What is spiritual art? We at MOFSA have been reflecting on this question for quite a while. To begin, it is impossible to find a universal definition of spiritual, because the term has become so overloaded. For this discussion, perhaps we can simply agree that to see from a spiritual perspective is to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter. Of course, not everyone will acknowledge the possibility of anything beyond the facts of life as they present themselves. Many of us, however, are drawn to a sense of the transcendent and find that we experience this most readily in art and music and poetry.
No two people can experience the same work of art in the same way. Nevertheless, we can identify a few emotional responses that might be interpreted as bellwethers of spiritual art:
- Non-dual awareness
The descriptions that follow are inspired by paintings that we have found, each in its own way, to be examples of spiritual art.
Aurore, Susan Nelson
Response by Robert Oberg
My leading impression is captured by these two lines of a poem that I wrote:
She rises on the dark wings of morning
Above the grey and misty sea.
Although the wings are clearly those of a bird because of the feathers, the general shape also suggests a butterfly. This association makes me think of transformation. The wings are dark but there is light in the picture suggesting dawn. The bird is rising above the sea, which is subtly shown by waves and surf. An aura of mystery pervades the picture, touching me at a deep spiritual level.
What is her strange power
What mystery does she evoke
As she now calls to my soul?
Wheatfield with Crows, Van Gogh
Response by Carly Ouzts
This painting is generally considered to be one of van Gogh’s last works before his death. The menacing sky, the crows and the dead-end path add an ominous, almost dreamlike, quality. You can almost feel the movement of the piece. The brush strokes seem erratic at first, but upon closer inspection there seems to be an order to them, almost as a battle between the unknown and known.
The crows add another level of depth to the work. Crows can have both positive and negative meaning in the spiritual world. Regardless if they are good or bad, they are considered very powerful spiritual totems. They are ancient spiritual guides. They are flying over the fields, over the dead end roads. Are they really dead ends? Should you follow them somewhere? Where will they take you?
Overall, I feel like the piece expresses sadness and extreme loneliness, but at the same time, the wheat fields add a warm, fortifying quality. It seems to be a stark contrast to the stormy sky. The unknown can be scary, but maybe only because it is unknown.
The Last Supper, Dali
Response by Carlos Alvarez
There was a time in my life, long, long ago, when I was a believer in the Catholic faith. It was then that I first saw “The Last Supper” by Salvador Dalí. I was immediately struck with awe when I saw this beautiful work, all the more so when I considered the technical skills of the artist. Even on paper, the painting affected me strongly. I can only imagine what an experience it would be to be in its presence
I saw the Christ floating behind the table and God in the skies behind him. There is a beautiful light on the horizon that could be seen through Jesus’ body and the boats floating in the water. His pose seemed to inspire a sweet sense of uplift within me. I know now that what I was feeling at the time was a sense of detachment from the world. I felt the being that I am was not in my body at that moment, but suspended in an instant of peace.
The Mother of the World, Roerich
Response by Robert Oberg
From Messenger of Beauty: The Life and Visionary Art of Nicholas Roerich by Jacqueline Dector:
A woman in a cloak ornately embroidered with flora and fauna sits upon a cushion on a semicircular throne made of stone. The throne is supported by rocks, at the base of which flows the river of life. The woman’s hands are brought together in front of her chest in a stylized gesture of prayer. A veil conceals her eyes, signifying that certain mysteries of the universe are not yet known to man. An aureole circles her head, another her body. The colors make it appear that light is radiating from within her: the area within the aureoles is a pale, ethereal blue; the aureoles are surrounded by rings of light purple and then dark blue. The sky is dotted with tiny golden bodhisattvas that seem to twinkle like start. Two small female figures kneel in the background on either side of her. One is dressed in nun’s habit and holds a book, presumably the Bible. The other is clothed in Eastern garb and holds a chest similar to the one containing the divine fire in such works as Burning of Darkness. These symbols of Western and Eastern spirituality underscore the unifying power of the Mother of the World.
Having herself pursued both Western and Eastern spiritual paths, I believe Marianne very much appreciated the unification of Western and Eastern spirituality in this Roerich painting. That may well be one of the reasons that Marianne was drawn to Roerich’s paintings in general, as she wanted to embody the unity of all spiritual teachings in her clay sculpture.
Abstract White Angel, Marianne Oberg
Response by Robert Oberg
Marianne Oberg, in whose memory MOFSA has been created, expressed her calling in spiritual art in these words, in a letter she wrote to a friend in 2007:
“I have found that verbal spiritual teachings have a tendency to become degraded over time and misinterpreted and misunderstood. I believe that this tendency is minimized when a spiritual teaching is transmitted via artwork (for example Egyptian and Tibetan and Indian and Mesoamerican art and the paintings of Nicholas Roerich).
“I want to embody the unity of all spiritual teachings in my clay sculpture. The idea came to me that angels are a component of most spiritual teachings so I am working on a long-term project to embody the abstract angelic visions I see when I meditate into clay. The airy quality of angels and the earthy grounded clay don’t mix too well (but part of what I want to do is ground this energy in the everyday world) so I have had numerous technical problems and will undoubtedly have lots more. I have a personality that goes well with a long-term project so this is OK.”
These few examples are meant to provide but a glance into the vast riches of spiritual art. Our organization hopes to foster creativity that you will find inspiring and uplifting.