Part 1: Art As Spiritual Sanctuary

For a long time now I’ve been intrigued by the many correlations between the visual fine arts and spirituality.

In times past, art was an extension of that uniquely human branch of spirituality: religion. It married the power of vision to the power of institutionalized religion, especially that of the four world super religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Moslem, and Judaism.

A variety of art forms were also core to the traditions and rituals of native cultures – masks, totems, body paint, body adornments, dance, theater, costumes – where spirit was an ever-present reality threaded throughout daily life and initiating or supporting major life transitions, such as birth, death, marriage, life-as-service, and so much more that I can’t even conceive.

When humans shifted the locus of their attention from the tribe, clan, and family–where individuality was invisible under the cloak of the group–to the beginnings of self-awareness.

At this point, the crest of human development used art to pour forth even more testimony to all aspects of the human-as-spirit condition, as envisioned in the private spaces of a single mind and heart, one being at a time.

And with this rise of individuals as aware of self came…
the rise of a completely new form of expression: self-expression. And artists led the way.

But it wasn’t easy. Self-expression, without the sanctity and approval of the clan, was hard won.

Just look at what happened to the Impressionists in France, in the 1860s—reviled, ridiculed, scorned and isolated into poverty and a form of social leprosy when they dared to establish themselves as a small tribe within a tribe.

Nothing doing! The Salons shouted back. We have rules, you know! We have RULES for artists!

The First Four Minutes

And that behavior seemed to be the art world’s version of “The First Four Minutes“—a theory that any cycle of interaction is dominated by what happens in the first four minutes.

And until that cycle of connection is broken (takes a break, has a time out, etc.), the tone of those first four minutes becomes like a long-cresting wave that doesn’t give way until it breaks on the shore.

So enamored of its own clever ridicule, The Clan seemed more than happy to move on from the Impressionists, to the Cubists, to the Dadaists, to Digital Art—a term so emergent that the definitions and challenges are constantly shifting under our technology boots.

And so we arc back around to the clan again. Social Media has connected with its roots by re-inventing the term “tribe,” as in the Individuals who “friend,” “follow,” and blog about you.

The ManyOne

It’s as if we’ve decided to shift away from the distraction of us (tribe/clan) against them (each individual making up that tribe/clan).

And move up the evolutionary spiral to a progression of human-spirit development: The ManyOne

And artists, especially fine visual artists like you, have a prime opportunity to wave the flag of creativity and take the rest of humanity with you, over the hill to a New World where the Old World remains as the inspiration energy imprint it was always meant to be.

Haven’t a clue about what I’m talking about?

No worries… you’ll catch up, I promise. And I’m guessing a whole lot sooner than you think because the one truth I know is that you and I are here to add to the magnificence of being alive.

Agree? Disagree? Have another take on all of this?

I’d love to know….


Clarity of vision, along with communication, are the keys to having your collectors and buyers bond as deeply as possible with you and your work.

A compelling artist statement gives that clarity. It also communicates to your audience that you are available as a creative visionary to pass along what you are learning.

And if you want more, stay tuned because I have a lovely surprise coming up in a couple of days.



22 Responses to “Part 1: Art As Spiritual Sanctuary”

  1. Rachael says:

    I’m glad you’re contemplating this and I’m glad that it’s sounding more and more like I’m not the weird one. I’ve always been a spiritual person but my art was something else until I became a massage therapist and really took in the “mind-body connection” philosophy. Now I read people starting energetic art movements but I think it is happening despite organization. Art is a way to express without words and what’s harder to express with words than ideas about love, energy, and spirituality? I look forward to finding more people that can relate to my work.

    • With over 27% of the North American population and an equal amount in Europe being called “cultural creatives,” you are definitely in the company of people whose values, by sheer number, have passed the “weird” benchmark and left it far behind.

      Here’s the list of values/beliefs that researchers found 50 million North Americans holding:
      – personal authenticity, development and spirituality,
      – holistic healing,
      – ecological sustainability,
      – social justice,
      – feminism and
      – caring about what happens personally, locally and globally.

  2. Janet Glatz says:

    The way I incorporate spirituality into my art is this: I ask my “all that is” to lead me in my work, to share its creativity with me and let it flow through my hands. When this truly works, I get into the “zone”. No better place to be.

