Thinking About – What art will we leave behind?

Thinking About – What art will we leave behind?

This article really continues the theme set by a recent post about a moment that changed modern Paganism.

If the publication of Triumph of the Moon gave modern Pagans the permission to accept that our path was relatively new, that the stories we had been told of a surviving ancient Witch Cult by the likes of Margaret Murray (her terminology, not mine) weren’t based on fact, but were more hopeful creations, then we are indeed right at the beginning of something vibrant, magical, and potent. The squabbles people see, either in groups, or on the internet, are a part of a new path finding its feet (even though they can be quite upsetting and destructive).

It took a while for people to accept this, and some still hold on to the ‘unbroken lineage’ thing, and in some ways that’s quite ok, because although the path may be cracked, and in places you’ll find quite large areas where the path completely disappears, the inspiration, the stories, the poetry of Bards who lived at least 1400 years ago, and who wrote about places, Gods, and heroes whose names maybe, just maybe, would have been known and understood by those we call the ancient Druids, is still there. And what is definitely still there is the Book of Nature, giving all of the lessons and wisdom that could be learnt in a lifetime.

How exciting is that!

A week or so ago me and Cerri watched a TV program called Civilisations. We watched the first episode when it was on TV, then at the end the announcer said that the rest of the series was already on iPlayer and could be watched right now. So we engaged in that now common practice – we made some tea, and binged the entire series.

It was great. It showed the changes in art throughout the many civilisations that had come to the fore since the Neolithic. From cave painting, to the Sistine Chapel, and it got me thinking. If, as I said in that previous article, we will one day be the ancient ancestors, and one day what we now know as a young spirituality, will indeed be an ancient Paganism, what art are we creating? What art are we leaving to show future generations how we saw the world?

I think many of us found our Pagan paths through the New Age movement back in the 80s and 90s and as I think back I remember that it was the art of two painters whose vision of the magical world reached right into my heart and soul. They were Peter Pracownik, and Andrew Forrest. I looked at their work and the images just drew me into another world. I could feel that the magic within their art was all around me, in the trees, plants and the landscape, and I have no doubt that the worlds created by Peter and Andrew helped me with my creative visualisation, and thus my inner Journeying.

Later on I was enchanted by the art of Cornish artist Sarah Vivian. For many years she would be an exhibitor at the Pagan Federation Devon and Cornwall conference, and each time I had a new CD out we would do a swap of CD for print. I have her prints, and a large Peter Pracownik print on the walls of my studio, and they give me constant inspiration. All I need to do is look into their frames, and I find myself once more lost in a world of magic and wonder.

Last year during my time spent at PSG in the USA I was introduced to the work of  Laura Tempest Zakroff. Very different work from Peter and Andrew, but just as potent. I can imagine some of Laura’s art being discovered on the walls of ancient caves in the year 3000.

And of course there is the art from my wife Cerri, who has designed the album art for all of my CDs since Herne’s Apprentice, and also created the “Herne Horns’ design I have used as my logo since then on various albums, my website, and my guitar picks. A logo that has been used as tattoos, on lingerie (honestly), and at one event she met a man who asked why she had copied the logo and it was copyright. It turned out that one of his Coveners had done the copying, and told the group it was his design. Her clay sculptures sit upon the altars of Pagans across the world, and her silver and bronze clay jewellery is also to be seen around the necks of many magical folk.

There are loads more. Paganism does inspire the creative soul that’s for sure. But I wonder how our art will survive over the coming centuries. And not just our art, but our music, and books. If there are still documentary programs being made in the year 3000 (maybe being transmitted directly into our heads by then…) what might they make of the art left behind by the ancient Pagans of the year 2000? Will they care? Will any survive? Might it be that the lust for new stuff and upgrades means that each new generation will leave the old stuff behind, and simply go for the new? If indeed there is such a thing as reincarnation, will I return and see one of Cerri’s sculptures as an exhibit in the British Museum? Or an ancient Peter Pracownik original being carefully restored for the ‘Tate 3000 Exhibition of Pagan Art from the Ancient World’? It’s interesting to consider this. What of our traditions’ art may survive? What will we leave to show the people of the future how we saw the world?

9 responses to “Thinking About – What art will we leave behind?”

