‘ Having realised that it is the great, all-pervading Atman that sees the objects in the dream and the waking state, the wise man does not grieve’
Katha Upanishad (IV.4)
Art and Consciousness.
As artists working in the field of the arts, creativity and spirituality we cite ( and, incidentally, site) ourselves as being at the ‘vanguard of art and consciousness’. Art, as known in common usage, is the created aesthetic object and derives from the skillful making utilised in the production of the aesthetic object. Let us simply define the aesthetic object here as that which reflects the viewers concepts of beauty for now as this is the beginning of a greater discussion. Simply stated the form created through skillful making is defined in our term Art. This form, though, may take on many guises and may exist in time, space and perception in many ways; music that touches the soul or typography on the surface of the page that builds landscapes of potential within the eye of the mind or the virtual environments of new technologies and telematic media. Art as the realised form created through embodied interactivity touches each moment of our lives and imbues it with qualitative sensibilities and sensuality. We interact with the world around us in each moment of our lives and it could be argued that living itself is an art in which we learn to connect and ‘be with’ and in the world . Consciousness is the relations of the mind with the world and environment that we interact with. It derives from the latin term meaning ‘to know with’ and originally referred to shared insights with others. Consciousness can be considered as subjective experience, an awareness of the realities that envelope and embrace us, the ability to experience feelings and sensation, wakefulness and our sense of self and Other.
Waking, Dreaming, Deep Sleep and the Freedom of Self-Realization.
The eastern-based philosophies of Vedanta and the yogic traditions propose four states of consciousness. These are waking consciousness, dreaming, deep sleep and the freedom of self realization that transcends all the previous states. The waking state is the objective day-to-day consciousness and our relatedness to the world around us. In our waking consciousness the relational subsystem (Teasdale and Barnard 1993) organises the response to the world around us from the information gathered from interrelations with others. Here the psychology of the waking mind and cognitive learning takes over and learned and experienced behaviours create our reaction to the world. Hence the consciousness of the “walking-ego” of the waking mind is that of the external world of sense objects and the faculties of sense and mind (Waite, D 164:2006). In the dreaming state the body sleeps but the mind remains active with the dreaming and the dreamer merging together. In this state the dreamer is conscious only of the subtle and internal world of objects; of thoughts, feeling, and images. In the dreaming state the world of the dream plays out like the light and shadows in Plato’s cave as a projection of shadows dancing from the light of the mind (Waite, D 164:2006). In the deep sleep state the sleeper is aware of neither external nor internal worlds. There is no knowing or experience of any kind. In this state there is still consciousness but it is said to be pure due to the lack of mental activity with no direct self awareness. The pure awareness of deep sleep emerges in the subtle world of thoughts and emotions in the dreamer to fill the awakened state with light and life. Consciousness is there when there appears to be nothing and through each different state of consciousness is a flowing essence through which there is the apprehension of the appearance of the world. In the stillness of the mind as in the chattering of thoughts of the day there is consciousness. Each state of consciousness is a bridge to the next, or more rightly, a web of consciousness, as, within a day, we can move between a day dream through to conscious waking where thoughts arise from the dreams of the night reflecting desires and impressions that in dreaming sleep assumed objectivity and solidity. All contemporary theories of consciousness arise from a theoretical reflection in the waking state and therefore only speak from the viewpoint of the waking state. In the Vedanta traditions the fourth state of consciousness is total awareness where we wake up from the waking state of ‘walking-ego’ to a vantage point of consciousness, which is not conscious of any object but is a state of pure knowing recognising no separations only pure oneness.
The Artist on the Transliminal Threshold.
The mutuality between states of consciousness is connected by relational systems through which the individual creates an understanding of the world. The everyday world is the centre of objective realities and a separation of self and other arises if identification is only with the waking consciousness whereas the ‘whole picture’ is created through relational connections where boundaries dissolve and the ‘either/or’ mind’s boundaries disperse into the ‘both/and’ as all becomes meaningful. This ability to move between the states of dreaming and waking consciousness from the separated to a world of awe inspiring possibilities, from the alienated to the many and through consciousness to the One is the province of the threshold worker. The ability to pass both ways across the thresholds of consciousness is the skill of one who perceives all possibilities and can walk the boundaries bringing forth new ways of working and new potentialities. Transliminal knowing is an inescapable part of our being that connects the material with the dream and subconscious states to the stillness of the mind above and beyond ordinary realities (Clarke, I 2005). In this space where the forms of discourse merge is the meeting place of the magical, the mythic, the creative and the creator. Clarke refers to this as the “crack in everything which shines light on being”. This transliminal space is the threshold where reside the storyteller’s songs and the myth that brings structure to our lives, where Hermes as trickster steals the cattle of the Gods bringing agriculture and farming to the human race; the instigator of progress and change. The light that flows through the thresholds of consciousness brings the ideas and inspired whispering of the Muses into material form through the action of making. Here is the place of healing. In this place of myth is the space of creation; the creation of Self, society and community; the place of belonging.
There are two ways of knowing; the fixed sense of the material of ordinary reality and the relational transliminal ways of experiencing that recognise myth and story and play in the deep fertile ground of our sense of wonder, bringing vast forces together in a relationship with Being and our universal humanity. It is a space of beautiful experience and potential nightmares where the the boundaries are constantly flowing and with dynamic energies bind us in communion with all forms of being within the universe.
In a questioning of the nature of the artist who works at the vanguard of art and consciousness I would argue that such a person is the mediator of images, experiences and meaning within the flowing transliminal spaces between states of consciousness. A maker that ploughs the fertile fields of the worlds of art and consciousness walks the path of the transliminal bringing the myth, story, song and ritual into being and creating relations with the earth, the other and perceived ordinary reality.
Teasdale, J. and Barnard, P. 1993 Affect, Cognition and Change: Remodelling Depressive Thought. Hove: Laurence Erlbaum Associates.
Waite, D 2006 The Book of One London: O Books.
Clarke, I. 2005 There Is A Crack In Everything: That’s How The Light Gets In in Clarke, C. 2005 Ways of Knowing: Science and Mysticism Today. Exeter: Imprint Academic.
Text and Images © Robert Burton. Rob is an artist and writer on the arts and consciousness and is currently working on publishing critical and theoretical texts on the artist as the mediator of the transpersonal. Please contact Rob Burton for more information.