Help with a book....

Wed, 2 Aug 1995 12:01:31 EST

Rosemary Gianno rightly suggests that issues of "objectivity" and
"subjectivity" in art are fraught with cultural assumptions. The
idea that the artist's work is expressive of "creativity" and "self-
expression" and is rooted in the artist's "imagination" is a rather
recent development in Western art history. One doesn't find such
concepts usually in non-Western culture. Our notion of the artist
as "one-eared madman" has much to do with the illness of Vincent
Van Gogh. We forget that he didn't paint when he was sick. He
couldn't, and although the diagnosis of his illness remains uncertain,
the point remains. He could not paint when he was ill because his
artist's eye failed him.

The Surrealists, as a further example, never thought they were
painting "imaginary" (ie, not real) scenarios. Andre Breton's
manifesto is quite clear: they were after a means of depicting an
"absolute reality"--one which conflated the distinction between
inner and outer realms of reality. Those of you who study non-
Western cultures where shamanism is alive and well should not find
the notion of multi-leveled, multivalent realms of reality hard
to understand, but our society persists in marginalizing those
with religio-aesthetic modes of being and of seeing--in other words
a good many contemporary artists.

By no means all artists today are working in this manner,but many
likely are. My doctoral dissertation (Earthworks: Shamanism in
the Religious Experience of North American Artists, University of
Ottawa, 1991) studied this phenomenon by means of an exploratory
study (120 questionnaires and 19 in-depth interviews). To my
surprise I learned that the majority were more influenced in their
choice of arts imagery by visionary and paranormal experiences than
by life crises. They conceive themselves to be mediums, people
with special access to other realms of reality which they access
through controlled trance states.

Please know I had not expected to find so many within my research
cohort who could be described as true visionaries. I had thought
maybe if I obtained perhaps a hundred respondents, there could
be two or three artists who might have had daffy experiences. But
the majority, more than 80%, told me things which went beyond
experiences of deja vu and precognition.

The findings, interviews, tables, heaps of cross-tabulations are
available in my dissertation. I've used that material and more in a ms
just finished for Continuum (New York) entitled _The Eye of the Artist_
I'm shipping it off to my editor this week, so with any luck it should
be out next year.

The artists' stories have very much changed my own thinking about
art and artists. I do believe many contemporary artists are unrecognized
religious specialists--not unlike mystics,prophets, or the shamans of
other societies in a number of important respects.

best wishes,
Maureen Korp, PhD
University of Ottawa