November 11, 2022 | CULTURE | By Jonathan Cox | Images provided by author

Tash Sultana is possessed.

That was my initial reaction to their breakout music video of “Jungle”, recorded in Tash’s living room. The energy and spirit Sultana carried through their craft was unprecedented: eyes that rolled into a galactic soulmind, jumping tip toed as they knocked back their mane of curls.

One of the video’s 159 million viewers shared the healing power of Tash’s art in the comments: “My doctor recommended this to me, literally. We were talking about mental health stuff which led me to talking about my music and how much it’s helped me which led to him writing ‘tash sultana’ on a piece of paper and recommending it to me. Sure glad I listened to my doctor.”

For this spirited viewer, Tash’s ethereal resonance was a life-changing prescription. And it was for the artist, too; Tash is possessed by their music, and only when I learned their story did I understand why.

At 17, the Australian artist was tormented by drug-induced psychosis. It was seven months of not knowing reality from imagination. Music was their ultimate prescription: they “played and played the pain away” to win back clarity. This psychedelic music therapy is evident in their music: the reverb and ethereal effects ­­ripple through the cleavages of consciousness.

Tash Sultana is also possessed by their non-conformity. They did not break to society’s assembly line of standards. They realized the ability to execute their own vision when others were blinded by social norms. What started as Tash getting “towed [out] of the street for being too loud” turned into selling out every single show they play.

Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke to the important virtue of non-conformism: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” Tash takes this one step further into the 21st century: “Whoso would be a gender-fluid person, must be a nonconformist.” Sultana identifies as nonbinary and uses she/they pronouns, further rejecting society’s norms.

Emerson spoke on nonconformity in his essay “Self-Reliance” but he is not the only person who knows the symbiosis between the two ideas. The indie sensation is a solo act, multi-instrumentalist who harnesses the power of a looping machine and a medley of effects pedals.

Sultana was wielding a guitar at the ripe age of three and moved onto over twenty instruments in their 27 years of life. In their song, “Greed”, Sultana values their autonomy in every aspect of the industry: “Try to mold to perfection when you don’t feel like feeding the mouth / Bite the hand that feeds your wealth.” Tash holds their uncompromising creative vision in high regard, which is why they also engineer and produce all their own work.

In addition to blurring the lines of instrumentation, Sultana’s music blurs the lines of genre, bridging psychedelic rock, reggae, soul, R&B, and hip hop to create an innovative sound that tells their story. Some of my favorite songs of theirs, like “Pretty Lady”, “Murder To The Mind”, “Mystik”, “Free Mind”, “Blackbird”, “Beyond The Pine”, and “Blame It On Society” illustrate this idea well.

Tash Sultana is a formidable example of “The Artist”. The second half of this piece will be dedicated to exploring the power, the potential energy of The Artist and their impact on the world, and how Colorado College students are well-positioned to harness the potential energy of The Artist.

Who is The Artist? How does The Artist interact with society? How does The Artist use processes of design to guide their life and work? How is CC well-positioned to foster The Artist?

These are questions I have been thinking about a lot lately, as I’ve been listening to lots of Tash Sultana but also rediscovering my middle school nerd crush –– Casey Neistat. The YouTuber shares much in common with Tash Sultana: they are inspiring creators driven by their self-reliance and non-conformism. They created the world and the life that they wanted to inhabit. These attributes are the mark of The Artist, which are held sacred.

The Artist acknowledges the risks they inherit in this mindset. They are the movers and shakers, leaning on their creative courage which often rubs against the grain of society. To illustrate this point, imagine The Artist in an analogy of “The Creative Circus”. The Artist is the tightrope walker, walking the fine line of genius, creativity, and innovation.

Below them is the inky abyss of what society deems “insane” if The Artist dismisses its determined, constraining norms and customs. The Artist is above all the norms, seeing what others cannot: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see,” said Arthur Schopenhauer. However, The Artist takes the biggest risk of all: following their dreams.

Society only deems the tightrope-walking Artist “insane” if they fall: “The difference between insanity and genius is measured only by success and failure,” says Masashi Kishimoto. Society is watching the circus from the stands. If the tightrope-walking Artist gets to the end of the tightrope, they have showed society that they have defied norms and done the unimaginable. The Artist becomes worshipped, a visionary who will be tomorrow’s leaders: MLK, Socrates, Basquiat, Steve Jobs, Tash Sultana, Casey Neistat, the Buddha.

Another attribute of The Artist is their ability to understand complex problems and design creative solutions. Rick Griffith’s “An Introductory Ethic for Designers” provides the blueprint for any changemaker or creator to craft an impactful contribution and a meaningful life. Some of the tenets include “Act as if every resource is scarce”, “Make time for complexity” and “Invent ways to share”.

Colorado College is striving for good design in providing the best environment to foster The Artist. With the block plan, the Big Idea contest, their Innovators in Residence, and their aspirations of a Creativity and Innovation building, CC knows the potential energy for change of The Artist:

“We have a special opportunity to harness this spirit of the West – innovation, creativity, and big-picture thinking — to produce real-world answers to complex questions.”

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