Thursday, December 05, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ The Viewing Process

The content or experience of Art as spiritual.

From the viewers perspective, the specific aesthetic content or experience of a piece of art is what usually marks it out as being 'spiritual'.  Renaissance content consisted of scenes from biblical history, the miracles and martyrdom's of saints, and Greco-Roman classical myths.  This is what many people are referring to when they talk about the spiritual in art. These illustrative paintings of sacred people, stories or theology, may or may not evoke an uplifting response in the viewer, through this imitative expression.  Such content cannot be guaranteed to produce art that will spiritually touch us. It might just as easily produce an inert picture, with an equally inert emotional response. So whatever is there in a work of art that people respond to as being 'spiritual' is more about receptivity, than its representational form.

The way a painting's content is formed by the artist, its colours, shapes and relationships as they run across the canvas, may fleetingly capture a spiritual truth about human life and mortality. This could be as true of non-representational as representational painting, Because a sense for the spiritual emerges through this illustrative content, doesn't mean it intrinsically belongs to it.   

Pictures might also be alluding to concepts or analogies not immediately visible in the artwork. They are spiritual only if one knows how to read them.  This perception of art is a profoundly academic or literary interpretation of spirituality. Its a cognitive response, that may also have an emotive counterpart. But without that emotional response. the visual potency or vibrancy will never fully spiritually suffuse enough to inhabit it. The spiritual effect upon a viewer cannot be predestined by content or prescribed by art critics or even the artist themselves.  It's dependent on the subjective eyes and heart of the beholder.  

Art has spiritual meaning or qualities attributed to it.

From a Buddhist perspective, art that is too worldly or too other worldly in emphasis is bound to be flawed, because this is not how reality truly is. All art has at least the potential to be seen in a spiritual light, or be illuminating.  Spiritual meaning, value or spiritual benefit can always be assigned too it.. This was most likely not part of the artist's original intention, and probably better if it isn't. To be able to perceive for ourselves, we have to be receptive to it, to be able to abandon any prejudices or preferences we might hold, to be more flexible in our perceptions and hold less rigidly to fixed points of view. Whether we see spiritual qualities in art depends mostly on whether our views obscure or highlight them. 

Art is unlikely to be inherently spiritual

The word 'spiritual' is one of many value judgements placed upon art  It is often short hand for a particularly elevated feeling, a sense of something positive, insightful or divine, an other worldly dimension or sensitivity. The 'spiritual' may place itself in a finished artwork but this is only ascribed to it through the viewer's perceptions.  There is a viewpoint that only certain cultures, periods in art or types of content, have produced spiritual art.  This is untrue. This is largely based on cultural  or aesthetic assumptions of what has or has not spiritual value. Subjective aesthetic experiences often being presented as absolute objective ones. Its impossible to be completely definitive about the spiritual content or otherwise of art. It's probably safe to say, that if you can define it in great detail, then you're probably not talking about spiritual content at all. Its just too subjective an experience for that level of precision.

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