Art is the Fabric of Imagination
Brett Bevell is a poet, spoken-word performance artist, and author of several books, including America Needs a Buddhist President, a poem that initially aired nationwide on NPR’s All Things Considered. As a writer, he sees his own journey with art interwoven with a personal journey of self healing. Here, he reveals how art is a catalyst of transformation and connection.
Art is the fabric of imagination that connects us with everything—everything that is, everything that was, and everything we are capable of being. It is the ultimate transformer and a powerful healer. Through art, we see ourselves, recreate ourselves, and often discover truths that otherwise would remain foreign.
As a writer, my own journey with art has been forever interwoven with my journey of self healing. In college, I majored in creative writing and wrote stories in an attempt to comprehend my own family. And though the stories themselves remain unpublished, it was through the process of wrestling with my family demons on paper that I eventually came to know myself in a deeper way and become free from the ancestral streams of dysfunction that had been the primary gestalt of my family for generations. Yes, I did go to therapy and access other forms of healing along the way, but that inner drive to re-work my life on paper is what I credit as having renewed my sense of self, and gave birth to something in my consciousness far beyond the cumulative actions of my history.
At Omega Institute, where I have worked for more than a decade, I have come to see the transformation of many individuals through their work in creative media—whether as painters, songwriters, poets, photographers, filmmakers, or simply working with one’s hands to craft a new chair or bench. The slow sweet syrup that is the healing elixir within art is often not directly about the object that is being created, but in the act of creation itself. For me, that most often happens through writing, but I have seen those changes occur also within others through various forms of media.
A number of years ago, I taught a poetry writing workshop at Omega Institute called Alchemy of the Word. There was one woman who came to my class each year, perhaps because she felt it was a kind of therapy for her, or perhaps she just liked the work we were doing. Although the classes were always small, each year she would sign up and be my most devoted student. I often felt during these classes that she was reinventing her life, unleashing anger that had been repressed, reclaiming joy that had been disowned, and giving voice to an aspect of her consciousness that had never been heard. Whether she will ever win the Pushcart Prize for her poems or be published in a literary magazine doesn’t matter, because over the years I saw her life transform. I noticed how often she would write about things that some might call imaginary, mythological beings, unicorns, fairies, angels, and those aspects of the collective unconscious that we so often ignore, but which pen and paper now allowed her to view as worthy of her attention.
I no longer teach the poetry workshop, but I frequently see her posts on Facebook. Now, she paints. The images she creates are those same mythological beings. And in her photographs, she often includes herself standing next to her paintings, sometimes at a gallery where her work is being sold. Her smile is radiant. The anger seems gone, and the clarity in her eyes is of one who has found her true calling.
The power of art to heal is undoubted. Art transforms, and yet it also connects. When I think about the power of art, I often think of the visionary art of Alex Grey, and the many lines of light that emanate across the canvasses of his paintings, like the lines of light spoken about in the string theory of modern physics. The lines of light in Alex Grey’s paintings often remind me of art itself, how art connects and weaves the gestalt of our human experience into something whole—how, like the strings in string theory, it holds the entire universe together.
I used to jokingly say to myself when going to school for my graduate degree in Interdisciplinary Art that art was the mother of all religion. By that phrase I meant that art allowed the viewing of our higher self, whether that is the higher self of society, the higher self of an individual artist or the individual person witnessing a work or art, or the higher spiritual realms depicted in the beautiful artistic creations of the many spiritual traditions of the world.
Through the act of creating, we align ourselves with the creative principles of the universe, whether one calls that creator God, Goddess, Jehovah, chi, quantum light, The Big Bang, or the Buddha. We become free enough to dispel the social expectations put upon us by our well-meaning family, friends, teachers, and coworkers, and sit still with that explosive and expanded Yes of creating that can change our lives forever. And in that creative act, sometimes we get lost, our old self dies, and a new one rises up like a phoenix.