“The Vision of the Fool” by Cecil Collins

Until we have an organic sense of life, there can be no creative society.


IT IS OFTEN asked by men of finance – the present princes of culture – what use the artist is to us. And the answer is, no use. In a society where the purpose of education is to enable us to live and be a success in the jungle of commerce, art is a luxury, and culture is something which is bought and sold, not created. The ordinary man in the street creates no culture. His main function is to be useful. (“Heaven protect me from useful people,” said Baudelaire.) He sits in the cinema, he listens to the radio, he is completely passive, and he makes no creative act. Consider the poverty of such a life, and how it leads finally to apathy and complete mechanisation.

If we consider the history of art we shall see that any new appearance of the creative spirit of life is announced first by the explosion of the old forms into which life has hardened itself. It must melt down this material in order to create new forms. Frozen forms at the end of an epoch must be melted down, and that melting hurts. Better the living chaos of life than the dead order of doctrine. The torment and hideous imagery of frustrated, creative instinct, which menaces us from many a modern work of art, is ‘the tyger of wrath’ which makes us stop and consider the question of our whole attitude to life. Artists are the sensitive instruments through which an age can recognise and realise itself. Art is a form by which an age may contemplate itself.

HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS is one of the greatest mysteries of life, and to have a direct medium for expressing its sensations in the language of form and colour, which is universal in a way words are not, not only reveals what is important in the art of the past, both Western and Eastern, but constitutes a real hope for the future of painting. Today we have no universal mythology but the discovery of the fact that humanity has unknown depths of consciousness within. And this source already beginning to manifest itself in poetic images in each artist constitutes a beginning.

I believe that each person has their own secret mythology, a unique creation which represents the symbolical images by which their interior life lives and forms the psychological structure of their personality. Our real unconscious self speaks to us in the poetry of images. The creation and expression of this personal mythology, first of all, is far more important than either art or culture, because it is the basis of both.

So, in a democratic society we can have thousands of people painting their personal mythologies all different, in a rich variety, because the creative imagination of each artist leavens the general sensibility of collective society with fresh revelations: fresh, because they are personal. Through exhibitions, the continual rubbing together of all these mythologies, and the natural influence they have on one another, will gradually create a general version of the mythology of the human expressions of consciousness.
These images will be the music of what Jung calls the collective unconscious. There will then be an organic creation proceeding from the organic sense of life and not from the imposition of a set of intellectual ideas, trying to imprison life in a dead order. It is not order that we need today. It is the organic sense of life, and for that there is no substitute, intellectual or otherwise. Until we have the organic sense of life, there can be no creative society.

THE IMPORTANCE of the aesthetic emotion of beauty is that it is the one emotion that is purified and sanctified from all other emotions. It can exist in them, but it stands apart from them. It is purified from both love and hate, from fear and desire, from the frustration of wish and the fulfilment of wish; it is redeemed from moral, ethical, religious and philosophical ideas. It can exist in them but not of them. Long after religions and morals and philosophies have passed away, we can stand in front of pictures and be deeply moved by their beauty, although the religious ideas in the pictures no longer mean anything to us. Religions and civilisations pass away, but their beauty remains, for if the truth be told, artists only use religions and philosophy as an excuse, as a stimulus, like drink, to create beauty. At bottom they are really concerned with the poetic emotion of beauty, because their instinct tells them that it is the fundamental emotion.

One of the keys to the psychology of the artist is that he will take politics, social life, family and many other things, and throw them all away if they do not stimulate creative instinct. He throws them away if they are true or untrue, real or unreal, because truth is irrelevant if it does not stimulate creative instinct, because creative instinct is truth, and its absence is falsehood. Small wonder then that the artist should be regarded with suspicion.

If we are not all to perish we have got to realise that we are all fruit growing from the same, vast unconscious root of life. In whatever we destroy we destroy ourselves, for the world is one living body. We must drive out the old Gods from their hiding places in our minds and make them fresh again to receive the spirit of life. I personally feel that the God of life is appearing in the world again, and will, with creative rays, burn away the sterile, meaningless institutions and pierce the suffocating vestments of the priest to find again the naked human heart.

We are at the beginning of a new era, a new cycle of human existence, and will see the establishment of a world civilisation based more on the organic sense of life, rather than on intellectual conceptions. Keats said, “Ultimately, life cannot be lived by precept, but only by constant awareness in itself.” That is the organic sense of life to which we shall have to return. Society must be based on our sense of wonder, the one experience which justifies our being alive. Art is a form of transcendental magic which is created out of that awakened sense, and returns to it. The secret of life is to share the creative madness of God – if we have never experienced this madness we can be said never to have lived. For it is the direct expression of having regained that reverence for all living things which is the only real foundation for human society – when we feel, in the words of that greatest of all surrealist artists, William Blake, “Everything That Lives Is Holy.” o