In my last post I likened the artist to shaman, the traveller who undertakes the journey to The Other World, her art being the receipt of her inner experience which she shares with the community or society whom she serves. I think the analogy still stands, though some recent research on my part regarding shamans indicates that one of the defining characters of shamans is that they must not have their experiences in the so-called “alert, problem solving mode of consciousness”.
In the ancient Chinese classic, the “I Ching”, the first 2 symbols are “Heaven” and “Earth”. The third in the sequence, “Zhun”, is sometimes translated as “Beginning”, and it is said that when Heaven and Earth come into play, “myriad beings are produced”.
Today I would like to explore the concept of co-creation. That is, what is the value of an audience, if any? Is creativity enough in and of itself, or does it need to be in some way validated or galvanized by an audience? And, if so, what might this say about the value of art in the context of popularity, accessibility, and pallatibility? Could we even go further and say that the “magic” only happens when the artist brings the energy of her art to the table and the audient acts as some kind of catalytic alchemical instrument transforming that energy into something more than it was before?
I am not an expert in alchemy, nor can I lay great claim to being anything more than an aficionado of concepts around energy transformation, social change, psychology, and high art. However, I must say that something rings true to me when I think of co-creation in the light of an alchemical metaphor despite the baggage that language carries. The creator needs the audience just as much as the audience needs the creator. Why?
The process of creativity is mysterious. At its very root it is more than simple recombination of existing elements – that would be mere collage. In an ideal sense, creativity brings something quite new into the world, though it may be made up of previously worked materials. I am thinking here of something like the music of Jon Hassell, in whose music one can hear a number of influences and elements of readily definable genres or cultures. And yet, in its totality it is really quite unlike anything that came before: it is truly creative, truly inspired, truly a breathing thing, a force that brings separate worlds together on multiple levels.
To clumsily use a quasi-alchemical turn of phrase: a part of the creative process can be said to happen “behind the veil”. To ground that in more contemporary lingo, it does not happen in the “alert, problem solving mode of consciousness”. In and of itself this is a wonderful thing, marvellous to contemplate and fascinating to turn in the mind. However, it is a process working only in one world, so to speak. The bridge has not yet been built, and perhaps this is where The Observer comes in.
The Observer, or The Listener, has both feet metaphorically planted in the material world, “in front of the veil”. He is not presented so much with the mystery of creation as with the material shell of that mystery, now made manifest.
Perhaps we could think of a piece of art as hanging in space and it can be seen from both sides. On the one side we have The Artist, and on the other, The Observer. In a less tangible way, music can work the same way: it can be experienced from both sides.
When The Listener is moved by what he hears, something magical has happened. The Artist has become an alchemist, offering real and possibly measurable change to the world, but The Listener was the required catalyst or vehicle that allowed this magic to “be made flesh”. From behind the veil to in front of the veil, 2 worlds are bridged for a few moments. Anyone who has been moved by a work of art knows the feeling of this: very hard to describe but unmistakable.
The 4th character of the I Ching is sometimes translated as “Childhood”, and the 5th “Needing”. How might these relate to the question of co-creation? Hmmmm.