A 21stCentury Guide to the Woodland Art Movement
R.R. Sinclair © 1999/2006
The value, purpose and merit of Woodland and Thunderbird art goes well beyond financial gains in terms of significance. The iconoclastic nature of much of the work has a spiritual importance that is global in impact. In its sacred symbolism, this work shares a commonality with aboriginal art world-wide while simultaneously exhibiting the artistic purity, intent, grace and colour that adorn the windows of the world's churches.
When viewed as a personal or family talisman, Shamanistic art empowers while it protects. Traditional pictographic art and birchbark scrolls are two-dimensional symbolic renderings that tell an archetypal story. A powerful alignment takes place in those who know how to interpret the colours and symbols in relation to one another. A vibrational sense of oneness with the archetype itself.
Long ago Shamans would paint images of caribou to become one with the spirit of the caribou. From this vantage point Shamans could psychically locate herds in the vicinity and indicate to hunters where they would be found. To tribes whose very survival depended upon the accuracy of the Shaman's insight such "art" was invaluable and much more than mere decoration. Today, though perhaps harder to identify, Shamanistic art carries within it the Spirit of its ancestral source.
The power of a Woodland painting to impact the collector is born out of resonance with a particular piece. After spending time with a Woodland painting one becomes spiritually associated with the symbolic content. In deriving personal value from the art through that association one is strengthened and inspired.
Shamanistic art is a creative response to a fundamental sentient need to maintain health and well-being. Through artistic expression, a Shaman calls into play the triple faculties of imagination, intuition and inspiration in order to commune with spirit. The Great Spirit in turn extends to the tribe the power to consciously harmonize environmental forces. When appreciating Woodland Art in essence we join the tribe vibrationally, and through that connection discover the power within ourselves.
Traditional Ojibwa culture speaks of four Shamanic representatives involved in the healing arts. They are: Shaking Tent Practitioners; Plant Medicine Doctors; Dreamers and Blowers. A Grand Shaman, symbolized by the Turtle, is an integrity of all four. According to legend, such a magician comes once every seven generations in order to strengthen our collective bond with Spirit. Norval Morrisseau is such a man.
In the Beardance Ceremony, the traditional Ojibwa ritual that recognizes this renewal, the Shaman passes on his medicine power through the Spirit of The Bear to his apprentice where it will build in potency for generations. As it is with the Bear who hibernates, so it is with the great healers who reappear from time to time to bring with them a new spring (a new civilization) and plant sacred seeds in the rich soil of the Earth.
Woodland Art is a healing mechanism precisely because it expresses in paint the mystical power of belief and reverence common to both the church and nativism. In a sense the terms, "Great Spirit" and "Holy Spirit" are one. Both are grand visions of life that revell in a common spiritual source. Both find its cherished ideals eternalized through the fine arts. Whether the medium of transmission is the stained-glass of the world's cathedrals or the brilliant canvasses of Morrisseau, there is a definite therapeutic value that can be attributed to high art.
The Woodland School and its Art are vibrationally linked to an ancient, global, tribal consciousness. Historians believe that the fruition of humanity into a co-creative civilization is largely a continuance of the work originated by Aboriginal Shamans over aeons. The School finds its historic model in the esoteric "Wabeno (visionary) Society" of the Great Ojibwa, a Shamanistic tradition that predates recorded history.
The artistic movement originated by Morrisseau has yet to realize its potential as a global source of inspiration, guidance and wellbeing, however within the crucible of Canada, the historic impact is undeniable. This Woodland School has been a major catalyst in the creation of an inspired and incited Native Canadian population.
Though such occurrences are few and far between, history remembers the vision and power of a creative movement. When they occur, whole societies are galvanized. In the developing consciousness of humanity, one may consider the creative import of the Renaissance or the Golden Age of Greece. When a force of inspiration continues to grow in potency, it overflows constraints of nationalism and prejudice, creating a greater community of vision. A dynamic community that extends beyond the boundaries of government, race, age, language, sex and vocation to effectively shift today's world in consciousness.
While remaining rooted into the deep past, the Woodland Art Movement is uniquely blessed with the power to visualize the new principles of a global community. While the historic impact of the Woodland School of Art on the global village still remains to be seen, humanity herself must come full circle to survive. The Woodland School can potentially play a vital role in assisting her into safe harbour.
