The Hidden Sphere
(of Artistic Concerns) 
Cecil Orion Touchon
This is an adaptation of the Tao te Ching of Lao Tzu for a spiritual deepening of artistic activity with related quotations of artists and mystics.

Introduction (in progress)

            The central intention of this book is to provide artists and others engaged in creative activities with a kind of spiritual touchstone. When an activity is elevated to the status of art, that is to say, approached as an art and practiced as an art, there is implied a certain spiritual depth that one is attempting to access in its practice.  To practice something as an art is to go beyond technical prowess  and enter into a deep intuitive  melding  with the activity in which one is engaged so that one becomes capable of achieving a level of perfection and harmony that mere technical mastery alone cannot aspire to. In the art of painting for instance, there is an amazing diversity of styles, schools and movements not to mention the multitude of painters who cannot be classified into any particular group and yet among them there can be found those whose works somehow transcend the pack. There is in these works something ineffable, something that goes beyond craftsmanship and  masterful application. Such works are powerful and mysterious and trans-rational. They are somehow more than the sum of their parts,  they exude a harmony and an elegance that the sensitive viewer  intuitively responds to without being able to explain why. Such paintings are the product of the artist having achieved a spiritual melding with the work. 

          How this melding takes place is, of course, a great mystery even to those who have actually experienced it while working. This is due in large part to the fact that the artist is engaging an aspect of himself that is outside the verbal range of his awareness. He has abandoned, however briefly, his reliance on technique and intellectual cleverness and entered into the realm of intuitive reasoning. Intuitive reasoning is typified by a heightened sense of awareness, a sense of timelessness, self abandon, deep concentration and a fearless letting- go into the process of the work at hand. After the work is completed, there is a sense in the artist of not being completely responsible for the work's outcome, that 'something else' did the work, not exactly the artist himself. This 'something else' is referred to in this book as the 'Creative Harmony' . 

Artists tend not to speak openly about their inner lives. Such conversations are more often than not confined to the studio or at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee or in the parking lots of the galleries and normally only to trusted friends with whom they feel an affinity. Artists are accustomed to long hours of solitude and contemplation as the natural consequence of working,  (assuming that they are not running a large studio with many assistants), and are perfectly comfortable with silence and, expressing themselves through their work, are not often driven by necessity to be all that verbally articulate about things which don't have much to do with words. Consequently, written documents by artists seem to be all too rare especially those in which the artist openly discusses his/her most intimate experiences and personal feelings where spirituality is concerned.

           In the context of art, spirituality does not mean religiosity. The two are often confused with each other and are entangled in the minds of many. And it is not uncommon for artists who feel a strong spiritual focus to imbue their work with religious symbolism and iconography or, in the reverse, eradicate any sense of religion or perhaps, poke fun at religion in an effort to express their widening search for spiritual meaning when religious dogmas seems too constricting. All of this is completely understandable considering that the religions of the world have always been the context in which experiences of a spiritual nature have been expressed. However, spirituality is something much deeper and much richer and more multifaceted than any religious dogma can encompass or any religious organization can represent, try as they may. 

           We live in, what is perhaps, an unprecedented period of spiritual freedom and experimentation in which - especially in the arts - we have at our disposal the knowledge of the many cultures of the world; of their art, of their  literature, of their beliefs and of at least a outline of their history and the ability to view them from afar or, if we choose, immerse ourselves in them first hand through travel. Such an exposure of knowledge as is now commonplace however, not only brings the potentiality of a widening spiritual freedom but also a widening of personal responsibility. When we realize that we are free to believe what ever we wish and that we are not subject under pain of death or imprisonment to believe any particular thing, we run the risk of entering a state of personal crisis and confusion that are part and parcel of our present times. The weight of responsibility that rests on our shoulders as artists to integrate within ourselves this vast body of world knowledge with an adequate degree of balance and integrity, is impossible to bare.

            This quandary is apparent in the art community as evidenced by the proliferation of approaches to art and the complete disintegration of any general trend or consensus. There has been for some time a general pessimism as cultural ideals which once shaped and informed our predecessorsí creative efforts have been called into question in the light of the new perspectives created by the intrusion of other of the world's cultures. I call this a Dogma Crisis and the entire Twentieth Century has been such a crisis. No new meta trends which can be shaped into traditions will come forth until artists, as a global community, have sufficiently assimilated the awesome diversity of multi-cultural perspectives now emerging. Artists will not be able to assimilate information of this magnitude in a meaningful way  through the traditional approach of acquiring a knowledge of facts and concepts when there is such a deluge of information but will have to turn inward toward a deep state of self knowing and by this process will be able to prioritize information into a meaningful form of expression. This is the new avant garde which will become more and more evident in the coming years.

 Imagine if you will, an alternate notion of the avant-garde. Imagine that the avant-garde is not a cultural movement across time toward some futuristic utopian ideal that recedes like a mirage on the horizon but rather is an individual movement inward toward an ever deepening spiritual reality which is then unfolded into the world through an enlightened way of living and the artistic expression that such living yields. Seen in this context, the avant-garde exists in all cultures at all times and transcends any particular style, fashion, general trend or cultural barriers. Those masters  down through the ages whose spiritual depth we can identify through the works of art that have been left for us remain the avant garde in the truest sense. Until we have reached their depth, they remain in the fore front.

In many ways, artists are a kind of indigenous population who live in an undiscovered and unconquerable land called Imagination. Each stands on the shore where innumerable realities converge, mingle, are born and are expressed somehow in the art and objects that artists give form and substance to. It is  this place that can truly be called the ultimate frontier
 

 The author has striven in these pages to translate ancient spiritual principles into an artistic ideal. As such, the reader should look upon this work not only as a basis from which to begin but also as a proposal of an ideal toward which to strive. And though, through our striving, we may not reach the goals herein articulated, we will have, through our daily practice arrived at a way of life much richer that if we had never made the attempt.
 

            ...Along side of these statements are quotations from artists and mystics that seem to, in some way, touch upon aspects of the statements that they accompany. I have restricted myself to quotations by working artists rather than the insights of commentators, critics or historians as, I believe, we  hear all too often from this group and not enough from the actual practitioners of art.

               It is hoped that artists of various disciplines will find some value in this work and that there is something that will inspire them in the studio during the long hours of solitary working. And that, in reading the quotations from other artists, feel a sense of connectedness to the traditions and struggles of which we are an intrinsic part; "participating", as Charles Schnieder has said, "in a trans- temporal dialog with the artists who have preceded us."; carrying on, through our work, a conversation with the generations of artists past, present and and to come. 
 Knowingly or unknowingly, we are caught up in a centuries long continuum of inquiry and unfoldment that each generation in its turn must grapple with and renew. Art is a field where a good question is regarded as more important than the answers that it generates; where the problems of art are more highly prized than the solutions presented. It is the depth of the questions and the clarity and elegance of the solutions that each generation proposes which mark its relative greatness or lack of it.

The reader should be advised that this work is intended as a contemplative text. As such, it should be contemplated in the same way that we contemplate a work of art or a symphony. It is not written as an entertainment to be quickly consumed and discarded but as a inspiration and a balm for the spirit. As such it may be read slowly, repeatedly and in part, kept out near the easel or piano, added to, disagreed with, tested out according to one's temperament.


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