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Creative Process: Tension - Artists of the Living

A basic conflict for an artist is to find a way embrace their own individual creative perception and expression within a society characterized by the pursuit materialism. The material world is not one that embraces the creative imagination in any meaningful way; the artistic world is not one that embraces the economy of things as a source or purpose for living. In a sense, the artist is in a constant battle for survival and a war for the preservation and expansion of soul. Irene Claremont de Castillejo captures the artist's internal conflict (bold and italics are mine)...

Only a few achieve the colossal task of holding together, without being split asunder, the clarity of their vision alongside an ability to take their place in the materialistic world. They are the modern heros.... Artists at least have a form within which they can hold their own conflicting opposites together. But there are some who have no artistic form to serve this purpose, they are artists of the living. To my mind these last are the supreme heros in our soulless society.
- Opening to David Whyte's The Heart Aroused:Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

The artist's conflict, in some way, involves a "holding together" of "conflicting opposites." The conflict is not one that literally takes place on a canvass, in a musical composition, theatre, or other medium, although we can experiences the artist's work as expressions of this conflict. The battleground, so to speak, is the interior world that ultimately resides in the soul.

Jerry Wennstrom comments:

There are two key experiences that lead to and support fundamental change for me - and by "fundamental change" I mean "The" event that changes life permanently and at the deepest level. First, there is the allurement of inspiration with its ongoing magic. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there is the catalyst of change that comes from boring, useless suffering, which is often the result of living outside of one's true place of freedom in the world.

These comments provide a perspective on the nature of the artist's conflict and connect to the Irene Claremont de Castillejo's phrase, "artists of the living." The allurement of inspiration is a compelling phrase evokes a magical conversation with our soul - source of ideas, desires, passions and perhaps even necessities for living. If this magical conversation we experience in our interior world presents a different image for living than the exterior world presents, a conflict arises. The medium for change, or way to relieve the conflict, is a catalyst that originates in "boring, useless suffering."

There is a mythic energy in this conflict that invokes images of the Hero. As Irene Claremont de Castillejo points out, the source of artistic form is this mythic conflict between the passion and freedom of creativity we possess in our souls and the imposed demands of the society we find ourselves living in. It seems to me that this is a fundamental and critical aspect of anything we might refer to as learning. That is, learning in a powerful sense invites the Hero within, the courage to embrace the magical conversation, and the mythic energy required to embrace the catalyst for change. From the artist's perspective, learning is a kind of path toward a greater sense of freedom and vibrancy in living.

In The Heart Aroused:Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, David Whyte refers to this as the beginning of a "journey to soul recovery and characterizes the journey as a "very lonely place of self-assessment" that is often mistakenly identified as depression (p.25). He goes on to say that soul recovery is really a demand for another life. This is a reflection of Irene Claremont de Castillejo's artists of the living, Jerry Wennstrom's allurement of inspiration and the catalyst of boring, useless suffering, that is, the artists of the living embrace conflict as a means to create another life.

In Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, Thomas Moore comments that, "Where there is no artfulness about life, there is a weakening of the soul." (p.183) Like David Whyte, Moore comments on the essential linkage between work and soul:

Work is fundamental to the opus because the whole point of life is the fabrication of the soul. (p185)
- Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

In addition, there is an similar line of thought developed by Moore that positions depression as a mistaken diagnosis for an ignored or unresolved conflict in the soul.

If we are to embrace learning we are also embracing this soul journey, the allurement of inspiration, the magical conversation, the catalyst that helps to lift us out of suffering, the very lonely place of self-assessment - as a means to create another life. Yet, we encourage so little of this in our systems of education and training, and perhaps we might also say that we distract people from this pursuit. The result is fundamental unhappiness and perhaps even illness. In this world, work becomes a drudgery, society becomes a prison, and everyday life unfufilling.


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  • Jerry Wennstrom The Inspired Heart: An Artistís Journey of Transformation


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Hi Rob,

"I wonder if this "madness" - in my case depression - is the Garden of of the Passion of Christ where we are sometimes confronted with the terrible changes that face us if we are to develop? The old us has to die, often in public a messy and painful death. But we can and do rise again."

It is interesting to consider that depression may in fact be a catalyst for change - a wake-up call that cannot be ignored - our call to the garden. If this is a possibility, then the steady increase of depression throughout our society seems to be a cry, perhaps a demand, for individual and collective development. A deeply painful, unrelentless, and frightening call to living a life worth living. Not only do individuals need to embrace a creative life, so does our entire social body.

I find Thomas Moore's perspectives on "therapy" and the soul very interesting, as well as Tana Dineen's thoughts about psychology and victimization.

"The old us has to die, often in public a messy and painful death. But we can and do rise again."

About 12 years ago - I thought that I was going mad and so did many around me. I felt so awful that I ended up in a psychaitrist's office for over a year.

I wonder if this "madness" - in my case depression - is the Garden of of the Passsion of Christ where we are sometimes confronted with the terrible changes that face us if we are to develop? The old us has to die, often in public a messy and painful death. But we can and do rise again.

I thought that I was alone in thi processs but Campbell nails it and showed me that my Passion was indeed part of a mythic process open to all those that are recalled to life:-

".....The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call and seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding.

"Live," Nietzsche says, "as though the day were here." It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse.

And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal - carries the cross of the redeemer - not in the bright moments of his tribes's great victories, but in the silence of his personal despair."


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