Separation creates great art

While feeling separated can cause us humans great distress, it can also be the fuel for great art.

I regularly participate in and run mask workshops, and last weekend, me and my fellow European ‘masketeers’ (as Mia Tullberg calls us) ran a Trance Mask Workshop Demonstration at the Questors’ Theatre in London.  The workshop was a great success, and an audience were introduced to the trance mask techniques of Steve Jarand and Keith Johnstone.  We also made time that weekend to play with full masks, and an observation was made about how frequently the theme of separation came up.

The mask scenes that captured my attention the most all involved separation. Have a read of these. Two of them were directed by the talented Alex Fradera.

Scene One: The Toyshop.  The toymaker’s toys come alive at night, but despite the boy and girl toy falling in love, they must be separated as the toymaker prepares to ship the girl toy off to South America. What will the toys do?  Run away together?  But how will they survive as toys in a human world?

Scene Two: Grandma’s House.  Granddaughter comes round the day after Grandma’s funeral.  Grandma left a bag for her.  As Granddaughter goes through the bag, happy memories flood back. Grandma’s spirit is there, but Grandma can’t touch Granddaughter and Granddaughter can’t see Grandma.  They feel each other there but know it can’t last.

Scene Three:  The Royal Visit.  The Queen visits a nursery, and as the visit continues she realises the Nursery Worker is her daughter, illegitimate and taken from her at birth.  They both have a moment of tenderness together but will Her Majesty be able to maintain contact with such a ‘scandal’?  Can she walk away and return to her royal life?

Separation is there in each scene, and the question: can they stay together or will they leave each other?  I got to asking, is all great drama about separation?  And what about visual art, or music? Can we see the theme of separation as clearly there?

Over the next few days I looked out for other art forms which have separation as a theme.

Verity Pabla has just released her live album, The Journey.  Verity’s music is beautiful; very precious, with warm instrumentation and perfectly-pitched, pure vocals. Lyrically, she opens her diary on love and relationships.  In Verity’s music you can experience what it’s like to love someone, lose someone, celebrate love or be under its spell.  The themes of separation and togetherness are definitely there.

And what do you think about the following themes within Warwickshire Artsweek? Changing WorldsAn Emotional JourneyDefine YourselfLong People and Wonky Buildings? Is it just me?  Don’t they seem to be about separation too?

Separation has such a power of expression.  Our lives revolve around love, and love and relationships are all about separation and togetherness. Separation is a common theme for us human beings. Even if you discount relationships, the longing to have friends, be part of a family, or part of society is within us all.  Our desires all come from a feeling of separation, or a longing to be part of something whole.

In fact, many of the ancient Vedic and Buddhist teachings talk about this.  Here, duality or separation from oneness is the source of all desire, and all distress.  The initiate seeks therefore to reach enlightenment, in which they become part of the great universal oneness.

However, the state of enlightenment may not be desirable for the artist who still seeks to produce.

From time to time I pick up the guitar and write a song, but I have noticed a pattern.  Whenever I am very content, I do not write much.  The impetus for expressing myself is just not there. My best tunes have been written when I have been suffering, wanting or feeling rejected.  Perhaps musical expression only comes to me when there is a gap between the goal and the reality.  Certainly, for me, when there is no gap, when I have what I want, there is no new music.

Have you found this to be true? Hey, if you’re interested in discussing the theme of separation, please get in touch.  You can leave a comment below or e-mail me:

And if you’re interested in trance masks and live in London, contact the fabulous Jude Claybourne at  Jude will be starting to run trance mask workshops in the autumn in Ealing.

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