How Do The Arts Keep Wonder Alive?
The great Pablo Picasso said, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’
I don’t think Picasso meant that everyone should make a career practising an art form. After all, society needs its farmers, chefs, scientists, lawyers, train drivers, cleaners and IT workers as much as it needs painters, performers, composers, architects and authors. His intriguing statement is more about retaining a vital childhood attribute.
I wrote my first proper story when I was seven years old. My mother bound the pages together to make a book. I still have it, spelling mistakes, childish illustrations and all. Star of the Circus was a tale of rivalry, sabotage, fairy help and restitution for innocent Becky the amazing tightrope walker. On the back cover was a list of ‘other books by the author’. I don’t think they eventuated, although I was always writing, drawing, dancing and dreaming.
In my childhood I moved between two realms. There was my everyday life with its ups and downs. The other was filled with adventures, exotic places and magical beings - the realm of the imagination. Many children inhabit such places of wonder, despite the availability and impact today of in-the-face ready-made digital images.
I loved climbing trees and every climb meant I might glimpse the fleeting entities hiding there. But I vividly remember the day I realised they had disappeared. I was enjoying a beautiful tree, appreciating the whisper of leaves in the breeze. I had learned how trees live. I could list the life they offered to creatures from birds to insects. But I missed that magical vision.
This is about maturing, I recognise that. In keeping with society’s norms, we leave behind childish notions and find our way in the ‘real world’. It begins at school, sometimes ridiculously early, with 5-year-olds cramming to pass tests. Mostly it’s later in adolescence that we are asked to abandon the dreaming consciousness of childhood in favour of rational and pragmatic knowledge. And usually we do.
But what if that rejected consciousness could mature alongside the one replacing it? What if we acknowledged that this former way of being and experiencing, if educated and expanded, might become in maturity wonderfully enriching – for us and society?
The maturing of imaginative consciousness
As an adult, I continued my involvement in the arts, studying to gain the necessary skills and following a career as a practitioner and teacher. Along the way, I discovered that the arts play a vital role in achieving a fully-rounded maturity that does not abandon the magic of childhood.
Music, dance, drama, creative writing, visual arts and their combinations should never become education’s frivolous disposables. They are important for the getting of wisdom. The arts can assist us to gain self-awareness, open mindedness, empathy, and a universal view of life – all signifiers of maturity. This is a potential available to artists in any field and to all who respond to the power of an artwork.
The secret of that power lies in expressiveness. And the arts are vehicles of expression in a unique way. What the artist creates allows us to access a metaphysical dimension of human consciousness. Inaccessible to ordinary sense experience, this dimension is as real as anything physical.
Towards heightened feeling and deep knowing
As I have come to understand them, the arts have a unique role in human life because they create a bridge between the two worlds. The medium is physical, the world of the senses with its colours, shapes, textures, sounds, tastes and scents. Then through imagination, inspiration and intuition all this is transformed into something new that is more than physical.
Genuine artworks, whether we are doing or receiving them, evoke a heightened feeling that lifts us beyond the commonplace, and we experience with a deep knowing what could not be conveyed in any other way than by the symbols expressed in visual images, 3D forms, music and movements.
Laurie Anderson, pioneering multi-media performance artist and film director, said that art changes the world, secretly. It’s as if something slips into your blood stream. The young child experiences this instinctively. Maturity involves recognition, which enables us to unravel that secret and knowingly utilise and build on our inner experience.
The world changes because we are being changed and who we are, and are becoming, does impinge on the world. Because the arts keep wonder alive each art form enables change differently, which is why it’s wonderful (and necessary) that we have such a variety of expressions. I explore precisely how this occurs in Prodigal Daughters, my book on the arts and spirituality - each art form's unique relationship with the spiritual, both cosmic and within the soul, and why every true work of art is transformational . My research and the subsequent writing project came from a respectful and deeply personal space because for me, genuine art in all its manifestations enables me to re-engage in a world of wonder that was never really lost.