Art is a Spiritual Discipline – with material consequences

by Geoff Hall on August 12, 2010

a closing parenthesis:

Art is, first and foremost a spiritual discipline.  That is not to say ethereal and disembodied, disconnected from the world.  It is a spiritual discipline with material consequences. It is therefore just like life, where ‘soul meets body’, where flesh is animated, energised from a Loving Source.  Let’s go back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who featured in the early part of ‘Translating the Invisible Wind’.

“To live as a human being means to live as a body in the spirit.  Flight from the body is as much flight from being human, as is flight from the spirit.  The body is the form in which the spirit exists, as the spirit is the form in which the body exists.  All this is said only about humankind, for only in the case of human beings do we know about body and spirit.  The human body…is the form in which the spirit of God exists on earth.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer – ‘Creation & Fall’, Fortress Press, 2004. p78.

As an analogy, we can suggest that Art is an expression of this spiritual body, a means of communication, but if we as artists prefer a ‘flight’ from our spiritual nature and merely perform tricks with sticky pigments, charcoal, household or industrial objects, then like Richard Serra, the process is what art is all about, not meaning or metaphor.  This being the case, we have missed the point – that art connects through perceptual means, with those whose imagination we capture, even if for a moment.  Art expresses, art embodies a worldview; it is never ever neutral in its view of the world.

The Enlightenment Project’s desire to rid the world of religious ‘superstition’, along with its naive perspective on the world, encompassed the policy for the privatisation of ‘religious’ beliefs; permitting only scientifically verified knowledge into the public sphere.  Serra’s focus on ‘process’ is merely a sign of this controlling culture, enforcing itself at the expense of those who dare think differently.   Such a worldview reduces diversity and enforces conformity.  Art, spiritual art, breaks down this separation and undermines the isolation of faith in a hermetically-sealed environment.  The main problem with this act of censorship, is that its gaze is focused on the art of institutionalised spirituality and liturgical symbology.

As the years pass by, materialism desensitises ‘our’ spiritual capacity and also arts spiritual propensities.  Add to this a disdain of Bourgeois style and Dada’s conceptual art of the ‘found object’ – a proletarian alternative –  the clutter of materialism continues to isolate art and artist from the public with its esoteric, hyper-individualised and conceptual framework, whilst desensitising our spiritual imagination and character.  It is providing us wholesale with an anaesthetic, whilst the secular surgeon operates on every fabric of society, remedying the disease in the nature of things; relationships, art, politics, economics, justice.  What I’m suggesting is a reconnection through perceptual art, a veritable by-pass of the surgeon’s intent.  (More on that in the next instalment.)  A perceptual art reconnects with artist and public and reforms those very things deformed by Secularism.

Our materials will express something of our worldview, when coherently fashioned into a perceivable form.  We can either collaborate with the prevailing spirit of the age, or we can resist.  The artist cannot resist by standing aloof or alone. Jacques Ellul, in his work on ‘Propaganda’ shows the kind of environment this resistance needs to be influential.

“An individual can be influenced by forces such as propaganda only when [they are] cut off from membership in local groups.  Because such groups are organic and have a well-structured material, spiritual and emotional life, they are not easily penetrated by propaganda.” (p.91)

Next – We’ll go back to ‘Translating the Invisible Wind’ and draw it to a close, by giving some outlines of perceptual art.

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