The Artist’s Autobiography

by Geoff Hall on May 31, 2016

May 2016 – The Artist’s Autobiography

Four years ago, ‘The Artist’s Autobiography’ was published by Upptacka Press.

On re-reading it, I must admit to being shocked at how forthright I was; maybe that’s a sign of growing older. It’s probably the most ‘direct’ book in the series and challenges us to understand ‘who’ we are as artists. The context is very much rooted in the angst and pain of suffering, not in a ‘nirvanic’ space of spiritual bliss.


The Foreword was written by our friend Bob Covolo, of the Brehm Centre in Pasadena.


“For too long cultural formation and spiritual formation have been separated. With this final instalment we have the complete prescription for re-joining two ventures that were never meant to be apart. May we take this vision to heart, and join Geoff (and troublemakers like him) on this inward journey that moves us outward.” Bob Covolo.

Hall, Geoff. The Artist’s Autobiography (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 69-71). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.


Published by Upptacka Press. 2012

Published by Upptacka Press. 2012

Bob was reiterating the words of Henri Nouwen, and not offering a personal slight, in that,

“Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents in a dimension incompatible with society.”

Hall, Geoff. The Artist’s Autobiography (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 758-759). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.


Troublemakers? Creators? Agents? It all sounds subversive, and that’s because it is.

The Artist’s Autobiography stresses the need for community. It realises that we cannot find out who we are by ourselves, but only in relationship to other people. This is a community which sees no separation between cultural and spiritual formation.


“We are here to cause trouble to those in power; to overthrow oppressive Governments through subversive art, to show that the spiritual dimension we work in is more potent than their arguments and pretensions which work against the ‘knowledge of God’.”

Hall, Geoff. The Artist’s Autobiography (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 761-764). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.


But this is not the domain of the self-infatuated artist, whose only story they tell is their own. More and more, as time passes the gravity of the situation should be hitting us, that we cannot work alone. The Great Lie is “There is no such thing as society, there is only the individual.” (Margaret Thatcher). That is merely a way of managing consent for evil policies which destroy communities. However it seems that it has been a contagion which still influences artists today, even those who claim to have some sort of spiritual revelation.


“…the spiritual community…reveals the image of God in the personal and communal life; working together in different spheres of life; it is through understanding that the last word on Creation is not destruction but renewal, it is revealed through a suffering community (koinonia pathema) wherein we denounce the power of the powerful and put on the mantle of the serving community, in our industry cells which embody investment in people and the things they create.”

Hall, Geoff. The Artist’s Autobiography (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 770-774). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.


The work of such a common-unity is not just a re-imaging of society, but a re-imagining of it, because the re-imaging and re-imagining must be connected, not just of society, but also of God. Our art (imaging) should reflect our commitment (re-imagining) for the good of all people.


“The spiritual community needs re-imagining and who better to do this than the artist whose life longs for such a context, the artist who sees into the future. With this in mind, what is this space like, how can we describe it?”

Hall, Geoff. The Artist’s Autobiography (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 457-458). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.


A word on suffering

I’ve already mentioned the “koinonia pathema”; the suffering community. Bad things happen to good people. We do not know why, but we have probably experienced it in our own lives and with our own families.

There’s a reason we need community. In terms of identity this is because we cannot know our true self by gazing in a Narcissan mirror. No matter how fondly and intently we gaze, we will not receive a revelation about ‘Who’ we are.

Another reason is because we cannot face life alone. Bad things happen to good people; things like illness, financial hardship, bereavement. We don’t know why the righteous suffer, but they do. Community is not a place for trying to find the answer to that ‘Why?’ question, but is an act of solidarity, of compassion and love.

During a time of mourning, the Jewish faith has a practice, which I think we should embrace not just at times of ultimate loss and the passing of a friend or family member, but for illness, times of a wilderness trial, financial hardship, and irreparable relationship breakdowns. This practice is the rite of ‘Shiva’.


At the heart of Shiva is the rite of silence, of being with people who are suffering, not to give them trite answers, (Job’s comforters beware!), nor to share our special revelation about a new theology of suffering, but simply to show a deep connection to our friend at a time of hardship, knowing that we all pass through this valley of the shadow at times in our lives. Whether that’s a physical illness, mental anxiety or depression, maybe this practice can help us in the cultivation of silence and stillness, as well as humility.

Another aspect of Shiva, is the covering of mirrors. This is not a time to look at oneself and reflect. It isn’t a time of self-assessment. Mourners would gather and would not speak, but sit in silence. Knowing that answers to the ‘Why?’ questions are the most difficult to find, probably because there is no answer we could understand, this side of the rest of reality. People may want to help you self-reflect, but they are the ones who are uncomfortable with the mirrors being covered over!

To my brothers and sisters, all I can offer is to sit with them in silence, unless they wish to speak, but I will not offer them platitudes, but presence. It reminds me of Nouwen’s creation of a healing space.


“…a friendly space, where [the visitor] may feel free to come and go, to be close and distant, to rest and to play, to talk and to be silent, to eat and to fast. The paradox indeed is that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space where the guest can find [their] own soul. Why is this a healing ministry? It is healing because it takes away the false illusion that wholeness can be given by one to another. It is healing because it does not take away the loneliness and the pain of another, but invites [them] to recognise [their] loneliness on a level where it can be shared… When they enter a house with real hospitality they soon see that their own wounds must be understood not as sources of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to the calling sounds of their own wounds.”

Hall, Geoff. The Artist’s Autobiography (Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape) (Kindle Locations 461-467). Upptäcka Press. Kindle Edition.


This is one aspect of being a real community of artists and not just an aspirational one. We need each other, not just to help us find our artistic ‘identity’, but also to bear one another’s burdens. This will probably define us more than the successful development of a new ‘style’ of artwork, film, dance or music.

All of this and much more is available in The Artist’s Autobiography. Check it out and let’s have a conversation…or just sit in silence together.



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