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Thoughts on Creativity -- Newsletter #31
Art and Spirituality

by Donald W. Mathews

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"Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument."

"Every creative person is a duality or a syntheses of contradictory qualities. On the one side he is a human being with a personal life, while on the other he is an impersonal creative process."

"The essence of a work of art is not to be found in the personal idiosyncrasies that creep into it—indeed, the more there are of them, the less it is a work of art—but in its rising above the personal and speaking from the mind and heart of the artist to the mind and heart of mankind."

C. G. Jung

"As in love, all depends on what the artist unconsciously projects on everything he sees. It is the quality of that projection, rather than the presence of the living person, that gives an artist's vision its life."

Henri Matisse

I recently attended a panel on abstract art where several artists talked about their work and received questions from the audience. I found there was not a clear reference available to what art or abstract art really was. Most artists described their personal process and motivations for doing the work while others sought to understand perceived differences in the resulting work, particularly how to distinguish art or good art from non-art or bad art! I believe the emphasis to judge art and the artist at superficial levels before responding to the often hidden underlying spiritual process is vastly misleading. (Spirit: The vital principal or animating force within living beings, from the Latin word spiritus, meaning to breath, implying the breath of God, inspiration.) This is true for both artists and audience. The creative process is an emotionally guided intuitive one that deepens through the personal and intellectual levels to that serving "the mind and heart of (human)kind."

By general definition, art is the work produced for beauty or pleasure of the senses rather than utility. Typically, we humans are lifted up to pleasureful feelings or meaningful ideas by something we consider beautiful—in nature, the arts or each other. We may also be touched by painful experiences of others, wonderfully sharing a deep relationship bond in our humanness transcending the pain. To be lifted out of our ordinary state and "inspired" emotionally is a divine gift we humans can all enjoy. (Divine: Having the nature of a deity and to know through inspiration, intuition or reflection—particularly to foretell.) This innate mystery of our existence is the ultimate gift!

To abstract is to "pull out," implying a reference to something else--normal awareness or concrete existence for example. At the meeting, this important point was made: All art is basically abstract!

This is because a work of art is an abstract communication about something arising from an impulse in the human spirit! (Although it is true only a few artists try to eliminate all concrete references to reality in their work in order to reach the illusive spiritual or sublime.) This motivating impulse in the artist, and/or viewer/participant of the work, is a mystery important in itself with often hidden content, regardless of the subject matter or the expertise of the artist. The subtle emotions of attraction and repulsion are the only guide with the valued content often hidden even from the artist as the work progresses!

I believe that life as we perceive it is also abstract in a wonderful way. What we perceive is not what is happening. We are always creating our own reality—to some degree. This is not a problem! The powers of projection and inspiration are the artist's gift! This is what is most interesting! For the process highlights our creative powers and potential of knowing the wondrous reality of our selves and the world around us through sharing of our perceptions in both an appreciative and critical way.

Interpretation of inspiration and artistic expression from the artist's experience is always filtered through both the artist's and audience's personal process. Expertise in the particular craft used to illustrate the experience does make a difference. But it is not the prime element in the creative process although it is often greatly admired. All of us have many filters of intellect and emotion from family, culture, religion, education, personal needs, etc. Most often these filters are unconscious so operate undetected in our evaluation of the experience. The assumption is that we are fully aware! This assumption needs to be examined in order to open new vistas of profound experience and develop new relationship with life becoming artists of a creative life with spiritual depth!

Words are our most commonly used tool of expression and when well crafted, become poetry and story. They are so familiar, we often forget they are our abstracted invention for sharing experience. Music and dance seem much more abstract in form and often powerful in stirring our emotions, perhaps because their expression is more physical than intellectual in performance.

I believe the capacity to experience and express this creative impulse or spirit I call divine is what makes a person an artist, regardless of the mode or ability of expression. We may or may not respond to a particular work, but I believe we must all have deep respect for the underlying process and participate!

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