The Human family must return to community, only at this turn of the great evolutionary spiral, as a "global" tribe. Woodland Art speaks with clarity and of principle to humankind. At the centre of any society, representing it, are artists. At the epicentre of artistic movements are visionaries who are, in essence, civilization's eyes.
Perhaps if Morrisseau were born with white skin, and if his paintings were canvasses of existing stained-glass windows, the fame of the Woodland School would already be Global. Artistic beauty is a precept with Woodland Art. Woodland paintings are characterized by their genuine simplicity with pure colour and symbolic content integrated in elegantly fluid outline and inlay. The art primarily focuses on the relationship between the "Creator" and the "Created" using symbols to convey natural truths. Most artworks are two dimensional (pictographic) designs that one does not look into as one would a landscape. They are organic statements of inner harmony. Like ripples cast on still water, all symbols in a Woodland School painting have a relationship with one another.
The Woodland School taps into an instinctual wellspring of inspiration that requires no predisposed understanding to appreciate. Those who appreciate the warmth of pure colours will experience a sense of inner harmony and balance. Those with even a simple appreciation of the subject matter will enjoy a deeper respect for the ab'original' in all people. as well as for the creatures of the environment. To those who can fully interpret the relational symbology, an enhanced revelationary empowerment is received.
The prolific nature of the leading artists, in particular Morrisseau, have resulted in a wealth of stunning canvasses. A saturated Canadian market has, through time, fermented the Woodland style to the point where those in the know can pinpoint the artists due attention. Those who were merely crafting a living out of an opportunity went looking for greener pastures during the recession years of the 1980's. The cream of the crop, however, have continued to paint prolifically and have flourished without the benefit of a demanding market. The Artists of the Woodland School continue to produce dramatic large scale pieces, often in excess of 30 square feet. The fact that much of the world has never been exposed to the power of this art is in no way a reflection on the merit of the work. On the contrary, where exposed, as in France, Germany, Italy and Japan, the response has been nothing short of phenomenal.
In principle shamanism and creativity are simply a birthright of being human. Attributed to Woodland Art, as its primary purpose, is the inspiration and education of individual people leading to a spiritual understanding of our collective power. The aesthetic appeal of Woodland Art we can discover and appreciate by its power to beautify environments with defining principles of harmony that are as natural as we are. Through simplicity of form a complexity of meaning is communicated that goes well beyond the nature of a craft to delve into the pure functions and realities of life on Earth.
The aesthetic appeal of Morrisseau and the Woodland School Artists has been undermined for political reasons within Canada however internationally we can gauge the value of the work by its impact within the European art community. In France, where he is adored and known as the "Picasso of Canada", Morrisseau was invited to, and therefore exhibited at, the Pompidou Centre in celebration of the French bicentennial. His popularity in Europe has not however been limited to the aristocracy. In the late 1960's, when a Morrisseau exhibition took place in Florence, both Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall attended.
Woodland Art is now carving a collectors’ niche at the heart of Japanese contemporary culture as well. The style appeals to their sense of order in nature and is strangely reminiscent of their own historically tribal ancestry. Japanese collectors have amassed large collections of Native art covering a wide cross-section of the Woodland and West Coast artists. In stark juxtaposition, the easily accessible United States market for Woodland Art has never been tapped. The reasons are both political and social. This book is a small step toward removing obstacles that stand in the way of the natural beauty of Woodland Art reaching the zenith of it's destiny; the inspiration of the Human family.
We are living in a new age where nationalities, religions and cultures are superseded by joint political, economic and environmental concerns. Inter-relationships co-exist between all life forms. In taking responsibility individually, and in sharing responsibility collectively, we discover hope for our future in the health of the World. Eco-conscience is and can be further, facilitated by utilizing the visionary tools of the Woodland School of Art.
From Woodland Art ecologists can draw valuable insights, and communicate them visually. Woodland Artists universally consider their work to be an educational resource. Their collective vision is a shared recognition of the beauty, the truth and the value of the Great Creative Spirit. Their underlying hope is that their paintings will ignite the creative spark that resides within each of us, who only together can provide the inspirational power necessary to create a community of understanding.
The social implications of the Woodland movement continue to impact Canadian society. From within an inspired and incited Aboriginal community, the voices of a people that have been heard and ignored for generations are speaking less and doing more. Today, Native leaders are progressive, well educated, versed in communication, and creatively motivated like never before. In Canadian public schools, where the Woodland School of Art is required curriculum, a new multi-cultural generation of Canadians are being taught that we are all equal, interrelated and interdependent.