By Jacob Devaney
What is the source that feeds your creative expression, and what offering do you give in return?
Indigenous people all over the world have a profound understanding of reciprocity. In the Americas, after taking the life of an animal, or berries, or water from a spring, a pinch of tobacco and a prayer are offered in return.
An awareness of the reciprocal nature of creative inspiration and creative expression brings depth and meaning to the artistic process as well as the end product. The creative process helps students feel connected to an endless web of relations, and relationships both external and internal. Within this “dialogue of The Muses” comes a challenge and responsibility to give back to the web of life in a conscious and honorable way.
Most people know what it feels like to take a moment before a special meal to give thanks for the soil, the sun, the rain, the farmer, the truck driver, the grocer, and all the hands that went into preparing the meal. It is hard not to enjoy a meal that has been given this kind of attention/intention. I like to look at the artistic process in this same manner. The tree that gave itself to the handle of my paintbrush, the ones who harvested the cotton for a costume that I sew, the fire that melted the glass beads that adorn the costume, and so on; these unseen hands, and elements are co-conspirators in my creative process, they inform my inspiration. Then there are the not-so-earthy materials I use, like foam, glue, and certain kinds of paint, that have been created at a cost to healthy rivers and clean air. Bringing awareness to these shadowy aspects of my creative process makes me feel compelled to create something of exquisite beauty. Knowing that what I create may never equal what I have taken keeps me humble and connected within this web. Never above, never below, I am just part of a web that is sharing in the inspiration of the creative process.
I like to consider how the past, present, and future are captured in a timeless and organic moment while I work. I believe that there is an implicit quality to art, and therefore I hold an intention that my work will somehow touch and open people’s hearts and share the inspiration that gives me so much joy.
When I consider applying this philosophy to media, the web of connections, and potential grows tremendously. Have you ever considered giving thanks to the rocks and minerals that have been ground up and heated with flame to be soldered to the mother-board of your computer for the sake of transmitting light and information? When considering the impact that our technological world is taking on our natural environment, I feel that we have a responsibility to use these technological tools for their highest potential. If we are lucky, media may one day live up to its potential to inspire, delight, educate, and heal our planet and communities.
Can we settle for anything less?
By bringing an awareness to the tools that we use to create art and media, we empower ourselves to use these tools in a way that gives back to the source of inspiration. In doing this, we empower the tools to live up to their highest potential as well. It is easy to over-identify with the tools and the process and forget that each of us has a heart beating in the middle of our chest. We do little to honor the web around us when we aren’t listening to this internal drumbeat.
Take a moment, look around you, give thanks for the web of relations past, present and future and ask yourself what kind of creative offering you’d like to give in return.
Jacob Devaney is co-founder of Living Folklore, Inc., founder and director of Culture Collective.
13 years as a clown, stilt-walker, vaudevillian, pianist, puppet-maker, costume designer, and most recently working on books, print-media and films including an interactive children’s DVD for developing minds called Funny Bone Logic. Jacob has spent many years performing at music festivals, pow-wows, and been intimately involved with New Orleans Carnival Culture, having worked with Big Chief Tootie Montana. Jacob also co-founded The White Buffalo Children’s Foundation and leads culture exchange programs with youth from New Orleans, introducing them to Hopi, Navajo, and southwest tribes. In 1997, Tucson, Arizona was declared “America’s First Living Folklore City” by Mayor George Miller, commemorating the event with a tree-planting at Armory Park.
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