Someone has said that “art is the nerve end of the culture.”
Conservative LNP Premier in Qld [Major Campbell Newman] tells a different story around art and culture in some sectors in “The deep north” and so too do the “white shoe brigade.” The public perception of art as the nerve end of the culture and graffiti as a legitimate art form and aerosol as a validated medium is what is under scrutiny. I suspect so too is any contemporary art. “Graffiti is not art” was one of his proclamations in the media in the lead up to the Queensland election along with the promise of stronger law enforcement laws to drive this scourge away for ever. A sure vote winner. That Queensland has the most oppressive legislation in Australia if not the world for graffiti offences [7 years to be increased to 10 years maximum under his watch and in some instances more than for murder or manslaughter] is apparently not enough. That imprisonment on one hand fails to deter and Youth Justice Conferencing with victim, perpetrator and mediation also fails in recidivism is a law and order issue for another paper.
Late last year as I walked around Brisbane with a young homeless 22 year old alcoholic high drug using would be artist and graffiti offender, I asked him: “What is life for you Paul? What is it that matters?” “Epiphany” he said. “Epiphany. It’s then that you get some idea of what life is about.”
For me art as the nerve end of the culture is just that. It has the potential over and over again to describe our state, to reflect our angst, to celebrate our happiness and to open a window onto spiritual realities that the rational mind will always fail to do. It is all very well to elucidate our beliefs and to clarify our boundaries but unless we learn a new path of experiential and existential spiritual awareness we will miss the parallel universe. Religion as a means of spirituality has sunk sadly into propping up the former not the latter. I believe that religion and spirituality are about mystery not clarity. And as children teach us, and as artists teach us, mystery is a never ending journey of inquiry.
“[Bishop] Bruce Wilson argues that what Western society most needs is not a system of dogma to be believed, nor a set of rules to be obeyed, but something deeper and less tangible – the inner worldly Eastern religion of Jesus. “ [Reasons of The Heart Bruce Wilson Allen and Unwin 1998].
Once we launch out of religious institutionalism and into the unknown it is possible that epiphany/theophany becomes our lifeline to spiritual reality. What happens to our social interactions and support networks that are left behind in this bon voyage? Important questions and ones that tell on our individualism but what price authenticity and spiritual desperation? I took this journey and am still on it and feel the loss of some aspects of deep connectedness with religion and it trappings but the greater search is worth the loss. And my new “church” is that eclectic mad mix of artists and musicians and comedians and performers who somehow apart from the human propensity for ego are breathing the “spirit” into this lost soul.
What happens to the moral compass of the world if religion is gone and all we have is art and epiphany? Christendom needs to keep dying and Christianity needs to find its spiritual compass via the arts and meditation and the basics of a reduced bibliolatry around Jesus of Nazareth. The moral questions will always be there. How we address them will be found in a slower paced less controlling letting go of panic about our societal and cultural futures.
Taking a long slow time with artists and their works is where the moments of “aha” can arrive, it is where the suddenness of epiphany can slowly dawn and then slip away forever only to arrive again and again at exhibitions, in conversations with street artists or in a small group reflection on a series of art works. Someone has said that the new class is the art class. Art is the nerve end of the culture but maybe the culture is being redefined imperceptibly in the underground of mystery that no one can reduce to a system. The only thing is that art is exploding and the internet is getting it out there and unless we take time with the visual stories that appear in this new order we will be stuck in any kind of system of our own and others makings.
If I hadn’t taken the time with Paul [not his real name] I would not have had his profound statement. Who was I to think that me, a former pastor of a large inner city church had the handle on spirituality and on culture and on what might be going on in people’s lives.
Vincent van Gogh as the rejected applicant for incarnational mission by the state Lutheran church found his way into art and through it and his story has become, for me, a hero of lostness and direction at the same time. How many more artists has the church cast out with the same spirit as conservative politics? There is a new breeze in evangelicalism through journals like “Image” and Sojourners “Spirit of Fire. “ Still a bit of an agenda based attempt but cutting the ties and drifting free never the less.
My passion for street art and street artists is bound up in my passion for art and the four “pillars” [? Drivers] of Jugglers Art Space Inc: Social Justice, A healthy welcoming community, creativity and spirituality. Our vision to “facilitate the healthy growth of the core creative human spirit” is a never ending slow journey o f discovery at the most unlikely places. As Leonard Cohen sings: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
©Peter Breen 2011