Sunday 19 July 2009

Spirituality - the heartbeat of Art? (3)

In the third presentation from the Art & Spirituality networking evening at St Andrews Leytonstone, where three artists addressed the question 'Spirituality - the heartbeat of Art?', Mark Lewis speaks about spirituality in art as a sense of aliveness:

"I have taken something of a comparative approach and a very personal outlook on art and the spiritual. Heartbeat means life. No heartbeat no life. This rings chords with me because although I think that to a great extent all art has the potential to be spiritual … a real authentic spiritual heartbeat occurs when it brings about a certain sense of aliveness (I don’t just mean well-being) a heightened awareness; a depth or altered state of consciousness; a quickening of the human spirit. It’s a struggle to find the right kind of descriptive language to speak of these things, but I think Kandinsky got very close to it when he spoke of “a vibration in the soul”.

To be truly spiritual it has to be something that engages us, unites us, awakens us, gives a deeper loving engagement with life. It is something that sacralises, and at the same time, gives access to an experience of the sacred. It can be both medium and message. I am wary of trying to pin down these experiences because they are subjective and work at different level with different people. But, for the Christian tradition, it is the Spirit that gives life and it is the Spirit that speaks to our heart through the richness of art.

Many artists have always recognized a hidden spirituality in what they are doing. They are aware of an indefinable "other" which inspires artists and leads them into ever deeper creativity. The work of Rothko and Stanley Spencer, although dramatically different, have impressed me deeply….


His paintings have a mysterious contemplative quality; a pure emotional experience… the spiritual power of non-objective art Some have observed to witness these paintings is to submit one’s self to a spiritual experience, which, through its transcendence of subject matter, approximates that of consciousness itself.

One is forced to approach the limits of experience and awakens one to the awareness of one’s own existence… confronted with silence and nothingness… in a very curious sense we are aware of our own heartbeat…

To stand before a Rothko painting (for me) is to be aware of ones own aliveness or being.

Stanley Spencer

Spencer was a devout Christian and believed God resided in all things and the miraculous could be found in everyday events. His paintings proclaim that Christ is in all things. In his paintings, Cookham becomes the setting for scenes from the life of Christ and other Christian narratives.

The ordinary and the everyday takes on a different significance.. we are encouraged to
look it through a different lens. ….not always rose-coloured… but a lens that allows us
to make deeper connections we would otherwise not make. Ordinary situations and things take on a greater significance.

Spencer sacralised everything. To contemplate his art is to enter into the deep resonances sacredness in the world…. It is aliveness..

Christ before Pilate by Mark Lewis

I am passionate about drawing and its search for truthfulness. I end here (or perhaps in one sense I begin). We need to acknowledge more than we do that the act of making art as a truly spiritual act. It is also where the heart beats and where I feel most spiritually alive. Engagement with looking is important… but in the act of drawing we can participate in a spiritual process

The words of Ingres are often quoted: “Drawing is the probity of art…” I don’t think that I am the only artist who believes that drawing can be an altered state of consciousness, a form of meditation; a way of evolving to higher levels of awareness.

In the act of drawing, there is a point in time when ones concentration is focussed so intently on the work that time stands still. All distractions disappear. The artists merges with his or her work. One becomes part of the life or spiritual energy of what you draw. In some ways this a very Zen outlook. We draw attentively and we become what we draw. It brings about an intimacy. Seeing and drawing becoming one. It is a kind of love-making. It is a way of loving the world.

Drawing leads you into different kinds of truths (as no doubt painting does). At its best it is always process, a spiritual search with shifting boundaries. Like the religious journey… the journey is in many ways more important than the goal.

My drawing technique searches and often never arrives… line brings form alive but it can also unite and coalesce the deeper meanings of a narrative (e.g. the Stations of the Cross) …


In a very brief and fragmentary way I have tried to discern the ways in which art enlivens me and that this is uniting theme. I can relate to many art forms in this way, particularly landscape. I can relate strongly to the idea of art as prayer (Sister Wendy Beckett speaks of it in these terms).

Contemporary African writer Ben Okri claims that "ALL art is a prayer" and then he adds that it is basically a prayer for spiritual strength. Prayer - difficult though it sometimes is - is a form of communion. A deep engagement. It keeps our spiritual heart beating."

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