Sounds like the title of a sci-fi short story that Philip K Dick forgot to write but this is indeed a very real story. Just past midnight on September 26, 1983, Stanislav Petrov found himself in a very Phildickian predicament. He was the duty officer at the command center for the Oko nuclear early-warning system when the system reported a missile being launched from the United States. His decision to do ‘nothing’ and have faith that it was a false alarm changed the fate of our entire planet by preventing what would have surely spelled the beginning of WW3. Just like the main protagonist of a PKD story, he was just a regular guy who somehow found himself in the midst of an extraordinary paranoia filled situation. His Kairos moment, saving the world by doing nothing has a very nice zen koan feel to it. Phil would have had a great chuckle.. as well as a frightening moment of realization, that being, as tiny and insignificant as we humans seem to be in this infinitely strange universe, the universe sometimes plays a game with us by letting us make the ‘big decisions’ at the most random moments and watch in horror or relief as the ripples our actions or ‘non-actions’ create literally save or destroy the world.
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.