establishing trust so people feel free to express themselves without fear of judgement. (Typically, content areas dealt with at this stage are fear of non-achievement, embarrassment, guilt from taking time away from other commitments and how to combine art with the activities of daily living.
  5. General conversation, i.e. the importance to taking time for one’s self, happiness, mood changes and dealing with frustrations; acceptance.
  6. Structured introspection: Obstacles:  What is meant by diversion. (Recognising the productive experiences of creativity and how it changes brain chemistry).
  7. Deepening awareness: Improved learning by helping someone else. Sharing knowledge as a group in an ethical, non-judgemental and appropriate manner.
  8. Acknowledging progress and how it serves to improve self-image.