Art, Interdependence, Compassion, the Feminine

Suzi Gablik believes that to bring interdependence back is to bring the feminine back: 

“What is Art for?” Suzi Gablik speaks on the artist’s responsibility in these increasingly chaotic times. Audio recording by Damir Strmel

To see our interdependence and interconnectedness is the feminine perspective that has been missing, not only in our scientific thinking and policy-making, but in our aesthetic philosophy as well.

Of course, another word for interdependence is compassion.  Compassion is a living out of our interdependence, the joys we share and the suffering we share and celebrating the former while working to heal the latter, especially by standing up to structures of injustice.

Dorothee Soelle made a similar observation when she praised mysticism as a way to deconstruct Patriarchy or toxic masculinity.  She writes that feminist theology is 

another way of thinking of transcendence.  Transcendence is no longer to be understood as being independent of everything and ruling over everything else, but rather as being bound up in the web of life….That means that we move from God-above-us to God-within-us and overcome false transcendence hierarchically conceived.

Dorothee Soelle. Photographer unknown.

Thus Soelle can say that mysticism “comes closest to overcoming the hierarchical masculine concept of God.”  There is a 

mystical certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God [that] grows when we ourselves become one with love by placing ourselves, freely and without guarantee of success, on the side of love. 

Many artists are opting out of the art-for-art’s-sake mentality—the consumer mentality—to rediscover art as a spiritual discipline, a way of regenerating a lifeless culture.  The new cosmology reminds us that instead of art being for art’s sake, art is for creativity’s sake, that is, for the sake of evolving and healing people and the Earth ‘that the people (all creation) might live,’ as Native Americans pray. 

“M.C. Richards: The Fire Within” is an adventure into discovering the source of our creativity told through the life of Mary Caroline Richards (1916-1999). Video by Richard Kane.

Another artist who speaks to these important topics of the role of art and artist in healing culture is poet, philosopher, potter and visual artist, M. C. Richards.  She too was on our faculty at ICCS and the University of Creation Spirituality for many years and she also was a friend of Suzi Gablik. 

She says that art refines perception and that “perception itself yields moral insight,” for compassion “is a mode of perception.”  True art develops our moral capacity: From the child’s capacity to imagine grows as well the adult’s capacity for compassion: The ability to picture the suffering of others, to identify. 

Art is not meant to be a “trade” but a “spiritual discipline,” an “absolute and primal encounter to which we must devotedly surrender.” 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work, pp. 210f and pp. 214f.

Also Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 277f.

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

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Lady Justice” by visual artist Kim Vanderheiden, removing the traditional blindfold and sword to offer a more compassionate icon. Learn more HERE.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Gablik that interdependence is a feminine perspective?  Do you recognize art as a “spiritual discipline” to which one “devotedly surrenders?”  What follows from that?

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

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

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.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

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10 thoughts on “Art, Interdependence, Compassion, the Feminine”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, You ask us today in our Queries for Contemplation: “Do you agree with Gablik that interdependence is a feminine perspective?”
    Yes, when you think of John Wayne and the Marlboro Man–they represent masculine individualism or self-dependence. “I don’t need your help! I can do it myself!” But as Gablik says, “To see our interdependence and interconnectedness is the feminine perspective that has been missing…” And I also see Dorothee Soelle’s point of transcendence as “power over” and “separate from”–which is both hierarchical with no reference to interdependence. And as you have always said, Matthew, interdependence means compassion which means suffering with and that is what the Via Transformativa is all about.
    “Do you recognize art as a ‘spiritual discipline’ to which one ‘devotedly surrenders?'”
    Art is one of my primary forms of spiritual discipline. I paint, write, sing and play music, and write books.
    “What follows from that?”
    It makes me feel whole, like I’m using all of myself and all of my gifts.

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    I really appreciate the new perspective of linking interdependence with compassion… as not only suffering with, but I might also add to this… a willingness to alleviate another’s suffering in whatever creative and imaginative way that one can. Personally for myself, there’s a necessary balance of both the feminine and masculine aspects of self involved in this.

    I totally recognize art as a spiritual discipline. Creating art is a way of deepening one’s connection with Spirit. What follows from engaging in the creation of art as a spiritual discipline, is an awakening to one’s intuitive gifts. There’s a dialogue that takes place between the artist and Spirit… which leads oneself to hearing that small still voice within… in a unique language communicated through shape, form, colour, texture, imagery, imagination, movement, symbols and metaphor… that tell there own stories… offering insight, revelation and wisdom from some kind of deep well… that does indeed flow with living water. Throughout this process… one learns to surrender control… to simply let go… to let oneself be led, to wherever the Spirit desires.

