Art & Spirituality: Part 2 “Art’s Relevance Today ”

Context is what we strive for every day. Where is our place; what is our purpose? Art has been in the throes of a constantly changing dialogue across history since we began recording our existence. An anthropological visual torch, its evolving nature has served ideals and philosophies from Neanderthal times to the Renaissance era. Its quasi-mystical element allows it to demand and encompass the widest range of human emotion. Despite the diminishing role of institutionalised religion, spirituality has endured through the optics of humanity and it is no surprise that it is an overriding feature of contemporary art.

Cave art in Pech Marle, France. The painting of the punctuated horses is a unique composition, a masterpiece exceptionally preserved for 29,000 years.

The fractious relationship between art and religion that existed for eons has taken a turn in a modern, secular world where art, although no longer religious in specificity, still elicits questions on the deeper concerns of existence itself. The interlude of science and art opened up avenues for modern artists like Kandinsky, Mondrian, Arp, Duchamps, Malevich, Newman, Pollack, Rothko and most of the other giants of early and mid-twentieth century painting to appropriate work that expressed and developed the spirituality that the new century called for. The purpose of their work was to transcend material reality and elevate viewers to a higher consciousness. When considered from this angle, the blank, monochrome, geometric or biomorphic shapes that constituted their portfolios offer a more thought provoking outlook.

From the second half of the 20th century, artists began to venture beyond the fringe of traditional art with a range of new media that traverses conventional forms of painting and sculpture. Novel representations of such artistic endeavour include “Installation Art”, which is predominantly site-specific or site-sensitive and calls on the innovative use of space and interaction between the objects of that space. Conversely, “Performance Art” involves the artist employing his or her body itself as the medium to project creativity and is often harnessed as a visceral expression of protest. Since the advent of technology, New Media is also an umbrella term which covers digital art; including but not limited to, video, computer and other multimedia projects.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, 2013. Courtesy of David Zwirner, N.Y. ©Yayoi Kusama

The novelty of this form of new art leads to an encounter which is beyond two-dimensional. Freed from the confines of an outdated mandate, it invites an immersive experience. Through a multisensory domain and (3)“contrary to the misconception that technology distances people from their bodies, digital multimedia often heightens the sense of the phenomenological or the embodied. Spirituality is ‘felt’ rather than simply understood”. What is evident is that although art is subjective, receptivity entails a degree of willingness to be absorbed and enchanted. Contemplation and reflection cannot arise amidst a cacophony of protest.

Further reading:

3. Spirituality and Contemporary Art , Rina Arya. – Dr Rina Arya is a Reader at the University of Wolverhampton who is interested in the visual and material culture of religion. Author of ‘Francis Bacon: Painting in a Godless World’ (2012) and ‘Abjection and Representation’ (2014), she is currently working on a study of cultural appropriation in a Hindu context.