on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

Michael Leunig is a much-loved Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet whose newspaper work appears regularly in the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.  He describes his approach as regressive, humorous, messy, mystical, primal and vaudevillian – producing work which is open to many interpretations and has been widely adapted in education, music, theatre, psychotherapy and spiritual life.

His commentary on political, cultural and emotional life spans more than forty years and has often explored the idea of an innocent and sacred personal world.  The fragile ecosystem of human nature and its relationship to the wider natural world is a related and recurrent theme.

‘Leunig’ is a household word here in Australia.  Who else consistently reminds us of our collective and individual vulnerabitlties? Our defences, needs and neediness? Who else – like an innocent wide-eyed kid – points out the elephants in the room and the unclothed emperors?

In total disregard of the snobbery around “content” in contemporary art, Leunig sows his seeds of simple sanity in the intimate space where the artist and viewer meet. He speaks in language we can understand, and as we listen to him – immersed in a mix or humour, poignancy and delight – our own wee holy fool smiles and skips about.

To my great delight Michael has given ‘the awakened eye’ permission to share one of his pieces of verbal artistry, an essay titled Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool.  In this work he covers much territory relevant to the theme of this site and of importance to all who take their playful creativity seriously:  What is genuine creativity and what blocks it? Where has our authenticity gone? What is the relationship between the ego and the holy fool? How can we find our way back to the world of our holy fool? Why does it matter?

As an introduction to the illustrated essay – which has its own page here –  this post offers a few quotes. It’s a teaser – read the whole piece and be reminded of what you know so well.

It is a way of painting.
It is a way of living.
It is a way of transcending the banal inhibited self and finding the divine.
It is a struggling downward journey – this stumbling, daring and devout pilgrimage back to mature innocence and raw beauty; to the sublime joy and the natural intelligence and wisdom of the holy fool.


Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool

… there is surely a measure of the holy fool in all of us.  What adult has not been a delightful or shocking little holy fool in childhood: the primal young creature who reached out innocently for what was forbidden, or sincerely said out loud a simple embarrassing truth?  ‘The emperor has no clothes’ cries the wee holy fool.  And who did not draw and paint in beautiful peculiar ways, or cry and sing freely for a short early chapter of wide-eyed creative life before the ways of the world began to impinge and inhibit?  Who has not known a time of free flowing reverie and wonder in the rich solitude and sanctuary of early consciousness?  Whose outlook and imagination has not been indelibly adorned by the daydreams and visions of childhood?


The dire pursuit of creativity in affluent societies is to a considerable extent driven by egotistical art ambition, but underlying this drive may be an intuitive attempt to recover the capacity for wonder, spontaneity, playfulness, openness, mindfulness and access to raw beauty; the qualities that were so natural and easy in childhood; a search for connection to one’s lost little fool – who is indeed the archetypal personification of creativity’s wellspring.


The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.


Michael Leunig - The Holy Fool


The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’

~ Michael Leunig


Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook

regressive painting and the holy fool

14 thoughts on “on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

  1. Miriam, love, thank you! Love this! I took the liberty to make a verbatim found poem using line breaks from a Leunig quote here; left off two words, two punctuation marks and added one at the end. Avec amour, K & The Lucktser! xooxxoox

    The Artist

    to know

    how to lose
    the plot

    how to
    not care

    how to
    not know

    how to
    that freedom

    what a blessed re-
    vitalizing state
    all of that

    Poem found, K. Castelbaum

    1. You are very welcome Suzanne! I think many of us feel that Michael Leunig has articulated our practice to perfection in this essay; amazing, given its expression shows up in such a variety of forms.

      I am enjoying a browse around your site – thank you for the introduction. Beautiful in every way… your stunning work, and what you share in your workshops. 🙂

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