As if that were taboo … to dream … to feel. Bah. “The ineffable! We don’t discuss it,” the wary Clem Greenberg dismissed the spirituality in Pollock’s art, glaring at me, defensive, when I asked him this simple question that my own Ph.D. thesis in “Shamanism and Art” hinged on. Greenberg’s ordered comfort zone was scripted formalist reductionism, where a painting was “six inches off the picture plane, step in, all over look”—which pretty much describes wallpaper. Smart Art did not dabble in the pensées sauvages of the occult. Hey, Clem knew he’d be hit hard by the neo-rationalist spoilsports were he to broach the ineffable. So he pretty much killed Modernism as a subject of inquiry.
The nasty, tiny book Mysticism and Logic, by mathematician Bertrand Russell, swipes at the irrationality of Henri Bergson and the mystics: “How dare they?” A great moment occurs when Berty finds falling in love quite messy—men projecting fantasies upon a faulty love object—when the slow-plodding methods of empiricism would better serve. Here comes computer dating—that should work.
What do colonialists, scientists, rabbis, popes, Communists, and missionaries all have in common? The abhorrence of the shaman, who drums for 15 minutes and achieves direct access to his source—Jung’s “collective unconscious.” We can go there directly, no need to pick up the written directives of our dominator hierarchs. This spells trouble to the established powers. The book of Leviticus commands, “If you come upon a man with an animal familiar, stone him.” Getting rid of the competition is very capitalistic in spirit.
It is marvelous that “scientists” have to attach E.E.G. wiring to monks to discover the trance state of alpha wave receptivity, and all of its physical markings. To reduce anxiety without a pill, and see something imperceptible to the five senses. Yes, the irrational side of our brain, the dark side of the moon, the place we go when we dream at night asleep, is working. Jung said dreams have a reconstitutive function—they fix things.
What would happen if we were to drum for 15 minutes, with a frequency that elicits the alpha waves of suggestibility, go into a self-suggestive trance, a waking dream—thus remembering every fantasy we observe—and even find an alter ego, our power animal in the right brain. That spirit guide can translate the mythopoetic events of our waking dream journey, functions to repair that which was broken.
Whatever split occurred between our Logical Linguistic Left Brain and the Poetical Felt Right Brain, whatever animosity over irrationality, they are the dark keys of our piano, to play gorgeously at life. Can we reconcile the two brains, the conscious and unconscious, since they are both states of our being? All art in its ritual function has attempted rapprochement on the picture plane until postmodernism.
We have, in 2014, even misplaced our place in the sacred. Ritual looks at the deeper agenda of the human soul journey. The unconscious is not for nothing. It has purpose. We have to make it through life with the least damage to our karma, to our sensibilities, to our neighbor.
[My asides are in italics.]
H. Harvard Arnason’s 1977 History of Modern Art is not history, it is polemic. (What a lousy comment) p. 508:
“For whatever reason—a change in fashion (did he just use the word “fashion”?), critical pressure (the hidden hand of Clem Greenberg and— ), or a general realization (name names) that the automatic intuitive gesture is too easily imitated, (aping the Greenberg who was on a collision course to assassinate Abstract Expressionism. Recall when both Picasso and Basquiat appropriated de Kooning’s chops and both recoiled from public embarrassment for their futility. No one has too easily copied DeK. And who dared copy Pollock. Rauschenberg’s 1965 smarmy copy of AbEx gestures was deadpan, bland. Bob’s was a postmodern referencing with cool indifference to Modern Artist angst. Imitation? Look again. And as Plato said in Book X of the Republic: “He who paints with Mimesis is thrice removed from the experience,” a hack) brush painting, with its accent on texture and gesture, was already in a decline by the end of the 1950s (Rumormongering in a history book of modern art. How to dismiss Abstract Expressionism out of hand. Why coyly kill it? Whose agenda was at work here? What was being targeted, the “brush” or the psychic liminal adventure?)
Barnaby Ruhe, Ph.D, is a shamanista, provocateur, and artist. He teaches "Shamanism and Art" at the Gallatin School of N.Y.U. Ruhe is a senior editor at artworldnewspaper.tumblr.com and a six-time World Champion U.S. Boomerang team member. Ruhe is known for the "William Tell" maneuver: slicing an apple on his head with a boomerang.