Spirituality is in the intents of art, not simply in the subject, theme, or appearance of art.
Matthew Collings has spoken of sacredness in art, which in appearances is generally missing in modern/contemporary art. We may not see Christianity in much art anymore, as this genre is not as prominent or frequent because it is now too functional for art. Art’s purpose when as altarpiece or frescos was as a utility – to advertise Jesus, to provoke worship of God. Now I understand how Oscar Wilde concluded ‘Art is absolutely useless…’ Hold your breathe - I do not go against what I spoke of in The Value of Art – it doesn’t mean art is pointless or bad – it has a point, just perhaps no use. Its point is commercial.
Michael Craig Martin, in interview with philosopher Roger Scruton as part of Why Beauty Matters said that the aim or function of contemporary art is for the viewers to see the world in which they [we] are living, and not idealised fantasy world, and find meaning in it. This is the spirituality in modern art. Maybe this is what makes modern art feel empty to me: it fails to captivate me frequently because I have already found meaning in this world in God – maybe Christianity is what makes me an artistic traditionalist…?
I have noticed through practise, ‘the need for an artist to seek and find…’ (as I also highlighted in Kienholz – The Hoerengracht article) – It is this that makes artists spiritual beings. Rob Bell would say all people, whatever profession, contain the same spiritual make-up, the natural response to believe in something and to worship something.
Do we worship art? Is the worth of art, and of certain artists too great?
Is art given too much respect? We hush ourselves when in galleries. Despite art often provoking reactions, we often stand around, only pondering (which I have no doubt is productive) but not also discussing or sharing. I fear texting, or answering my phone – not because I fear being an annoyance, but because the art, the setting requires more respect.
In my article a while back entitled Matthew Collings’ What Is Beauty I spoke of space as being spiritual in modern art museums, which I thought was an inspirational thought from the art critic. ‘Whereas churches used to house art that was designed and commissioned to be incorporated in, such as frescos and altarpieces; there is religiousness in the humble whiteness. The association in the plainness engages our mind with the emotional bareness involved in spirituality; in the in-built human response that is our desire for spirituality; and the simplicity and peace we are all so highly drawn to especially in contrast to our way of life. White is our colour for cleanliness, innocence, peace and purity, and for pure light. Inarguably he claimed that beauty was excusable in such a setting (a contemporary art gallery) because the beauty is in the sacred atmosphere created. And this is why modern art can, even if you admit it often is non-descript, ugly or visually arbitrary, be defined as beautiful.’
Rob Bell is an inspired author who writes about relationship with God.