Since the work of spirit necessarily entails a relationship to sign, symbol, and imagination, it is often conjoined to a discussion of art. Good stuff comes out of that, but I want to think about it from a different direction, approaching the relationship to art as having a more fundamental connection to culture.
Partly, this is meant to counter my own habit of over-emphasizing aesthetics. What happens if I think of the alliance of Venus and Saturn as reaching its apex in cultures rather than more singular works of art?
The creativity that we ascribe to art can be found in culture more generally. Take kinship. While it begins in simple animal generation, it is creatively elaborated to establish complex relationships between individuals who otherwise have only the most indirect animal relationship to each other. Brotherhood and sisterhood become the basis for all manner of alliances, from which spring ever more elaborate ways of relating to each other. Some of the most successful cultures succeed precisely on their capacity to creatively imagine possibilities within these categories, establishing more complex ‘fictive’ kinship relations with others, productively complicating situations.
This back and forth between brute life and culture transpires at all points of our interaction with the world. Where we encounter animals, plants, rivers, and mountains, we have the opportunity to extract from the situation abstract determinations that can be speculatively applied as culture. The height of the mountain, the coolness of its shadow, the freshness of the river’s water on our lips, becomes the affective substrate through which we can build a vessel for consciousness.
That consciousness includes our own, but is not limited to it. Cultural forms are the most vital vessels for spiritual presence, and it is in the orchestration of substance and experience through cultural forms that spirits come to fullest presence.
Which makes the modern industrial world somewhat inimical to spiritual work. The standardization of habits upon which it depends narrows the diversity of cultural practices through which spirits manifest. Consumerism is especially dangerous, producing the illusion of cultural diversity through the manipulation of appearance without providing a medium to develop a diversity of habits and lifeways which would give those images substance.
On this point, art can become the enemy of culture, suborned into entertainment (which is not to make entertainment itself wrong, only problematic when it becomes a dominant mode of cultural engagement). The good news seems to be that art’s allegiance to culture is deep and abiding; even suborned, it tends to contain within itself the promise of another life where what it displays as appearance could be realized in experience.
That promise forms a crack that can be wedged open. I am thinking here of the flowering of fandoms, which seek to realize some aspect of an artistic experience in their life. I would be careful not to glorify that, because most forms of fan engagement remain at the play of appearances. Still, the eagerness with which they are sought and the vibrancy of the communities they sustain make manifest an idea of escape, perhaps even suggesting the trajectory that shape might take if realized in the heart of life.
There may even be something to be had here about talking about the dangers of appropriation as they transfer something with roots in a form of life and convert it into a means of producing an emotional response.