I want the days back when artists were valued as magicians. We had status through the millennia, but our collective energy has been sucked into making endless ads for erectile dysfunction pills on sale today at Walmart. Not to say that keeping men happy doesn’t have its value to society, but it’s hardly ever a spiritual pursuit, and our magical potency in the world has been lost.
When cavemen painted prayers on rocks, their people respected them. The shaman’s contribution mattered to the hunt. Their spiraling calendars of light would determine when the corn was planted or when the winter camp set up or torn down. The pictograms translated across languages and eras. When Michelangelo was painting biblical stories on ceilings, he was illustrating the path to heaven for the illiterate masses. In other words, artists have been the spokespeople for God. It’s kind of a rough downgrade to selling antidepressants. In fact we’re probably taking antidepressants to get over our collective loss of influence.
I’m not going to make any value judgments about whether the caveman or the Pope was more right about what God wanted from people. What I’m saying is that the artist had a pivotal role in the religions. If you wanted a Christian or pagan amulet, the artist would be the one to make it. If the pharaoh wanted everlasting life, the artists were the ones who designed the pyramid and sculpted the sarcophagus. Even the tattoos on head hunters were visual prayers. Monk artists copied the Bible and illuminated its pages. Really, the more you start thinking about it, has anyone gotten to the other side without the help of an artist magician?
It makes sense to me. Artists by their nature are observant and meditative. They would be the ones to notice the length of days and phases of the moon. They notice the signs of the coming hurricane. They pay attention to their dreams. They understand which images speak most strongly to their people. They’re open to magic.
Artists used to be the scientists, engineers, and architects too. There was a time when we weren’t smashed into a single function of My Little Pony accessories. We were the ones who sculpted the fountains and built the cathedrals. We were the ones who truly understood alchemy as we made paint and stained glass from stone, and then we practiced the greater alchemy of taking colored mud and turning it into art.
The Illustration Friday word for the week is “influence”. I have been influenced by thousands of years of artists before me. I am also influenced by the artists who come after me. This piece is the result of a conversation with my 9-year-old niece about pictograms, and her purple crayon drawing of a turtle while we discussed the associations we have with turtles: wisdom, longevity, patience. I love drawing with kids. They seem to have an innate understanding that art is magic :)