In her article, “The Visual Arts and the Healing Process,”London psychologist, artist, and lecturer,
Susan Michaelsen, suggests that as our capacity “to see from a distance” has evolved, we have “lost touch with our rhythms and our roots.” In Western culture, says Michaelsen, “one of our major tasks we have today as human beings is to heal the splits…between head/heart, mind/soul, the masculine and feminine principles.”
And the Solution?
Artists, says Michaelsen. Those special individuals who serve society as modern day shamans, leading a shift of consciousness away from a strictly rational, hierarchical way of organizing reality, towards an awareness of the interconnectedness of all.
“Shamanism uses rituals for making a connection with other dimensions, other worlds, for the purpose of healing both individuals and communities,” writes Michaelsen.
Throughout history, artists have held up a mirror to society, both as critique and inspiration. The Artist as Visionary.
So if the artist’s role is to heal the splits in our psyches, would it be fair to assume that male artists might experience a closer connection to what western society deems as “feminine” energies and awareness?
Milo Klaassen, photographer, Nijmegen, Netherlands:
“I’m twenty-one years old and have been taking pictures for about three years now. I started with taking pictures of flowers and things like that. But I wanted to create something more personal; I wanted to use my pictures to tell stories.
Someone close to me left and never returned. These photos show the emotions I felt when I was in that situation.
Sometimes you are so attached to someone that you have the feeling you couldn’t live without them. When you love a person, you want to share all your time with him/her. You don’t consider that one day it might be over. And then when, for some reason, that person decides to leave you, you feel broken and alone. I don’t think you can really prepare yourself for something like that.
With my work I try to translate the emotions that I know well into pictures. For my “Leaving” series, the dark colours and scratches helped convey what I was feeling.
I achieve the weathered effect on the surface of my photographs by using textures. I often use 3 or 4 textures for one photo. Because of some scratches or spots you can feel the emotion.
Creating these images helped me with letting go.
Because of the emotional part of my photos, I hope people start seeing their own stories in the photos. I often hear that people recognize themselves in my work. That’s what I love about photography.”
Poet Craig Murray of Canada:
“Scottish families are not known for their supportive, kind familial styles.
(But) to feel deeply, to live honestly, and to be part of the world, means exposing yourself. To live under the artifice of pretend toughness or coolness or anything else is to live dishonestly. Yes, I scream and moan and laugh and love, and I do it all in a big way. Yes, I joke and cavort without too much regard for what others think. This is my life, these are my emotions, my joys, my sorrows. You can join me or you can leave.
Every day, every person I meet, every person I loose, every girl I know, and every one I want to know all become folded in.
I have always said all you have to do is find the words written on your heart and copy them down. Both the shining ones and the dark ones.”
by Craig Murray
Chambers filled with empty seats and strewn
about, cast away programmes trampled, lost.
Dolce, dolce what lies I made for you to keep,
what dreams and hopes printed, crumpled false
Best had I never awakened from my shrouds
than to have lain amongst the dead and empty
These strings, thin sinews that bind in place
I asked only if you touch, you touch gently.
Be kind for I bleed in my hardness, my strength
Keep words and
faith and when the curtain falls
as all must, let us find grace in sputtering lime
Let shadows descend as soft as ravens claws
Tattered remnants of red, mahogany, even moths
have left the curtains ruin and the stage rotted.
Allegro appasionato, I believed in the notes and keys
followed the harmony I scratched into my flesh and,
waiting but never seeing the composers secret.
The pages were always waiting for the dust to settle.
Boston photographer, Robert Siegelman:
“I think it is a tough time artistically. There is less support than ever before, funding is low. People buy safe work. Artists are considered an anomaly. I teach at an art school and they don’t even provide health insurance. Even organizations invested in promoting art as a serious and worthwhile pursuit, even they do not even support their own faculty – their employed artists.
I mostly tend to chose men who interest me in some way. I have no type in mind. My choices tend to be intuitive.
Many male photographers do have age ranges. 18-30 for example. I prefer not to leave out any certain demographic. I would love to shoot younger men or boys, but there are laws that interfere here. This should not imply that I am into “boys;” but that ideally I would include an even wider range of the masculine and male experience.
A shoot can be very therapeutic.
One of the best parts of being shot is that the model is being looked at and focused on for an extended period of time. We don’t usually get that kind of attention in our day to daily life. This is an opportunity to be seen,
All men are different. But we are all taught not to express ourselves.
