I’d just re-read this essay by Alan Moore the comic book artist and occultist called Fossil Angel (in two parts), which argues among other things that maybe the purpose of magic right now should be to get back into art. Rather than fight with magic’s rebellious children, Science (in the form of tow-headed tomboy Chemistry, longhaired wunderkind Physics, and exuberant, muddy-faced Biology), maybe we should recognize that one of the core purposes of magic is to make art that moves people, and makes them reconnect with their emotional and spiritual selves in a way that has nothing to do with official religious doctrine. Any official religious doctrine. Maybe we should collapse the whole edifice of 19th century ceremonial magic, with its lodges and its secret handshakes, and go for something a little more radical. Make stuff. Make a living, make a life. DIY, as my friend Tony would have it.
It’s possible, even likely, that in paraphrasing Alan Moore, that I’m not representing his ideas very accurately, so I invite you to go read the original essay. Again, even, if you haven’t done so recently. This blog post isn’t nearly so good, anyway. Although it does boast a little about finishing an art/magic project…
I’m very conscious, as the organizer of the design program at my school, of how little sense I have of where my students will be in 5 years, or what will be important to them, or what kinds of skills they will need (I did find one of the missing papers, though — which is good). It seems important to me, then, to be an artist, and a designer, and not just a teacher.
Which is why I decided to finish this project. I’d made the bamboo-book in the Chinese style a long time ago, inspired by the gift of the 36 Stratagems but I hadn’t finished it. It had been sitting on a shelf in my studio: made but not inked. The calligraphy is nothing special — a very basic italic with no fancy letters or thickened lines, because writing on popsicle sticks is a very basic thing to do. But the text here, is the Emerald Tablet.
And this project is now complete. Ish.
One of my big take-aways from learning to be a designer is that you’re never really “done” with a thing. There’s always one or two more things to fiddle with, to fix, to solve in the next edition. It’s very unlike homework, which has a deadline (“tomorrow”) and an expectation of quality (allegedly high, but in reality often quite low). The point of design work is that it takes a lot of tries to move something towards excellence, and sometimes a project sits for a long time before it’s finished. This one is done for now, but in six months or a year I might be called upon to embellish it further — maybe a little gold leaf, maybe some better calligraphy, something. For the moment, though, I’ve made art, and I’ve made magic, and I’ve seen a “bamboo-style-book” project through to completion. What I do with it next, I’m not sure.
The underlying point, though, remains the same. We’re living in an age when the people making the money and living the dream and inventing the world are artists — game designers, coders, graphics makers, fontographers, and all kinds of product developers. Those are the people who were, in the last generation, bored in school in any classes that weren’t Art or Computer Science. And now they’re running the world.
So one of my goals, as a teacher, has to include the idea of being creative, and a creator, and living a creative life in front of my students. How do I do that? How do you do that? How do we recapture the spirit of playfulness and inventiveness in a way that makes it more likely that kids will be able to be the kind of creative being who will help run the world in the next go-round?
Because if we can’t teach them to be that way, then we’re looking at a pretty dismal world ahead.