As part of the Via Creativa that leads to the Via Transformativa we are addressing the important question: Who is an artist?  Yesterday we meditated on the powerful definition of artist offered by Otto Rank, one of great souls of the twentieth century who has been, belatedly, acknowledged as the father of the humanistic psychology movement (that includes such notables as Rollo May, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers). 

“Depression” Photo by Sander Weeteling on Unsplash

I propose that in his understanding of artist as “one who wants to leave behind a gift” Rank was proposing a radical democratization of art.  Art and creativity are so integral to our humanity that to ignore it (or teach others to ignore it) is the cause of many of our sicknesses.

In his effort to heal peoples’ psychological wounds Rank proposed that the very meaning of neurosis is the artiste manqué.  Namely, that being cut off from healthy self-expression we take our considerable powers of imagination and turn them onto ourselves to bring up all the bad news we have ever heard—from parents perhaps or teachers or clergy or culture in general (original sin anyone?) and play those tapes over and over, thus employing our creativity not to leave gifts behind for others but to beat ourselves up with.

Rank was sexually abused as a boy by an uncle and in his teen-age years he attempted suicide.  He wrote in his journal the next day: “I must either commit suicide or give birth every day.”  Thus he was committed to the Via Creativa his whole life.  He derived his philosophy from his Jewish heritage and the teaching in Deuteronomy 30:19:  “I put before you life and death.  Choose life.” 

“Emergence.” Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

For Rank, “choosing life” meant choosing to give birth.  Every day.  That is how central the Via Creativa was to his work and to his survival.  Is this true for us also?

Rank was eager to heal peoples’ sickness and neuroses and was convinced that creativity was the way.  He even saw his work as a therapist to be a work of art—a creative relationship with the client born of give and take and shared story telling and not as some kind of know-it-all fatherly figure giving answers born of a rigid ideology as Freud had proposed.

Art heals. Creativity heals.  Is it any wonder then that “art is the way of the prophets” and that art as meditation is so central a form of meditation if one is to contribute to transforming both self and society?

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Otto Rank on the Artistic Journey as a Spiritual Journey and the Spiritual Journey as an Artistic Journey,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, 199-213. 

See Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.

Banner Image: “Cloudy Day Singer, London, UK” Photo by Maaria Lohiya on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Rank’s understanding of neurosis being the “artist Manque” holds lots of implications for self and society, don’t you agree?  What are some of those implications?  How does your experience—both individual and community-wise– confirm or add to his insight?

To “choose life” for Rank means to choose to give birth.  Do you agree?  Is that your experience also?

Recommended Reading

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages in substantive discussions with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets on today’s social and spiritual issues on such challenging topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interspirituality, and more.

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.

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