Thursday, March 1, 2007
Artist as Shaman
Shamanism is not a religion but rather a "grammar of the mind." I see it as a worldview connecting art, culture, ecology and economy.- Juhna Pentikäinen (Professor of Comparative Religion, Helsinki University Museum). The central idea behind shamanism is the contact with the supernatural world by the ecstatic experience of the shaman. There are four important constituents of shamanism: (1) the ideological premise of the supernatural world and the contacts with it; (2) the shaman as an intermediary on behalf of a human group, (3) the inspiration granted him by his helping spirits; and (4) the extraordinary, ecstatic experiences of the shaman. For his rituals, the shaman uses different objects; some are natural, such as precious stones, bits of metal, teeth and claws of animals, bones, plants, and so on (“ready-mades?”). Then, there are man-made amulets (sculptures?), which include medallions, small figurines, carved knives, drums of all sizes, wheels and masks. These serve as objects for invocation, divination and healing. Since shamanism uses diagrams to establish cosmological renditions of the universe, one could think of these diagrams as aesthetic materials. My point is that in our secular societies of the West, art can be seen as a symbolic condensation of our environment, a way to depict and evaluate our milieu. Artists produce objects that have an aesthetic function for a receiving audience. Think of the parallel between the altar and the artist's studio (or the white cube for that matter) as places of art-convocation. It may be that (as sociologist Jurgen Habermas has suggested), artists have the role of "translating chaotic everydayness into ordered aesthetic symbols for public understanding."