Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Spiritual Side of Art

Art has the power to move people-- if art did not there would, in most cases, be no reason to create art in the first place. The visual dialogue that is art is one of the purest forms of communication in my opinion. There are hundreds if not thousands of examples of art that is capable of touching the soul of viewers. For example, viewers have been known to weep while standing before a painting by Mark Rothko-- while others have cried openly before Picasso’s Guernica. Why? Because these works touched them on an inner level.

True, these works can move someone on an emotional level. However, I would say that emotion and the spiritual often mesh. I’m not necessarily talking about the religious aspects of spirituality as much as the fact that many people will describe how a specific image can ‘touch’ them on the inside-- a connection that is often beyond words and expression. These connections are made everyday in art galleries and art museums worldwide.

In many of these examples the viewer has prior knowledge of what the image represents or about the life of the artist-- they may have read about the specific artwork in a book before having ever viewed it in person. In other words, people know that Rothko had a difficult life and that Guernica captures the horror and pain of war. However, even without that knowledge the use of color, figures, and symbolism can have universal implications I would think. You could say that we are born to understand visual images to some degree.

Thus, without knowing one can experience a message-- one that touches the core of how he or she defines himself or herself-- that is just as powerful as the message experienced by an art historian who knows the who, what, and when. To me, that is the power of art-- and the basis of why we feel connected to specific images. In a sense, we can understand an image without fully understanding. Such is life. True?

Consider this an open topic concerning the spiritual aspects of art. Has a specific work of art touched your soul? Can you recall a specific work of art that helped your through a difficult time or defined a time of joy for you? I know that some people suggest that there is no longer room for the spiritual in the art of today-- do you agree? Or would you say that the spiritual aspects of art surround us just as they did in other periods of time? In your opinion, why does visual art have this power-- why do viewers establish these personal connections?

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter


Mitchell Poor said...

symbols invoke a strong imprint on the mind while belief takes those shapes to another surface.

Anonymous said...

I seems that only certain art offers a spiritual presence to a viewer. Many artists have no interest in conveying any sort of spiritual notion, in fact "the spiritual" in art has been seen as pretty hokey at times. That said, for me the unconscious mind, the spiritual, archetypes, etc. seem interconnected.

I personally think of art in quite emotional and personal (yet universal) terms. For me this reflects what it is to be human and that is the art I most respond to.

There was a period in my life where I could feel the work of Van Gogh to the extent that when I would see his work in real life I was transported to standing behind the artist watching him paint each stroke. His work does that for me. He brought me to his time which I find incredible.

It's a static object that exists in time and space. It just hangs there, it does not change, yet it has the capacity to capture the imagination and reveal an entire narrative that is unseen. One could say that there is something of a phenomenological idea there; there is something which is not readily seen or apprehended but with time, the right light, mood or time of day, there it is and the experience is unique to each individual. What has the capacity to do that other than art? How is it possible? It all seems like magic or mystery or whatever but it's for certain something I could never live entirely without.

Lorna said...

The drive to create art in the first place seems to me to be derived in the spiritual.

Sure, there's art that exists more as a reference to the physical contexts and conditioning that we learn through life and sharing viewpoints.

For me the excitement in art is found where the act of expression fuses with a level of mastery of the medium. And this is the heart of the work. The expression then seeks to dive into the artist's state of being and in some way express that through form, colour, sound or whatever.

Today I blogged about the spiritual connection I felt listening to an improvised recording.

There is a spiritual connection specifically in the sense that the artist is on a spiritual journey. However, the fact that her expression is without any form - in the sense of words or meaning beyond sound - I find very exciting and expansive.


Great topic! Thanks.

Donald Frazell said...

One only needs to go to Winklemans blog to see a complete and total denial of the spiritual and emotional, just had a converstaion on this and they dont feel anything at all, as most contemporary art is about indivudal self expression. Which is not spiritual, but adolescent whinings.

While i dont feel huge passions in Seurat, the other three Post Impresionists set the way for passion and spirtuality in art. focusing what had always been a prime component in art to the highest level. Cezanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh all were extraordinarily passionate and religious men, in their own ways. Cezanne said, Art is a priesthood Which has been soiled and shunted aside in todays commodity and career driven art world. We are in a time of decadence, Winkleman home central for such selfabsorbed Neverlanders.

One only needs to see Demoiselles d'Avignon or Matisse' Red Dessert, to realize that one can bring a life force into a work of art, and have it trigger vast feelings of more, of teh combing of mankind, nature and god in one living thing. A force that can take over a room. Its own glow and energy arising from it. As John Coltrane did in his album A Love Supreme, artsits can, and must, address god. Or it is a vacuous exercise in self exhibitionism.

