Art as Ritual – a Search for Meaning

This is attributed to Pablo Picasso – The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.  

Picasso was well aware of the importance of self-expression, as these words indicate. This one reminds me that the creation of a ritual, such as SisterCircle does, requires a release from the ordinary. I find that to be true, whether it’s a personal project or a turn of the Wheel of the Year.

I wonder, as I explore the many layers of circles that surround me, as I come into and out of my experiences, whether art is an expression of a journey, a ritual. And those among us who put something on paper, or create something to be seen, are we simply performing our own rituals. So, it seems when I create something, I am performing one. It takes me from the dust of everyday life.

Just as the purpose of a ritual for me varies with the time of the year, the purpose of my art varies. Sometimes I look for an interesting subject. Or maybe a story in the image. Or just play with colors. Actually, my visual expressions require many of the same qualities as a ritual done by SisterCircle, for example.

Here are the steps.

  • Gather materials and choose a site
  • Assign the contributors’ roles
  • Choose the medium – size, color, texture
  • Perform the creative activity
  • And, finally, Offer the results for viewing

SisterCircle has a tradition… and that tradition centers around the Wheel of the Year. We’ve been creating and participating in rituals for over 23 years. Together, we hatch a plan, do all of the preparation, and execute the design. Many times I have marveled at how it all comes together, even at times when some of us are ill, or too busy to come, or out of town. It just works.

Now, one of the differences in creative actions is the goal. Perhaps the goal is the experience of someone outside the creator. In a religious ritual, on the other hand, the goal is the involvement of a group, large or small.

In my art, does it matter? Is that how other artists look at their work? I don’t know. Imagination is personal. As are some rituals.

I found this, by one Sharon Devlin:

The purpose of ritual is to change the mind of the human being. It’s sacred drama in which you are the audience as well as the participant and the purpose of it is to activate parts of the mind that are not activated by everyday activity. . . As for why ritual, I think that human beings have a need for art and art is ritual. I think that when we became sapient, we became capable of artistic expression.

Rituals are mindfulness, generosity, self-reflection, meditation, above all, an expression of our connection to each other, to ourselves and to the world. Blessed Be.


Creating Free Will

Click here for audio: 72615_Free_Will.mp3

Creating free will:

“An artist is forced by others to paint out of his own free will.” So said one of my favorite artists, Willem de Kooning.

Recently, I discovered a few old sketchbooks with drawings I had done between college and now. Then, I was compelled to keep a sketchbook, if only to compare notes with fellow art students while we relaxed after classes. I must say, I am liking these memories, and I also like using the images in new and interesting ways as digital files.

However, it strikes me that I can remember some of these discussions, and the thoughts behind the scribbles, memories that had lain silent for up to 40 years. Yes, I am lucky to have this opportunity to reform and refine my creativity, but another notion comes to mind. I am a victim of a creative urge, one that takes over my thoughts until I have put pen or image to paper or screen.

Since college, I haven’t given much thought to the idea of free will/determinism. But isn’t an artistic activity a way of exercising free will when I am choosing the time and the place to work? Or is it a part of my life formed by early experience and inherited trait? Since today, the excitement of creating art is still alive, I must imagine that there is something beyond the ordinary at work. Otherwise, how can I or anyone make sense of these so-called creative urges.

The prominent psychologist, Erich Fromm said, “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” I can definitely agree that there is something going on, something that can’t be defined simply. Is this the burden of creativity. Even though, with computerized images, I can experiment and travel in different directions as I please, yet I am at the beck and call of something that seems beyond my everyday life. The certainties are indeed left behind.

After all, Albert Einstein said “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Free will is something that comes and goes. You see, as for those sketchbooks, there are many hidden meanings and references to my life at the time of the piece. I carefully dated each, and can recall what caused the piece to happen, what compulsion made me drop all else and draw. I can see that a theme would appear and reappear years later in another book, on another page. But the reasons are well-hidden, sometimes even to me.

There are times when I don’t feel creative. Other times, though, like an unbidden thought, it pushes through and takes control of my actions. Is this determinism, or is this simply a lack of free will?

There is no antidote for creativity. One is so overwhelmed by the need to stop and deal with the new drawing, or digital piece, that I can almost say it’s a lack of free will. The fear of making a mistake, of planning one thing and have another thing happen, is a part of creativity for me. As an artist, how do I know this piece or that piece will please others? I don’t. I must rely on and trust my own intuition, and trust that my free will has spoken.

It must be true, what the popular TV show artist Bob Ross said “There are no mistakes, only happy little accidents.”

So, past and future artists, what does free will mean to you?


