The role of artmaking

What do we mean when talk about “art” and what role does artmaking play in the process of returning to a more natural or wild state?

As a gigantic flow system of creative energy, Earth herself (I would argue) embodies “artmaking” and therefore so do we. We live inside a continual outpouring of pattern and beauty. When we make “art” (poem, illustration, song…) we are just straight-up participating. To me artmaking is connection—basic relationship maintenance. A way of communicating with the earth.

My favorite artists are usually children. This might sound trite, but it’s not. Unless they’ve had the nature wrung out of them, children make amazing art (and messes) pretty much all day long, as surely and effortlessly as a slug makes a beautiful sparkling slime trail.

I’m lucky enough to live alongside two children (my daughters) who are constantly engaged in artmaking and help remind me what that means.

One of our favorite places is a spot at Kelley Point Park here in Portland, OR, where the Columbia and Willamette rivers come together. We have been coming to this spot for several years and it’s special to us. We play there. Here’s something I made there this winter messing around with clay and sand:

I can’t tell you how happy I felt to see this crumbly face looking up at me. I love her! My kids made mud “paint” nearby while I made this, and painted designs all over a big log, and themselves, and then dunked themselves in the river and started over again.

We play there, “make art” there, and it washes away. Other people, dogs, deer, rain, wind, all come when we’re gone and add their own stuff. We come back and do it again. This is my favorite kind of artmaking.

What role does artmaking play for you? How does it connect to rewilding?


I am an artist. There are things that I love about art, but honestly I wish I lived in a world where art was no longer needed. Of course your definition is not what I am talking about. We never have, and never will cease to create beauty in the world, but what I consider art is a specialization that is imbalanced. Now that imbalance can be used for good, as in balancing out the shortcomings of science, but I would rather live in a way that was an expression of beauty in and of itself, not partitioning off certain parts of my day for creating beauty, and others for practical things. Art has a huge ability to move people. That is one of the reasons why I think it is currently important to rewilding, but art has been used by civilization for terrible things.


Yeah, the usual definition of “art” is not what I’m talking about. If it’s not integrated, if it’s more noun than verb, it’s not really alive. The kind of artmaking I’m talking about is super alive and connected and really just basic maintenance.


Art as a special thing has always bugged me. This is how music is treated in our culture—you have to be a superstar singer or else you “can’t sing.” Such bullshit. Singing is like walking. It feels good for a reason and it comes to us naturally. A 3yo sitting in a hallway singing to himself is an “artist,” i.e. connected and whole. He feels stuff and it comes out—beautiful! I think rewilding has to be largely about returning to (and maintaining and deepening) this kind of relationship. Everybody is an artist for crying out loud.


Oh my gosh! I can say so much about this. I’ve had a voracious appetite for all things artmaking my entire life. The Process is so incredibly fascinating and mysterious to me and even though I know my own process so so well, I’m still astonished to hear how other’s navigate their creativity.

what role does artmaking play in the process of returning to a more natural or wild state?

artmaking. Making time for art. That decisive act alone is already bucking against our time obsessed, productivity obsessed culture. When one is fully engaged in the process of making/playing you disconnect from everything around you and an intense focus on the act of making is all that matters, you’re body is moving, you’re mind is moving, ideas are flowing and you are one with your intuition ( if you’re not thinking too much). Connecting with your own intuition is a HUGE part of returning to a more natural state. You’re building a relationship with your own deeper knowing and trusting it. This is a goal we should all have as we rewild! This state of mind doesn’t care about outcome, or productivity, or money, it’s hungry for flow.
Intense focus, In this day and age with cell phone bleeping at us and email binging and kids asking for help and dogs barking and car alarms blaring, creating space to allow for a deep intense focus is another thing that connects us to ourselves, pulls us away from the distractions and tunes us in deeply. Often I have music on, but even I can’t tell you what exactly was going on in the background, all I could see before me was color, texture, and the imaginative arranging, re-arranging of each new element. I love this space because it feels like a huge wave of clarity.

Artmaking is therapy, similar to meditation, you sit down just to sit and doodle, but things inside of you work their way to the surface. Something niggling around in your brain floats up into view so you can spend time really reflecting and contemplating.

