Is there a special relationship between Art and spirituality? How does religious art fit into this picture?
The first art was religious and used highly spiritual imagery. It was made on caves miles deep within the earth, painting natural occurring cathedrals. Chauvet Cave paintings are among the oldest examples of spiritual art. They are thought to have been used in ceremonial magic. A sort of artist magic whereby shamans ventured deep into caves. Magic was the precursor to religion so there are deep roots between art and spirituality influencing religious art.
Now why would anybody risk life and limb to go spelunking with stone age technology just to paint some buffalo stuff on the wall? Was it just art? No, clearly there was some shamanistic element to the emergence of art. I think conclusively we can say that definitely art played a pivotal role in the events and coincidences that led to the rapid advances in human intelligence. It was a period known as “the minds big bang.”
Ah yes, Creative thinking. That’s the trigger word here. An interconnected relationship arose whereby the abstract set of connections that could be surmised about the world were then transmogrified into art; ta-da! So it therefore goes without question that the there is definitely distinction of art being highly integral to spirituality.
Ok, art and spirituality go definitively hand in hand. Indeed religion has always piggybacked on the elaborate genius of artists and their wondrous creations. Just walk into your modern day Pentecostal church and watch the people in the pews completely wig out. Speaking in tongues is just pure fun.
Certainly the common everyday religious person gets a heavy does of sacred pictures, symbols, dances, chants, hymns, tunes and so on. I haven’t even mentioned the creative meditative act of prayer. This is because the arts are vehicles for making these spiritual connections. They function in order to highly invigorate the senses to be able to accept the doctrine. Plato said that art was helpful for teaching and for appealing to the spirit.
Religious art has always been used to move the message.
It’s never really been about the images themselves in this way. Just look at Islam & Judaism for example. Both use Aniconism which is actually the absence of material representations of both the natural and supernatural worlds. However each employ a careful visual aesthetic which with all intents and purposes invigorates the spirit. Making reference to the magic of art has become taboo in various cultures, particularly in the monotheistic Abrahamic religions . However despite that fact they all still employ a backlog of design elements and embellishments which decorate and adorn places of worship. So just looking at the history that art has played in the transformation of spirituality makes it safe to say that the art and spirituality are integral to one another.
Get Medieval Christian on your ass
Art in the medieval period was representative of the beginning of the western worlds gradual movement towards christianity. Indeed an immense volume of art in a multitude of forms was commissioned by the church. Christians heavily used their symbolism like a weapon. So in this sense the beginning of Christianity was a proliferation of artistic and viral ideals about the nature of reality.
Likewise the Catholic church was the biggest donor to the arts during this period. By all means, it had become the largest pre-Disney cultural institution. I say that because archetypes in Disney movies played the same role in molding peoples minds as they did in crafting the world from christianity. As a result the power of the Catholic church slowly began to spread & influence all of Europe.
Consequently, the power and money with which the church was able to accumulate put it in a great place for commissioning works of art. From this period a large variety of art works in many different forms emerged. Paintings, frescoes, murals, sculptures and manuscripts came from this marvelous period of creativity. What was left was an enormous body of work that survives to this day. As a result Europe is peppered by this diverse artistic variety of art and spirituality. Naturally this is probably the largest period of artistic spreading in history.
Early Christian Spiritual Art
Naturally, the birthplace of christianity was in the Roman Empire. So of course Christian art had a direct influence from classic roman and greek designs. Therefore Christian themes in art also include similar use of sacred statues and holy images. Actually homes of christians were adorned with these images and like Greek shrines to Apollo the home became a hearth of their patron deity Jesus Christ.
As a matter of fact it kind of brings to mind the modern day Christian households with these high end Thomas Kinkade prints. There is still this important element of adopting images. Although modern christianity has become slightly an-iconic. Medieval Christianity, however, was replete with art.
Once Christianity was legalized in the 4th century these pieces of art started leaving the household and ended up inside of the churches. Around this era artists depicted Biblical themes and developed its own style. From here the Roman realism changed. Christianity had its very own aesthetic. That was religious idealism. They traded the statuesque perfection of ancient Roman art for the hyper religious views of painted frescoes and what not.
