The Mission of Art

In the forward to Alex Grey’s book The Mission of Art Ken Wilber writes, “In a world gone postmodern, bereft of meaning and value, cut loose on a sea of irony and indifference, Alex is taking a stunning stand: there is a God, there is Spirit, there is a transcendental ground and goal of human development and unfolding. Higher realities are available to us – that is the message of Alex Grey’s art and words in this book.”

THEOLOGUE WEB FULL

In a recent TEDx Talk in Maui, Hawaii, Alex Grey outlined his artistic and spiritual journey. The message that comes through both the book and this talk is that the true artist’s role is to remind us of the existence of Spirit. He says

The painter channels the creative force into the artefact and this artefact then becomes a battery ready to zap a viewer into a new way of seeing the world. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

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Alex Grey unapologetically aligns himself with a long line of sacred or religious artists, a lineage that was thoroughly broken during the modern era and continues to flounder in what is being called the postmodern era. But Grey has, almost single-handedly, rescued art from its ego-centric, materialistic foray into meaninglessness, irony and indifference and reintroduced visionary art into contemporary culture.

Visonary art matters because visionary art is the most direct contact we have with the divine. And all sacred art and religious traditions are founded on this mystic state. Now the best currently available technology for sharing the mystic experience is a well crafted artistic rendering by an eye witness. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

A visionary artist becomes an eye witness through direct experience of the divine as a result of mystical experiences. There are many ways in which the artist can have mystical experiences – from a low intensity awakening like being overwhelmed with the beauty of the natural world to a high intensity awakening such as an experience of unity through meditation. It is because of these intense experiences an artist knows how to see rather than merely look.

No wonder that once the art of seeing is lost, Meaning is lost, and all life seems ever more meaningless: ‘They know not what they do, for they do not see what they look at.’ (Frederick Franck)

There are three sets of eyes with which we perceive. Our conventional mindset, in what Jonathan Zap calls the “Babylon Matrix,” requires us to limit our vision to our physical eyes and to the eyes of reason. With our physical eyes we obviously look at objects in the outer realm. With the eyes of reason we see the symbolic in order to make conceptual relationships. This is the extent of most modern and postmodern artistic vision. Art is either ultra realistic or abstract to the point of individually assigned meaning.

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The third way of seeing, the way of seeing with the mystic eye of contemplation, or the third eye, sees the transcendent. This way of seeing, used by visionary artists, is not encouraged in contemporary culture or in art schools because the modern and postmodern mindset denies the existence of, and therefore the possibility of seeing, divine beauty. But the visionary artist sees with all three eyes.

Artists need to be able to see on each level in order to bring technical beauty, archetypal beauty, and spiritual beauty to their work. (Grey, The Mission of Art, p.73)

Visionary art is responsible for redeeming culture; for reminding us of our connection with the source of life. Sacred art, from the earliest cave paintings to the great cathedrals, has pointed in this direction because, as Grey says, we are the creative force of the universe.

Art is an echo of the creative force that birthed the galaxies. Creativity is the way that the cosmos evolves and communicates with itself. The great uplifting of humanity beyond its self destruction is the redemptive mission of art. (Grey, TEDx Maui)

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Change is on the Way

Last Saturday I went to Central, the Financial District in Hong Kong, to see if the rumored ‘Occupy Hong Kong’ event was going to happen. The Podium outside the HK Exchange was crowded with people and banners of all kinds. It was a surprising turn-out. Here is the video I made, with one of my student’s interviewing skills:

The main point addressed by those we talked to was the huge imbalance in resources and power. The rich 1% of the population make the rules with the expectation that the 99% will obey and serve them. This is the system of democracy promoted by the US that is no longer acceptable.

Hong Kong is the global center of banking and finance. Wall Street is the symbol, but its all happening here in Hong Kong. As my former student Michael Suen says, “Hong Kong both reaps the rewards and suffers the consequences of the free market mechanism the most. Remember that it has the greatest income gap among all developed economies. That’s the 99% vs. 1% disparity at its most evident (or you might even say absurd). Most importantly, at least for me, is to acknowledge how deeply systemic and complex the crisis is, and to recognize the limits of our understanding. It’s my generation’s responsibility to disentangle the problems, bit by bit. Because, after all, it’s our future.”

From the perspective of developmental stages, this “occupy everywhere” movement represents a dis-enthrallment with Modernism and a global shift into Post-Modern values. Human rights, justice, equality, recognition that everyone deserves a living wage, and other social causes are gaining acceptance. Corporate greed, mismanagement of investments, politics and law-making by-the-rich and for-the-rich must end.

If you know your world history, this should be a deja vu! Isn’t this exactly what the American Revolution was all about? And the French Revolution? Wasn’t the issue taking power from despotic monarchs who owned everything and made all the rules? Wasn’t democracy supposed to be for-the-people, by-the-people? What happened? When did we give our rights away? When did they steal us blind? When did we fall asleep?

Two hundred plus years ago the revolution, the shift in power, was between the Traditional world and the Modern world. Now the Modern worldview is on the way out. It needs to go because the few at the top have managed to funnel all the wealth and power away from the people. The world is owned by the wealthy few and manipulated by the politicians the wealthy put into office with their stolen money.

I’m not convinced this move from Modern to Post-Modern is going to solve our problems. Rather, I see it as a necessary intermediate step. The changes we all really want to see can only come about when we make the global shift from Post-Modern to Integral. There are not enough people who see things from the Integral perspective yet, but that’s the stage we need to get to for the world to finally find a better balance.

The Post-Modern stage is still externally oriented; it is still ego-driven. Its primary concern is ‘choice freedom.’ This kind of freedom, as Thomas Merton points out, is all about having the means to do what I want, go where I want, say what I want, buy what I want – all dictated by cultural conditioning and hidden agendas of the lower self (Bourgeault, Wisdom Way of Knowing). From the stand point of spiritual teachings, only the fruits of transformation bring real happiness, freedom, justice, and free will.

The Integral stage, by openly promoting spiritual transformation,  looks like it is a few decades away. In the meantime we will have to suffer through the transition from Modern to Post-Modern. When people begin to see through the issues of Post-Modernism and become dis-enthralled with it, they will be ready for the spiritual transformation to the Integral stage. This stage is a recognition that we are evolving into kosmo-centric persons; persons with the creativity and insights necessary for saving civilization from self-destruction. Let’s hope for all of our sakes that we can bring about the Integral change more quickly.