The Art of Self-Expression
I believe that the art of self-expression is vital to achieving actualization. I think of actualization as (like the old armed forces recruiting ad) ‘being all you can be.’
You probably remember learning about “self-actualization” from the hierarchy developed by Abraham Maslow.
Self-actualization, according to Maslow, represents the growth of an individual toward fulfillment of the highest needs—particularly those related to meaning in life.
“Self-fulfillment,” according to Wikipedia, is the “tendency for [the individual] to become actualized in what s/he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”
“[a] musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy” (Maslow, 1943)
It is generally believed that we require more basic needs to be met before trying to achieve self-actualization.
Though we all know the archetypal image of the ‘starving artist,’ most of us strive for creativity and self-expression after basic and psychological needs are met. Therefore, for most of us, the art of self-expression is a gift that comes to us after fulfilling other levels in the hierarchy.
Christian de la Huerta, the author of “Coming out Spiritually” says that a journey of self-discovery is the most important journey we can take.
He argues that self-expression allows us to be our best selves, reach for our full potential, and make valuable contributions to the world. It is an inner journey and a heroic one.
In the art of self-expression, we confront our own fears, insecurities, and outgrown belief systems.
Julia Cameron noted author of The Artists Way says; “Much fear of our own creativity is the fear of the unknown.”
Those who dare to allow their inner artist to emerge embark on what I consider to be a tremendously fulfilling journey. However, I concur that this journey is heroic for most of us. I have found as I have gone deeper on my own spiritual path that I have a deep inner need to express the spiritual. And, that those artists who attempt to express the spiritual are those that deeply draw me into their work.
We are all creative beings and find the art of self-expression in our own unique way. Some do this through music or their work; some do this through art.
As I embarked on my vision quest, one of my questions was about when, in the evolution of mankind, people began to ponder the big existential questions.
In other words, when did people begin engaging in the art of self-expression?
We know that about 17,000 years ago, hunter-gatherer and agricultural civilizations existed.
As civilization came even more into agriculture, the time horizon of work and life shifted beyond mere survival to more forward-thinking pursuits. This is because farming requires planning. The more you engage in future thinking, the more likely you are to ponder the purpose of life and the afterlife.
The pre-historic Cave Paintings from Lascaux are examples of some of the earliest known artistic expressions on earth.
The art of self-expression was alive even during this pre-historic time. I love seeing these pieces because they exemplify our very human desire to create and record what is. The art of self-expression is akin to saying ‘I was here. This image that I created is how I make sense of my life.’
These primal sources of art move me deeply. They remind me of the power of feeling connected to our ancestors as we look back at our origins.
As I ventured on my vision quest, part of my training was shamanic study. At the same time, I was delving into the art of self-expression through my painting. I read a fascinating book that has become one of my most treasured possessions. The book is Michael Tucker’s Dreaming with Open Eyes: The Shamanic Spirit in Twentieth-Century Art and Culture.
Tucker describes these prehistoric artists as image-makers who epitomized “the human need to bridge worlds — to fly beyond the everyday realm of the visual in order to conjure worlds of visionary presence and power.”
He says that those who create — who embark on the art of self-expression — are a type of shaman. The shaman serves the community. The modern artist can also serve as a sort of shaman or seer, creating work that stirs the soul.
When I think of artists whose work touches my very soul, one artist who immediately comes to my mind is Vincent Van Gogh. After studying his work for years, Rich and I visited the hospital in Arles made famous by Van Gogh. Now named Espace Van Gogh, walking through the olive groves on these grounds took my breath away as we imagined his struggles.
Van Gogh’s personal sense of spiritual awe involved his conviction that one needed he said,” a certain dash of inspiration, a ray from on high” in order to create art that might inspire people.
He wanted to paint images with, he said, “something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize.” He often tried to achieve this through radiant vibrations of color.
“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh also said; “If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere. For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”
I also love the Russian painter Wassily Kandinski. Kandinski’s self-expression took the form of visual art and books.
In addition to being a painter, he was an author. He wrote a book called Concerning the Spiritual in Art which was first published in 1912.
The concept of vibration permeates his work. Kandinski believed that human emotion consists of vibrations of the soul and that the soul is set into vibration by nature. The art of his self-expression; his purpose — was to create vibrations in the beholder. In other words, his words and his art are the vehicles he used to produce those vibrations.
I particularly love the art of Georgia O’Keeffe.
She suggested to a friend that making your unknown known is the important thing in the art of self-expression. It’s what she referred to as the ‘memory or dream thing’ in her paintings.
Her work embodies the courage it requires to open up to the internal voice that calls for openness and freedom. She found it both frightening and exhilarating.
“I’ve always been absolutely terrified every single moment of my life,” she said, “and I’ve never let it stop me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Hilma Af Klint was an intriguing Swedish artist whose self-expression was private.
She stipulated that her work not be publicly shown for twenty years following her death. Articulating mystical views of reality, her work was exhibited at the Guggenheim in 2019.
“These paintings are a revelation, and like nothing that came before them.”
Marc Chagall’s paintings were often inspired by his dreams.
Winged beings often appear in his compositions. Chagall’s self-expression allowed him to escape into his imagination. He once said that painting
‘appeared to me like a window through which I could fly away toward another world.’
Hindu philosophy tells us that “he who understands has wings”. To me, this suggests that transcendence can be found in the art of self-expression. When we are moved by the art of others, or we dare to create our own art, we allow our intuition to co-create with us.
If you would like to explore the art of self-expression in your life, I recommend taking the SoulArt Meditation course. Soul Artists find greater meaning, purpose, joy, and self-actualization in life.
Find out more about my journey through my book on Amazon: Vision Quest; A Journey to Happiness by Jane Ramsey.