I rarely schedule two shoots in one day; but these two opportunities were too good to pass up. A twenty-six year-old and a sixty-six-year-old. The younger man is rarely available, but was in town. I have worked with him several times. The older man had come into town, and wanted me to shoot with him. I was about to leave for most of the rest of the summer; so hence two shoots in one day. I had not expected or wanted any overlap between the shoots. They are very intense. I love them, but they are tiring. But that is not what occurred. The younger guy was the first scheduled, and had just showered and was getting ready to leave, when the other man showed up. I couldn’t help but to ask if they might do a few shots together. The younger one had a train to catch, but was very willing. I mostly asked them to stand next to each other and get comfortable together.
Lots of great work from those twenty minutes. I think it was chemistry. I try to set up a narrative which is about intimacy, or isolation in regards to intimacy, the push and pull we feel with partners. And of course there is a taboo about men being intimate with each other, and the fact that it is men of different backgrounds and ethnicities makes it all the more so.
Some think it is porn, or dirty in some way. Inappropriate subject matter…
Honesty is dangerous. For my work to have honesty and candor: Dangerous.
What we (all of us) are aroused by can be very surprising. (Even to us!) There are somethings we know that we are aroused by, and that we consider “proper” or consistent with our self image. But watch out! Surprises happen!
Americans are definitely more uptight in general around issues of sexuality.
I talk to a fair number of students about these issues. Men, women, straight, gay, and more and more… undefined! I always advise to follow your instincts. Love has no gender. Also: Don’t have sex until, at least, the third date, and always play safe. Hooking up is one thing; but dating is something else. Knowing the difference is very important.
by Martin Lochner, Cape Town, South Africa, 2001
First day at school you bailed me out
by tying my laces behind the dormitory room
laughing at my fiery pride and extending your
fine piano hands saying, “Friends till death divides!
Walking in pact for the next twelve years
the helping hand with elaborate explanations
why his friend did not do his assignments, and me
the vanguard fist in hostile playgrounds.
Things changed there on the sunny ridge, before
graduation, when mute tears turned to inflicting
rants of being different.
One evening, our friendship came to a nasty conclusion
when I found you naked in my bed
shaking hands stretching out for my embrace.
Standing there, I removed my belt and ripped curled you
into a red flaming wailer.
“Get out, Rectum Ranger!
Leave, and consider us done!”
Then one day in the paper I read:
Renowned Hugo Boss model, Julian Mosterd,
hanged himself behind his hotel door with an
ambiguous note that he misses his friend.
Luis Valdivielso Alvarez, art historian, Madrid, Spain:
“We all begin life first as women. Then biology plays with chance.
But when men depict themselves in art, they usually hide their feminine side. which includes anything vulnerable: genitals…feelings…
It is more like being with muscles. With rare exceptions like the sculptured images of Holy Week in Spanish processionals. And Spanish Baroque painting is crazy theatrical!
Artists who were not afraid to reveal themselves: Pablo Picasso Valdivielso and Federico Garcia Lorca… I also really like for dramatic literature, ‘The Bacchae of Euripides.'”
Jaakko Savolainen, free improvisational guitarist Alvari Lume; Espoo, Finland:
“Knowing the feminine side is a strength and the way to grow a man. Not a taught puppet with hands in fists. Some of use choose to stay open and emotional. Yes, I can be tough and hard if I have to. But I’d rather not. Oh, the emotional side of men in art is a great and important topic. This is worth speaking about! Very important and hardly ever discussed!”
Male genitalia is a very sensitive area. It’s represented delicately in the piece for this reason.
It does represent his interior. The scrotum which holds the testes is the only feature of the male anatomy that resembles an externalized visceral organ. It’s probably less painful to poke at the liver or kidneys. What I’m stressing here is that the ‘boys’ are vulnerable.
Most men want to be perceived as the strong capable protector. It’s a genetic predisposition. I don’t believe men nowadays are in a quandary about what defines or determines their masculinity. They lodge themselves within typical set parameters at an early age and are very well aware of both, the safety net and imprisonment aspects involved.
The struggle exists within the individual’s need for expression and the general sense of free-spirit. Having the courage to follow through with his inner voice, his will, those edgier calls that show up in time as he evolves and grows, with the potential of having to compromise a set image which was established inappropriately. Men in general are very uptight. Then there’s the classic self-imposed oppression, the fear of judgment and need for assimilation.
