Stephen Hawking is not an artist, but he’s very much like one in my opinion. or artists are very much like him. He has one significant thing in common with the artist: he is on a quest to find an explanation for existence and he won’t rest until he finds it. He is seeking intellectual enlightenment.
I also think that being creative is akin to a search for spiritual enlightenment, or, tangible evidence of God. Artists want to find an explanation for what they see and experience, whether it be nature, colour, form, people, things, dreams, emotions or abstract concepts. Artists are seeking an answer to the human condition. Isn’t that what a person yearning for a religious explanation is looking for, albeit through evidence of a spiritual being?
A religion-seeking individual, an artist, and Stephen Hawking are all very passionate about their quest and very determined to get it. They believe that they will feel better when they have found it. The have faith that their anxieties will disappear, they expect to know more than others who haven’t reached that place, and they hope that they will feel able to rest.
Some of the earliest artists were also very religious people, or worked within a religious culture. The history of art is knitted tightly with the history of religions. Religion and enlightenment have, at least until most recently, provided much inspiration for generations of artists. The desire to depict God or God’s work remained strong for many centuries. It wasn’t just Christians who painted. Religion and art are married together in most religions, including those of the ancients and indigenous, and those of East and West.
Religious imagery may not be quite so evident in much contemporary art in this more secular age but the quest for an explanation and some form of enlightenment certainly is. Is that feeling of the sublime that so many artists thirst for the same as the feeling of spiritual awakening?
“I’m interested in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on,” Mark Rothko once observed. “And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate these basic human emotions… The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience as I had when I painted them.”
When he says ‘religious experience’ he means an attempt to find a meaning to the essence of humanity. If he has achieved that, and made people weep, has he found the answer? Can he rest?
A spiritual awakening is described as: an altered state of perception, a state of knowing beyond knowledge. Is this what the artist, and Stephen Hawking, are yearning for?
I acknowledge that a non-religious ‘spiritual awakening’ cannot ever be the same as a religious one but I think they are very close.
Malik, K 18 March 2014 ‘The sacred in art is about more than religion’ The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2014/mar/18/sacred-art-religion-humans [last accessed 12 August 2015]