How Christians Artists got Busy in the Byzantine Empire
So since the fall of Rome Byzantium aka “The Byzantine Empire” was the Europe version of “Make America Great Again.” It was huge and vast. Without question, it was the greatest political super power in all of Europe.
Byzantium went about declaring Christianity as its official religion. So for that reason between the 5th century to its epic demise in the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire started a campaign of rich and diverse creation of highly spiritual Christian art. This art was actually declared to create by the Emperor of Byzantium himself. As a result it became a bastion of ritualistic & ceremonial cultural knick knacks.
From 5th century to its fall in the 15th century, the Byzantine Empire was home to a very rich and diverse range of Christian art, often patronized by the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Emperor himself. Indeed one could say that Constantinople was the capital of Europe. It had some the most quintessential spiritual artwork of Christendom. Mainly mosaics. Mosaics were the main attraction and they were everywhere. They were on buildings, churches, street corners and were even brought into the homes of believers to help strengthen their spirituality.
Religious Art Wears a Hijab
Islam has a dress code. Fashion sense is art.So Islamic art, per se, characterizes the art and architecture produced in Muslim ruled lands. Like I’ve said before; Islam is an-iconic. Therefore there can be no religious idealism in the artworks themselves. Hence the whole thing about not drawing the prophet Muhammad. However islam was still able to foster and develop a very distinct artistic language that can be seen all over art and architecture of the Muslim world
It wasn’t until the Umayyad Caliphate between 661 and 750 that a formal Islamic aesthetic emerged. Muslim peoples conquered a lot of territory. So inevitably there is a wide range of different styles and influences across the islamic art spectrum. However there is one central unifying characteristic about the art. The four basic components of Islamic art are calligraphy, vegetal patterns, geometric patterns and figural representations.
Art of Sufi Islam
Sufi are like the Jedi of Islam. They have their own order and specialized symbols.
Indeed the Sufis are the mystical arm of Islam. They have inspired poets and artists the world over. Extraordinary verses and artworks have been made by them. Sufis have made some of the most important artworks within islamic spiritual art. I’m not going to go into too much detail about their background. However the term “Sufi” is the Arabic word for wool and refers to the garment that the mystics wore. Sufism is not a single movement, but a range of faiths, studies and practices in the Muslim community.
Sufi ritual has become an important part of mainstream Muslim aesthetic. It’s more like performance art than anything else.
Certain clothing and artifacts are central to the Sufi rituals. There is a long-sleeved robe known as a khirqa . It helped to indicate that a student had achieved a higher status in the order and indicated he was a full member. There is a very important axe called a tarbar or tabarzin which had some practical and plenty of spiritual purposes. Not only was it a weapon but also more of a metaphorical weapon which symbolized the separation of the Sufi from the material world. It was also an indicator of someone in high rank of the Sufi order.
Dervishes are probably the best known Sufi artistic dance practice. It’s down right performance art.
“to break the ink-pots and tear the books” -Sufi quote
Hinduism: Perfect Portrayals of God in Spiritual Art
Hinduism has four Purusartha or “goals” on this earth.
- 1.Everyone must aspire for ones dharma. Dharma is the lifes’ goal and the righteous path.
- 2. Artha or a wealthy and successful pursuit of career.
- 3. Kama or erotic love.
- 4. Moksha or spiritual salvation.
Temples and artworks, though they glorify a given deity, mainly are erected to help focalize the mind towards achieving spiritual development.
Christianity influencing Hinduism
For the early Hindu’s it was all hodgepodge. But around the time of the Christian era, Hinduism began to adopt a little mix of the patriarchal image of God. Indeed everyone is familiar with the Christian trinity or the three pronged image of God the father-God the Son-God the Holy Spirit. Hinduism literally emphasized the supremacy of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.
Technically everyone is Hindu. It is because Hinduism accepts pretty much all deities as personifications of the divine figure head. For this reason Hinduism is a pluralistic religion. There are many different paths towards the ultimate goal. All rivers rush to the open ocean.
