Are you an “artist?” What does that mean? According to Jane Seaton, we are all artists, born with the natural talent it takes to make each day a creative process. After receiving her fine arts degree from the University of London, Seaton lived in an international spiritual community before pursuing careers in art and psychotherapy. Drawing from her professional experiences in art and therapy, as well as her spiritual practice, Seaton developed the highly successful ArtlifeTM workshop program for people who never thought they could be creative—let alone change their lives through simple creative acts.
Sounds True: Jane, you use the term “artlife” to describe life-changing creative expression. What is the origin of this term?
Jane Seaton: I coined the term “artlife” to describe what happens when we bring art and life back together again. For the last few centuries, art and life have been separated from each other in Western cultures. I think that this has a lot to do with the deep malaise of the spirit we are experiencing in the West. I teach that when we bring art and life back together, as they are meant to be, then we take a step toward finding our integrity—both as individuals and as a society.
Sounds True: Many non-Western cultures don't even have a word for art.
Jane Seaton: Right. They see no need to have a word for art because art is so embedded in life. In native cultures certainly, art was so intrinsic to every daily task of life—from making fishing nets to conducting burial ceremonies—that they had no need for a distinct word for it.
Sounds True: You refer to the German artist Joseph Beuys, who once said “everyone is an artist.” What does this statement mean to you? Surely, we are not all Picassos or Beethovens.
Jane Seaton: Beuys was saying that creative ability is intrinsic to every human being. Beethoven and Picasso were particular kinds of artists; they gave their entire life energies over to certain art forms that we know and recognize very well.
On the other hand, everybody has the ability to create the form of their lives—to know the artistic purpose of their lives. When you explore what it means to be alive—well, that is being creative—and that is being an artist.
In my classes I teach that when we wake up in the morning, we start making choices: do I get out of bed now, or do I wait ten minutes? Do I make a cup of tea first or get in the shower or listen to the news—it goes on like that all day, we keep making choices. That is being creative. Nobody is telling us in those mundane everyday choices what to do. I tell my students to explore how we choose to do little things, and how we enjoy them, as part of the adventure we each are living. Very often this process of paying attention to simple choices leads to an overflow of the energy of exploration. Then we can begin to express this overflow through creative acts, whether it's in the garden, or making clothes, paintings, or sculptures, whatever.
Sounds True: You encourage many art-making activities which are quite simple, involving charcoal, crayons, clay, and even found objects. Yet many people have quite a bit of resistance and fear about art making.
Jane Seaton: That is because virtually all of us, from when we are very small, are taught in school that art is something extra, is not truly relevant or serious—it's just for little kids. We don't treat art as something that is foundational for our well-being.
Also, we are largely taught by people who say there are right and wrong ways to do art. The right and wrong ways they teach have little or nothing to do with our innate and profound primal impulses toward creativity. So people get very confused by the age of 5 or 6 and doubt their ability to be as creative as others. Their natural creative impulse gets stunted, which is one of the true tragedies of this society.
Sounds True: What counsel can you give people who are attracted to art making but are afraid to create work that will appear childish or ugly?
Jane Seaton: This is a theme I address in depth in my work. People often sit before me and say, “Well, it came from my deep unconscious and I'm sure God spoke through me, but it looks hideous.” And certainly, I understand how frustrating it can be to look at something you've made and think, “Damn, I just didn't have the technical skills to translate my vision from spirit into form.”
What I encourage people to do is to be patient—to see if at least for a while they can set aside the tendency to judge and reject, which comes in large part from our schooling. Then, I ask students to try and look at what they've made with innocent eyes, and not as a critical adult or as a stranger—to see their work of art as meaningful on its own terms.
We get stronger as artists by learning to accept what we have done in this way. And amazingly enough, from within, we begin to reclaim our innate skills. And with patience, these skills begin to grow, and soon we are able to make a more fluid translation of what was intended.
Sounds True: One last question, what do you think of the claim that art heals?
Jane Seaton: Art is another kind of language—one that predates modern verbal language. Verbal language is very conceptual, very much oriented toward explaining the outer world. When it comes to expressing the inner world, we often turn to the visual language of art. Art making springs directly from our unconscious, and when we go toward our art making, we touch something profound, something that is true to our own being, something that has the power to transform us.
In our art making, then, we can directly experience the meaning of our life for ourselves, not according to some theory or dogma, but for ourselves.