In democratizing the meaning of artist Rank was by no means oblivious of those with artistic talent who play a special role in culture. After all, he was well acquainted with the “art world” thriving in Paris in the thirties where he lived in exile from his Freudian circle back in Vienna, and from which he was ostracized after criticizing Freud for, among other things, committing reductionism on the artist (though he and Freud continued to keep up a lively correspondence for years, a correspondence that is now published in English.)
In fact, his circle of friends and clients included many artists including Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin (who was once a patient of his and then a lover, and who wrote the Foreword to the current edition of Art and Artist.)
In his classic work on Art and Artist—a book that Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer prizewinning book The Denial of Death, called the most important book of his life—Rank, in his prophetic way, criticizes the elitism of modern art that has so often sold its soul to an ideology of the individual. He cautions:
The art-manias of modern society, with their overvaluing of the arts, indicates a decline of real artistic vigour, which is only speciously covered over by the last flicker of a snobbish enthusiasm.
He believed passionately that the future belonged to those who devote their creativity to social transformation:
The creative type who can renounce this protection by art and can devote his whole creative force to life and the formation of life will be the first representative of the new human type.
He believes it is the fear of life that has “led to the substitution of artistic production for life, and to the eternalization of the all-too-mortal ego in a work of art.”
Rank proposes that the average person “largely subordinates himself, both socially and biologically, to the collective” while the neurotic shuts himself deliberately off from both social and biological connections.
But the “productive type finds a middle way, which is expressed in ideological experience and personal creativity.” But there is suffering involved for finding this balance “is difficult, impermanent, and in all circumstances painful.”
It is important that we be reminded of the suffering and even sacrifice that creativity often demands of us (the cross?). Loneliness happens.
But in this Via Negativa much new is shuffled and let go of, born and re-born, and thus creativity and the Spirit emerge to remind us that we are co-creators made in the image and likeness of God. And the Spirit can make “all things new.”
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: “The Starry Night,” one of the world’s best-loved and most-recognized paintings in Western culture, was one of a number of works created during Van Gogh’s stay in the asylum at Saint-Remy de Provence following his breakdown and self-mutilation. From the Museum of Modern Art, through Google Art Project. Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
“The productive type finds a middle way” Rank observes. Is that you? Is that us? What is that “middle way”? Is it being both mystic and prophet, lover and warrior? Taster of the suffering of the world that touches us so deeply and birther of art and alternatives?
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.
This is a book of meditations on the Cosmic Christ, accompanying the images of 16 wonderful clay tablets by Javier Ullrrich Lemus and M.C. Richards. Together, these images and meditations go far beyond the traditional Stations of the Cross to inspire a spirit awakening and understanding of the cosmic Christ Consciousness, Buddha consciousness, and consciousness of the image of God in all beings, so needed in our times.