Chapter 4: Spirituality: A Mystical Ingredient in Art-Making
How to Make Your Creative Dreams a Reality:
Strategies to Cultivate Your Talent
Spirituality: A Mystical Ingredient in Art-Making
Spirituality is an ingredient in important art, and spirituality is what imparts to art that radiating glow of beauty. Why do we sense a “glow” when we confront a beautiful work of art? The fathers of Greek philosophy – Socrates and Plato --believed that the soul had experienced beauty in a higher realm and when confronting beauty on earth, the soul will flutter.
To me, that is a good explanation for why we get this hard-to-describe pleasing feeling – this sense of truth, balance, and well-being – when we visually connect with a thing of beauty.
In essence, the Greeks were describing the spirituality that serious artists hope to layer into their work.
What the Greek philosophers espoused is germane to everyone of all backgrounds and religions. For me, a Catholic, spirituality is a concept based on reaching your full potential through contemplation and prayer.
Spirituality has pervaded every aspect of my life, from childhood to the present day. The Good Sisters of Mercy in the parochial school I attended in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, laid the groundwork for a belief in the mystical qualities of the ordinary.
When I crossed over to the creative side from scientific glass, my prayer evolved to more than just craft, but a need to celebrate beauty. From my first moment at the torch on my own, I placed a crucifix where I could see it as I worked throughout the day. It has been in that spot for fifty years, an ever-present visual mantra that there is a spiritual dimension to my labor.
My spirituality afforded an added tension to my work, because the process became more about beauty than production. This was not to say that the marketplace is not important; it is, especially when making a living. But it’s a delicate compromise that ultimately will nurture your artistic maturity.
For me, it was all about making my work personal on my own terms, with my interest in nature being the spiritual inspiration.
I see God evidenced in a native flower, and don't believe He reserved His most complex efforts exclusively for humans.
My art is a way to celebrate God’s gift to His precious Earth. This, to me, is spirituality. It aligns, in my mind, with the heavenly ideal in which the Greeks believed. For me, this was my road map to birthing that “glow,” the poetry of an object.
Spirituality is a universal given, whether it is art-making, craft making, or both. Over the course of my career, I began to celebrate the spiritual, and think of myself as a monk in the studio.
The studio became and still is a sacred space, and I labor to celebrate beauty. I was personally inspired by the Benedictines, a monastic order whose motto, laborare est orare, means “to labor is to pray.”
In many ways, they found spiritual reward in serving God by performing tasks, many of them repetitive and mundane, such as making bread, planting crops, and making wine.
There was a sense of purpose and connectedness to their work and their life and how both integrated with the goal of serving God. After all, serving God was more important than their tasks.
In my Catholic view of spirituality, beauty became the goal of my labor and my prayer. My philosophical interest in beauty, coupled with my labor interpreting God’s creations in the form of flowering plants, blended together as a lifestyle.
My work is sometimes uncomfortable; sitting over a torch for hours at a time can be challenging. I'm not always consciously invoking spirituality, but overall labor as a prayer is one of the ingredients that I embraced.
It became one of my core principles, along with truth to the material, quality of the work, and originality.
Being an artist is about expressing one’s values and sharing your passion. It is about connecting in a visual dialogue. Spirituality is a universal connection, across all cultures and classes.
There are as many ways to celebrate spirituality as there are artists. However, it's about doing something well because it's your need. You ache to create something that you believe is a significant effort that will transcend the object, please the eye, touch the soul, and radiate that meaningful glow.
When the work is completed, I think of it as my prayer traveling into the future, my eternal connection with time, space, and beauty.
Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.
— Pope John Paul II