Monday, January 10, 2011

"Know Thyself" The most important art lesson of all

According to the 2nd century AD  Greek traveler and writer Pausanias, there was an important inscription on the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi. The inscription could be read by anyone who came on their long religious pilgrimage searching for answers and a look into the future. The inscription read: γνῶθι σεαυτόν "Gnothi Seauton" In Latin it would be "Nosce te Impsum" or "Temet Nosce" which translated to English means: "Know Thyself". This aphorism appeared on an inscription over the Oracle's door in the Matrix film series.

  Over 18 centuries later many philosophical schools commemorate these words of wisdom. As an artist, a self-portrait comes to mind. Many artists in the past were aware of the importance of knowing oneself, not just on the outside but in the inside as well. At the moment we create art, we make a psychological self-portrait, whether we are aware of it or not.  By being aware of it, the creative act can become an act of healing and self-realization.  It is to no surprise that the famous inscription "Know Thyself" would be found on the ancient temple to the god Apollo, god of healing, inspiration and solar illumination. The inscription did not end there and there would be no room for misunderstanding as the complete sentence would read: "Know thyself and thou shalt know all the mysteries of the gods and the Universe." (Σαυτὸν γνοὺς καὶ πάντα γνώσει τὰ τῶν θεῶν τε καὶ τοῦ κόσμου μυστήρια).

Ancient temple at Delphi, Greece

There is much wisdom in these words and when one reflects on the Hermetic philosophy of correspondences, everything comes together making perfect sense. The Hermetic axiom "As above, so below" refers to the relation between the stars and the heavens with man and Earth. We are a microcosmic reflection of the microcosmic Universe. If we study and learn more from ourselves, we will surely know more about the Universe as a whole. If the practice of astrology has been seen for centuries as the alchemy of the stars and alchemy as the astrology of earthly materials then we may say that by knowing ourselves we will know more about the gods. In a way the gods live in us and its up to us to discover them by looking deep within ourselves.. Call them gods, great spirits, archetypal energies, they are very real and are as much alive in us as they are in the whole Universe. God is the many in one and the one in many. God cannot be limited by one number, therefore God and gods are in my view essentially the same.

"A tribute to Venus: Peace and Love"  By Patrick McGrath Muñiz 
24" x 26" Oil and gold leaf on carved wood 2010
Work Available at Mindy Solomon Gallery, St Pete, FL

When it comes to the so called "Contemporary art world" I have to wonder how much are contemporary artists aware of  their own identity.  How often do they question who they are, their past and where they come from?  Plagued by a consumerist trend driven society and a sensationalist media culture mentality , what many call "contemporary art" seems to be playing the same illusory capitalist game of fame and fortune that determines whats "in" and whats "passe". They use prejudiced modernist assumptions of whats contemporary and whats not. "Originality" has lost its original meaning when its associated with hyped ultra-sensational shocking and disturbingly unique works that cry out for media attention. Spanish Architect Antoni Gaudi would have known better. "Originality" derives from the word "Origin". Originality is a search for our origins, it is to know who we are and where we come from.  Originality is also about questioning the hidden presumptions about ourselves. History is constantly revised.

"Divine Inspiration" by Patrick Mcgrath Muñiz
23" x 15" Egg Tempera on amate paper 2010

What are the artist's motivations in art and in life? Is he or she doing art  to gain celebrity status, or for the money (must be crazy), to "fit in" or be different, "original", create controversy and call the attention of the masses? Consider these questions. An artist who's just looking for recognition will have great disappointments in life when their work is rejected at an art show or when their Warholian "15 minutes of fame" are over.  On the other hand if you make art because it calls you, because you feel deeply inspired or because there is an important mission you must carry out, those gods within you will guide you. If you make art in order to understand the meaning of life, the Universe will open up to you. Art created for deeper convictions other than to please the public and profit will have a much larger reward in the long run, keeping the artist's work alive in history.

Detail of "A Tribute to Venus: Peace and Love" by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
Work available at Mindy Solomon Gallery, St Pete, Fl

2010 had many lessons for me as an artist. All of my experiences in art have been good because even those one could call "bad" aren't because they taught me something valuable. We learn from our mistakes and we are learning from experiences all the time.   Every experience in the life of an artist becomes a lesson when you think about it. From all the lessons I have learned so far I'm convinced there is a Master lesson above the rest.This Master lesson applies not only to art but to life as a whole. I still find myself learning from it everyday. The Master lesson is: "Know thyself". Because if you do, you will create art that is true to yourself and at the right time you will choose the right gallery, get into the right shows and even if you are not chosen or win any award, you will be happy because you know who you are and you know how good you are and you will just keep making art.  There will be no doubt in your mind that you were born for this. 

"Arcana 21"  by Patrick McGrath Muñiz
18" x 24" Oil on canvas 2010

I agree one should not make art to "fit in" but I think it is important to visualize yourself in the right places and with the right people, the ones you identify the most. If you study yourself long enough, you will notice that there is progress  in your work every, month, every year, every decade. Whenever I think of what lies ahead of me, I am very pleased because it keeps me focused. I try to do better each time and compare myself not with others but with myself before and I know when Im getting better. Dont' expect outside support and approval. Find it in yourself. By knowing yourself you also see your own limitations. You will eventually find ways of dealing with and overcoming those limitations. But remember: If you truly know yourself, you will know that the gods live within you. The Universe will open up to you if you take time to really know who you are and with the gods on your side, there are no limitations.