  3. The sentence that caught my attention is, “Self-expression, without the sanctity and approval of the clan, was hard won.” I think it still is, especially on an individual basis. Moreover, I think that tied to this is a fear of anonymity, as we artists strive not only to make a living with our art, but also make an impact or at least be memorable. I know this is true for me.

  4. Ariane, Thank you for the concise trip through this historical perspective. I think the shift involves where the power lies. Back in the day, the power was with the gatekeepers, usually with money, who deemed for the tribe what was acceptable and what was not. As this meme has changed with the advent of self awareness and spirituality that is concentrated on the individual, the more society craves to interact, — the advent of the web brought the world quite suddenly into a microcosm. The individual now has tremendous power to reach others across the globe. You mention the “Self-expression, without the sanctity and approval of the clan, was hard won.” and I agree, and now we have the opportunity to create our own tribe, handpicking them from across the globe. However, it still takes a lot of courage to stand naked in the crowd and search for that tribe – but it sure is a lot easier to gather that clan once you start to find them than it has ever been before. And once you find them – it is food for your soul. And your spirit can soar as it has never been able too in human history. Love it! Can’t wait for the next post.

  5. Howard C says:

    I have been contemplating spirituality, symbolism and the way symbols travel the globe with slight changes in meaning or content. I do think spirituality can be removed from religion but the reverse may not be true. I like to think that spirituality transcends the restrictions of religion.

    • Then, Howard, you must be acquainted with both Jung’s work on symbolism and Joseph Cambell’s.

      And I agree, as a form of connecting with The Divine, spirituality is outside the religious institutions.

      However, this has not meant that in practice some forms of spirituality can reach the same rigid structures and mandates that do smack of “the right way” to do something.

  6. Pia says:

    Before I start working I do what exactly what Janet Glatz does in her comment above, namely ask the Creator (I like Janet’s phrase-my “all that is”) to help me “pour out of myself all that has been poured in-trees, sky, colors, family” etc. and join in the work of creation. And when I finish work (even if it has not turned out as well as I had hoped) I am thankful for whatever has shown up on the canvas or paper that day!

    • Here too, Pia, I’m wondering if this practice extends into other areas of your art career?

      • Pia says:

        Well yes the practice does extend into other parts of my art career. For example, I have a show opening this Friday & have done everything I can do to make it my best. So I say, “‘Creator’, thanks for the opportunity to show the work & it is now in your hands.” The practice also involves a sense of gratefulness & of connecting w others;e.g. I am grateful for my artist (& non-artist) friends & make it a point to reach out & connect face-to face. I think that is part of spiritual practice as it involves a mutual feeding of the soul. I try to keep this in mind even using social media, thanking people for their support & trying to provide some uplift.

  7. Kathy Mann says:

    There is a sense when I am painting that the Creator of all…delights in my appreciation and expression of His creation…whether I am finding joy in the spilling of light on hills, trees, etc., the drama of colour or the intricacies of the human face. The expression of my art is gratefulness for the beauty around me to my Creator and a desire to share the ability to see it…not spiritual in the religious sense dictated by manmade structures to be God accepted…but certainly spiritual in relationship with the One who gave me creative ability and hunger.

  8. Ah, yes, “relationship.” It does always seem to come down to this no matter what we are discussing, yes?

  9. Great question, Ariane. I first began to question my (Roman Catholic) religion near the end of my visual art studies at university. My final piece culminated in an installation dealing with how I felt this religion had negatively impacted on my mixed East/West family. I remember being scared to death that God or the Virgin Mary might strike me down dead that first opening night of the exhibition for being so bold. But nothing happened so I guess they approved. Since then I have found expression through art as new kind of religion for me. I find its freed me in many ways and has allowed me to be more open to others and myself in a way my former relgion did not leave room for. This is not to say, I don’t respect some aspects of the RC religion that are inclusive.

    • Pia says:

      Hi Michelle-I have gone through a very similar process re:art and religion and feel “freed … in many ways and … more open to others ” as a result of art. Though I also no longer practice it, I still appreciate the spiritual, cultural, and artistic heritage of the religion with which I was raised while distancing myself from its dogmatic, inflexible side.

    • THank you, Michelle, for such a personal and incisive comment. It’s your willingness to broach such transparency that gives this blog a depth I rarely see online. It is also very helpful for me to see the enormous range that a discussion of spirituality and art opens up. So cool!!!

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