    This dialogue, continues to unfold, evolve and emerge… not only during the creative artistic act itself… but long after… as one gazes, reflects, meditates and contemplates upon the the art created. It lives on, if you will… still giving voice to its deep and hidden meanings.

  3. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew and Richard for your focus on the deep soul role of the artist.

    Art as a spiritual discipline is generated from the intersection of matter [mater] and spirit. Both female and male artists have tapped into this intersection. I remember being dazzled by Leonard Shlain’s insights in his book Art and Physics [1991]. He points out that the view that art interprets the visible world and physics charts its unseen workings makes the dual realms seem completely opposed. Then Shlain tracks art and science breakthroughs side by side throughout history to reveal an astonishing correlation of visions. From classical Greek sculptors to Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, and from Aristotle to Einstein, he shows that artists have foreshadowed the discoveries of scientists, such as when Monet and Cezanne intuited the coming upheaval in physics that Einstein would initiate. This raises the question: what have the artists, poets and musicians of recent decades been predicting about our current global dystopian ‘black hole’? A Canadian Jewish musician Leonard Cohen wrote his prophetic song The Future in the 1970s.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, Your comment really hit me when you wrote that not only have artists foreshadowed some of the discoveries of scientists–such as Monet and Cezanne’s intuition of the “New Physics”–“what have the artists, poets and musicians of recent decades been predicting about our current global dystopian ‘black hole’?” and thanks for sharing the Cohen song!

  4. Avatar
    Damian Maureira

    As the mystics, contemplatives, Indigenous, some artists, and all truly spiritual people, especially loving/mothering females, from our past and present have experienced and taught us, the Loving Wisdom Creative Spirit is within and among us in our relations, Mother Earth and all Her Creatures and abundance, the spiritual multidimensions, and All of God’s ongoing co-Creation~Evolution…. We also must continue to be aware/conscious of this Loving~Wisdom~
    Creative Presence Within and among us to be One, compassionate, flowing with-in this Spirit on our spiritual journeys in our daily human lives with one another. Thus our ordinary lives are healed, purified, and transformed to be able to experience, perceive, and compassionately Be~Becoming the extraordinary in the Queendom~Kingdom of our Loving Creator/ the Divine Diverse Loving Oneness/ Cosmic Christ Consciousness on the eternal spiritual journeys of our souls in the Eternal Now….

  5. Avatar

    So – some artists are just doing it. For delight and surprise and for sharing.
    Between the Ottawa River Parkway and the mile wide Ottawa River lies a 15-20 acre scruffy, overgrown patch of trees and shrubs. A local Ottawa artist,Maggie Glossop, turned this neglected woodland into a magical winter forest with the introduction of her whimsical ‘snow-bears’ , small white creatures hiding in the forest, climbing trees, leaning on benches, or having a snooze on branches along a pathway. This to the delight and enchantment of covid-home-bound children (of all ages) suffering through the doldrums of endless Ottawa winters.
    There was no advertising, nothing for sale, not even any suggestion of who the artist might be. It was a gift of spontaneous joy to the community, one all the dearer for knowing the creatures couldn’t last but would melt away by March.
    The snow bears made my grandchildren laugh and jump and run, race to see if they could spot another bear. Shout with glee, ‘I found one!’
    Maggie remained anonymous until a small neighborhood paper wrote an article about her. A friend and I were lucky to encounter her one afternoon,making repairs to her little bears after a recent thaw. A smiling, gleeful person.
    I’ll try sending the article, probably separately- I’m pretty cyber-challenged.

  6. Avatar

    Art as a spiritual discipline also involves those who are not so creative but who can appreciate the gifts of others. A few years ago, Richard Rohr included in a Daily Meditation summary the practice of visio divina. You all are probably familiar with this, but it was new to me and very powerful. It is the practice of lectio divina applied to the visual arts, but it can also be applied to music and other forms of creativity. I felt transported when doing it. At least one musician, Jon Batiste, has described his music as a spiritual practice for him and his audiences. That deep connection that artists make with us is transforming. And I agree that Leonard Cohen was a prophet extraordinaire. I am beyond grateful for those who reach out to touch our souls.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, Thank you so much for sharing the practice of “visio divina” with us on the comment page !!!

  7. Avatar
    Kelly M. Sisson

    Thank you for this. Learning of Suzi’s death last week has been another loss to creative communities. I imagine she and MC, two of my sheroes are stirring up some good trouble.

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