Presented as part of a UUCMC summer service by SisterCircle, 7/15

Holy Weak!

(c) Jo Grazide
Not a trinitarian, I.

I never had thought about these things. I was a Catholic, but I wasn’t a Catholic. I was born into a family that wanted to say they were Catholic and that is about it. Growing up, there was no mastery of the mystery, only the misery of the rules.

There were a lot of rules about being Catholic. Chief among them, as I recall, sans Wikipedia, were the sins. You could make big sins, or you could make little or venial sins. Big sins were called mortal sins. A lot of my early childhood religious education emphasized the various penalties for committing one of these varieties of transgressions. If you died with a mortal sin “on your soul,” though, you were in a heap of trouble. You would go straight to hell, and there would be no way you could break out of there. So an after-life sentence was guaranteed. If you died with a couple of venial sins there, you would simply be sent over to this place called Purgatory, where you would lament and whine but you had a hope of getting out, eventually.

Funny how we use time in a sense where there can’t be time, in the immortal afterlife. I do believe in something, if not a consciousness, so this makes me uneasy. What if they are right! But then reason prevails, and I carry on hoping that I can leave the world a better place. What more can I ask?

Forgiveness is what I can ask. It used to be enough that Easter was honoring the death of a person whose father sent him here fully knowing he would be executed by the ruling class, for being a radical. For challenging the old way. For eating with sinners. I don’t think they had figured out, by the way, what the sins actually were. Because how could it be a sin to have like 40 wives and then kill your neighbors if they stepped on your sandaled toes, and things like that. I guess those were the days.

But we celebrate the death of a man who lived over 2,000 years ago each Easter. And I, a Pagan Unitarian/Universalist, am stuck with the goods. Long ago, in my adulthood, I was able to shake loose the chokehold of the confusion that being Catholic caused. I was lucky to be able to replace that tradition with one that made sense to me. One that embraced the natural world as all there is, and one that gave me a chance to do good here and now. So what – I would never be able to meet the Virgin Mother of Heaven or St. Peter as he guarded the gates to Heaven, or even reside in a place prepared for me since the beginning of time.

I could simply be simple. Live and die, and in the meantime, practice the example shown by the man who was called down from Heaven to live among us for 33 years only to die a thief’s death on Golgotha. Be that as it may, I’m grateful for the reminder that to be a truly real person, forgiveness has to come from your heart, your spirit, not from the fires of Hell or the heights of the sky.

So Happy Easter – make it a good one!

Spinal Thoughts VIII – The Least Rights – Shirley Gets Set to Meet Her (not My) Maker

It’s getting dark. All systems go. Shots administered, dinner over and smelly leftovers removed. All is at peace. Quiet at last.

Until the family returns. Shirley has been rejoined by her clan, who pile into her room like lemmings jumping over a cliff. They station themselves around her, and someone announces “This is Father Joe.”

This wakes me up. Alert, what is going on now over there? Soon it becomes evident that F.J. the man in the black dress, is prepping for an operation not of this earth. I hear the intonations of casting a spell to make Shirley more presentable to her Maker. I hear the amens and the Latin supplications.

Apparently, Shirley is in pretty bad shape.Notwithstanding her son leaning over into my half of the room and advising me that he had had these prayers said over him over 40 years ago and look, he is still here. I guess he saw the panic in my eyes.

If Shirley got these last rites, or extreme unction, or as I would call it – family paranoia that the Devil hisself is a’ comin’ to claim her soul tonight, she must be pretty darn near Death’s door. In fact, I can smell and sense Death lurking just outside my fifth floor window, beyond the lovely scenery of the park and mansions across the river. This is not good. I can’t very well avoid the sound and aura of the man in black mumbling away stuff that should have been left in the ancient texts from whence it came.

As a good ex-Catholic girl, there is a limit to my annoyance. Let her have her sad, morbid joke at my expense. The family seems oblivious that there is a person not 10 feet away, who is under the influence of  no less than that many agents, who is getting the wrong impression.

Research reveals that extreme unction, while good for the purposes of the dying, is actually just a precaution. It will heal the soul, erase the sins that are accumulated there, to make the soul acceptable for entrance into Heaven. But this is all psycho-bullshit to me, and I’m scared silly that Shirley’s ghost will thrust aside that curtain once the family exits to go to their dinner, and castigate me for not enjoying her sacramental hiatus.

A few therapeutic hours, time passed, a new day beginning, and Shirley and her family are still there. What exciting sacrament or ritualistic paranoia will come up now that Shirley has survived her ticket to Heaven? Only time and several more shots of morphine will tell.