drawing life
fred hatt on magical art


Truth is passe, even a dirty word for postmoderns. But it has been an important value for artists. If we simply insist that truth and beauty do not exist, surely we are throwing the baby out with the bath water. We can only seek truth - it cannot be grasped. Seeking involves letting go, stripping away, being wide open. It is the opposite of constructing theories or amassing information or seeking any kind of gain. Truth will not be pinned down.

In modern times art has been seen as a commodity, a discourse, a form of expression, an activity. But artists have always known that real art must have a magical, metamorphic quality. I define art as a skill or a craft that is nurtured through devotion and practice until it has a refined power. This power manifests in the conjoining of opposites, such as the way Michelangelo made stone into flesh. It is an infusion of the life force into matter. Magical art goes back to the stone age caves with their teeming visions that capture and manipulate the animal spirit. It goes back to the painting of the body and the shaman's dance, chant and drum. A true work of art is one that is imbued with power.

In the past, the artist was the primary maker of images. In our day, our existence is saturated with images, mostly motivated by greed, sowing envy, dissatisfaction and self-absorption. Images have become a kind of pollution. The artist must find a way to go beyond simply adding more images to the mix.


For me, drawing is being drawn, sucked in by a vision, fed by a flow of life force from my subject.

Drawing is a kind of dancing, all there in the moment, in the body. The artist's eyes dance on the beams of light that move on the surfaces of the model. Underneath, tremors and shiftings of muscles, movement of breath, flowing of vessels and nerves call the eye here and there, moving. In these visions the mind traces line, form, light and color. The brush dances on the paper, sliding and flying on its wet tip. The eye glides over the curve of a back, the brush follows the curves, partnering the dance.

In the drawing, all this movement leaves a trail. Looking at a drawing, a viewer's eyes follow the lines on the paper, echoing the movements of the artist's eye. Some of the energy that flows between model and artist is caught in the net of the drawing and flows from the drawing into the viewer's eyes.

Drawing records something photography does not - the movement of perception in time. What is portrayed is more than an image of an object - it is a web of interactions, between model and artist, eye and hand, light and energy. The art object is an artifact of experience.

Drawing happens in concentrated time, in relationship between artist and model and medium, in the joy of seeing beauty as deeply as possible.

Practice is liberation through discipline. In drawing as practice, engaging through the eye with an external subject frees the mind from the burden of invention. The hand just goes. Composition seems to happen without effort. With practice the channel from eye to hand becomes strong and open.

Observation is also discipline. Working only from imagination, it is very easy to judge your work as good, but if you must compare your work to a model, you can always see more than what you have captured. Thus the striving is stirred.

Working when not inspired is discipline. Frustration should be welcomed, as it is a sign that if the work continues, a new level is being prepared which has not yet come to light.

Working with a model is a relationship, a collaboration. The artist cannot claim full credit for something that is only accomplished in partnership. Some models inspire the best in many different artists. Who could say the model is not equally an artist?

Figure drawing is western academic tradition, but if feeling is not at the heart of it, the body is depicted as object without life. Where the focus of life drawing is life, the passage is opened for something vital, subtle, ineffable, to express itself.

Artists should not think that they have to create a style. A genuine style is inherent in individuality. One cannot help but manifest one's own unique nature. If the artist focuses on a discipline, stays engaged in the pure challenge, style will emerge as easily as one's face emerges.


Art is about actualizing dreams. The impulse of art is in wanting to see something exist that does not yet exist. Art is conceived in love and born in labor. Art is a seed inside a person. Fed by practice, warmed with love, watered with devotion, it grows, unfolding organically, gaining a life of its own.

Though there is much inventing and constructing in art, this central element, this seed, enters in a quiescent state, and here the artist's role is more receptive than creative. The artist is a vessel for ripening the seed. In the art is born the child. The child is another seed, planted in the earth, in the world, to thrive or to die. If it thrives, it may stimulate the stirring of other seeds in other artists.

In the tree are fruits. In the fruit there is a seed. In the seed there is a tree.

Nature's productive capacity is extravagant. Out of the wild, out of the chaos are born the billions of forms. Many are wasted that many may thrive. Humans imitate this process, in our clumsy way, but we also embody nature. We must allow nature to act through our limbs and speak through our mouths, for she is our mother. And since nature is chaos, she enters in only where we relax our control.

What nature may say through us neither follows nor supports any ideology. The outward forms of art can hardly help doing so, as they grow in the field of culture. But the life of art is life itself, which takes any form that will live.

Some of the ancient philosophers said three energies are necessary to make the world: Chaos, Eros, and Gaia. If our artistic process would follow the model of nature's creation, these three energies must be manifest and balanced.

Inspiration is not something the artist can create from within. Something beyond the artist must be realized through the process. Art needs a seed from the wild, from Chaos. Lacking that, it appears slick, or dead.

To speak to the human soul, art also needs a human soul. Feeling, the sense of contact with one who shares our longings and our suffering and our joy at beauty, is what we resonate with, respond to, seek out. Art needs Eros, the flavor of the human, of deep human contact. Lacking that, it appears dry, cold, empty, distant.

