Art has been an essential aspect of humanity throughout history, and it is our responsibility to understand its true power in the global culture of the 21st century. What makes a work of art truly great? What art needs to be acknowledged in our galleries, our culture, and our economies as important, relevant, and vital? The highest value must be placed on art that reflects reality with a profound degree of articulation and integrity, that expresses clear, relevant truth and utilizes refined technique in order to convey its meaning. The highest level of art can only be expressed through artists with sincere dedication to spiritual growth, with the technical prowess to convey meaning clearly and precisely through their work. This kind of art is rare, because of what it takes to create it, and because it is sidelined by a culture disoriented and disconnected from reality.
Missing the Mark
We have access to an endless stream of artwork created around the world, through the internet, galleries and museums, where both beautiful and hideous work are abundant. Innumerable artists working professionally and personally are creating captivating, technically compelling work that draws our attention in many ways, inspiring us, enticing us, challenging us, and indulging us. How do we discern which works of art have true value - that help us understand and advance our lives - and those which reinforce limited and outdated perspectives?
It is no question for those of us who have been to established contemporary art galleries - often where large sums of money are exchanged - that much art upheld in our society is, to say the least, disconcerting. We find large, monotone canvases that alienate our desire for understanding, that communicate in highly intellectualized, isolated discourses. On the other hand, we find aggressive, disgusting images that attack our willingness to have an intelligent mutual experience with the artist. They express grotesque, unrefined technique that offends our basic human sense and our desire to participate in the work.
Both of these kinds of art miss the mark and reflect a deficiency of honesty in our culture. When art is created for only an isolated community, its voice becomes highly limited and mostly irrelevant to the advancement of our shared world. When it is aggressive or offensive, its relevance is equally limited because of the insensitive and irresponsible language through which it speaks. Both of these approaches, highly valued in our institutionalized art world, need to be seen objectively as minor and minimal expressions of the true power of art.
A different kind of art abundant in our culture comes closer to the mark, but still misses: art oriented towards beauty and aesthetics. We can go online, to a gallery, or to a museum and easily find beautiful works of art. Many artists are deeply invested in creating beautiful art: art that is inspired, profound, attractive and compelling. Though there is a vast place for beautiful art, in service to our leisure, our fun, and our entertainment, there remains an entire dimension of power that this orientation simply cannot touch.
A Higher Level of Art
Truly powerful art that deserves recognition at the center of our culture and our artistic values is art that evolves our consciousness. It is art that acts as a mirror for objective reality to guide our lives forward. It can deeply change those who open to it, and offer us powerful orientations to overcoming the crises in our world. Art’s higher purpose is to serve this function: to help us face reality with clarity and courage so that we may move forward wisely. It is art understandable to anyone, not confined to an elite or isolated discourse, that speaks language that is simple and clear. It is art with the integrity to show us where we stand objectively in our lives so that we have the orientation for our next step forward in our evolution. True beauty, inspiration, and profundity are its byproducts, and only the highest caliber of artistic pursuit can yield this kind of art.
Where Many Artists Go Wrong
Most artists are simply not invested in what it takes to gain this dimension of power in their work. They spend years developing techniques, studying creative tools, and making work with the underlying belief that through refinement of their medium they will gain true power in their work. If our agenda is to emulate this or that artist, to achieve acknowledgement or self-satisfaction, or to earn clients, then this may be enough. But if our agenda is to create work with the power to command the attention of our culture and transforms our inner being, this is simply the wrong approach. It is inefficient and insufficient for empowering one’s artistic voice with its higher potential.
The elevated approach is to acknowledge the interdependence between the artistic voice and the refinement of one’s soul. Five minutes of sincere reflection or meditation will very often refine one’s artistic voice more than years of technical study. This is an obvious fact that is overlooked in many art arenas: the integrity of our character is far more relevant to our art than extensive training in technique. In order to earn power in our art, artists must undertake a spiritual life in sincerity. Only then can we engage a level of power and fulfillment that truly contributes to our souls and humanity.
From this stance, artists can develop techniques in service to a higher purpose. Skill becomes cultivated not simply to serve personal agendas, but rather for the service of our souls and our collective human growth. Technique is by no means irrelevant, but neither is it the central axis of our artistic life. It is one spoke on the wheel of a spiritual creative path, dedicated to expressing and participating in an awesome reality.
Determining Value in Art
This kind of art is absolutely more valuable than any other kind because it speaks from a real commitment to truth and service. It actually is already more relevant and powerful than any other kind of art; it is just that we have not reached the collective maturity to acknowledge it as such. Its value comes from directly engaging reality in order to serve the evolution of the artist and of those who are open to the work. How deeply is an artwork revealing truth? How articulate is its message? What are the priorities and values that it actually expresses? When we are honest and present with a work of art, the answers to these questions quickly become clear.
