Throughout history, artists have always been known as freethinkers. They expressed their art in times when cultural pressures were heavily influencing freedom of expression. The German Expressionists, including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, were a group of artists whose art manifesto of 1906, Die Brucke wished ‘to achieve freedom of life and action against the well established older forces’*. They used their images to bring forth the changes they wished to see in the world.
“Berlin Street Scene”, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1913
They also looked to someone who had done this before them. They chose Vincent Van Gogh, a man of his own personal convictions that saw something beyond what the rest of society couldn’t see with their eyes. He showed them this through color and paint. His masterpiece “Starry Night” depicts his view on man’s relationship to the Universe. It wasn’t until much later that people understood it.
“Starry Night”, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
Edouard Manet was an artist who rebelled against traditional approaches to painting and whose work was not accepted at the time. Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Frida Kahlo, and many, many more artists all have in common their ability to take risks in their personal expression even though they were criticized, ridiculed, and sometimes threatened.
“Déjeuner sur l’herbe”, Edouard Manet, 1863. This piece was rejected by the Salon of 1863.
They did it to fulfill some inner vision that the world needed to see at the time even though it resisted at first, and as we now know, their influence transcended time and has played a significant role in how we interpret history as well as the human experience.
Art has always been my way of working through pain, frustration, sadness, anger, happiness, elation, whatever emotional experience that I am going through. Art has allowed me to put into form that which is formless, make conscious the unconscious, to see the unseen, to manifest dreams into visions, and at its source to transform material into sacred matter. Art can be a channel to direct connection with Spirit. As you step away from trying to control everything and just allow, something opens up inside and the energy is pure, graceful, and aligned to the highest good. It is one of the many mediums of personal expression. Yet, lately, I feel that personal expression is drowning in mediocrity, conformity, and societal pressures. Do we still value freedom of expression in all its forms? Do I have to censor myself because it is not in line with someone else’s values? Is this more important to us as a society now? I do not share my own views online for fear of punishment in the form of losing friendships, losing a job, or social ridicule. So yes, I suppose I am censoring myself from speaking my truth. We all wear masks. The challenge is to seek the truth behind the mask.
“Untitled”, Liz Halloran, 1997
Lately, I have seen so many social media posts full of fearful thinking, subconscious influence, and outright propaganda, and from my Jungian point of view, it is seeping into the collective unconscious. Where is the personal responsibility in this? As Wayne Dyer said, our thoughts become our reality. What we think, we become. I am the keeper of my own thoughts. Freedom is about making your own choice without being told what to think, who to vote for, or who is right or wrong. I am amazed that my own influencers, teachers, and spiritual leaders are using their platforms to spread messages of conformist political views. It has woken me up. I am not a sheep. I do not follow the herd. I did not drink the Kool Aide. I listen to my gut and it usually tells me to question everything and find the truth behind the message. I use critical thinking rather than blind trust. I look for the wolf in sheep’s clothing. I have always believed that if you want to see change in the world, start with yourself. I don’t try to convince others to change. I try to be the person that I want others to be. I try to do things that make the world a better place.
“Ophelia Reemerging”, Liz Halloran, 2011
So for all of the artists and freethinkers out there, the world needs you to express yourself in a way that is authentically YOU and honors YOUR truth even when it is not in alignment with the masses. I think of all the artists before me who stood in their truth even though others didn’t agree or understand. My point is that I want to continue expressing my art form in a way that is true to me without the social pressure to have to speak for (fill in the blank here). My art is the expression of my soul, not someone else’s projection of what I should be expressing. It is the ultimate form of freedom to express from one’s heart. Do we really want to live in a society that does not believe in this anymore?
*Anderson, Janice (1995) The Art of the Expressionists.
top image: “Ciel bleu” Vasily Kandinsky 2016 Calendar, Editions du Desastre, 2015.
image: “Berlin Street Scene”: Anderson, Janice (1995) The Art of the Expressionists.
image: “Starry Night”: Arnason, H. H. (1986) History of Modern Art.
image: “Déjeuner sur l’herbe”: Arnason, H. H. (1986) History of Modern Art.