  1. Now this speaks to me, as an artist. I imagine, if my art is found in 200 years, and it has not been painted over or has dimmed too much, they will see a wild array of animals in brilliant, primal colors; passionately drawn and lividly painted onto the canvas in hues and close-ups that only make their messages more clear. People would look and wonder at the emotion sketched so evidently at my painters hands.

  2. A marvellous and very thought provoking article Dave. I watched the Civilisations progs too and thought similar things. I have no doubt that just as the music of the classical composers and old Blues men and women is still played and enjoyed today no doubt in 100 years people will be listening to your Cds and the likes of the Dolmen and Inkies – although by then Goddess knows what technology they will have! Peter and Andrews prints and postcards adorned my house in the 90’s and only last year a friend of mine was staying at Peters after the Fairport Croperdy festival and when I mentioned seeing an original of his Dragon Tarot painting in Tintagel back in 94 to my mate Peter sent me the very same Tarot deck! I also adore the art of Anne Sudworth who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Whitby Goth weekend 3 years ago and she gave me some free cards – as indeed I still have the plectrum you gave me years ago!

  3. I find it wonderful that you and your partners art has been and is so inspirational that so many of us ‘use’ it to set or guide our own pagan observance!
    My toast or prayer or greatest hope is that we all leave this leave by making some imprint, some art, a speech, a poem, or a song that will be remembered.
    Then do we ever truly ‘die’?

  4. What a fascinating topic! Our art is ephemeral. My partner and I make jewelry, spirit dolls, talismans, drawings, etc, and we know they’re not at all likely to survive fifty years let alone a thousand–but then longevity isn’t what we’re after. Our Pagan arts are meant for very practical immediate benefits, usually protection but often for connections to specific spirits as well.

    That said, my most treasured Pagan artwork is a reproduction of the Venus of Willendorf (talk about longevity!), and the art book which has inspired me the most is “The Once and Future Goddess” by Elinor W. Gadon, followed closely by Marija Gimbutas’ groundbreaking “The Language of the Goddess.” Gadon basically pulled together and summarized Gimbutas’s research from several books and brought it forward to the present day with loads of gorgeous color photos.

    My approach to music is similar to my approach to art–practical and immediate. I actively use Pagan music in my work (including yours) because it helps me connect to Spirit and keep that connection despite distractions. Will they be singing your songs a thousand years from now, will I recognize it when I come back? I hope so, I really do! And in the meantime, I treasure it for what it does right here and now. 🙂

  5. Remember to consider that in our time much of the “art” available to the masses is “art-like” pretty mass produced stuff. Even an aspiring artist can print beautiful photo realistic art at home on their printer and much of the ‘sacred’ ephemera like god statues and altar accesseries are mass produced ( often in developing or exploted countries with poor worker protection, unsafe conditionad and with non bio degradable plastics and materials ) and bought for very little.
    COMPARED with art and tools of our ancestors.

    In the beginning of humans existance time was precious and most all of it was spent foraging and crafting the essential things needed for survival. As an archaeologist we know that the measure of an early culture’s success can be seen in the increasing ammount of non essential design and decoration on essential tools and items for survival, and the increasing availability of items purely for decoration.

    When your very survival depends on crafting with no powered tools and gathering everything you need to eat, be defended, have shelter and warmth then any time spent on non essentials is dangerous and possibly detrimental to the survival of the entire group.

    This is why so much early art is catagorised as ‘sacred’ – the only thing compelling enough to compeate with time making survival subsistence is spirit matters.

    In this day, even the poorest among modern pagans in the Western world can afford all kinds of art, music, mass produced figure decor , robes, athames, wands – you name it. – and much of it is disposable and often replaced with the next interesting piece that catches the eye – or imaginaiton.

    This is a stark contrast to the relationship our anscestors had with art and sacred art.

    I worry that we will leave an indecipherable trash heap of disposable ‘pretty art-like things’ that once caught the eye and were just as easily replaced with the next thing.

    Yes – there are some amazing and tallented artists and artisans in the modern pagan community – but there is so much other pagan attractive stuff out there, it can ger lost.

    Perhaps we should considerthis other aspect of the legacy that Pagan art is leaving too.

    Let us all ponder this excellent quesiton that Damh has highlighted.

