On the Nature of Sacred Space and Defining Success By: Tavis L. Baker

What do I mean by ‘Sacred Space’? Our old friend, the Oxford English Dictionary, does not have an entry for this. Rather it sidesteps any attempt to define the indefinable by addressing adjacent notions of ‘space’, and redirecting us toward two very ancient definitions:


Abaton (Hellenistic Greek: ἄβατον): A place to which access is restricted, esp. a sacred space or enclosure; a sanctuary.


Peribolus (Vulgate Latin: peribolos, Greek: περίβολος): An enclosure, wall, or colonnade around an ancient Greek (or Roman) temple or sacred space; the sacred space enclosed by this. Also occasionally: any wall forming an enclosure.


If this is all starting to sound vaguely religious, that’s because it kind of is. None less than the Russian director and theatrical metaphysician, Constantine Stanislavsky, godfather of what is now widely considered the predominate American acting tradition, writes:


“Have you ever noticed that in theatrical life, there appear long, torturing periods of inactivity,…Then, there appear the continuators of the great [wo]men who have created the epoch. They accept the tradition, and bear it to the next generation. But tradition is capricious, and takes on strange forms…In turn this eternal is carried on to the next generation, and most of it is lost on the way, with the exception of a small seed which finds its way into the common treasure cave of the world, which houses the material for the great future human Art Religion. -Constantine Stanislavsky, My Life in Art


The notion of ‘Sacred Space’ is every bit as mutable and protean as the attempt to define what a ‘soul’ or ‘beauty’ is, because it is such an elemental and more importantly, personal, definition. That is to say, only *you* can define that which is your sacred space as an artist.


The great Italian sculptor, painter and poet, Michelangelo, was not a priest; but he spent a lot of time in churches. He was a religiously motivated (and important to note, financially backed) artist, who created works to glorify the Catholic Church of Rome, largely by subverting and synthesising Classically Pagan and Biblical themes. Most of the time, he practiced his craft not within the bounds of a Christian church, but within his *own* studio, his *own* sacred space. Only then, after much practice, did he bring out “the big guns” onto his era’s world-stage, which we now call the Sistine Chapel; amongst sundry other highly notable and lesser known works. The Sistine Chapel as we know it now, if we can agree for the sake of argument, to classify it as a sacred space, *is* so, or at least *more* so than previously, because of the work which Michelangelo put in prior to his famous mosaic, the genesis of which was developed while ensconced within the safety of his own studio; his own sacred space. Just as one might find something of enlightenment within the bounds of a church, mosque, synagogue or temple; so does the craftsman in his workshop, the wizard in their tower, the philosopher in their study, and the artist in their studio. It is the place where the walls come down, because the practitioner feels that they are safe, and within the bounds of the sacred space, that they might dare to allow themselves the freedom to practice their calling, whatever it may be, whether for their own satisfaction, or for the benefit of others, or a desperate attempt to actually *do* something, before they too must exit this stage we call life.


Which finally brings us to the notion of ‘Success’, and what that actually means. It is, frankly, a notion which is as variable as the pursuer. Ultimately, once one has laid aside the notion of financial stability (which is important, don’t ever let them tell you differently), I believe that success ultimately comes down to being able to look oneself in the mirror and to say, “I know what I’m about, I gave it my all, and I acknowledge where I may have done better.” That’s it. The act of creation is a daunting task. Within the societal sea that most of us swim in, it is completely unnatural to bear one’s heart to the world. In much the same manner as the act of giving birth, or Merlin daring to face his own doom with stoic humility. Creation is heretofore, an enigma: unforeseeable, merely capable of being prepared for. The satisfaction in which, comes when others agree or feel challenged by the results of your preparation; when your work and the sacrifices made within the sacred space are expressed in your art, endowing someplace or persons with a touch of its magnificence. It can be found within the stunned silence of the movie theatre at the moment of a plot twist, the quiet harmony of the art gallery, the thrill of the heart when the coloratura hits that perfectly unassailable tone. It is pure magic, and we recognise the Magician who has brought us, however so briefly, into their sacred space. That is success. That is when the audience thunders their applause.


But don’t stop the there. Never rest on your laurels, and if you’re lucky, you may just be able to take others along for the ride.


“Remember that perfection is not given to man. But if you study diligently, you will approach it insofar as Nature has given you abilities… Watch yourself sleeplessly, for although the public may be satisfied with you, you yourself must be your severest critic. You must believe that inner reward is better than all applause.”


-Quote attributed to Sergey Shumsky, from My Life In Art, by Constantine Stanislavski