But in my opinion, to be a man means: Be whatever you’re about. Evolve, grow and accept change. Don’t follow a mode, or comply to a type that doesn’t accommodate your program or needs. Do so with confidence and conviction.
For me, vulnerability means pure innocence as in a state of tabula rasa. Raw intimacy with uncompromised passion. Making oneself open to criticism.
The idea of passiveness doesn’t necessarily mean powerless, provided one is aware, has control to decide and to some degree appreciates the position and balance between strong and submissive. Strong sense of self. To be an individual, a distinct brand with personalized set parameters. Strength in character, protected and respected. To be able to transition from passive to proactivity with the liberation of instinct.
My early sources of inspiration include: Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Federico Fellini, David Bowie, Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch and Peter Greenaway.
I personally feel far more liberated and privileged than your average male, therefore prompted to explore concepts such as identity intuitively.
I’ve always been surrounded by strong stereotypical characters in my life. Heavy on cultural and traditional practices with an overall sense of community. As an artist its second nature to want to draw from all that. I recall from a young age, watching my uncles mimicking characters from old Spaghetti western movies, trying to resemble their idols or even Elvis. We did the same in high school, as most still do today. Cutting our hair and dressing up like our favourite rock star. My self-portraits convey notions of adopted identity, branding, bravado, narcissism, idiosyncrasies, as much as the lack of it. Also supported is the darker side of the male psyche. Hence the labyrinthine of peering masks, the unspoken and half-hidden never reaching full revelation.
My intention is for my audience to be fueled with inspiration. Feel far less inhibited. Self-willed. And proceed with girth.”
by Ron Willis
It was a summer night
– all the nights felt like summer there –
and a light rain was falling
when we approached the scene.
(A salty rain, a gulf coast rain,
smelling of fish scales and beer bottle caps.)
The constable’s car was parked
on the side of the road,
the little blue light on top turning,
reflecting the scene with
a surrealist painter’s touch.
The town constable, her white hair
cut in a flat top style most popular
with the men of the era,
put on a rain slicker and retrieved
a rifle from the trunk of her car.
In the rain filled ditch beside the road,
shown in contrasting light
of the yellow high beams of stopped cars
and the blue circling of the emergency lights,
I saw my pony struggling to stand.
But he could not.
He kicked and fought
but could not rise to his feet,.
Crushed and broken legs
could no longer hold him up.
Looking in to his eyes,
I knew he didn’t understand any
of what was happening around him,
and I knew he could not hear my voice,
trying to comfort him,
just like I could not hear the voices
trying to comfort me.
As my father led me away,
I heard the gunshot
that ended my little pony’s suffering,
and the second shot, to be sure.
I was five or six; and I cried.
I cried a lot.
I never did learn not to cry.
Now tears fall over empty days
and hearts turned away,
and loneliness replaces loneliness,
and emptiness replaces emptiness.
In this life, I’ve learned,
ponies sometimes get hit by cars,
and people die,
and hearts once given
get taken back.
I don’t know the reasons why.
Yes, it was explained to me once:
I am damaged.
I know it’s true,
but I don’t like the word.
Am I not someone who can be repaired?
Am I not one who anyone stays for?
A gentle rain falls,
smells like yellow grass and yarrow,
and hickory firewood burning.
I walk a fence line I’ve walked before,
an old gray dog at my side.
I pat him on the head,
and he leans in to my hand
in appreciation. It’s enough.
Light fades behind a bleeding sky,
time to turn back for home,
the fire is waiting.
Ron Willis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA:
“That was what I call a ‘cleansing poem.’
I came from a home with an alcoholic, abusive father, and a mother who could not stand up to him. I retreated in to my writing when I was about sixteen or seventeen. I’m 51 now, and it still is a kind of therapy.
I write for the wind. Sounds silly I know, but really, just casting my words into the ether, to see where they take me, emotionally and physically. I see that people relate to my writing, particularly the ones about unrequited love. I feel less alone in the act of writing.
My favorite books as a teenager were The Idiot, Steppenwolf, and Frankenstein, all characters I empathize with. Each was a loner, with basically a good heart. I always related to the loner. Of course the fantasy is that the loner finds love and happiness, which didn’t happen in any of these stories.
