I was inspired to do something different based on a prompt today. Instead of writing a poem as I usually do, since the prompt was thelemite, I thought I’d write a little about an artist I love whose work sometimes gets associated with the thelemites.
I don’t take an interest in the occult as defined by Alistair Crowley & company, including, by the way, several well-known British writers & poets of the time. These interests were very popular in England in those days, as were the spread of associated thelemite philosophies.
The interest in mysticism & ‘the occult,’ of the period, had to do with a number of things; including how Europeans were extracting ideas from the colonies. These included spiritual & mystical ones; as well as philosophies of cultural resistance & revolution within art movements of that turn of the century era.
Within this context, Pamela Colman Smith, a Black Jamaican & British artist, created her wonderful Smith tarot deck; the first ever to be printed in the English language. Pamela Colman Smith was an amazing, writer, designer, folklorist, publisher, mystic, & illustrator. You can read more about her here.
Of course, & unfortunately, she was neither adequately paid nor properly credited for this absolute chef d’oeuvre, cherished to this day by mystics, book & art lovers alike. Today we call it the Colman Smith deck, instead of the Rider-Waite deck, for rightful attribution to its creator.
The Colman Smith tarot deck is an incredible card set of 78 illustrations. The artwork is stunning.
I like tarot cards. But honestly, I’m just such a fan of her artwork, sometimes I can’t tell if that’s more it with me & tarot.
There are so many beautiful tarot decks out there, & there are many I adore, but I still love the Smith deck so so much.
Illustration is probably my very favourite two-dimensional art form, & she is such an original designer of concepts.
The depth of field in the cards’ illustrations is so well rendered, with these gorgeous fantastical landscapes. The characters, equally beautiful & compelling. Such design excellence.
I love the colour schemes & the artist’s line work. Lines in drawing & illustration, in the expressive style she uses, is an aesthetic I just love. & Pamela Colman Smith’s approach to it is completley unique & psychically sensitive.
These cards take me away every time I look at them.
I will be doing a month of poetry in April. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone writes. Or doesn’t.
I know these monthly challenges can feel like pressure as can ‘write every day’ when you just can’t.
I have attempted to do 30 poems in 30 days before & only been able to do 15 at most. I think one year, I maybe did 2?
I try to do sketchtember & illustration october too; I’ve gotten into the habit of rewarding myself for the work I do complete, which I always really like. I’ve almost come to the point where I don’t feel shame about what I can’t do.
The good news is even these little attempts have improved my art & I’ve enjoyed the pieces. Heck, even not participating & seeing all the amazing work out there has been wonderful.
Knowing you need a break altogether for a month might be a thing too, which is super important to recognize, rather than marathoning for something which needs to ultimately be fun.
So here’s to finishing out the month of April with between 1/2 a poem & 30. Anywhere on that scale is good. So is zero; because some years that’s just how it is.
I would love to hear your thoughts in comments, if you feel like it:
♡ Will you be participating?
♡ Do you enjoy monthly challenges?
♡ Do you have any themes in mind for April writes?
I have debated on whether to mention this here, because it’s supposed to be a space for my art & that alone. But it has come to my attention that I must do so because art is part of everything…
In case it wasn’t evident, which it ought to be considering the kinds of allegories I write, I’m a leftist & very dedicated to social change, anti-racism & decolonization, as well as disability justice & much more.
My art is relatively popular in form, & meant for a wide audience. But unlike my fictional characters, I am a real person & have to live by my values, which will be reflected in my writing always.
It’s no secret. & it’s better I say it now than wait until maybe I won’t know how to say it later.
Do what you will with that info. I definitely won’t tolerate any discrimination on my pages, & I want to create a welcoming space.
Consider too, if you like my art, while I write in symbolism, I’m not hiding my beliefs. If you live on the other side of the political spectrum & you are enjoying songs for now, please ask yourself why.
My writing never needed anyone. That is a lesson I’ve had to learn. Of course it needs & deserves to be read by those who appreciate it, by an audience which wants to understand & care about what I make. However, I always thought I needed someone in my life to care about it. I have felt that with my drawings & illustrations as well.
In the past year or so, I’ve come to realize that only I need my writing & drawing for them to deserve to exist.
I have continued always to make work when I can because I have needed & always need creativity in my life for my well-being. In terms of audience, I follow the tenet that making art which you wish to engage with in the world is what we do, need to do. & this I truly believe in; especially in terms of the socially conscious aspect, this will be eternally necessary. You want people to get something out of the work you release, to benefit from it in some way. I very much want that.
What I’ve learned about myself is that in order to get to that work, I need to focus on making stuff for me, enough of it, which may or may not make it out there.
Different than the squirreling creations away as I have done, it’s more about being really present in constructing a process for my work which transcends my insecurities, doubts & my centring lack versus plentiful expression.
Nothing taught me this more than coming to terms with the tension between access & production in a world which doesn’t place adequate value on artists’ labour.
While I value art to such a degree it’s very difficult to put into words, I like many cultural producers, have had to face these contradictions by simultaneously addressing them within ourselves, as well as in the world. Like I had to learn to value my whole person as an artist as much as I value art itself.
Art is a gift I give myself every day. I do that by thinking about what I’m missing & asking myself what do we need to be immersed in artistically to survive & feel connected in this world?
Ⓒ Niliema Karkhanis
Note: I was going to make this part of my series on the writing process. But it felt very personal, a reflection of what I’ve been through in the past year in general & as a writer. So I thought I’d post it as a musing. Also to encourage you to love & nourish your art self.