  6. What a thought provoking article! Thank you for sharing! It also begs us to speak to the idea of how we present ourselves and handle disagreements and the like, and how will history look back on us- not only in regards to art and religion, but also as a community. It encourages me to uncover another layer of my own art as well. Thanks again!

  7. As always, a fascinating and stimulating post. It set me off on a slightly tangential line of thought, partly linked to what Dr Jennifer McCorkell says above about the importance of the act of creation of art.

    My own attempts at “art” include painting (very badly) but my real passion is for singing/playing “live” and listening to others perform live. Many of the songs I sing myself are narrative ballads that started life hundreds of years ago but the wonderful thing about songs is that, each time you sing one, it’s being created anew. I also find myself making up the occasional song, though, in my own mind, I look on this “song-writing” as “finding” the song rather than actually writing it. (I’ve felt this ever since I came across the term “Trouvere” which was the Northern French equivalent of a Troubadour.) I look on what I’m doing as finding the songs somewhere in the flow of Awen and solidifying them for a moment before releasing them back in an audible form.

    The wonderful thing about songs, music and story-telling as art is that it’s living. Whilst capturing it on CD or vinyl may preserve it, it is, to my mind, the equivalent of taking a butterfly, killing it and pinning it to a board to admire it rather than watching it fly past. (I love the expression I once heard that “songs are like butterflies that fly from heart to heart”.) As I see it, the real value of the “consumption” of art is in its ability to act as a stimulus to your own creativity but the magic comes from participating in the act of creation itself.

    • Thank you Steve T for sharing your insights. Love your quote on butterlies and songs. I agree with your idea that every time you perform a piece of music, live, it is being created anew. A really powerful idea.

      In that sense perhaps there is a difference between the art of song and music and physical art.

      The general idea behind creating physical art is to make manifest the mysterious, intangible qualities of life into something tangible – and by doing that, a ‘snapshot’ of the artist’s idea, interpretation, concept, person etc is frozen in time – for as long as the piece exists.

      Historically some cultures feel that this is so powerful they have taboos on what you can depict in art, such as the human face or form or certain sacred symbols or images. In modern times we still see some cultures who wish not to be photographed as they beleive the physical photo will capture a piece of their spirit or life force within it; or believe at least if you are photographed or painted the entire body must be shown and no part cut off.

      We live in an age of plenty- technology has allowed us to create an image quickly and reproduce and distribute it with little cost. The propagation of images and ideas has never been faster. We have near instant access to many of these things. A person can order a piece of ‘sacred’ pagan themed art or ritual item from Amazon and have it delivered same day or next day.

      Because of this lack of feeling of permanence, of the disposability of things – how many sacred pieces of today’s ‘art’ and sacred objects will be cherished generationally- passed down from grandmother, to mother to daughter and beyond ?

      My post feels a bit cynical, but I am not meaning to imply that the new ‘pagan’ community dosent have access to real art or suffer a lack of inspired and tallented artists. Rather I hope to encourage people to think about the things they purchase or collect and adorn their homes and sacred spaces with.

      The pagan community is growing and consumer retail has stepped up to cater to this powerful market.
      In modern paganism’s young rush to obtain all the “things” many feel they need to be seen to have, wear, ritual with, proclaim their identity as pagans with – we have created a huge demand for affordable and easily obtainable ‘art like things’. We have also created a growing waste pit of these once sacred items.

      It will be necessary for the pagan community to evaluate how they decide what is art. What is sacred art. And if fast and affordable art – no matter how beautiful – really represents what the pagan community is trying to capture with it.

      And most importantly – how we view and support our sacred artists whose work is the genuine result of Awen and thier will and tallent combigned to capture aspects of the mysterious for us.

  8. Like you I love the artwork of both Peter and Andrew. I have known Peter for a very long time, actually from his Glastonbury days and went to his first ever exhibition in Bristol. He was so worried that nobody would turn up, so we went along for moral support and treated ourselves to an original painting, (we ate light for the rest of that month) but it was so worth it. On speaking to him a few weeks later he told me that he had sold all of his paintings!
    Peter has always inspired me, and now as I walk the path of a pagan artist I can look back and tell him that he is responsible! (He’s got to be responsible for something) perhaps many years from now a piece of broken glass may be found in a sacred site that I had painted and would be treated as archeological find…never know!

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