I grew up in a world without art; in fact, in my community, the “art world” would lock their doors if I walked too near. There are little pockets of culture scattered everywhere. I have never had a local audience. I went unread for thirty years, until I found an audience in the virtual art community.
Mainstream media can influence, and even direct pop culture, but one’s perception of art is a very individualized thing. Right before this interview, I was at a local heavy metal club supporting my son’s band. This is one of those little pockets of culture; it will probably never be mainstream, but it’s their art.”
by Ron Willis
In the closing days of his life,
when the whiskey bottles and atomizers had stopped helping,
he walked the cotton fields of his youth.
Not sure why he chose this hard life
maybe he was dreaming
those late summer days sneaking away to the dry creek beds,
the piles of stones he called mountains,
listening to the old Indian man, singing his song
where he camped down on Otter creek.
I won’t ever know too much about the old man,
‘cept he had his demons, and he painted their faces
on most everyone he met.
He cried, and he kept it on the inside,
and he laughed, and he kept it on the inside,
and he raged, and it was an Oklahoma twister
in all its fury, turning the little world upside down.
I remember his face, fragile in those final days,
still denying my existence, and
yet pleading me to come to him one last time.
I remember the smell of gunpowder
and beans burning on the stove.
But I’ve forgotten how to come to him
one last time. And I never knew how
just to walk away.
And once, I wanted to tell him,
just wanted to say the words,
wanted to tell him I loved him.
But I never did,
Guess we both knew
would just have been a lie.
Ian Gamache, outsider artist, Canada:
“I don’t consider what I do to be ‘whining’, in fact part of me agrees with the ‘pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps’ philosophy; but not everybody has boots, or even legs for that matter.
There are millions killed in wars, in holocausts, and by starvation.
I think a lot of people believe that art is a personal thing, and that my drawings reflect things that happen to me personally. But I generally reject this notion.
Perhaps in the past it was more necessary, say for someone like Goya, to see first hand a lot of the things that he depicted in the Disasters of War series, but today we can see images like that on television, on the internet, or through books.
In most cases I generally strive for something universal; to try to see the world from the eyes of other people who live, and have lived, on this planet. I study a lot of history and look at groups who have been marginalized, or who have had to deal with difficult circumstances. I hope to capture something of their spirit in the drawings.
Animals end up in my drawings.
I often return to the an old bible verse : Ecclesiastes 3:19, which says “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both. As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.”
Jaakko Savolainen, free improvisation musician, artist, Finland:
“Ian Gamache is right. Within the stream of fast information and images, we are surrounded by subliminal messages, and truth disappears.
Gamache is digging deep for what has true meaning.
His drawing has a strong and free use of line, and his art is very much alive and breathing. Sound of the time. Very talented and exceptional artist. Haven’t seen anything this impressive for a long time. How he draws and paints is a living stream that comes from breathing the moment and being able to speak his voice out. Just brilliant! ‘Michelangelo said, ‘You don’t become an artist because you can, but because you have to.'”
Alain Millon, artist, poet, photographer, French & English teacher, France/USA:
I do not think it is a conscious choice on the part of most male artist to hide themselves. It is the result of the society they live in, which establishes what is “manly” to produce and to express. The non-communicative side of some males…
Even in everyday life, I experience a greater difficulty in reaching a deeper level of communication than I generally do with females interlocutors. I think it is about perceived sex roles.”
“To use sound to help people through difficulty is greatly satisfying. A few days ago I worked with a young autistic girl (she is blind, and she doesn’t speak or move at all). Hearing her humming while I was singing, and seeing her laugh was a joy and a great incentive to continue even through those difficult times.
The people I’m helping are deeply changing my view of many aspects of my life, especially of what is really important or what is just a consequence of my ego.
Everything changed for me when I realized that sound could go well beyond the aesthetic: it can gain a fundamental social and political importance if used in a relational context.
Music therapy has allowed me to figure out how I can live a life of purpose by serving really unlucky people. That’s what has saved me.
The best way to describe the music I compose is to quote Alfredo Rastelli’s review of my work:
“… A marvelous collection of sonorous flash that follow one another like waves in the sea at night, dying in silence and in it are likely to recover. ”
I started with techno music as a DJ when I was a teenager. For many years I spent hours and hours with turntables and with headphones on my head. Eventually though, I realized that discos and parties were just not my world. I started to look for different music, different sounds.