Artmaking as a skill, encourages invention, resourcefulness, playfulness, lightheartedness, joyfulness, it relieves stress, it makes us laugh, it takes us out of taking everything so seriously, it helps us understand others, it helps shift perspectives, it creates new values, IT SHIFTS CULTURE, it makes us forget about obligations and just enjoy the beauty around us, the possibility, the wondrousness of ourselves, our own minds and the wondrousness inside others as well. Our experiences can be mined for meaning and this is where artmaking, for me anyway, holds it’s most precious gift. I could go on for days.


Also, I want to add, that I think most people don’t think of Art as having a significant role to rewilding because they see it only as the commodity our society has turned it into.


Laura, re your second post: Totally, YES, I agree.

Re your first post: Yaaaay! You got me all happy and covered in goose pimples (or hummingbird eggs, as one of my kids likes to call them). Artmaking does so much good it’s hard to know where to start. Thanks for covering so many bases.

Not to be too much of a downer, but to what degree does that healing properties of art allow us to be pacified?

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Nathan, can you point to an example of what you’re asking about?

I think of artmaking as relating with the earth/life/others, so speaking from my own perspective, your question would be like asking “To what degree does the healing aspect of our relationships allow us to be pacified?” I’m not sure how I’d answer either question.

Are you familiar with The Disobedience of the Daughter of the Sun? Tall Girl and Hummingbird Boy speak all kinds of endearing poemy things to one another in an attempt to communicate deep feelings and thereby speak the world “into life.” So far as I’m concerned a little kid (or fully functioning adult) dreamily whispering songs that come to him as he stares up at the clouds is doing the same basic thing. Where do the songs come from? Who receives them? How might “healing” be taking place by participating in this way? Does “pacification” enter into it, and if so, in what way?

“She didn’t care what he looked like, whether he was big or small, animal or plant, rock or wind, after all, she was a Goddess; it was all the same to her.” (Martín Prechtel)

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Not sure I can explain what I am getting at. Oh well, never mind.

Not too sure I can explain what I mean either, Nathan. “Art” is so squishy to talk about, I usually feel like an idiot when I try. But I like trying sometimes anyway.

I want to say something more about this:

Also, what happens to the rest of us when he’s prevented from doing so? I suspect all the beauty we make (whether we’re little or big, when our hearts are in it, including stuff we think is artmaking and lots of stuff we don’t think is artmaking) is honest to god helping hold the world in one piece, weaving threads together—i.e., doing really important work—and opening spaces wide for life to come and go, in the style of that superhero of creativity and artmaking, sheela na gig:

And if so, what happens when we shove all the kids behind desks all day and make them memorize bullshit and stop playing and dreaming up little songs?

I find that idea really powerful! I was one of those kids who growing up didn’t fit into a lot of the approved “creative outlets” if you will, of civilization, such as institutionalized art, music, theater, etc. Music a bit because I was convinced by my parents but I’ve always strongly disliked the definitions given for “art” in the dominant culture. I haven’t read The Disobedience of the Daughter of the Sun but after reading some of Martín Prechtel’s other works (that have deeply moved me) I have a different way of understanding art and storytelling. I agree though with what I think Nathan is getting at, how “art” as defined by civilization is harmful in creating yet another split and separation in our lives. To me, going beyond how art is defined, the creation of visual imagery or stories should be more integrated into daily life. It should not be yet another box to check or form of escape or necessarily something to “make life more interesting” in order to continue tolerating a life that would otherwise be unbearable. Life is beauty, and spontaneous expressions of the joy of being a breathing two-legged animal on this planet are always valid. Maybe seeing a painting on wood with elderberry and charcoal as simply an extension of life rather than a separate entity is what I’m trying to say. This “art” goes beyond something to be analyzed or critiqued and is simply another expression of life. The fir branches dancing in the ocean-scented wind is art, the destruction of a forest fire and the fireweed and morels that emerge from the ashes are art. I liked how you talk about how all the various energies and animals of the place, like Kelley Point Park, all contribute something to the “art” anyways I’m rambling but definitely enjoyed reading all y’alls ideas…


20 years ago I read a book (I wish I remember the name), that talked about a traditional Balinese village where the language had no words for “art”, or “artist”. What we call art, was simply a quality of beauty and care and rich depths that was applied spontaneously to every act of living. Every person in that village was engaged in what we call “art” in every moment of every day. Nobody in that village would even understand the common modern phrase “I can’t do art”. What we would call “making art” was as much an essential element of their lives as thinking or breathing or loving.


