Today was one of those days on which I didn’t get to do any creative work at all, in fact I only visited the studio long enough to turn on the lights and walk out again, but the day has fed my practice by triggering some thinking about authenticity. 

In the morning I attended a lecture by Dr. David Chidester of the University of Cape Town who talked about the dreams and curious adventures of Zulu shamans in South Africa and North America. His book “Authentic Fakes: Religion and American Popular Culture” was released in 2005.

After the lecture and a spot of lunch I was able to chat with Dr. Chidester about authenticity and shamanism. Dr. C. has expanded Mercia Eliade’s observation that shamans were viewed with suspicion by members of their own community – an idea which applies to the expanded global culture of the 21st century by raising the issue of authenticity when considering shamans who are disconnected from their own culture and absorbing and applying the traditions of others.

A shaman in this part of Southern California claims to be Chumash: he’s actually Mexician, but his shamanic practices seem to be effective for his audience, so is he legitimized by his ever-expanding practice?



This got me wondering about my art. I self consciously evoke the mythology of Neolithic Britain and Western culture in my work and hope to enter a dreamlike place and manifest characters from it who can emerge into our world in the paintings. Are my recent paintings “The Aviator’s Dream” and “Fama” an authentic expression of this dream-like landscape?  To some extent they have generated themselves from my subconscious mind as I have made choices that contribute to their composition for a variety of reasons; some practical endeavors have been guided by the composition, some self-consciously mystical decisions, some ideas suggested by subjective connections that I made to material that already existed in the paintings. The landscapes of Death Valley and the Orkney Islands have influenced them, and the flora and fauna of my daily life are creeping into them. To me the paintings are an authentic expression of my imaginative state of mind at this time, expressing something of what Jungians call the collective unconscious, or what theosophists call the akashic record. 

How do they become “authentic”? When they are sold and acquire a market value? When they are exhibited in a museum or gallery, made authentic by the approval of the gallery owner and the public? 

About pearce

Michael Pearce is an artist, writer, and professor of art. He is the author of "Art in the Age of Emergence."
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3 Responses to Shaman

  1. janet amiri says:

    Authentic. As an artist this word reigns supreme hovering 24/7 in my studio, my insecurities and my unconscious. Because what is real or true deemed authentic might escape one’s grasp for decades, a life time or even millines. Could the reason be that a penance or sacrifice is due, with authenticity as it’s own reward? I don’t think it’s about the audience, not outwardly so. I am inching closer to realizing that the artist’s intent, an act of contortion to the breaking point, is the prerequisite to seeking truth unto ourselves. It becomes a single, precious chance to tell the story. The story that insights repeating through the ages until we get it right. It’s all about collective human suffering, and what measures it takes to rise above. What one must do to face the stranger in the mirror and ultimately recognize whose image it is gazing back. And the image is all about love, and nothing else. I am still a work in progress.

  2. kathrin says:

    “There is a fundamental beauty that frames our lives as human beings, and it lies in the mystical scaling of our consciousness. Perplexed by our genesis, we wander the textured landscapes of the wide world, resonating to the numinous in objects that populate the field. Strangers in a strange land, we seek solace in the bosom of the artist, who translates for us the messages that lie hidden in the mad but sublime machine of nature.”
    This is a quote from one of Charles’ essays….I love it because it so simply distills the calling of the artist: that which makes an artist authentic is his ability to first of all pick up on and then to translate the messages given to the children of men ( whether or not they are in turn overtly receptive or immediately ready to receive is a completely different issue). Authentic art then is maybe merely truth repackaged by modern day shamans – the artists.

  3. Doesn’t that depend on who your audience is?…who is watching?…are you watching?…apparently I am watching, so does the painting become authentic when I say it is finished or when you the artist say it is finished?…Is your audience still unknowingly waiting to see this piece of work in a museum or gallery?…Or do you have a friend that would find meaning in this work…a person that would take the images to heart and change not only his perception of the world around him, but then affect the world views of those onlookers?…I think the final question answers the question best “how do they become authentic”…but, I am sure more is involved depending again on the audience, the artists intent, and many other questions…any other answers or questions to answer the question…

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