Updated: Feb 27
As I am walking through the moss-covered dunes following, again, the shrieks of the hungry horned owls I start thinking about all those moments of awe that can capture your full attention, when you least expect it. The interesting thing is that all these situations with heightened sensory awareness, inspired by awe, are even after a long time easily recalled from our cloudy memory. Awe seems to help us waking up and lighten the lanterns on the long memory lane.
For me it often happens in nature, when I follow a trail, smell the pine trees, feel the wind on the skin and wait for the next call of the elusive animal. I am sure most of us can recall an intimate moment with nature when they became one with their environment, completely in awe with life and its unfolding. If not during tracking foxes in the forest, then maybe while witnessing the birth of a child or a flood in your home town?
But then there are also those moments of awe inspired by art or experiences within the context of human culture, like when you hear the right song searching through your body or when you read the words that sweep you from your feet and throw you in the corner of the room, from where the world suddenly seems to be a completely different place or when the sundial races over the wall, while you are finding your way through this unsettling picture in the gallery.
I think we should have more lanterns lit in our memory and if this means we have to get exposed to awe then we have to either engage more with nature or experience art that can disturb our busy and most favourite thinking patterns.
But what is good art? Or who makes good art?
Well, I think they are quite misleading questions, since everybody decides for themselves. So the questions could rather be: What can art do for me, once I recognise it as such? And who can help me discovering it? I think this the most noble and important role of the so-called Artists today. Making people see, hear, and sense in ways they haven’t known before. To prepare for the possibility of experiencing awe through body awareness, without determining what that should mean? To make them perceptive and creative in allowing spontaneity in thinking.
In Alain de Botton’s book “Art as Therapy”, the author relates to this shift of roles through the eyes of visual artists. How do they go from being creators of objects that are a representation of their own experiences to becoming facilitators of possibilities for others to immediately experience the phenomena of life themselves?
Here an extract from the chapter ‘The New Artist of Nature’:
"Throughout the history of art, artists have seen it as their task represent their experience of nature. This has often taken the form and creating an image of some part of the natural world that has of especially moved them. Dürer, for example, went to immense trouble, and deployed great technical skill, to reproduce the visual details of stalks and leaves. One of the most welcome and interesting developments of twentieth-century art has been the broadening of our understanding of the term ‘artist’. Artists aren’t necessarily people who show us a work that represents nature, or anything else for that matter. They might also be people who create opportunities for you to see nature or anything else directly in a more immediate or meaningful way. This is an evolution, not a rejection, of Dürer’s ambition. For Dürer hoped that, having looked at his work, one would head outside and do what he had originally done: to look with great care and devotion at some significant aspect of the natural world. In this new way, the artist becomes the choreographer of an experience you might have, rather than a recorder of an experience they once had. We are still digesting the full implications of this interesting epochal shift, which moves artists away from the studio and the easel and gives them things in common with business leaders, politicians, religious figures, architects, town planners and circus managers. "
"Art is turning from creating memorials to, or representation of, nature towards creating opportunities for the closer or more meaningful perception of nature. Instead of looking at a picture, we are now looking at the real thing. The role of the Artist remains crucial, though: the experience is shaped and structured by the insight and imagination of a creative mind. "
"How might this choreography of experience work in relation to other good things? What might an equivalent choreography of ‘love’ look like? Might the job of the artist go beyond depicting love and evolve to taking steps to orchestrating opportunities across the globe for experiencing love more successfully? The ambition that underpins participatory art is just beginning to be understood and its consequences examined. There should be nothing strange at all about an artist helping you to relate more successfully to death, get on better with your children or manage problems with money. We need to move beyond thinking of an artist as someone at an easel. The artist of the future might be adept with brushes and paints, or with film; but they will also have the skills of an architect, a geologist, a public speaker, a politician or a scientist. What will identify him or her as an artist is an interest in art’s true, historic mission: the promotion of a sensory understanding of what matters most in life. He will create occasions, which might mean a tower, a crater, a dinner party or a kindergarten, for events that will promote the values to which art has always been devoted. We shouldn’t be surprised, or see it as a loss of what art has always been about, if many of the artists of the coming decades do not produce traditional objects, and instead head directly for the underlying mission of art: changing how we experience the world."
I find it fascinating how in this vision the Artist becomes much more active in community life, while assuming and sharing the roles and responsibilities of the professional people around them. This would mean a much stronger social engagement in everyday life – interdependency, mutual support, interest in each others circumstances – and in turn would make the concept of what Art or Artists can be more approachable for self-proclaimed non-creatives and possibly fill disenchanted work with creativity and curiosity. There is more to being an artist than to create objects, texts and music as ends in themselves. With their specific and trained sensual perception artist can also be guides to help people widening their understanding, opening their senses to the places and situations they are inhabiting, since things that matter often hide in plain sight.