We forget why we are here. We forget why we do it. It is age-old.
The basic principles of memory, understanding your tools, intimidation of enemies, spatial understanding, sensory awareness, the sustained and focused attention of meditation, the ability to evoke waking visions and religious experiences, getting outside oneself - as in the vision quest of attending conferences, lectures, syposia - understanding the relationship between spirit and inspiration, understanding experience, the isolation and extreme privation of working alone, these are a few of the methods used by the Design Shaman.
The Design Shaman are the visual poets and storytellers. They provide the visual clues that keep the culture grounded: this is a good place to hunt - or shop; this is meant for your tribe - or audience.
We must understand that some of us have a calling and that while some have talent, most of us have to work toward excellence. Understand that the "problem solving" of the design practice is not unlike the healing practice of the shaman. Design Shaman deal with their clients' souls, often trying to reinvent or resuscitate them. We journey to the sky - the creative - and we journey to the underworld - the dollars. We bring sense to both. Understand the secret languages of our profession and those of the multiple tribes we must work to bring together.
In "less sophisticated" cultures, not all medicine men are shaman, nor are all shaman medicine men. Likewise, not all designers can take on the role of spiritual leader within their field. The true Design Shaman dreams new beginnings and puts them into action. The candidate dreams of spirits and ancestors or hears their songs and teaching. Yes, teaching, because the ancestors were and are teachers. Their songs are as varied as the schools of the Bauhaus, Massachusetts College of Art, the Portfolio Center, Cranbrook, RISD, CalArts, Carnegie Mellon and the Savannah College of Art & Design.
What differentiates a Design Shaman from any other individual in the clan - the profession - is not their possessing a power or guardian spirit, but their ecstatic experience. Because it is the Design Shaman (or teacher, or master, or pandit) who raise the level of understanding of all around them. Witness your favorite teacher, a possibly-unsung hero who set you - as an apprentice - on the course on which you now travel. Their ecstatic experience revealed to you an understanding of why you should care, why you should be responsible with your visual manifestations with those to whom you impart them. The Design Shaman, however, is distinguished from both colleagues and the lay population by the intensity of their own magico-religious experiences.
In part, these experiences are brought about by teaching and understanding. Teaching is about mastering the (mystical, to outsiders) techniques and learning the (religious and mythological, eg. Paul Rand, Brad Thompson, Saul Bass, De Stijl, Polish poster art) traditions of the tribe. But the Design Shaman candidate has been initiated long before the masters set about their teachings. This is a universal schema of initiations into Design Life: vocation, withdrawal into solitude, apprenticeship to a master, acquisition of one or more familiar spirits, symbolic ritual of death and resurrection, secret language. The preparatory stages and ceremonies (school, jobs) only confirm or validates the individual's entering into this way of life. And a way of life it is. This shamanic ecstacy is less a trance, than a state infused with spirit. A state of inspiration, through understanding and examining examples of our own work and making clear how this work and its influences, is but a means to an end.