I am finally reading around in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. It has been on my list for a long time.
Last year about this time, when the weather was cold and skies gray, I took an online art course called The Hero’s Art Journey with the inimitable Dr. Mira Reisberg as my instructor. The Hero’s Art Journey intended to create a non-judgemental place where one could confront various steps in the Hero’s Journey as understood by Joseph Campbell through art projects. The assignment for this particular work was to consider The Monster Within.
First I should confess that I’m really pretty monsterless. I guess that’s because (so far) I have lived a lucky life. Mostly, the conditions that stand between me and my dreams are circumstances I have consciously chosen. I deeply want each one for itself even when these chosen circumstances turn out to offer no compromise towards the dreams they exclude.
No matter. I’m a great believer in Change.
Anyway, I had a vague and not particularly interesting idea for the project and went digging around in my clipart for inspiration. While mired in the depths of Pandora’s box, I asked my Muse, “Why do I have to do a project about monsters when I don’t have any monsters?”
Oh. Oh. Oh.
Little Miss Muse turned her head disdainfully away as if I were a victim of spontaneous combustion. Poof. I’m air, as the Germans say.
Eventually, and with a great show of sighing and eye-rolling, she plucked a clipart of a powerful lioness dressed as a righteous and well-to-do lady of the wild, wild west. “Here!” she said and thrust it under my nose with a whiff of inspiration.
“But I wanted to make a Lindwurm.” I whined.
“‘nother time.” she waved me to the side and reached into the mess, “Here’s a dragon. Cut off his head. And check your mailbox. Your Mom, who always knows just what you really need, sent you a present. Use those.”
Holy Crayon, Batman, anybody else have a bossy Muse?
Well, yes. So. I did as she demanded and that’s it, above. But the real reason I’m writing this is because I am interested in Art’s underbelly; that ongoing conversation the artist has with herself (or with Art) during the act of creation. Maybe you are too?
In this case I was pouting and pondering the value of externally imposed boundaries. An assignment, for instance is usually a boon that makes a work possible. But aren’t there also times when boundaries are a destructive influence standing between me and a work I want to do?
While working with the refined dragon/lion motif I spent a lot of time considering and defending the “monstrous” difficulties we face in attempting to live the artistic life, in summoning up our deep courage while hemmed in by seemingly arbitrary social rules, must-be’s, and should-do’s. During the work, this particular motif spoke a warning to me about any attempt to live a tightly-corseted life because this is not my nature. The work seemed to imply that to do so would be an act of violence against myself. That I dare not allow the rules to be arbitrary, that I must make and choose my own if I wish to live peacefully with myself.
From the execution - clipart to paper, watercolor pencils (thanks, Mom!) and felt-tip pens, acrylic wash, I learned that drawing something myself, no matter how unrecognizable the result, is a thousand times more rewarding than using clipart motives and switching out the heads. At the time, I felt no pride in this work and felt like legions of sixth-grade boys regularly fill their notebooks with more authentic monster-trucks and concept cars than what I ended up with for this assignment.
Except. Isn’t there always that little voice saying “Um, excuse me but what about…”?
Except, as it turned out the lived-experience of creating this tightly-corseted and boundary-laden work directly reflected my understanding of the social monster, of should-do and must-be. It also reminded me that I must engage this particular monster often if I am to escape inadvertently doing violence to my Self.
My bossy Muse, who likes to keep me humble, just now pointed out that, apparently, I am not without monsters after all. Does your Muse smirk too?
– And finally cause I like y’all, how about some vintage James Taylor just for grins? I especially loved the virtual twinkle in his eye when he talked about and sang “I’m A Steamroller, Baby”. That’s groovin, James.