Art is mind body and soul. Leave out one, and you are a creative cripple, leave out two, and you are retarded, leave out all three, and well, probably not possible, but take the other two idiots with you. Please.

Art academies dont and cant teach this. They can only teach accepted techniques, and have lost soul as they use only their limited mentality, dont even have great physical execution anymore, becasue they all develop together, what one sees are illustrated master thesis of severly limited questions, ones only asked in academic atmpospheres, and so completely irrelevant to real life.

I am about to send my Judgment Chapel proposal to the Vatican today, completley designed and with music and paintings prepared. Cardinal Ravasi already likes the triptych, to be installed over an altar, and explainning that contemporary art could never deal with such issues, it is souless.

Modenism was all about god, our natural world, and all of mankind, Not the selfish indivudual, we dont matter, Humanity does. and so, god. we a re one. It is time for true art to return, it is needed again in this time of change. And so the Bastiles of art and the Pharisee's who control them must be overthrown, and destroyed. And so

art collegia delenda est

K said...

Art is always about man and God. His relationship to God, accepting, rejecting, or exalting the idea of God. It boils down to that, because an artist' usually makes art with a message...with meaning. And meaning ultimately asks the question, Is this art? What is art? Why are you an artist? Why do you exist? And these questions, the big ones, about existence and being and significance end with spiritual conclusions.

Judy Rey Wasserman said...


Great topic and post!

For me art is always involves a spiritual connection, or it's just a decoration at best.

The most spiritual work I've ever seen, and the one that in a way saved my life is Vincent van Gogh's The Cypresses, which is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

As a pre-teen bursting with life but also escaping a very dysfunctional home life by hanging out after school in the Met, van Gogh echoed back to me my own polar opposite searing and soaring emotions. I felt understood. Touched. And I learned to incorporated dichotomies in life into a whole as a person and now as a artist.

Van Gogh considered himself a religious artist, although his images were usually secular.

Given the amount of time and years I spent escaping in the Met (I loved art, it was free for students, warm and safe), I was exposed to much great religious art from many cultures. I had no one to teach me anything about art, just my eyes. But, they taught me that the best art, the images that lingered behind my eyes and in my heart were always spiritually based, whether I understood the theology, the symbols or cultures.

Thanks for this post,

Judy Rey Wasserman
On Twitter: @judyrey

Art News Blog said...

I think creating art is a spiritual act, but most finished artwork isnt necessarily spiritual, just as poo isnt a person (it just came from one).

Donald Frazell said...

No, all true creative art is spiritual, it is not about the artist and his feelings, but what connects us all together, what gives us purpose, what unifies humanity, not what is about that particular persons desires, fantasies, or emotions. Though art will connect to those, they are but the surface. One must search deep to understand, without words, what is there. One can feel this looking at Monets waterlillies or a real Japanese garden. Cezannes Mt St Victoire, or Yosemite Valley. Braques still lifes or arranging flowers in your living room. Art simply brings it home, what is already there, if we choose to feel it. It brings a deep peace of ballance and contentment, realization, understanding. Without words. For words are manmade symbols and can be twisted to anyones selfish desire. One comprehends with more than prose and rationalities. Mind body and soul feel truth better than we can state it. Thats art.
And what has been lackign for so long. Anselm Kiefer has it. Not many others over the lsat fifty years, its time to get to work.

art collegia delenda est

Balhatain said...

True, an artist can create work without spiritual or emotional intentions. However, once the work is out there-- once someone views it-- they can take from it what they wish. The artist has no control over what viewers can feel in that sense.

Donald Frazell said...

Not how we express those feelings in words, each of us has ahd different experiences, a different temperament, taht makes us unique and individual. but teh artists seeks to go beyond this, to trigger basic, spritual feeligns in the viewer that are common to us all. Well, most sociopaths and contemporary artists dont seem to have much reaction to life at all.

Art does trigger this same vast sense of beingl of us, of inner peace adn belonging to more in all of us. It is teh same, jsut as the works of a Bonnard and a Klee are very different, they still tap this resorvoire of passion. a recognition of life in something inert, worlds very different, yet reflections of us. I FEEL the same power, but do not state it it words the same. Art is deep, beyond the rational parts of oru brains, beyond teh prosaic, into teh poetic and musical. Coltrane and Miles are the Picasso and matisse of music, and unleash differnt emotions, yet they come from teh same place. They connect us all. to nature, to humanity, to god. simply started from different spots. So the path is different, the destination the same.

