Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Artist and the Other

One of the more interesting results of Project CORE came in the answer to the question: "Are you a creative person?"

Out of over 200 responses, 175 (87%) Yes to 11 (5%) No. Just from my own interactions with folks having paranormal events over the years, I feel safe saying that a lot of creative people are having these experiences. This brings up a number of interesting talking points. Do artists perceive these events because they have great visualization abilities? Does the phenomena select them because they are best equipped to convey the experience to others? These are at best mental exercises and largely unproductive towards addressing the question. We can't know the 'mind' of the phenomena (if there is one) and certainly can't ascribe meaning or intent to it.

Let's look at the role of artist in society first. In ancient times there was no formal training in the arts, and training in any sort of artisan profession was based upon technical excellence. Slavery had much to do with the artists (which they were not called at the time) - they were ultimately manual laborers. Society at that point paid little to no attention to artistic expression. No one, not even the artist himself, thought the artist's personal feelings or mindset were of any serious interest whatsoever. The artist was a craftsman, or a skilled worker. They were considered someone whose work develops from inner ideas and thoughts coupled with personal effort

Medieval art could be a strange place too.
In the Medieval age, the artist was largely anonymous. It wouldn't be improper to call them 'artists' but they were still considered a craftsman (here's the important divide) and therefore socially removed from 'gentlemen'. In Medieval Europe, they were still considered proper, decent members of society. They were trained in guilds and still were required to operate at a high skill, and high quality level. Work was signed but the mark of the artist was considered lesser or unimportant than the guild mark, which was held in higher regard because it showed the quality of the art by the training. The name of the person who executed the work was of much less concern.

The Renaissance is the age of the artist. Ask someone to name an artist and you'll likely get a name from this time period. There is a crucially new idea: the great artist is also, and necessarily, a great individual. This period to me seems to give rise to the lenient attitude towards the artist. For instance, they were often excused their paint smeared clothes or shabby appearance in the court if they knew the speaking rules and had something of relevant importance to say. Artists were anxious to show that they were educated - remember this class came out of laborers and tradesmen. The artist wanted to be considered more in the company of the philosopher or poet - people who didn't get their hands dirty. This age also brought to rise the art critic - as today, the artist brings to his work certain principles only known to well informed people - or insiders (while the artist was and still is considered an outsider). The mythical illusions, or symbolic hidden messages in art would have been lost on the uneducated. Art during this period was patronized by the rich. If you were well to do, you possessed great works of art, and often art was a symbol of how well off you were. Art dictated class status. This is an amazing and lofty upgrade for what was considered in the beginning, just a skilled craftsman.

So there's the start of something interesting: as artists gain status in the society's elite - it seemed to force people to be more educated in history, philosophy and symbolism to be able to interpret the work. Artists of this time wanted to make art that searched such lofty heights as the meaning of existence itself.

The artist as revolution.
In following times the artist would become an instrument of social change, trying to make changes through direct attack of a person, leader, or social institutions. The 'revolutionary' artist realizes work that tries to induce radical change through visuals (this still goes on today). Long before the realization that art could influence social change, it was deceptively demur - showing us benign pastoral and portrait images. These would later become known as 'chocolate box' paintings (because they looked like something that would please the eye and adorn your box of sweets). The true power and influence of art lay in wait. 

The Bohemian artist seems to be the stereotypical 'artist' facade everyone seems to know: no regular job, no normal hours, loose living and partying. Many are attracted to the art lifestyle, especially self-styled 'rebels' and poseurs of every kind. The lifestyle is non-conformist in the extreme. There have been several aspects of the artist that seem to go across the board:

  • Powerful drive to tear down society, societal norms and break taboos.
  • Drugs, alcohol, sex, suicide and early death 
  • Self destruction. The artist must suffer. (This, I know intimately. Of course it's not a must, I believe this just comes with the price of a non-conventional lifestyle. Living an anti-structural life.)
As a side note these three attributes could be overlaid on to the paranormal fields in different ways. The powerful drive to tear down societal norms? Certainly the UFO disclosure would accomplish that. So too would the proving of life after death. Self destruction? Often some of the most public paranormal researchers or personalities are on a path to financial or personal ruin but refuse to abandon the subject(s) as a form of income, personal pursuit, or notoriety (Gene Steinberg of The Paracast is one example). They don't willfully ignore the downward slide and the obvious solutions - they seem completely unaware (or have an aversion) of them as an option.

The modern artist can be in any space we've discussed here. The graphics designer, illustrator, fine artist, gallery idol...take your pick. You'll find that 'creative artists' also include musicians, and writers and that they claim nearly the same lifestyles, desire to break conformity and partake in taboos that visual artists do.

