Saturday, October 29, 2011

Work Those Epiphanies!!!

What epiphanies, intuitions and/or perceptions have you been experiencing lately?! Hope you're jotting them down...

My previous post edged us into one of the most hotly debated issues around the art world, and the spiritual world too for that matter (which I include here because the two worlds are so closely connected).

Can you spell ‘subjective'?!

The experiences I’ve been writing about have been very subjective and personal of course, and could easily be dismissed as the effects of an over-spiced enchilada. And while I have felt validated in discovering that others have written about this type of experience, I also recognize that there is plenty of room for error in the interpretation of these phenomena. But how rich the exploration!

Subjectivity—whether it refers to poetic or religious awe—is a hot topic. What do we do with writing (or religious experience) that is very subjective? Is there a place for it? Absolutely, but there is also a lot of confusion out there.

A few years ago, I got one of those great, clarifying, simple questions that help me think about such things, and in particular how to think about the strange, ineffable experiences we all go through. It came through one of my former pastors. I was grappling with the strange, ineffable experiences of a French friend, which had baffled my cognitive and theological constructs (as a lot in France did!). But this pastor wisely asked, “Is the person sharing this experience credible?”

Yes, she was. Did that make the experience credible? I know I certainly looked at it with a lot more care than if she had been a flake. And we got to the bottom of some things that were entirely credible. Credibility can earn a second look at the most incredible experience, which may be entirely valid and true, however subjective.

With that one question, and years of living in France, I learned not to dismiss things prematurely if they didn’t fit my paradigms, if the source was credible. Even our justice system, flawed as it is, runs on the testimony of ‘credible witnesses.’

Anyway, back to poetry and epiphanic moments: what was that epiphany and what did it mean? Can you write a poem or prayer about it? Make a piece of artwork from it? Write a theological doctrine on it? Is it personal, subjective, expressive, for you only, or can it benefit others? Is it art/prayer/doctrine for public consumption?

Yes, we are back to the question of what is art, with a new layer: public art vs. private art, self-expression vs. art for public consumption.

I gave you m y favorite definition of art last post. But we have lived for decades in a culture/artworld where self-expression is paramount, beauty is optional, and critique is “mean”— the cultural equivalent of bullying. For some, personal expression is far more important than adherence to any criteria for craft.

The clash arises when personal expression invades the public domain inappropriately. Let me give you an example:

You may not enjoy a poem I write raging against someone who offended me in some way, and correctly judge that it is self-expression. You’ll probably dismiss it for what it is (a rant); publishers surely will. What keeps my rant poem out of the publishers’ rejection pile? Working my craft. Working my epiphanies, not just blurting them out.

So if I take that rant, and bump it up to describe a journey from rage to resolution (even if only in my own heart), I enter universal experience, and that should resonate with you. You may not have dealt with the person I’m enraged with, but you have no doubt been enraged by someone else.

The well-crafted poem might give you the shock of recognition, the release valve of insight, possibly even a solution. The glimpse into your own humanity, and the companionship of common struggle might give you relief for the journey. You might just get an epiphany of your own, even some healing for your heart. This is why we need poetry, and this is why I will never stop working the craft.

But I’ll spare you the rants, and other personal expressions, which will stay in the notebooks! Time and place...

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