Suzi Gablik: Artist & Prophet to her own Profession

Recently, when addressing the leaked Roe v Wade document from the Supreme Court, I shared a teaching and video from lawyer Peter Gabel criticizing “originalism” or the philosophy that dominates the current Supreme Court.  I praise Gabel’s work wherein he is criticizing his own profession, the legal profession of today.

Suzi Gablik’s book, The Reenchantment of Art

All of us need to do this: To critique and to offer remedies for our work worlds.  To “reinvent” our work worlds according to values and virtues that we deem most important at this turning point in history.

One person who did that “reinvention of work” in a profound way was Suzi Gablik, an artist and art critic who dared to leave the dominant paradigm of the “modern” art world that flourished in New York City.  Suzi died last week and it seems like an appropriate time to thank her for her work and her courage and vision by remembering it so others, especially the young, can learn from her wisdom.

I should also reveal that we were honored that she taught a course at our University of Creation Spirituality.  It was an art as meditation course entitled “Creating Altars to the Black Madonna.”  I cherish a photo of the work she and her students did and share it here.  

“Altar to the Black Madonna” by Suzi Gablik. From Matthew Fox’s personal collection; the image was used in Gablik’s class on Altars to the Black Madonna at the University of Creation Spirituality.

In her book, The Reenchantment of Art, Gablik offers a stirring challenge to the art world to let go of the modernist values of alienation and social antipathy and to welcome a new vision that will include a sense of community, an ecological perspective, and a deeper understanding of the mythical and archetypal underpinnings of a spiritual life.  Gablik is opting for a creation-centered spiritual renewal of art itself.

She speaks of the previous paradigm of the Enlightenment period and what it has meant to artists: “Individualism, freedom and self-expression are the great modernist buzz words.”  The notion that art could serve collective cultural needs rather than a personal quest for self-expression seems almost “presumptuous” in that world view.  Yet this assumption lies at the base of a paradigm shift in art, a shift ‘from objects to relationships.’ 

She tells us that “the way to prepare the ground for a new paradigm is to make changes in one’s own life.”  Spirituality is about praxis, she is saying, not just theory.  We are to walk our talk and practice what we preach.  

To be continued

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work, p. 208.

Banner Image: Suzi Gablik, Tropism #121972, oil and photomechanical reproductions on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1985.30.17 

Queries for Contemplation

Do you sense a need to turn from an object consciousness to a relationship consciousness?  And from individualism to community? 

Recommended Reading

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

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6 thoughts on “Suzi Gablik: Artist & Prophet to her own Profession”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today our Queries for Contemplation are: “Do you sense a need to turn from an object consciousness to a relationship consciousness?”
    Suzi Gablik says: “The notion that art could serve collective cultural needs rather than a personal quest for self-expression seems almost ‘presumptuous’ in that world view. Yet this assumption lies at the base of a paradigm shift in art, a shift ‘from objects to relationships.” Interestingly enough one of the first expressions of Modern Art in the first part of the 20th century was a movement called “Dada.” Dada artists made what were called “found objects” (Example a discarded urinal put on the wall at a gallery or museum as a “found object.” So yes, I feel there is a need to turn from an object consciousness to a relationship consciousness.
    “Do you sense a need to turn from individualism to community?”
    I feel we need a balance of both individualism and community. In groups as in communities, when the focus is only on the group, the rights of the odd individual are often infringed upon. When what is done for the majority, takes away from the minority or individual–I call that injustice.

  2. Avatar

    ‘Individualism and Community’ reminds me of 20th century physicists’ discovery of the particle/wave ‘duality’. When their research instruments were set up to follow the particle it was there; when the instruments where set up slightly differently the particle manifested as a wave. This was an astonishing discovery at the time. As citizens we live the tension of that ‘duality’: respect for the individual is as necessary as the creation of a healthy viable commons for that individual to thrive. That’s why individuals and corporations pay taxes which can be spent on communal infrastructure. When we invest in communal healthcare and education we create the conditions for individuals to thrive. Politically speaking, the far left commons and the far right individualists are the extremes.

    In response to Matthew’s observation about art: I have always thought that treating art as a financial investment to be monetized over time somehow misses the point.

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    Jeanette Metler

    Years ago, my husband and I created what was called story telling environmental portraiture. The idea of this work was to tell the story of an individual as well as connect this story with the beauty of, and interaction with nature. In this style of portraiture, one wasn’t just sitting there looking at the camera, but rather one was doing something that told a story about who they are, what their passionate about… which was then integrated within the beauty of creation. The interesting thing about doing this artistic work, was that the whole creative process became like a ceremony, in which the client and ourselves colabrogated creatively together to first identify one’s story… and then also select the environmental location that best harmonized with this.

    Interestingly, alot of people required some prompting to tap into their own individuality as well as connecting this with their environment. However, once having engaged with and gone through the creative process with us… revelation of both of these things flourished within their conscious awareness. The photographic images that were created together… became a mirror of reflection, and many saw the beauty of themselves and their stories as well as their connections and relationships to themselves, others and creation… some for the first time in a long time… while for others this deepened in new ways.

    One particular womens experience with us comes to my remembrance. Her story at this point in her souls journey was about overcoming the battle of having breast cancer. She had to have a mastectomy, so the new story was accepting, appreciating and loving herself and her body, as a woman, as it was now. So I painted her body, with body paints, looking at the images that revealed themselves in her scares. I saw a dragonfly, and flowering vines, so that’s what I painted on her body. Then we took her outside, at night and she danced around a fire, while we photographed her. The next day we took her out in nature, to a beautiful waterfall, and she immersed herself in the flowing cascade, washing away all the body paints. We created a slide show to music, as well as an album of the photographic images we had created and she then shared this with other women, at a cancer survivor conference. The beauty for us, as photographic artists was to be the facilatators and mentors of the whole ceremonial, transformational process.

    Interestingly as well, my husband won the Portrait Photographer of the Year award, within the Professional Photographers of Canada, as a result of sharing this reinvention of portraiture within this national organization.

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      Damian Maureira

      Yes, Matthew, one of the main reasons modern ‘man’ (especially men) and our historical patriarchy with its’ toxic masculine values has developed so many societal problems and ecological destructiveness up to the present day, is its’ ignorant and individualistic/limited consciousness negatively influencing our separation from the awareness of the Presence of the Sacred within ourselves, with one another, with Mother Earth and All Her creatures, with the spiritual interdimensions of our ancestors/saints/beings/angels, and with our multiverse creative/evolving Cosmos…. Fortunately we also have a spiritual mystical tradition (including the Indigenous peoples, artists, and many good ancestors, especially women) up to the present day who continue to inspire us with Faith~Hope~Love in God’s Living Loving Creative Spirit within and among us in our relations, Mother Nature, and the Living multidimensions and multiverse co-Creative Cosmos — Cosmic Christ Consciousness…. Even modern quantum physics is discovering what our universal mystics have experienced and taught us about our eternal souls and Creation on our spiritual journeys — we’re all interconnected/interdependent. Spiritually, God Is All In All, Diverse Loving Oneness….

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    Mortimer Steve

    I am saddened to hear of Suzi,s passing. I read this wonderful book many years ago and found it to be a truly visionary book on what art and artists are.
    I am sure like so many mystics her work will morph into our souls.

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