Art is a Spiritual Discipline

by Geoff Hall on August 6, 2010

An opening parenthesis:

Before we define the ‘art of perception’ and bring to a close ‘Translating the Invisible Wind’, we should stop to think about the nature of art and the artist.  For if as artists we don’t know who we are, we will never understand our task on earth and create something cohesive and meaningful.

When Tarkovsky talks about resurrecting spirituality, he puts it this way.

“I believe…that an enormous task has been entrusted to art. This is the task of resurrecting spirituality.’ (Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, p.144) 
He goes on…
“With the word spirituality I first of all have in mind a person’s interest in what has been called the meaning of life. This is the first step at least…We have asked ourselves the question of why we live…and the artist who isn’t preoccupied with this question is not an artist…it is when we begin to take on these questions [of existence] that what we call true art arises.”  (p145)

With the growth of materialism in our age, the space for spirituality, for asking questions of existence, has been submerged.  When we focus on the material, the artistic search for ‘realism’, our spiritual capacity is diminished.  The artist who simply focuses on capturing the ‘material’ world has not understood this purpose for the arts; to help answer the spiritual yearning within.  Whether this is conceived as the focal vision of the artist, or the gathering of the ‘found object’ for the conceptual artist, spirituality is diminished and we are left with all the angst and confusion of Existentialism.  The Existentialist God is a silent God, at some distance from our plight, unsympathetic and judgmental and probably worst of all, unwilling to help.

If this is the point-of-view the artist is working from, then every connotation of human dissipation is conceivable; for nothing holds this world together.  If however, we perceive our yearning as stemming from what Qoheleth claims, that, ‘God has placed eternity in our hearts’, then nothing material in its own right can fill the void, nothing will through technological development, ever achieve an answer to the aching and longing within; the God-shaped hole is actually bigger than the world and all its potential.

If the artist does not know who they are and what they are here for, they will simply add to the confusion; that is, the babel of many tongues.  What distinguishes a spiritually attuned artist from a materialist, is that the spiritual artist will no longer participate in the building of a tower, to reach heaven and claim it for its own.

A second facet is this: The artist must resist this reflex for autonomy.  We cannot work alone, we cannot live alone.  Resistance is possible to the propaganda of our time, ‘consumere ergo sum’;  a message poured out through advertising campaigns, conceiving the problem of existence as immediacy and choice.  If your itch can’t be scratched immediately, then there is something wrong with you.  You need to buy this hair product, anti-wrinkle cream, car, property, computer, iPad, eBook etc.  Of course, with technology you subject your life to an endless stream of ‘updates’ to keep you functioning, your next ‘fix’ can be ‘downloaded’ NOW!! From mainframe to mainline!!  However, what kind of functionality is it, when your computer becomes your life-support system?  Add to this our appetite for humanity; we seek endless variations to fulfil our sexual longing, trying to ease the pain of the void.  The intimacy of the gland replaces the intimacy of the spirit.

If our art falls into this category of consumerism, then we have indeed lost the plot.  We cannot resist alone, but the pressure to conform is seemingly endless.  Does our art give people the time, the space to reflect on the meaning of life?  Or is it just another sound bite, another sales-pitch to purchase another brick for the towering edifice of our self-proclaimed autonomy?

With the closing of this parenthesis, we will look at the isolation of the artist and our resistance to the propaganda of our age.


One comment

Great Tarkovsky quotes! I agree that spirituality and true art cannot be separated. I love your use of the image of a God-shaped hole. Recently I have been making holes in my sculptures, alluding to the body as a vessel to catch and hold Divine Light. These hole function as the mouth of a jug to receive God, and also, equally importantly, an exit point to pour Light into the world. The hole is a fascinating symbol. Thanks for your post.

by Sybil Archibald on August 11, 2010 at 3:23 am. Reply #

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