One of my mentors, the California-based writer and performance artist Frank Moore, died last October at the age of 67. Frank was born with cerebral palsy and was unable to walk or talk, but he was determined to break out of his own isolation. Once he had done that, he kept on going in that direction, which led him to create a kind of initiatory performance art aimed at dissolving the artificial barriers between people, and between individuals and their own creative power. (Frank tells his own story in the classic autobiography Art of a Shaman.) I first encountered Frank’s writings in the MIT-published journal of performance studies TDR: The Drama Review, and in 1989 was privileged to experience “Journey to Lila”, one of his all-night participatory shamanic erotic ritual performances at Franklin Furnace in New York.
“Journey to Lila” was an eight-hour series of experiences, by turns silly, sexy, disconcerting, frightening, ridiculous, liberating, playful, warm, and bonding. By the end of it most of the audience was undressed and playing with each other like naked children. While some moments of it could be challenging, I never felt that I or anyone was unsafe or coerced or being exploited or laughed at.
When the World Wide Web came along in the mid-1990’s, I discovered that Frank Moore was a pioneer in using that new communication medium, with his extensive “Web of All Possibilities“. I was able to reconnect with him and his tribal extended family, got to know Frank personally, and participated in several other Frank Moore performance events over the years (I’m in the left background in the photo below). The first artwork I ever put on the web was on the Featured Artists section of Frank’s website. I consider Frank a mentor and one of the few genuine geniuses I have been privileged to know.
I’ve seen a lot of great performances and experienced many immersive theatrical events, but nothing has had such an enduring transformative effect on me as Frank Moore’s “Journey to Lila”. It came along at a pivotal moment in my life, and it opened my mind. I had recently moved to New York and was trying to figure out how to live my life as an artist. I was fascinated by magic and was reading about things like Tantra and alchemy, but magic remained a sort of abstraction for me. I had thought of it more as a subject matter for art, as symbolism or as fantasy, only pointing towards mystical truth. Frank showed me that magic can be the operational technique of art, that it is a completely practical approach to transforming reality or creating freedom, and that its materials can be utterly humble (a cup of water, a roll of aluminum foil, a Sonny and Cher song) and its actions very simple.
Ever since, I have understood that people deeply desire freedom, that they want to live in a world of love and joy, and that if you invite people to play with you in such a world, many of them will. It has nothing to do with the harsh things our society uses to drive and motivate people – fear, envy, guilt, competition. The magical way is the way of a pure heart – which, in Frank’s case, provides the perfect complement to a dirty mind. Frank showed me a wild but gentle way of freedom, and I still try to follow it in my own artistic career and in my own life.
Americans always talk about Freedom and Liberty as our great values, but everybody has different ideas about what these words mean. I grew up in the American West, where the icon of freedom is the lone gunslinger, and where a common notion of personal liberty understands it as autonomy, or as having your own turf where no one else can meddle, protecting yourself and your family or community with fences and guns, and if you’re rich, with dollars and lawyers. Of course, everyone needs a place to feel at home, and fiercely defending that is important, but to really feel free, to have the kind of freedom you need to make art, to make love, to nurture people, requires trust and connection, not autonomy but interdependence. That is the kind of freedom Frank Moore wanted to foster.
For a disabled person like Frank, dependency is obvious and it’s impossible to believe in the delusion of autonomy. Frank had to gather helpers around him, and he would never have been able to do all he did without the support of his larger community and his intimate tribal group, which, at the end included Mikee, Linda, Erika, Alexi and Corey. Any tribute to Frank is also a tribute to Frank’s people.
Frank was a rebel of the underground, and his use of sexuality and messiness and a deliberately crude aesthetic helped to keep him in that place below the radar where magic can be safe. I am sure that many people were transformed by his work as I was, and that the seeds he sowed will be producing nourishing fruit far into the future.
Frank Moore’s publishing company, Inter-Relations, just put out a posthumous collection of Frank’s writings called Frankly Speaking. It’s full of great stuff, but I’d like to share here a brief piece that gets at something profound about the creative process, wisdom that is often neglected by teachers. Since many of my readers are artists or art students, this should serve as a good introduction to Frank Moore’s way. I’ve interspersed the text with some of my own doodle-like abstract watercolor sketches, not as illustrations of Frank’s essay but just as my tribute to Frank Moore, examples of my own attempts to work with the kind of freedom Frank is talking about here.
CREATING A MASTERPIECE, by Frank Moore, published in Lummox Journal, March 2000, included in Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore, 2014, published by Inter-Relations
An artist starts, let’s say, a painting with a set idea of what he is going to paint. Sooner or later he makes a “mistake” – a color or a line which doesn’t fit in the original idea – which “ruins” the painting. When this happens most people give up, thinking that they are not cut out to be artists, and withdraw back into the common existence. Others try to pretend that they didn’t make the mistake, that the color or line isn’t there on the canvas. They go on painting as before. When they are done, they have painted the shadow of what they wanted. Morevoer, this shadow is covered with a haze. Others keep starting over whenever they make mistakes, not accepting any mistakes. They are rewarded for their endurance with the perfect copy of the thought form which they had held for all this time. They are rewarded by what they think they want to create. Their thought form has been brought down into the material plane. The creation is perfect. But it is not a masterpiece. It is perfect within the limitations placed around it by the rigidness of the artist. The work is perfect, but not free.
A masterpiece is perfect and free. The master artist paints an adventure in color, words, or notes. What others see as mistakes, he sees as challenges, boxes out of which he has worked as the basis on which he creates a totally new, fresh pattern. These challenges, boxes, keystones, keep appearing as he works, demanding the artist’s flexibility. If the artist looks back, trying to hold on to what he thought the painting was or would be, he gets trapped in a box out of which he must battle or be turned into a rigid, bitter pillar of salt. The artist has to keep his whole attention on the swirling colors in front of him in order to be the creator.
To create a masterpiece, the artist has to use and risk every bit of himself. But he also has to create with God, for God is the one who creates what most people call mistakes, and that the master artists sees as his tools and materials. God does not create for the artist. God just provides the tools, the guiding bumps. It is up to the artist’s free will whether he creates or gets dragged down by the weight of the tools. When the artist is creating, he feels no weight.
The most important masterpiece is a lifetime. This is a statement of hard fact. Creating a masterpiece in every day living is governed by the same rules as creating a masterpiece in paint, but much harder because the artist is also the canvas. In every period of time, in every land, there are a few masterpieces of art and writing. But a masterpiece lifetime is much rarer.
“Creating a Masterpiece” is on pages 64-65 of Frankly Speaking: A Collection of Essays, Writings & Rants by Frank Moore.
Photos of Frank Moore and his performances were found on the web. Clicking on the photos will take you to the sites where I found the photos.