'You cannot separate art from life or spirituality. They are bound together in a single unit’, says Nick Bantock, master artist and author. I had asked Bantock if he would talk to me about his practice as an artist on the recommendation of a friend. His immediate agreement was flattering, however misplaced, as he admitted that he did not know my work, nor had he read any of my posts. It was the subject of the interview that intrigued him “Art as a Spiritual Practice” and his admiration for our mutual friend. He was glad someone was asking questions about the connection between art and spirituality. Then he expressed despair that modern Art has been too concerned with ego and the ‘declaring of the self’ as artists, critics, galleries, and museums have corrupted modern art to be simply a product for sale.
Bantock cautions that when we deceive ourselves and create art for sale that is not authentic we not only steal from our audience, we can crush our own spirits by denying the voice of our ‘soul’s code’. Bantock was referring to the writings of psychologist James Hillman who defines the ‘soul’s code’ as a unique purpose we bring to our life and which it is our work to discover and enact during our lifetime. Hillman also refers to it as an ‘acorn theory’. In a few words, each acorn has everything it needs to know when it is created; the knowing unfolds as it lives and grows. The idea is that we too are born knowing the reason for our existence; however, we forget it when we are born and need to rediscover it. Bantock believes that creativity can help us uncover who we really are and connect to the reason we are born.
When Bantock described connecting to creativity he used the metaphor of a culvert connecting the conscious to the subconscious and down into the mother-load of creativity in the collective unconscious. This was not a metaphor I had heard before. I have heard of streaming, channeling and plugged in when artists refer to tapping into creativity. However, a culvert implies a much wider and potentially dangerous connection. I have seen culverts full of rain gushing out of control and carving the landscape, creating mud and disruption. This is what came to my mind. I asked Nick if he was ever overwhelmed, and he responded that, ‘getting lost is a very important part of the journey. There is too much emphasis placed on not getting lost. This limits possibility. The culvert allows access to the full rush of creativity.’
Bantock recommends that with creativity we set out on a journey and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed, then to be informed by what occurs and all the while maintaining balance as well we can. This process will allow us to go in the right way without knowing what it is at the outset. He believes that this method is more likely to lead to somewhere we have not been before and therefore somewhere growth can happen saying, ‘It is critically important not to predetermine what is being created so that you can be taught by it; if you create something that is preconceived and it will be half dead’.
I found Bantock was very easy to nudge into talking about art as a spiritual practice; actually no nudging was required as he was ready and willing to launch into the subject. When I remarked about his ability to articulate his ideas he told me that he had just written a book on the subject, (released a few days ago on January 7th 2014) and had been immersed in ideas about creativity while writing. The title of his book is "The Trickster’s Hat: a mischievous apprenticeship in creativity” and he presents 49 exercises to show people that anyone can start down the path to truthfulness. It is a beautiful little book filled with illustrations and will be available in books stores across North America. The short description by the publisher Perigee is, “The act of creating art, in all its forms, offers us a path to our souls. But the path can be confusing, and getting lost along the way is inevitable. However, maybe that’s the point.” Bantock will give a talk about his new book at Munroe’s Books in Victoria in February and it is sure to be a good read.
Bantock explained to me that in his workshops he has found that opening to creativity and inner truthfulness can be frightening and some people see it as therapy. In my own experience I have found that art making can be therapeutic, however, the therapeutic effect is a byproduct rather than the purpose for making art. Art created as therapy has a purpose of facilitating personal healing and is necessarily about ego and self. Art created as exploration of personal purpose or ‘soul’s code’ is more likely to result in the expression of collective truths and carry a purpose beyond the individual towards a spiritual experience and the growth of human knowledge.
More information about Nick Bantock and his work can be found at: http://www.nickbantock.com
Joanne Thomson is a visual artist living in Victoria BC. She teaches a course about Art-making as a Spiritual Practice as well as courses in painting and drawing. Her works can be seen on-line at www.joannethomson.com and www.morrisgallery.ca.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog Spiritually Speaking HERE