Art, Freedom, and the Culture of Dependency
BY DISTANT THUNDER
Some may wonder why Kirby Sattler’s I Am Crow appears on the cover of this month’s Montana Pioneer. Though the reasons are varied, the heart of the matter may be summed up with a question asked all too infrequently in these times when collectivism and depen-dency seem to have displaced self-reliance and personal power. That question is, what does it mean to be free?
Sattler’s depiction of a Crow Indian resonates with a haunting quality that fine art ought to possess. Like the unfolding of a dream that besets you later when awake, you can’t easily pin down why it is significant, but you know that it is. Art then, like dreams, speaks in the liberating language of haunting symbols, and to paraphrase an aphorism, one symbol is worth a thousand words (which attests to the inade-quacy of the verbal arts).
We ought therefore to let art speak for itself. Yet another facet of this phenomenon is that art means what it means to the one who beholds it, the dreamer, and therefore is an individual matter, this being the interactive nature of the psyche with the apparent world. Sattler himself asserts this (see article this issue). And so art speaks universally to each one’s subconscious in its own way, like God. This being a news journal though, we will attempt interpretation (linguistic limitations notwithstanding), aware that to carry a dream to the conscious mind one must first awaken from it.
So, here’s the dream.
The haunting intensity and stillness of I Am Crow speaks of another state of being, one that is free. The man depicted obviously derives from a culture other than that of the modern western world. Look into his eyes, somehow captured by the artist, and one sees the reflection of a human being stripped of conventions we now not only take for granted but mindlessly embody, in that we focus our lives on so much that is contrived and unrelated to essential existence—compared to the life he led, the one we might at least imagine, that of an unfettered psyche embodied in flesh absent the trance of the modern world.
We need not enumerate the myriad contrivances, affectations and obligations he lacks that are now taken for normalities and necessities of life, though many come to mind—from working one’s hours away to pay insurance and taxes to fearing the transition to which all nature is destined at the end of the cycle of biological life. We might also add to that a presumption of the attainment of knowledge by institutional consensus (through the perfunctory exercise of earning a diploma or degree) as opposed to the attainment of wisdom, or at least making wisdom a priority (for more on this subject refer to Master Po as depicted in Kung Fu episodes now available through Netflix).
One could go on in this vein, but doing so is unnecessary. We all know the story in elaborate detail, because we live it. Yet this man in the painting does not. Though perhaps a romanticized ideal, true only in part, contemplate his nature, his state of mind, his motives and heart, how it must have been to live his way, and you begin to get the idea. His challenges and experi-ences compared to ours were essential and connected to whatever it is that is common, ultimately, to us all as creatures upon the earth and beneath the sky. We seem somehow to have arrived at a place where essential beingness and a life lived by and through the heart are eclipsed by a thousand distractions, the hypnotic spell of the media and academic thought, the disingenuous drone of politicians, the pursuit of money, and the alterations of the same Earth and skylines upon and beneath which he walked, and by so many distortions of the landscape’s natural vista, that we might interpret these distortions as the denial of our own souls reflected in the world around us. Do we therefore live as creatures among other creatures on Earth, as part of the earth, as Nature, or so set apart that we fail to see that relationship?
And as for dependency (the abdi-cation of Self) versus personal power, see what our government, having steadily abandoned its commitment to freedom and independence, has done to once proud, free and independent people (those who requir-ed no photo ID or Tax ID numbers, no Social Security, no welfare or insurance policies, no tax deductions or rebate checks), displacing near absolute resourcefulness and inde-pendence with addictions that come in many forms, not the least of which is so-called federal assistance (whether on the reservation or in the form of farm subsidies), the effect of which in most cases is to make a dependent of an individual and by extension an entire culture.
Still, the psyche rules. Who ever this man in the painting is, you are essentially no different than he beneath your face paint and robe. He is a man stripped of the contriv-ances we consider normal, but entirely human, and we would like to think more able as a result to see things as they are. The rest is a figment of the mind, a trance, as if one chose to play a child’s game, then took the game for reality. There’s a lot of that going on lately. Some, though, would rather not play along, but move on to something more essential. —I Am Crow.