Today, in a society where the media advertising tends to command viewer’s attention, the task of the Christian artist is to revive spiritual imagery. This means offering alternative creations that suggest gratitude, care, enjoyment, concern for the other and development of the interior life.
Contemplative images evoke beneficial responses for the good of the artist and the community the artist serves. Creative expressions of the soul can only be born through sacrifice. The bearer of devotional images takes the risk to be vulnerable to the challenge of not knowing what to do next. The humility to be an instrument of God’s design frees the Spirit of Creation to move through our humanity. This Spirit guides the way to discover glimpses of who God is and who I am not. That knowledge is due to the awareness that I am limited yet still desired because I continue to be created as I create for the sake of goodness, truth and beauty.
The courage to create arouses gratitude and relief knowing that I continue to exist. This is “the feeling of overwhelming awe, wonder and fear in the face of creation – the miracle of it… the fact that there are things at all.”(E. Becker, The Denial of Death, 1973, p.49) The creative process can begin with quiet, which leads to activity that moves to deeper silence. This most often leaves one with the sense of being alone. This is solitude that serves others. Rollo May connects this necessary solitude with the artist’s “solidarity” with all of creation:
Opposite though they are, both solitude and solidarity are essential if the artist is to produce works that are not only significant to his or her age, but that will also speak to future generations. (R.May, The Courage to Create, 1975. P.22)
So creativity reaches inward and outward. This is its symbolic value. A personal experience carries universal meaning through an image. The act of creating influences the larger community. What emerges from the artist touches the viewer.
The viewer opens to the spiritual realities the image makes present. And the visual aspects of the image, integrated in consciousness and memory are taken into our bodies and thus enable us to incarnate the spirit. (R.Fries, “The Discipline of Images: The Art of Constance Pierce,” Image, #13 Spring 1996, p.84)
The spiritual values the artists experience when they bring forth a new image is received by those who view the image. The artist models what it means to be a contemplative in action. Their creative process can lead others into religious experiences as well. Their symbols evoke responses that point beyond images marketed by media. They invite the viewer to consider deeper meaning about life. The artist is one who brings to awareness these new images like the prophets of old. As Rollo May explains:
They (artists) portray the new symbols in the form of images-poetic, aural, plastic, or dramatic, as the case may be. They live out their imaginations…But in our appreciation of the created work-…we also are performing a creative act. When we engage a painting, …we are experiencing some new moment of sensibility. Some new vision is triggered in us by our contact with the painting; something unique is born in us. (May, ibid.)
Hence, the creation that began in the studio continues its life in the viewer when a new vision is stirred up in the viewer’s consciousness. The image unites the artist and the viewer and God is at the center. Religious imagery can call us to a new vision of what the world can be. Images catch our attention for a moment and, suddenly, the ordinariness of the world is transformed into something extraordinary.
The artist provides the language to challenge injustice and praise thebeauty of creation. Images facilitate dialogue with God and people of different faiths, cultures and races. Art opens one’s mind to new possibilities. The artist calls us to prayer and conversion. According to Arthur Amiotte, a Lakota artist, the artist has a responsibility to practice spiritual exercises that serve a healthier society and good citizens.
Responsibility comes through sacrifice. Once given, hopefully something is received in return: a new commitment, a vision, an awareness, where we realize we are relatively insignificant, … We basically seek balance and harmony, to do the best for ourselves and others. That’s the meaning of the center… We add to it by repeated participation in rituals and sacred ceremonies. Each enactment expands our awareness that we have the capacity to love and exercise human values that constitute, in the classical Greek tradition, a good man (and woman). (A. Amiotte, interviewed in Vision Quest by Don Doll, S.J. 1994,p.65)
The artist, by turning inward to confront the source of all that creates, also helps the larger social order. Because an artist enters the solitude of silence to expand the potential of the imagination, the artist envisions horizons of hope within the human condition. Like a prophet their work calls others to new insights and challenges that inspire faith and hope. The ability to enter creation does not require talent, but the willingness to respond with “Yes.” The artist bridges the realm of the sacred and society by this commitment to return to the center of creativity through prayer.