It is essential for us to come to terms with this value scale. We need to develop our capacity to assess real artistic value based on acknowledging simple truths about our experience. If we need to go into an intellectual framework to justify the value of a work of art, then it is actually not that valuable. If a work of art offends our basic humanity, then it is worth little attention. If it is attractive but indulges our senses without expanding them, it does not endure. Many works of art, while otherwise beautiful, may be revealed as rather insignificant and superficial in the light of this perspective. Like any powerful truth, this will threaten those who are falsely glorified, and empower those with noble and sincere intentions.
The marks of true value in a work of art are available to any sensitive viewer. Each work of art or artist may speak in its own language, but in a way that we can understand from a basic sense of humanity and awareness. It may be our body, our mind, our emotions, or our spirit through which we receive the message, but it resonates as relevant to our life. Work of this caliber can shape our reality, clarify it, and expand it, so that we are better informed to lead a more empowered life. There is no greater service that an artist can offer than creating work of this capacity, and we will feel it when we are alert to our experience of the artwork.
What it Takes
There are very few acclaimed artists today who have stepped into this greater vision of art’s true power. This is due to the fact that it is only accessible to those of high integrity who are sincerely committed to service and growth. Only through a spiritual life does an artist develop the discernment to transmit work of this caliber. Those artists who are pursuing technical prowess but not sincere inner growth do not have the internal foundations to reflect reality with this level of clarity.
The rarity of this expression in our culture is also due to a collective disorientation and dissociation from reality. Many artists do not acknowledge the simple truths of our lives that we need to face in order to develop our art. Instead of gaining power through qualities like wisdom and compassion, we are told to seek it through things like competition and the domination of others. Our culture has biased us towards seeking false forms of glorification and success that limit the power of our creativity.
Whatever we may believe about the intentions of our work, if artists are not pursuing a path of real inner growth, we are not capable of communicating the most powerful forms of artistic expression. This level of art goes hand in hand with the sincerity of a life lived in dedication to a higher purpose: without the honest spiritual life an artist manifests a ceiling on the relevance and value of his or her work.
To embark on this path, one does not need to spend years in meditation, nor on the other hand, to spend countless hours in the studio developing our technique. One simply needs to make the decision in sincerity to face reality honestly and to walk the path that it illuminates. It is a balanced, pragmatic, authentic approach to creativity where we can face reality and move accordingly. The path of a true artist is none other than the path of a true human, one who undertakes a courageous life lived with integrity, and creates art in service to this life. Like spirituality itself, this orientation matures over time, yet it begins the moment we choose to honestly face reality.
Where Art has Succeeded - Contemporary Visionary Art
The term “visionary” has been used to identify work that is oriented towards higher spiritual insight. Indeed, this is some of the highest caliber art ever created. The contemporary artist Alex Grey is among the few artists of some renown who are currently pursuing a higher vision of art’s potential. His work explicitly claims to be acting as “sacred mirrors” for viewers to perceive reality in a more objective light. He succeeds to some degree in showing us different levels of our energetic reality by illuminating universal human experiences, such as birth, prayer, headaches, and playing music, in the context of higher forms of consciousness that he has learned to access. Grey shows us the permeating energetic forces around many aspects of life, and succeeds in making us aware of the power and intricacy of our human experience. His paintings are subtle, sensitive, and convey humility in the face of an awesome reality.
Yet Grey’s work expresses significant limitations. His higher consciousness is highly dependent on psychedelic substances, upholding a somewhat disturbed and strange vision of objective truth. His characters are not fully accessible and present in this reality: their translucent skin distances them significantly from natural experience, and directs the focus of the paintings into a psychic space that we cannot be wholly at ease in our own bodies.
What is Art Mind?
Art Mind is my engagement in this path, and the discoveries I have made to aid others in fulfilling this level of artistic expression. It is about bridging the divide between meaning and artistic skill, and placing the emphasis of art - how we create it, how we experience it, and how we judge it – where it rightfully belongs: upon the integrity and relevance of the message it communicates.
Art Mind begins in the present moment, like meditation, opening to inspiration and guidance directly from our receptivity to reality. From here, we develop the skills and orientation to discern what we have to say, what is truly important, and what is sincerely expressing our own unique voice.
From this level of inspiration, the development of technical approaches and skills becomes relevant. We do not need to train arbitrary or monotonous techniques, but rather build skills that are directly in service to the message we have to convey. We pursue the ability to clearly express the insights we have gained, and our skills develop in order to uphold those insights.