Photo by Carlos de Toro @carlosdetoro on Unsplash
Author: Gavin Sher
All Arts are One Art
Mastery and the Ineffable Magic of Self-Expression
What separates the good from the great? It’s a question I’ve always been hungry to answer. From a young age I wanted to be a writer, then later a screenwriter, but I didn’t just want to be good. I wanted to be great. So I wanted to know what I needed to do to acquire the excellence I found in the works of those who touched my soul.
Like most deep questions, there was no simple answer.
It took me many years to fully appreciate all I needed to know, for the answer isn’t a piece of information to be memorized by the mind. The answer is itself an art-form, the ultimate art-form, and it needs to be integrated into one’s being through practice and process.
This same answer applies to all the arts, as they are all expressions of the same creative seed, as I will soon speak to.
For now I will stay with writing, as it offers a simple form through which to notice this One Universal Truism.
We can only express ourselves.
Writing is an incredibly simple form of expression. Billions of people can write. It’s almost as easy as speaking.
So how does one differentiate oneself and become unusually excellent at something almost anyone can do?
Obviously there is some difference between writing as an art form and writing as a form of systematized communication, even if it may be hard to say exactly what that difference is.
To me, great writing doesn’t merely convey information, it impacts, even changes, the person who receives the information. It transports them to a place they may not have imagined for themselves, be that a fictional realm, or new point of view.
Great writing elevates the reader in mind, spirit, and/or feeling, which is something few writers can do.
The craft then doesn’t lie in being able to write, it lies in what you are able to write.
It lies in your ability to express something capable of moving someone into a perspective that nourishes and uplifts their own.
It is here, in this one simple fact, where the difference between good and great lies.
Writing is simply the act of putting thought into visible form. It’s an externalization of our inner mind-stream or, if we are particularly developed, of our mindless intuition.
Which is, perhaps, an overly complicated way of saying that writing, like all arts, is simply an art of self-expression.
What really matters, as to what emerges, is the nature of the Self that is expressing.
Our Self, the depth of our perception, the nature of our character, the quality of our being, is the entire differentiating factor in terms of what we are able to express and create.
You are the work of art. Any particular piece is just your expression at the time of its creation.
The ultimate artform, which I alluded to above, is the art of becoming your Self, which is the art of healing all that inhibits you from embodying your highest expression.
To create great work you must find greatness in yourself, as all we can ever do is express our-selves, which is what we do in every moment. We cannot help doing that. We respond to life as we are and we express what we are, even when we try not to.
This is clearest in a simple art like writing, but it is as true for any other art. The painter who cannot see the numinous in the world, will never capture it on canvas. The musician who cannot plumb the depths of their own emotion will never move their audience to tears.
So we can note with Thoreau:
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”
To find the jewels of excellence within, a writer needs to live deeply, authentically, wholeheartedly, and work through all that inhibits their higher expression.
The real question, which I will get to below, is how do we do that?
Moving from writing to other arts, the only real difference seems to me to be the medium or instrument through which we transmit our expression.
This is where the craft aspect of art comes in.
Clearly, one has to be well versed in the particular medium and craft of your art.
A pen is simple enough, but even a great soul will have to get to know the violin, before they are able to express themselves through it.
Every art has its tools and its discipline. Excellence will require familiarity with both, but they are not alone sufficient for excellence. Most people who practice a craft for some time are able to acquire technical competence, but many technically proficient artists create work that simply leaves their audience unmoved.
Which is not to say that the craft aspect is unimportant or easy.
Depending on the art, it may require a huge amount of work to master a medium, but dedication and a willingness to grow are also differentiating aspects of character, which must be acquired in order to attain mastery.
The root of virtuosity is virtue.
All crafts are impacted by the character of the practitioner and probably, any activity can be elevated to an artform by a person who has elevated themselves.
The Source of Genius
If one has to become great to create great work, how is that to be achieved? What is the source of greatness of character?
To answer that question one must truly delve into the nature of our being and the nature of the reality we inhabit, which is beyond the scope of this short piece. (For starters see: The God Question and ‘God’ – A Most Misunderstood Word)
For myself, the answer lay in the nature of myself as a soul and in my relationship to our Creative Source, which is expressing itself through us.
My perspective follows Aristotle’s, as given in The Ethics. There Aristotle makes the surprising statement that the virtues are One. To truly have any virtue, you must have them all, which is an extreme statement. Most modern philosophers refuse to take him literally, but I do.
Aritstotle’s basic teaching is of the Golden mean, which is similar to the Buddhist middle way and the teachings of the Kabbalists, and consists in our ability to harmonize The Opposites, which are the fundamental forces that shape each of us and also our world of duality. (The prime opposites being ‘active’ & ‘receptive’ / ‘masculine’ & ‘feminine’.)
