A Passage in Art

A paint brush is a compelling object, and rather an intimidating one to touch, for it has a purpose that is best understood by the artist, its unquestionable master. The hand that mindlessly selects a paintbrush and dips it into a colour of choice initiates contact with a practice set by the early human race. Such history is not necessarily the foremost to arise in the painter’s mind who guides the paintbrush towards the material on which it shall surface. Wood, paper, canvas, steel . . . the choices are plentiful and the result of the brush stroke depends on the compatibility of the materials.

Often, the lay artist who plays around with an affordable paintbrush does so to satisfy a pastime. The canvas is approached possibly with an idea or expectation of a result. Conversely, that same artist may wish to see what emerges and without having any ideas may give the brush stroke after stroke to allow matter to take over mind. The result is a matter of focus and an opportunity for the artist to sense and feel the inner workings of body, spirit and soul.

The interaction between matter and mind open up to all aspects of body as though a conversation were taking place between them. There will be a pause, an intake of breath, a sigh, irritation, frustration, a smile, touch.  Images start appearing on the canvas. The brush stroke appears to create of its own accord. Now it’s a bird, then it looks like a horse. How did Jesus Christ’s face appear?

Eventually, the brush is withdrawn and the paint bottle stored. The canvas sits out to dry. The artist does not wish to explain the result for something is stirred inside and the meaning is not yet understood. Sternly, the canvas is put away. Hidden in a cupboard where nobody can see it. It will come out again, sometime, one day, when it is time for that strange, secret interaction to be shared, reignited, or continued. The closet artist is drawn to spiritual growth and self-development rather than public expression of experience, talent, or a creative moment.

Unlike art therapy, which facilitates reflection on the emergent image size, shape, tone and colour of the canvas, the closet artist’s exploration is meditative and private, distanced from the need to help individuals express emotions through talking therapy.

The Talismanic artist, often a cantor or a cleric, is more generous using a meditative technique for the purpose of healing. Texts, talismans and images are used to create scrolls to address a wide variety of dis-ease including sterility, miscarriages, infant mortality, nightmares and to repulse all kinds of evil-affects to wellbeing.  

Strother and Hailemariam explain that the text of the scrolls conjure the unwelcome spirit in the triune of God. They list the sufferings caused and apply knowledge derived from sacred texts to force the demon’s removal from the patient. The talsam or talisman seals and ensures the integrity of the cure.

Talismanic drawings contain figurative compositions that represent evil. A clear view of entanglement is expected to untangle what has been tangled in the mind. The gaze of a pair of intense eyes is said to put a spotlight on the unwelcome spirit hiding in the recesses of the body and eliminate its presence once and for all.

Academics explain that talismans are “objects charged with the will of its creator, using symbolic material correspondences and consecrated in harmony with celestial timing to effect change on the earthly plane”. They sound perfectly suited to the feminine nature that ticks with the skies and fertilizes through a cycle.

Yet, women of the ancient centres are neither cantors nor clerics, so would they qualify to perform the art of the talisman? The public doesn’t care nor do the regulations about their small numbers and unique disposition. One such artist, Haimanot, visualizes the telsems in her dreams before she sketches them out the following morning. Yet her exquisite trade has failed for she has no competitors or rivals to associate with and fails to fulfill local regulations. How awful to be trapped by the gift of creation.

Haimanot would love to sell her paintings, and has not quite given up hope, but her heart does sink when she hears the local BBC news channel announce that women do not participate in telsem art. Opportunities are slim and misinformation hurts the disciplines of prayer and healing that date back to the 13th and 15th century.


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