Luis Geraldes Book
The Spiritual in Art
Lipsey (1987: 31) states, the spiritual “is an incursion from above or deep within to which the ordinary human being in each of us can only surrender.” Haftman (1968: 45) complements this observation by noting,
The conception of the picture as a documentary tablet on which the artist records his profound experience of the cosmos … builds a bridge between man and his outside world.
The Spiritual in art allows a society to depict what cannot be seen, but only felt or reflected upon through ruminations concerning sacred and divine deities. Lipsey (1987: 12) describes the role of art and its focus when he writes:
Art accepted a special mission in virtually every pre-industrial culture: to depict the sacred…it is the realm of the hidden, and therefore of revelation.
Spirituality emerges from a deep historical tradition that embodies its own language and knowledge, and is studied from esoteric teaching and practices. Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and other early twentieth century artists had adopted an approach to the spiritual in art that paralleled processes associated with practices of the theosophical society.
Lipsey (1987: 34) highlights the impact of theosophy when he notes that, “Theosophy generated a visual language that entered the mainstream of twentieth century.” Artists concerned with this knowledge came to express themselves through a genuine theosophical process of inquiry. They contribute to the transmission of knowledge through their art, a process that traditionally relied on word of mouth from generation to generation. Such esoteric and secret teachings have been the great fount of knowledge of artists concerned with the spiritual in art.
Kandinsky suggests that an artist needs to work at being spiritual in a dedicated and committed way, developing technical skills as well as soul. Kandinsky explains:
Construction on a purely spiritual basis is a slow business, and at first seemingly blind and unmethodical. The artist must train not only his eye but also his soul, so that [he/she] can with colours in its own scale and thus become a determinant in artistic creation (Kandinsky , 1947: 22).
Therefore it is important to look at the tradition of the spiritual in order to grapple with its origins in art. According to Lipsey, the endeavour to engage with the spiritual in art implies a “search for a larger world and larger soul,” adding, “The Spiritual in Art confronts us with what we have forgotten”. Contemporary artists have been agonising to deliver an art concerned with the awe, and a sense of an internal force that generates spiritual reflection and healing thoughts through the use of elements and principles of art.
Contemporary Australian artist Tim Johnson, for example, embraces the principles of the spiritual in art to unify body, mind and spirit. He seeks to achieve this by developing an approach to art that engages with ancient symbols of various belief systems outside the Judeo-Christian paradigm, including Buddhist icons, Aboriginal patterns, American Indian portraits of Chiefs and Temple designs of eastern philosophies. Johnson enables us to discover the very essence of our existence through a semiotic spiritual language of our ancestors.
In my paintings, I endeavour to render the spiritual by establishing a sense of dialog between five different paintings within the one painting. The various divisions capture “fragments of time”. The divisions allow me to incorporate a labyrinth of symbols – mandalas, maps of the cosmic system, cosmic eggs, atoms and cosmic explosions – to convey to the viewer a sense of “spiritual resonance”. Science abounds in art. The path of sub-atomic particles,
shapes that scientists associate with quantum geometry,
the myriads of images that we encounter in news reports of IVF breakthroughs or scientific achievements in genetic experimentation,
the majestic and breathtaking images conveyed to us through the eyes of the Hubble telescope,
or the now common diagrams of embryonic development
are grist to my artistic mill. Science has proved a veritable mine of new, exciting and challenging images to the artist seeking to capture the esoteric.
Artists concerned with the spiritual adopt a variety of strategies to communicate their sense of spirituality. Some pay homage to tradition and employ familiar “western” or “eastern” symbols to evoke the spiritual. Other artists use symbols, marks, signs or tokens appropriated from ancient belief systems to comprehend the unknown spiritual forces behind cause and effect of the universe. Image 2h is another example dating from the eighteenth century, of artists seeking to represent stages in the evolution of the soul in the form of planets in the heavens.
To be continued………….