Like many artists, I believe in a Creative Source that expresses itself in and through the vessels of our body, mind, feelings and spirit and I believe it is our relationship to that fundamental energy that determines the quality of our expression.
We are the instrument.
If we can surrender ourselves to the Cosmic Self, not adding or interfering, it will play through us and our work, our words, our actions and our beings will transmit the magic of creation.
Our work lies in freeing our own body and being, enabling it fully to be the vehicle through which the Creative energy moves through. Or, put in a more grounded fashion, to work on ourselves in order to become the best possible receiver for The Flow.
To the extent that we do this, it will express itself freely and fully in whatever we do. Hence, if you are truly expressing that virtue, that greatness, in any one thing, it will express itself in everything you do, as it will be your Higher Self that is expressing through you.
This art of becoming one with the Divine, embodying it through your physical being and the medium of your hands, mouth, thoughts etc., like all arts, has no end.
There are only greater and greater levels of mastery, for the finite can only ever grow toward the infinite. It can never reach it.
At the same time it is important to not over-externalize, or over-internalize your creative flow.
On the one hand, we are channels for something that lies beyond us. Inspiration comes as it will. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not there when you want it, or if it hasn’t yet found its final form. Don’t take on the pressure of forcing it to be something it’s not yet.
On the other hand, inspiration is clearly given form through us, so that what arrives through you is what you are a match to and takes on the quality of your own unique voice. (Or not, if you are mired in the imitation of others.) Only by doing our personal work and practicing our craft will our fullest expression become possible.
Mastery is Self-Mastery.
The process of self-mastery is, for most of us, a process of healing. We arrive into a world of suffering, in which life is full of trauma, pain and wounding.
This karmic inheritance decimates our potential, as we sacrifice aspects of ourselves for the sake of psychological safety and survival.
This is by design, as it allows us to have an experience of our not-self, a disconnected personality that mis-expresses its divine potential, which gives us a chance to earn and value our true natures.
This not-self is full of blocks and distortions.
I used to experience a huge amount of resistance in my body whenever I sat down to write. Subconsciously, I felt there was something dangerous in being seen and writing can be very naked. To do any writing at all I had to smoke lots of Ganja, to force myself past this natural resistance.
Turns out a few people in my ancestral lineage were tortured and killed for writing things the powerful disapproved of. Trauma is passed down through the DNA. The genetic warning not to make the same ‘mistakes’ made by my ancestors made it hard for me to feel free in engaging in my chosen work.
Once I had unearthed the problem, I was able to reprogram myself and writing became much easier.
To gain mastery is to return to our whole self. My own experience is that once this is done mastery in any form becomes easier and easier.
Beyond writing, I also wanted to master music and acting and I wanted to elevate the basic practice and skills of my life into artforms, be that listening, business, or any other area of value.
What I found was that the more work I did on myself the more ease and excellence I had in all areas of engagement, though some seemed completely intransigent for very long stretches of time.
It seemed I had absolutely no natural musical talent. No matter how much I practiced I continued to suck. I spent a couple decades without being able to strum a guitar properly. I’m surrounded by musicians and I’ve always been told that pretty much anyone can learn to sing, but notice the disclaimer. They were all convinced that ‘pretty much anyone’ excluded me. It seemed my voice had some physical blockage and I was fated to never realize my simple, but passionate, desire to be able to sing.
Yet I have done a huge amount of personal healing work, over decades. As a result, my voice now works just fine and I’m well on my way to being a first-class singer.
Everyone’s healing journey is unique. What I discovered along the way was that mine had a great deal to do with my being stuck in my mind. I had mostly withdrawn my consciousness from my body and, unconsciously, I had come to navigate this world entirely through my head.
Music, like many arts, happens through the body.
You cannot keep time, or hear a note, from your head. ‘Hearing’ a note has a lot to do with feeling its vibration in your body, while strumming a rhythm needs to happen through your hands. If you aren’t tuned into your body it’s just not going to happen. As with sex, the mind only gets in the way.
To get back to a place where the natural musicality of my body was restored, I had to heal the energetic break in my throat, which is the bridge between mind and body. Until I did that no amount of practice helped me to improve as a musician. Once I did that, finding a note or strumming a rhythm, which for so long had seemed beyond me, became easy.
The Virtuosity of Being
To me the path toward artistic excellence is the same as the path toward self-realization.
Karmic wounds damage our Divine Vehicles and ensures that our creative flow expresses sub-optimally.
To return to an exquisite expression, one needs to work through one’s wounding, conditioning, blocks and ego.
Spiritual experience has been a massive part of my life, so I cannot help but express myself through a spiritual framework, but one need not have any spiritual beliefs to realize that becoming a better person will ensure you become a better artist.