Also, personally, as both a self-defined “Artist”, as well as a certified (BFA degree) Artist, I have found myself having greater and greater difficulty with any personal creation of “art product” to be sold. In fact, I have recently and finally come to the realization that I would rather give up my title of “Artist” and never sell art again, than to continue to commercialize my creative process. And this was a hard place to come to, after over 20 years of making and selling art professionally.

What does attract me, is the idea of “teaching” people art, by which I really mean, helping them get past their cultural conditioning that art-making is only for artists.

Also, I am exploring the idea more and more, that given that access to the creative flow is a gift, that I can use that gift to give back. I have always had trouble with how to leave offerings when harvesting wild foods and materials. Not having Native American ancestry, offerings of sage and tobacco don’t feel right to me, personally. But to use the various natural materials at hand to create an “offering” of art to give back to nature–that feels beautiful and much more appropriate. And I find myself daydreaming of walking though a forest or meadowland some day where there are beautiful “offerings” tucked into nooks and hollows everywhere, in various stages of creation and decay, where the art of landscape and the giving-of-thanks to the landscape become one.


I enjoyed this, Mona Rose, thank you.

In January my family and I took part in a class on making cattail baskets. Some people abandoned their little weavings afterward, and my kids and I ended up bringing them to Smith and Bybee a week later and leaving them as a present for the cattails there.

It feels good giving presents to cattails! :slight_smile:


I make art for the product and not really the process of making it. The product is the reflection or rendition of the expression of my aesthetical preference. I like beautiful things that I made myself, so it’s more of a personal thing than a materialistic thing.

Sometimes I want to achieve something by making art but I realise that a motive like that are ways to numb some kind of pain. But it always goes away.

I have doubted my authenticity for a while and I now think that It’s authentic when I suddenly get an image in my head which I try to reproduce by experimenting. The results may differ a lot from the original image. Those images may be my unconcious mind communicating with my concious mind and I see that as quite magical in itself but I really really like the images too and I see it as my own magical creation/expression.

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I believe that in the Creators perception everything that happens is a work of art – we are constantly giving the glory of existence to the Creator. It is through our filters as human beings that things become more impactful or less worthwhile. I would not have it any other way. I do not want to look at everything and think HEY, THAT IS SO FREAKING BEAUTIFUL! I prefer to prefer certain things over others.

When I talk about art I mean things that are harmless and play a role in my advancement as a human. There are small works of art that make little differences and might not be recognized as art and big works of art that will never be forgotten.

I want to make anything that is good and sparks love in the heart of the beholder. Does that make my art any more valid than the type that makes hundreds of millions of dollars and might cause all sorts of strange harm? No. But we have our preferences.

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From Eric Jacomet, who can’t post this himself at the moment:

"Art—real art—connects artists, and their art, and those who experience their art, to the metaphysical background of the world, to the imaginal world that lies deep within the physical. That is, in part, its ecological function. And that is why the continuing assaults on the imaginal (and its explorers) are so pervasive, why the schooling of artists—of writers, musicians, painters, sculptors—has become so mechanical, so oriented toward surfaces, toward form. For if we should recapture the response of the heart to what is presented to the senses, go below the surface of sensory inputs to what is held inside them, touch again the “metaphysical background” that expresses them, we would begin to experience, once more, the world as it really is: alive, aware, interactive, communicative, filled with soul, and very, very intelligent—and we, only one tiny part of that vast scenario. And that would endanger the foundations upon which Western culture, our technology—and all reductionist science—is based; for as James Hillman so eloquently put it, “It was only when science convinced us that nature was dead that it could begin its autopsy in earnest.” A living, aware, and soul-filled world does not respond well to autopsy.
Nevertheless, despite our cultural immersion in surfaces, our “growing up,” and our schooling, somewhere inside each of us, those memories reside. Someplace deep inside, we remain children, those younger parts of ourselves woven into our being just as the rings of trees—and their earlier stages of growth—are still within them. These parts remain accessible within us, natural expressions of our aliveness. All of us have the capacity to free those parts—and their unique perceptual experiences of the world. All of us still have the capacity for a deeper kind of perception.

