One blessing of the digital age is a world of creativity at our fingertips. Some famous museums allow you to peruse their collections without having to leave your armchair. I am fascinated by creative work, but I haven’t developed the framework needed to contextualize much of what I see. I wanted to spend time on this #InspirationFanatic Friday to discuss ways we can connect with artistic inspiration in order to meet some of our spiritual needs. We can also challenge our perceptions and complacency by critically evaluating the meaning of various forms of artwork. My ideas here are those of a novice in the art world, so I welcome your input and insights. My focus is limited to the visual arts such as pottery, paintings, drawings, sculpture, mixed media and photography.
In the museums to which I’ve been, there are at least a few kinds of art lovers. There are those who stare at a piece in silent contemplation, those who speak in hushed whispers to those with them, and those who walk into the room loudly proclaiming “now which one are we looking at?” As a meditative practice, spending time alone taking in a piece of art can be a powerful way to connect with the inherent meaning in the work as well to glimpse the soul of its creator.
You can study artwork in a multitude of ways. One option is to center in yourself and attend to the thoughts and feelings that the work evokes in you. I don’t think there is any right or wrong here; art can serve as a medium to access our innermost desires and fears. Perhaps you can journal or sketch your own response to what you are seeing. Pay attention to any pattern in the type of art that you find most evocative; there is actually at least one study linking our preferences to our personality types.
An entirely different approach is to concentrate on the creative process. Study the piece in terms of the physical labor and mental effort it took to produce it. Focus on the technique, such as the layers and edges of the artist’s method. See what they reveal to you about the creative process. From which distance and perspective did the creator work? How much of the content is a produce of the inner world of the mind, and how much of it springs from the outer world around us? How are light and shadow, texture and form used? What shapes and shades of color are most apparent?
Contextualization helps to center a work of art in time, place and circumstance. When we take the time to investigate, we often find there is “more to the story.” This research can be done ahead of time, but I like to let creative work speak to me on its own, tracing the lines it leaves as in impression on me, before contextualizing it. The contrast is sometimes a bit of a let-down; I think that this alone is a useful experience. We may construct a narrative of why the piece was made and for whom it was intended, only to find out the truth is entirely different.
You’ll need to record the name, artist, date and other information available at the time you are viewing the artwork if it’s in a public space, and you can then examine its place in history. In which culture was it made? Was it a representation of the culture, or a pushback against the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of the time? What is known of the artist? What did the artist wish to convey? Depending on the provenance of the work, you may discover wildly different explanations as to how it came to be and why it was created.
In light of the debate regarding statues of the Confederacy in the Southern U.S., another layer to consider is the social effect of the creation, if it is known. What was the social position of the individual or group who created it? To which audience(s) was it directed, and what message was it intended to broadcast? Has its impact changed with time? Could an act of allegiance to the piece lead to an inference of complicity in oppression? Art is not necessarily neutral; it can be used as a tool for propaganda, intimidation, subservience, rebellion and to many other ends. There is a reason that many authoritarian leaders have targeted artists in their purges. The artifacts that remain often speak to the prevailing force.
After responding with both intuition and information to a piece of artwork, we can then ascertain its meaning for our own lives. Some pieces may sum up in one creative moment what it feels it would take days or weeks to convey in words, and should likely make their way in some form into our daily physical surroundings. Other pieces may push against our sensibilities and reshape our viewpoint on a particular issue or topic. There may be some we refuse to support or protect because of our moral and social beliefs. Art is powerful!
If the artist who created an item that spoke to us is still alive, it can be very meaningful to be able to tour their exhibition and learn more about their process. Financial support in the form of respecting copyrights and buying directly from an artist demonstrates that we are more than mere consumers; we are keeping alive the creative process. Attending fine art fairs, craft shows and the like are a great way to lend a hand to new artists.
Despite historical efforts at suppression, Goddess figurines have been found in many cultures. My house has started to have a trace of Her in nearly every room. The prohibition of my religion of birth against “graven images” has been thwarted; I now understand the power of an image of She. I intend to concentrate some of my artistic interests in finding local artists who celebrate Her form and working to understand their intention and purpose in the images they create. I hope you’ll share the types of art that speak to you, and how you connect with artistic creativity.