After a long process of “deconstruction,” I composed “Vetri di carta” (released on S’agita recordings) that I consider one of my most important works. At that time I did not know the “lower case” music, so I recorded that full length work without any background or specific influence.
It was the first step on my new path.
I listen to a variety of very different artists. In the electro-acoustic field: Rolf Julius, Steve Roden and Giuseppe Ielasi. But during my training in music therapy, I became increasingly aware of sound in its totality and in its complexity. Now if I have to choose between a good CD or an interesting sound-scape, I would surely choose the second.
In my family, my relatives were and still are not so interested in music or sound. But this is exactly the basis of the music therapy I’m referring to: use sound and music to connect, to communicate without word… Words are not able to help our deep communication in every single situation…in that cases music should be the right medium.
The most important common point between the music I compose and my music therapy practices is the absolute attention to every sonic detail, to silence and the possibility of every common object becoming a sonorous instrument. In music therapy, especially with particularly serious diseases, every micro sound can gain a great importance by which to meet the diversity. My composed music is never present in my therepuetic settings; but the attention to the depth of listening is an indispensable element.
It is important to note that, compared to my theoretical models, music and sound are a medium for therapy and not a therapy in itself. That means that music is not like a medicine. Music therapy is included in the field of art therapy which is based on non-verbal communication and through the artistic medium. With improvisation and “sonorous/musical dialog” you can meet each other to sow the seeds of a new relationship; in this case a relationship without word. As I said, listening is a really important aspect, it is necessary to suspend our prejudices, our noises, to be open and available with the confidence that change is possible, even in the most complex and serious cases.
If music therapy means relationship, every relationship is a unique relationship; so it’s very difficult to generalize. Usually it works well in cases where there are difficulties with expression of emotions, communication and/or relationship.
During the last two years, I had the opportunity to work with autistic and psychiatric guests. In both cases I have had very good results. But we must keep in mind that “autism” and “psychiatric” are just labels that poorly represent the specificity, the uniqueness and the history of people that we encounter.
I also have had the pleasure to work in film. Around 2002, thanks to Luca Sigurtà, I met Manuele Cecconello. Right away, I fell in love with his films and his poetic sense. We began collaborating. I composed for him many electro-acoustic pieces; and at the same time, he created some beautiful video works on my compositions (i.e. “Le bapteme de la solitude”). We are now working on a new project.
Recently, I also started working with the film directors, Maurizio Pellegrini and with Giuseppe Pidello. We were asked to create an audio-video for a museum here in Biella. In this project I followed the audio from the field recording to the editing and mixing. A great experience!”
Song and Sway
by Luke Prater, Britain
An unseasonal departure,
to unreasonable pressure.
the generous remainder
of a resurgent Summer day,
pushing serendipity into October,
lay devoted to celebrating
her life with the living.
No black was worn.
she moved, wake-walked
through spiraling song and sway.
~~Luke Prater, poet, Great Britain
* * *
Milo Klaassen, photographer, Nijmegen, Denmark:
Craig Murray, poet, Alberta, Canada:
Byong-Ho Kim, Los Angeles, California, USA:
Robert Siegelman, photographer, instructor at Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts, USA:
Robert Siegelman Studio 58: Studio 58 is an extension of Robert’s Boston studio. In this blog you can find examples of his work in photography, and other media.
Martin Lochner, Cape Town, South Africa, 2001:
Read a profile on Lochner: https://combustus.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/south-africa-poet-artist-activist-martin-lochner/
Luis Valdivielso Alvarez, art historian, Madrid, Spain;
Jaakko Savolainen, free improvisational guitarist Alvari Lume; Espoo, Finland:
Read a profile on Savolainen: https://combustus.wordpress.com/musicians/
Adamo Macri. visual Artist at Adamo Macri Studio, Quebec, Canada:
Ron Willis, poet, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA;
Patrick Gonzales-Photography, Dijon, France:
Note: You can also read a full interview with Patrick here:
Ian Gamache, outsider artist, Canada:
Alain Millon, artist, poet, photographer, French & English teacher, France/USA:
Luca Bergero, music therapist, composer, field recorder, Italy:
Hudagimbal Turenia, artist, Jakarta, Indonesia:
Luke Prater, poet, Great Britain:
Luke Prater also will be profiled in an upcoming issue of Combustus. Stay tuned…