But you'll also find that all creatives have one thing in common: they externalize the internal.  This goes back to the start: "inner ideas and thoughts coupled with personal effort". The personal effort is one of creation. Matching the vision in the head to the object in the hand. Bringing the thought to manifested form.

Some of our earliest cultural texts allude to the same idea: In the beginning was the word, and the word became flesh. The idea is made real, through the creative process.

Dr. Jeffrey Kripal has postulated in his book Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred that the mystical experience is involved in a kind of 'hidden structure of reality' that is paradoxical to our normal way of thinking or being. Through perception, there is the mental or the material. You have a mental image of the picture on the wall, but there's also the material aspect of it existing in consensus reality. The creative person brings the mental into material. Internal to external.

It's an interesting direction but I'm not sure it can be qualified. What we do know is that many of the things that surround a paranormal event, also surround the creative artist:

  • the anti-structural lifestyle
  • chaos, stress and suffering
  • the breaking of or engaging in, societal taboos
  • deception and illusion
  • deconstruction and liminal periods

This isn't a complete list, but there's some tandem ideas here too. Artists and their work are also agents of change. It could be argued that if form and content are inseparable, then the changes in artistic form and style signal changes in society (Look at Matisse, Picasso, Monet and the periods in which they precede.) 

Artists also have a tendency to be at times, very anti-social. Almost hermit like in some cases when deeply involved in the project. Vast amounts of time, energy and emotion go into these works - focus of intent is mandatory. That same focus can tend to drive people away. 

Dr. Jeffrey Kripal at TEDx
Dr. Kripal, in a TEDx presentation that he delivered in 2013 has a slide that reads: “The paranormal is a story waking up to it’s author.” It stands to reason that if these experiences equate to symbol and sign, narrative and story, one would expect creative persons - writers, artists, musicians, etc., to have exceptional access to these perceptions and experiences. And the Project CORE data seems to indicate that they do.

So in the end we've got creative people making up a fairly notable portion of experiencers of the paranormal, and those creatives live in the very attributes that surround paranormal events. Artists are and always have been outsiders, and because they are outsiders they are considered marginal and their experiences easily dismissed. But because of their ability to externalize the internal, they have the innate ability to excite and overwhelm others with the force of the artist's feelings through their work.

Is the paranormal a manifested response to a weird, chaotic, creative co-process? It might seem to go both ways. Some experiencers report that they didn't feel at all creative until a brush with the paranormal - and that contact resulted in a burst of the creative impulse. Like the artist, the paranormal seems to suggest things - ideas, abstract concepts, radical thoughts.

This is not to say that all experiencers of paranormal events must be creatives. However there's a lot we don't know from past events, because these types of questions and observations weren't asked (especially in the UFO field). We know that for instance, the 'Allagash abduction' individuals were all artists. (the case is fraught with issues for me due to the use of hypnosis in recalling the event, but is worth mentioning here) But as another example, what about Parker and Hickson of the Pascagoula incident? What about the Mothman witnesses? What about the Bentwaters/Woodbridge participants?

A lie that tells the truth.
Pablo Picasso once said "Art is a lie that tells the truth."  Lewis Hyde quoted this line in his book "Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth & Art" where he laid out his contention that some artists are able to embody the trickster that exists in many cultures over history. The many myths of the trickster figure paradoxically show that cultures need space for agents whose sole purpose is to expose and cause disarray to the very thing(s) that the cultures are based upon. In other words, to fly in the face of established truth. To thumb their noses to academic and scientific fact.

Agents of chaos. Of disruption. Harbingers of liminality. Sounds familiar, yes?

What could possibly stand in more direct opposition to the methodology of science and academe than the paranormal? The paranormal event is experience. It is (like art) subjective and elusive. It stands in stark contrast in and defiance of, the strict doctrine of science. And it suggests things. Ideas and concepts. It influences personal outlook and can originate religious ideology.

Stop asking why. It's not a productive question.

None of what I've written above is an answer to anything. It's just another odd consistency of the paranormal experience that leads one on other avenues of inquiry that need to be examined. We cannot give in to the easy answers and say "well, creative types just make it all up". It doesn't fit and leaves more burning questions out of the discussion.

The creative personalities seem to report more paranormal events and experiences. The artist deceives the eye through perspective, shadow and form where there is only a flat canvas. The artist is a magician. They create the picture, but the origin is the internal - externalized. It touches us inside. Deeply, and profoundly. But the artist is a marginal outsider. 

Such interesting similarities can't be ignored. This again is abstract concept - not an answer. We have to take this bit and keep it in mind moving forward. Larger surveys and professional / academic studies may prove out the creative connection to the paranormal experience - but my guess is there will always be an ambiguous connection to the artist - who like the paranormal, refuses to be nailed down. 🔻