For this the Hindus have developed a cleverly spiritual artistic style which exemplifies their view of the divine. Gods are portrayed with multiple arms and almost always engaged in combative scenes in phantasmagoric acts of cosmic decadence. These motifs hold a strictly symbolic effect. A bunch of arms emphasized the fantastic power that a deity had and his/her ability to carry out tremendous tasks at the same time. Indian artists were always trying to effectively portray the omnipresence and omnipotence of God.
Demons in Hindu religious art are portrayed with multiple heads to show that they are superhuman. This symbolic embellish was highly effective in expressing a divine character who could take on many different aspects.
The Hindu Temple
You can’t talk about India without the lavish sculptured decorations and monuments. In the Hindu temple there are large niches in the three exterior walls of the sanctum sanctorum that hold the statues known as murti that portray the aspects of the God that is enshrined within. At its center is the ultimate expression of God. Niches in a temple dedicate to vishnu, for example, may show his various incarnations; for Shiva, his varying death defying feats and those of Shakti, her fights with demons.
Temple walls show banks of scroll-like foliage, images of women and couples in loving embrace known as maithunas. All of these carved images play their own role in further bringing the mind closer to god. It is pure art magic.
Religious Art as a Philosophy
Hindu art is a mixture of imagery and philosophy that truly helps inspire and enliven the human soul. Hindu art signifies growth, abundance, prosperity and a multitude of other auspicious motifs.
Of course there are different regional variations on these central themes. However they only add to the vast diversity of pluralistic religious beauty that the Hindu spiritual art aesthetic has to offer. It’s amazing how many different portions of a Hindu temple are adorned with figural sculpture. Most of these motifs exemplify the events of mythology that enshrine God.
New Age Spiritual Art Scene
So what do we say about art in the modernized secular west? Has spiritual art become secularized. For me its true that the center of the arts has somewhat moved away from institutional religion. Is this the reason why it has become so hard to find great spiritual religious art in the west? But what of the arts in the modern, secular west? Have they also become secular? Amazingly the connection between art and spirituality has remained.
There is a legendary LACMA Catalogue that dates back to 1985. In this catalogue all of the explosive power of modern art is compiled. It was the modern contemporary first attempt at a spiritual aesthetic for the 21st century.
This catalogue is filled with epic paintings. It is a really well organized compendium of different artists and styles. However it all might as well be placed under the umbrella term of “New Age.”
The New Age movement draws on a variety of different spiritual and religious studies. These are all compiled together into one fluid philosophy and brought to market.
New Age Movement and the Market
New Age The New Age movement has hardly a fraction of the creative staying power that the Catholic Church does. Spiritual art for new age movements is more kitsch. It’s a highly marketable segment. Its very decentrilized and hasn’t gotten much ground yet. Christianity has been around for almost 2000 years. They’ve had plenty of time to develop their aesthetics.
Due to the fact that the New Age movement is highly decentralized, Sacred Geometry hasn’t become an official ‘motif’. However it’s highly used and over proliferated among many New Age organizations and influencers. The idea of sacred geometry comes from the design and construction of religious structures like Churches and temples. Sacred geometry though is different. It flows from the natural state of reality. You can find geometric all over from the intricate patterns in a pine cone to the double helix in DNA.
Spirituality Erotic Art
There is this sort of erotic element to art. It’s definitely appealing to the senses. Ergo it’s highly sensual.
Probably one of the all time most well known sensually and spiritually riveting artists would be Alex Grey. His art has a very impactful effect on the soul.
What is the Opposite of Spiritual Art?
In all respects, religion significantly relies on art. However without an adequate theology, art becomes relatively flat. I can’t say how many times I trill through instagram only to see the same mundane and lifeless images rehashed over and over again. At some point art becomes just a never ending pastiche of images of Spider man. Lifeless cliche. The whole lowbrow art scene meant to almost completely divest the spiritual from art all together.
Marcel Duchamp spoke heavily about the “retinal” art. This was an art that had no appeal to the inner spectrum. Retinal means art that does nothing but add to embellish for the sake of embellishing. Like I’d previously talked about when it came to the.
Religious art and Spirituality
All in all Spirituality and art are deeply intertwined. Religions gravely need art in order to prop up the supernatural mental images that it constantly sells. Art needs that supernatural dimension or else it is just lifeless repetitions of the natural world. Spirituality is art and art is spirituality. End of story.