Tagged: Artist As Shaman

“Take me, I am the drug; take me, I am hallucinogenic”

dali mustache

Salvador Dali
May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989

Ahhh, Dali! The sound of the name alone is a magical invocation!

More than a man, he is a myth, a universe all in himself. Daring to travel to the razors edge facing over the abyss, he swan dived into the Endless Enigma, emerging from the weird depths of the subconscious to the roaring applause of millions of devoted initiates, praised for upholding the outrageous in a world where it is never enough!

An epitome of the Artist as Shaman, Dali traveled to the world in-between, a place of madness and paradox to bring us back artifacts of the journey. For what else is there in this world but to travel to the edge and return?

Dali resonates most strongly with the Magus archetype of the major arcana in the Tarot. He even painted himself as the Magician in his own alchemical deck featuring Hebrew letters on the trump cards to reference the Jewish Kabbalah. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet synchronize with the 22 trumps of Major Arcana and the four worlds of existence with 10 stations on the Tree of Life synchronize with the four suits of the Tarot, each with 10 numbered cards.

dali magician tarot

Dali once proclaimed that “the only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad.” Truly then, there was a method to his madness which was behind his hyper-real enigmatic paintings. He dubbed it the “paranoiac critical method” and it was championed by the Surrealism movement.

His method required one to enter a trance, a paranoiac delirium where perceived reality was spliced and dissected to reveal the mysterious connections between seemingly disparate archetypes existing in the subconscious mind. This technique is a superb tool to stimulate creativity for it is a net allowing one to dip deep into Dreamtime during waking life, catching the fish that will nourish, discovering hidden treasures below and even bumping into the occasional deep sea monster.

Paranoia is a “personality disorder characterized by systematic delusions.” What are our archetypes but man-made artifacts fashioned by our own delusions? As Dali wrote, “The paranoiac mechanism whereby the multiple image is released is what supplies the understanding with the key to the birth and origin of all images, the intensity of these dominating the aspect which hides the many appearances of the concrete.”

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The Artist as Shaman

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Jackson Pollock is one example of the Artist as Shaman in the modern world. Through his paintings, he entered a trance where unrestricted by technique, the subconscious had free reign.

Pollock’s paintings are artifacts brought back from his own travels into the underworld of archetypes, stemming from his years of Jungian psychoanalysis. Greatly influenced by his childhood explorations of the Navajo reservations in Arizona, his interest was reignited when he saw a MoMA exhibit on Native Americans in 1941. Turning to Jung and Shamanism, Pollock used art to heal the discord he felt within himself, as well as becoming a mirror of America at a time when we had finally faced the possibility of complete annihilation after the dropping of the first atomic bomb.

He never planned a painting but chose to enter it fully immersed in the moment of creation, walking through a fourth dimensional plane where time and space become superimposed and ancient archetypes dance on a borderless canvas dreamscape. The correlation between his paintings and Shamanism can be seen in his statement here:

“I don’t work from drawings or color sketches. My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease in a big area. Having a canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of a painting. This way I can walk around it, work from all four sides and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West. Sometimes I use a brush, but often prefer using a stick. Sometimes I pour the paint straight out of the can. I like to use a dripping, fluid paint. I also use sand, broken glass, pebbles, string, nails or other foreign matter. The method of painting is a natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.

When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can control the flow of the paint; there is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.”

His large scale paintings with their swirling chaotic paint drippings were at once both the dropping of the atom bomb as well as the artists own turbulent soul, a microcosm/macrocosm. The canvas strewn across the floor was his stage where he assumed the role of the Shaman with the ritual itself becoming in essence a shamanic dance with paint.
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