and from time to time
it still breaks through our habituated notperceiving
. . . despite what our culture wants”

  • Stephen Harrod Buhner “Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm”
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I used to think I wasn’t “good at art”. My former friends and I have an interest in anime/manga, but while they could draw beautifully in that style, I never could. Nor can I do perspective drawings with many sharp angles. Due to something weird with my brain, I have poor math skills, distance vision, nonverbal communication skills, and…spatial perception! :smiley: So even though I took art classes all through high school, I didn’t continue into college with my peers.

Modern art requires gridwork, measuring, and proportioning within a set standard for each “style”. I simply can’t do that. Just like I can’t tell left from right in less than 4 seconds. However, I see the world in a different way, difficult to explain in “normal” or “scientific” terms, and I express that through every task I perform.

I agree; art, at the most ancient and primordial root, is simply an expression of being. All animals “make art”. If you try to perform a task a “certain” way, you are suppressing a part of your being, and that creative present will simply find some other way to express yourself. Whether it be rhythmic finger-tapping, doodling in the dirt, fiddling with a guitar, or arranging a corpse like a mannequin.

Still, I do wish I could draw anime/manga; the styles of Yu Yu Hakusho and InuYasha have always endeared me. Sometimes I sit down, sketch a skeleton of bubbles and lines, and try to express a character from my daydreams in the form I envision them. But I always get frustrated and crumple up the paper when the limbs appear deformed.

I can describe those characters in metaphor-rich poetry or prose, the rich sensory details reminiscent of a century when attention spans were longer. My writing can make you smell death, taste exotic spices, and feel the heat of a volcano in the desert. Can’t draw for shit though, at least not “properly”. If I allow myself to draw in a more “exaggerated”, “simplified”, “tribal” style, the way that comes naturally and fulfills me the most, then I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Except the art I create is now I dream or imagine those things, and that greatly frustrates me.

There is obviously so much to say about this topic. While I want to reproduce the images I see, any attempt only angers me, yet when I draw random charcoal symbols on rocks around a fire pit, I feel pacified and satisfied deep within. Coloring, doodling, painting, and sketching with minimal forethought is extremely therapeutic for my overworked mind. So is singing out loud.

When I was a small child, I loved to sing. I think all children do. Then by adolescence, I grew self-conscious and quit singing around others. No one ever told me I “can’t sing”, my parents always encouraged me, but I became acutely aware that I was no pop star. Nor were Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, or Layne Staley though. They didn’t sing like they had autotune or vocal training, the soul in their voices is what made them beautiful. And my parents always did compare me to Janis Joplin, but I never really believed them anyway.

When I have time alone or don’t feel so insecure at the moment, I sing my own lyrics to myself as loud as I can. The longer I sing, the more I can feel my lungs open up, and I start to feel…light-chested. I also dabble in guitar and ocarina when no other humans are around to hear, but not often enough by any means. My boyfriend/husband is more musically-minded, but my mom raised me with the radio on all day.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my personality type is INTJ. Very uncommon in women, we have a tendency to over-analyze and over-strategize. Such traits can stifle art as an expression of being. My boyfriend in an ISFP, the “Musician” personality, and musical expression is indeed the creative outlet that comes most naturally to him. He helps to teach me not to think so much and just let myself feel. Receive, retain, and release.

Of course, I believe the typing system to be vastly both over- and under-simplified. Many people score near the middle on most traits, and there is much more to our souls than just a 4-letter abbreviation, but I agree that some people are born to realize certain archetypes. The Myers-Briggs type indicator is simply another suppressed expression of a valid perception. Nothing is true, but there is truth in all things. :stuck_out_tongue:


I can really relate to this. I think there’s something to that state we get in where we are drawing (or other artmaking) dreamily without really trying to produce something, and it takes us to an amazing place.