Life is quite chaotic for me at the moment: working freelance as many hours as I can, looking after three children, being an arty student, with no time to sit still. Yesterday I joined a college trip to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and after a fretful four-hour journey (one that usually takes under two hours) partly spent catching up on work I was feeling quite fraught. Part of me was resenting my decision to take a day out of my regular working life to have a ‘jolly’ to Liverpool. I kept thinking about all the work I could have been doing and the fact I should have been at home with my children. And matters were made worse by the stress of enduring a terrible journey. But the moment I entered the gallery, all those thoughts and feelings dissipated completely and for the next two hours I became absorbed in the art and creativity around me. I was mesmerized by all that I saw. Each time I looked at a painting and felt a reaction I didn’t think it could be topped, yet it was, again and again. I didn’t think about anything else except the art, the meanings, the motivations, the effects on me and the calm I felt. What is it about galleries that bring about such a sense of peace and stability? I’m not an easily calmed person.
Perhaps it is because so much of art throughout history has been inspired by the religious experience? I don’t think it is that as I got the same reaction from modern art as I did from the Renaissance art (the latter more likely to depict images from religion and be inspired by religion).
Perhaps is it simply the fact that churches are places of amazing architecture, art, and beauty and that galleries are also places of amazing architecture, art and beauty. In that it is the ‘beautiful’ in art that evokes a spiritual experience just as the ‘beautiful’ in a church does. We are attracted by beauty but repelled by ugliness. Heaven and God is beauty and hell is ugly. I’m not sure it is simply that either.
Through the centuries, art has frequently been said to express the deep inner feelings, the desires of soul, that are central to a spiritual life. Is there such a thing as ‘spirituality of art’? In other words, the ways in which our aesthetic creations represent or symbolize the nature of our spiritual yearnings.
This made me wonder if perhaps it is to do with the artist’s motivation to create art. I think that the majority of art (and for that matter science) comes from some natural quest for an ultimate knowledge of reality. We all want to find an ultimate meaning of life, or any meaning in life, so can we conclude that a preoccupation of the artist (and the scientist) with this quest is firmly a spiritual quest, even if they don’t openly acknowledge such a quest? So this spiritual quest manifests itself in the end result on the canvas, and I pick up on that sense of spirituality by looking at the canvas. The end result: I felt calm and relaxed and fell asleep on the way home.