Check my blog out, just posted an essay I sent the Vatican along with my Judgment Chapel plans. Archbishop like the triptych, will see if he and his boy go for it at the Venice Biennale, it was his idea.

There is no spiritual depth in contemptorary art, is is all about the individual man. Outside of Anselm Kiefer, is pretty damn barren out there. There is more, if you seek it and work at it long enough.

art collegia delenda est

Donald Frazell said...

Damn, that was badly written, what happens when in a hurry to get to work and only one cup of coffee. Sorry.

This is also over at Dion-ysus blog

carolyn said...

I am currently working on a spiritual project that has truly opened up my life and spirit to new levels.I'm thrilled and inspired almost on a daily basis. I can only hope that when I complete this project others will comprehend the intense messages beyond my renderings. I think to all comes down to exactly what the artist is trying to convey.
I hope when my works are viewed you do feel them in your soul.Thats what I going for. I love art because I can express my inner self through media and it fulfills something me.
To me that is spiritualality.

Joshua Hagler | 5 Mined Fields Studio said...

I think the word "spiritual" in art should be used as a kind of semantic prerogative rather than literally. Though I have an open mind toward the spiritual, I also feel that co-opting the term for use in critical analysis leads to bias. And as someone else said, it's often just plain hokey. That said, the word spiritual works fine for me as a term to describe the more ineffable aspects of how we respond to art. Funny you brought up Rothko. I had a very strong reaction to the Rothko room inside the Tate Modern. I never cared much for Rothko before that. But I can't deny the sensation I felt that something seemed to want to come out of them and directly toward me. The hair on my arms stood up. I nearly did cry, but not out of sadness or happiness. Just out of pressure behind my face. I don't know how to account for that. But for me, that's the spiritual in art. It's a rare experience. The William Kentridge show at the SF MOMA recently had a similar effect. I hope one day to achieve that in my work.

Anonymous said...

It good for people who are spiritual

Chris Willcox said...

Gerhard Richter once said that "Now that we do not have priests and philosophers anymore, artists are the most important people in the world." And I think there's a grain of truth in this. I think that in the wake of Christianity a lot of people turned to art to answer some of those same existential questions they used to ask of religion. One doesn't need to spend too long looking at a Damien Hirst to see the same religious archetypes at work.

This is course adopting a somewhat cold and conceptual perspective on religion and spirituality: to view it from another direction we can look at the great spiritual traditions over the world, observe the formal aspects of their art, and see certain similarities in modern art. It should come as no surprise that the pallet of the fauvists was not that different from the pallet of Tibetan mandalas. This is not to say that one influenced the other, that would be anachronistic, but rather that there are certain combinations of colors, certain ways of manipulating light, etc., that humans relate to on a fundamental level and describe as spiritual. Artists have tapped in to this.

Lisa said...

An artist brings all that they are to their work. They are like a stained glass window. The work produced like the light shining through onto the floor, colored by what is in the glass. This happens whether the artist is trying to "make a statement" or simply depict the world around them.

As a viewer I bring all that I am to the painting as well. If I am sensitive to color I will perceive the different hues cast by the light. If I am not I may simply walk by without seeing, or I may perceive only shades of grey.

All art depicts the spiritual state of the artist at the time they made the work whether that state is "at peace, in union with God", "completely self absorbed", "dark and disturbed" or "shallow and religious". Having a high level of sensitivity to the spirit realm my question becomes, "Do I want to open myself to this portal and in a sense touch the same place spiritually as the artist?"

I have had profound experiences before paintings of Renoir and Van Gogh as God unlocked places in me that were lying dormant. Yet I have stood before Dali's dreamscapes, Munch and Francis Bacon and said, "No thank you." While I can appreciate the validity of the emotion that they were conveying and the quality of their workmanship, I don't want to "go there" and allow what was happening in them into my innermost being.

Sherry Bakhtian said...

For me, the moment you create from somewhere that is not your brain, you are connecting with something greater than your human experience and that is spiritual. Kandinsky's work and the colors he uses, touch me deeply. I can stand in front of Improvisation 21A for hours and feel all kinds of emotions.


Anonymous said...

I had just turned a corner in the Whitney NY into the room that houses De Kooning’s “Door to the River” and was nailed to the floor. I was so overcome I just stood there with tears running down my cheeks. The only other time I had experienced such a reaction to anything was at the ballet with a particularly excellent performance of “the Dying Swan” is this spiritual or had I touched something within me that is not easily accessible in this intellectualising and mechanistic world? I am and remain a sceptic but I do know that beauty is the key to my core be that a soul or spirit I do not know, but I do think that all art lovers have an innate need of the sustenance that only the beauty of nature and art can feed.