ART AS PRAYER: A DEVOTION OF LOVE
This reflection suggests that art seen by others can be an exercise in prayer. It also presents ways that artists experience God through the act of creating.
Prayer can be an exchange that occurs when one becomes curious regarding the spiritual aspect of something created, especially another person. As trust develops this can lead to mutual care and concern to please the other as well as to receive what they have to offer. Their souls must be prepared to hear the desires of their hearts. These desires can be translated through symbols and images. In an interview about icons, William McNichols, an icon writer, has this to say:
… icons change you from within because they are a prayer. They will at times create an atmosphere inside you to receive something new from God. They will plow the field or prepare the ground, so that you can receive what God is doing next. (W. McNichols, “Praying with Icons,” America, Nov.4 1995, p.24)
To look at a devotional image is an active reception of God. Some may wonder, how is this possible to receive God by doing nothing? From a spiritual point of view to be quiet means admitting I am not the creator, but simply resting in the hands of the power that generates creation. As McNichols suggests, this power is love: “When you are looking at someone you love and they are looking at you, there is a lot that is communicated that cannot be put into words.”(ibid.)
Prayer is the reciprocal communication of love gazing upon the Beloved. This can occur by looking at a painting with a reverent attitude. For example, in abstract art there may only be splashes of pure color, texture or line. To encounter such an image can move the viewer. The painting may be a bold statement about life communicated through the pure essence of material or shape. It can evoke a sense of wonder at what constitutes matter, nature and life itself. The art can cause one’s viewpoint of the world to be awakened. Art can train the senses to perceive life in an extraordinary way. This is to look at an experience as God sees it. We are invited to see as God sees the world, pieced together through, order, composition and harmony.
The Creative Process as Prayer
For the artist, this extraordinary, sensual encounter with life occurs in the process of creation itself. Constance Pierce is a print maker who describes this process. There is the initial step to quiet herself by preparing the material. Pierce is not afraid to use her fingers to immerse herself in the media “to provoke the paint to speak back.” (R. Freis, “The Discipline of Images: The Art of Constance Pierce,” Image #13 Spring 1996, p.78) She makes physical gestures to move the paint around “… until the figures begin to show themselves.” (Ibid.)
Pierce sees herself as collaborating with creation. When she prays she feels the same as when she unites with “the mysterious Other” in her art making. Sometimes this means noticing resistance to making changes or “surrendered attention to the given; responsive willingness rather than willfulness, betrayal or refusal to trust; moments of vision and movement toward completeness.” (Ibid. p.79) Part of the process is the courage to confront obstacles to growth and freedom for the sake of the emerging image. Humility is necessary to allow this image to come into being. This is an acknowledgment that the artist serves a divine intention, not dictated by human will.
In my own experience, when I paint, I will reach those moments where I don’t know what else to do. I consciously invoke God’s assistance as I stop, notice my breathing and body sensations. I wait. Usually, I will notice some felt-sense in my body, which compels me to move once more towards the canvas, not fully understanding, but mindful that what happens is good. It is beyond my comprehension, but something moves through me, which orders and reveals the image that needs to be proclaimed. I am struck by the realization, that I do not know where it came from or how it came to be. I just know that I consented to participating in this event that brings forth new life. This action that is in tune with God can be of service to others. For more information concerning this subject look at “Spiritual Art Can Serve Others.“