I just issued a challenge to the TAFA Team (TAFA's members selling on Etsy) to explore the theme of "Invoking the Muse" in blog posts, treasuries and in any other way they can think of. As I chewed on what that meant for myself, I thought about two things:
- The creative place is an altered one, the closest I experience as described by mystics who engage in prayer or meditation.
- That altered state is often enhanced by our "friends": alcohol, caffeine, sugar, nicotine or other mood alterants.
Why? Maybe because he only slept four hours a night, added sugar to his coca-cola and drank chicory coffee all day and night. He produced so much work that his wife laid down the law and allowed one piece in the house and the rest had to be outside. That led to outdoor sculptures, the creation of Paradise Garden, and his growth into a tourist attraction, much to the chagrin of his neighbors.
In his book, "Howard Finster", JF Turner, addresses this question of altered states among artists. He quotes Dr, Dean Edell, to whom he showed samples of Howard's work:
"If I knew nothing about this man and just looked at his art, I wouldn't be surprised to find that this person was a chain smoker and a coffee drinker. Nicotine and caffeine have synergistic effects on the body and the mental state. In one test where nicotine was given by injection and not identified, many of the subjects throught it was cocaine. Nicotine is a very strong "upper" that has effects on the mind that are only now being unraveled...
... You don't have to look deep or hard in art history to find a relationship between artists, alcohol, and even chain-smoking. This is the sense that people utilize to keep them going. It would be hard to imagine somebody like Mr. Finster putting out his kind of energy in a consistent way without some pharmaceutical or spiritual help, and that in itself alters aesthetic expression. Mr. Finster is borderline, meaning only that he experiences hallucinations. By this definition, most of the world's great visionaries may have been psychotic. I think that with high dosages of caffeine and nicotine, a borderline personality can be thrown into a visionary or hallucinogenic state."
Notice how the good doctor says "pharmaceutical or spiritual help" but does not explore the spiritual side of this formula. Finster was driven by both. He was deeply motivated by what he felt he needed to share with the world through his direct connection with God. As his art was a sermon, so was his message to anyone who would listen. Here's an example (feel free to roll your eyes...):
I know I have my mood alterants. For me it is nicotine and wine. I'm one of the last smokers that I know and hate it. I've tried to quit so many times that it's become like Mark Twain's quote, "Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I have done it thousands of times." I've been seriously considering going the medicated route and am scared to death of messing with my chemical balance. For, even with this horrible crutch, I am even tempered, wake up happy, and rarely feel any signs of depression.
But, even as I feed my muse its offerings of smoke and the red fruits, I believe that my creative spirit comes from a deeper place, from my own understanding of God's grace. Whatever you may call God, for me it is a place of love, forgiveness, and meaning. The world view I was taught as a child fits within that, but it also goes beyond any intellectual understanding of what faith may be. My father once described faith to me as stepping out into darkness. That image stuck with me because that really is what life feels like. Decisions are made, chances taken, doors open and close, with no real knowledge of what the consequences will be down the road. When I enter the creative mode, something physical happens where that darkness is lit up. It's the only way I have been able to experience mysticism.
If we, as artists, really can be diagnosed as psychotic, then what happens in a healthy world? Does the drive disappear? I don't think so. The same energy is re-harnessed with a different drive. Perhaps those of us who need some help from our "friends" are only doing so because our bodies are out of balance and we compensate in this way. Something to chew on...
I was able to make my pilgrimage to Paradise Gardens many years ago. Mr. Finster was still alive, but not well on the day that I was there. His grandson had him sign some pieces that I bought there in the gift shop, but I did not meet him in person. I walked around and let Howard's art fill me with joy. What I know for sure is that we must all invoke our muses and allow them to speak loud and clear. The world is full of angels. Mr. Finster was one of them.
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