• Mitch Riley

Mystery and Meaning

Works of art can trick us. We think engaging in any artistic activity is contributing to culture, or that knowledge of art is ‘cultured’, but this is a trap. Culture is something deeper and richer than acquaintance.

To people who come from a culture which dominates nature, a culture which has excised the sacred, saying something has cultural significance doesn’t mean much. They cannot understand because the word sacred has no meaning. A rock is a rock. The sky is the sky. A story is to help pass the time. A painting to please the eye. A work of art to make us feel something in a dead world where humanity is understood through dissection.

Our culture is losing meaning. Real culture is disappearing because we have lost mystery. Our despotic ‘reason’ locked it in a cage and ignorance made us forget about it. Or perhaps we are not interested enough to ask what it is. We have lost the ‘what if?’.

True culture instills things with meaning. Sounds, words, places, actions, foods are filled with tradition, history, emotion, spirituality. They come to have a place in our past, present and future. Through them we become aware of our shared humanity. They connect us all through story.

Stories speak about us, all of us, in a profound way. A culture which dominates, which has cut out the sacred, no longer has stories. Myths are fairytales for children. Children are seen as ignorant. There is no history because things have no history. Everything is disposable and only useful if consumable.

This element is very present in the arts industry. Constant performances, one work or concert program to the next. Season after season. Where is the sacred in what we are doing? Where is the meaning in this devouring of repertoire? Are you actually even creating something?

When we stop creating, there is no more present, no more future. We reject our own experiences, invalidate them, and so we cannot engage with the world we live in. We corrupt our culture, its meaning draining away as it becomes a relic of the past. The past becomes distant and we are left only with an empty nostalgia for something we can no longer grasp.

Of course, artists need to make a living, but we must reflect on and reassess our motivations and choices. A moment of honesty - why are we are actually doing this? Are we revealing mystery, touching upon the sacred? Or are we just adding to the noise, feeding consumerism, ourselves just mindlessly producing instead of really creating.

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