Though these intangible things live in art, art must be intensely tangible. Art is only art in a form. Physical reality is its only existence. In art as in science, an idea must stand the reality test. Art needs Gaia, form, intensely present physicality. Lacking that, it appears insubstantial, unrealized.

Art in which all this comes together is imbued with power. It is alive, it is human, it is real. No formula will ever produce it. Only striving and devotion may approach it.


Painting the body goes back to the roots. It goes back to where the arts are not separate branches. It is both visual art and performance, both decoration and ritual, both symbolic and real.

Painting on a living surface is completely different from painting on a flat, inert ground. The alive body is the playground, the landscape, the theater for the painter. The tactile element of painting comes to the fore as the form guides the brush. The painter is working in relationship with the body, who responds to the touch, who moves, who speaks. Thus life comes into the painting through the process, and the painting comes to life through the body, and moves.

The body changes skin and is transformed. The wild is allowed to come out and to move in a body. The naked mask dances out demons.


I will never forget seeing Kazuo Ohno dance at the age of 90, light as a feather, radiating love, a whole audience embraced in his heart. Love was a palpable force in his performance.

Presence is the art of performance. A performer enters another state of being through the control of attention and breath and projective imagination. Presence has a magnetic quality that can move its witnesses, the audience.

Witnesses anchor the performer. Connecting to them allows the performer to let go of everyday connections to the everyday world, to go deep or to go far.

Closing the eyes or simply seeing without grasping brings the mind out of the head and into the whole body and into the environment. One may become the earth, a tree, a fire, a wind. One may die and descend into the darkness, then float back up, breaking the surface into sunlight and air. One may allow crazy dark or sweet spirits to use one's body to dance their vigor up.

Most performers use a lot of ego. But a few use the spirit and let the self be just itself.


Photography catches transitory moments. In snapshot photography, the only place for art is in the seeing, the selection, the timing. Carrying a camera makes one see the world differently. Through practice, the optical and chemical process of the camera is internalized and the technical tools become extensions of eye and mind.

Light painting is a way of making photography more like drawing. It is drawing, a tracing on silver emulsion, through a lens, of a gesture made in time. May an outer light, guided by a sensitive hand, reveal the inner light of the body?


Images of sex and sexiness are all around. Every salesman wants to seduce. Fantasy sex, hollow sex, virtual sex, porno sex are on the culture like flies on shit.

Today what is shown as "erotic art" skews strongly towards fetishism - materialistic sex, fixated on a thing, a theme, an object, a part. But such erotic art is a marginal, subcultural phenomenon. The art given important status today is the intellectual art, and most of what is shown today as serious art about sex and the body expresses revulsion or at least unease with the body and its sex. The very fact that the intellectual element is seen as the most important aspect of something as down to earth as art is evidence of how we elevate the mental or spiritual at the expense of the physical. The revulsion communicated by the art gives voice to the injury of this division.

A founding faith of our culture is that the body is base and the mind transcendent. Sex is banished to the shadows, the narrow alleyways and stuffy closets of our lives. Technologists dream of transferring their minds to chips on deathless robots. Moralists deny children their sexuality and condemn desire to hell. Scientists who reject the creative spirit fight with religionists who reject the evolution of the body. All are slaves of the division of body and mind.

When mind and body are severed, it is as though the lobes of the brain are severed and communication cut off. When the body is unconscious, it is a senseless zombie. When the mind is not grounded in body, it is a balloon in the wind. To integrate mind and body is to spiritualize matter and to materialize spirit.

When the body is just a beast of burden to bear the brain, when the body is despised as the tempter or resented as the embarrassing companion, our incarnation is incomplete. When the sacred and the physical are divided by a sentried wall, our freedom, our power, and our pleasure are diluted or dammed up.

The most reviled artworks of our time are those that juxtapose what is holy with what is earthy - dung on the Mother, piss on the Son, Old Glory on the floor. The sentries on the wall draw their guns.

We artists say that mind and body are facets of a single jewel, and that eros and divine love are currents of the same water. We say even turds are holy. We dance and sing and celebrate and refuse to let our joy grow pale in the closet.


An ancient writing of unknown provenance, attributed to Hermes Trismegistos, contains many strong images relevant to the practice of magical art. Here is my version, drawn from multiple translations:

It is true without lie, certain truth
that exterior is as interior
and interior is as exterior
to do the miracles of the one

And as all things exist by the one
in the meditation of the one
so all things are born of the one thing
by adaptation

Its father is sun
and its mother moon
It is borne in the womb of wind
and nursed by earth
It is seed of all the world's wonders
Its potential is realized when it is cast on earth

Separate earth from fire, subtle from dense
smoothly, with all talent
It goes up from earth to heaven
and comes down again to earth
and receives the forces of above and of below

Thus all the world's glory is your own
Therefore all darkness flees from you

This is the powerful power of all powers
for it masters all that is subtle
and penetrates all that is solid

Thus is the world created
From this arise amazing adaptations
of which this is the way

Fred Hatt, 1999

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