Visionary Art History

BY

Phoenix & Arabeth
2002


"The artist is an unconscious metaphysician; he does not copy empirical reality, but transcends it. He seeks the eternal lying in the things and shapes of the world. When he expresses these in forms, colours, and sounds he reveals the inner essence of things. This revelation of art ranks with that of religion and philosophy and is its complement."
----Paul Deussen, in 'Vedanta, Plato, and Kant'



The entire history of art is permeated with representations of the visionary world. Trance-induced visions have inspired and been rendered by artists since the stone age, as a thorough global investigation of cave paintings and rock art clearly attests. Some of the earliest known human figurines exhibit body art, painted or tattooed, which optically change the forms of the bodies depicted, using the visionary devise of double-imaging. The origin of all the arts is shamanism (a term which refers to the spiritual tradition of tribal and primitive peoples worldwide, involving similar perceptions of and methods for interacting with the divine).

Indigenous art produced for millennia by shamans (female and male) from innumerable tribes was designed to help feed, protect, heal, tell the story of, and transform individuals and the whole community. Men and women have always known that we are part of something much greater than ourselves.... stoneage people may have been "primative" but they were not dumb. And it must have been clear as well that an occasional image-maker came into the tribe who clearly was able to touch or to be touched by the divine eternal source, and this person's symbols and drawings shared that touch with the tribe.

Magical symbols were invented and empowered by artists in the caves, tattooed upon their bodies in patterns later copied by weavers for clothing. Writing eventually evolved from these mystic signs.

The highest achievement of shamanic culture is that of ancient Egypt for nearly 3,000 years. Egypt is recognized as the progenitor of Greek, Roman and West African cultures (amongst others), and highly developed the arts. The Egyptians accurately depicted both the real world, and with the help of symbolism, also depicted the visionary world of gods and goddesses, the afterlife, etc. Modern art in the West can easily be traced back to Egypt. Asia and the Pacific have a different cultural current, equally inspired by visionary shamans, through the ancient cultures of Indus Valley and China.

Various means have been employed by humans to tap into the "divine communications" circuit of the brain. For example, some primitive tribes (such as the Huichol) clearly rely heavily on psychedelic plants for the induction of trance states, while others (such as West African tribes) use drums, chants and ecstatic dance to get there.

As civilization, writing, trade, etc. developed, certain very powerful and resonant visions of individuals were recorded and communal spiritual traditions sprouted, grew, and were organized and reorganized as religions after, sometimes centuries after, the life of the visionary.

Religions tend to use artists to support by repetition, ie. to re-draw, an original myth, or group of myths, and they tend to discourage their participants (and their artists) from actually experiencing their own visions. Though some mystic traditions do exists, such as the Sufis, many organized religions want the individual to come to the chuch/temple/mosque to hear or see their visions, and to pay for that "service". Religions, often supported by doctors and governments, tend to discourage and create fear of any extraordinary personal visionary experience, and typically brand such visions as evil, horrific things.

"There is nothing on this earth that is good or bad, but what thinking makes it so."

------ William Shakespeare


The mind is a mysterious thing, as is the Universe. Is there any difference? In ancient Greece, and other places too, psychodrama (such as the Eleusinian Mysteries) was employed to give each individual at least one personal vision quest that could be the spiritually organizing aspect of their entire life. Typically in visionary experience the Ego is dissolved, and the little self is put directly in touch with the divine Self. The immutable connection with Eternal Source is clarified and "locked-in". This highly charged emotion affects the psyche for the rest of one's life.

We believe it is the proper role of the visionary artist to both authentically communicate their personal vision, and also to contribute visionary imagery that can have a positive, creative, constructive and/or healing effect on the viewer and the community. Ideally visionary art can help the viewer in some small way to be inspired to find some inner peace and live an ecstatic, productive, healthy and happy life.