Monday, November 18, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ Introduction

Van Gogh
In recent months I've been reading books about artists and their art. Initially I thought this was simply reconnecting with the work of favourite artists in a quasi-nostalgic regression to the enthusiasms of youth. The longer this has gone on the less true this has seemed. Yes, I have been rekindling enthusiasms, but at the same time I've been developing a clearer sense for what their artistic process was like and how that might correlate with mine. Some of these artists are Van Gogh, Mondrian, Van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, Paul Klee, Bridget Riley, Frank Stella and Sol Lewitt. They have all either influenced my working methods, style or my sense of aesthetic. As both a Buddhist and an artist, I'm interested in how art and the process of making it could be a spiritual practice and what it is that makes art 'spiritual' anyway.

Quite apart from any practical consequences upon my art and artistic process, their work possesses a joyful life affirming quality for me. This feels like a spiritual affinity. For some of these artists, their artwork was a search for the essential fundamentals of Art, a manifestation of the universal, that had a  psychological or spiritual search for unity underpinning to it. They became more abstract and less representational the deeper this search for the spiritual in the universal went. This made their art grow progressively more weird, out of touch and hence other worldly. Its as if they've come down to us from an alien, if not alienating, realm ~ and hence increasingly difficult for ordinary folk outside of it to easily relate to anymore. Modern Art Aesthetics and Buddhist Metaphysics are both similar in this respect, in that the worlds they describe aren't that easy for the casual observer to comprehend or appreciate.

Essentially, most people have a simple uncomplicated desire to bring beauty into their world and hence appreciate when they see this in Art. Lets be honest, much of the world we are surrounded by is ugly. There is much about human life, and indeed some art, that is undoubtedly vulgar, grubby and wretched. Artists can show us these unpalatable, cruel and soiled aspects of life, and I wouldn't for one moment wish to censor or denigrate that. It is an important function for art to reflect all aspects of the world to us. The world is a place of suffering, one we frequently want to avert our gaze away from. Artists needs to be able to show us what the world is really like at its worst, as well as its best. These days the bias is towards the worst, and can be all we are presented with. We are encouraged to cultivate skepticism, cynicism, apathy, to view the world nihilistically. Because there is no hope, no beauty, no possibility of transcendence proffered, there is nowhere for our 'soul' to soar too. Something to inspire or aspire to in an elevating positive way is rare. Any artist who makes beautiful art can be seen as naive, fatally romantic and their work as a flawed escapism from the real brutality of life. A positive outlook or refined sense of aesthetic is out of fashion and not a position that an artist with any contemporary relevance should hold for long.  It is, however, also true that the singular pursuit of beauty as an end in itself, will, at least in part, be founded upon the pursuit of an idealised vision of a pain free, perfectible heaven on earth ~ basically an eternalistic world view.

Le Witt

What we are being presented with here is a false opposition between a nihilistic and eternalistic art aesthetic. Each one pointing out the perceptual flaws in the others worldview. In  truth, each has its own spiritual value, but each can also be misleading because of their partiality, and hence the incompleteness of their worldly perspective. If we form a more spiritual perspective on art, we don't have to buy into this dichotomy. There are aspects that can be of spiritual value wthin nihilistic and eternalistic art perspectives, though one has to be wary of them, and of our own bias towards one or the other. Ask ourselves ~ What does this artwork tell me about life and the world I live in? ~ What might it help me better understand? ~ Is it blind or insightful in any way? ~ Does it move me or encourage an enquiring or empathic response? ~ Does it point towards anything that is above or beyond existence? ~ Does it feed mine or other peoples greed, hatred or delusion?

No comments: