In the earlier stages of history, religion and art were hardly separable things. It often was the case that one of them was content and the other form. Nowadays it seems that content went one way and form another way: they have become separate things. It seems that, in some cases, art became incompatible with a spiritual quest. Why is this so?
I wish to make some reflections, before going deeper into details.
Both art and spirituality have two levels: authentic and popular. On the popular level they have many similar traits: forms are rather common, content is trivial. It seems there is not so much real inspiration on this level. The goal of art and spirituality here is also similar – to attract, to sell, to earn. There is not much emphasis on authentic values and sustained efforts to influence positively the mind of the viewers. When speaking about art and the spiritual quest, it is best not to confuse these levels and compare the authentic level of one with the popular level of the other.
Art is self-expression; so as in any other activity, it inevitably mirrors the person’s outlook, values and state of mind in general. We can say that the content of art – its main message – entirely depends on the values and understanding of the artist. On the authentic level, the content of art is philosophy and/or direct insights into reality, which are the core of spiritual quest. As we can see, there is no intrinsic opposition or incompatibility between these two.
Let’s look at art and spiritual quest a little bit closer.
Artists usually search for some new forms of expression, try to create, to think out something new, something particular, something original… Sometimes it seems, they are very preoccupied by the idea of originality.
On the other hand the purpose of the spiritual quest is to find ones own self, the place that connects one with the beginning. So the spiritual quest is about origins, but not always original in a sense “inventive and unusual.”
The spiritual seeker wishes to return to the state that is the the most purely natural, innate to all of us; to the state that is the foundation of all kinds of creation.
It sometimes happens that the person who has never experienced the blissfulness, the liveliness, the novelty of this state – the person who is trying to find this blissful novelty on the intellectual or conceptual level – oftentimes views this spiritual quest as tiresome and something that kills or diminishes individuality. The artist in this case tries to emphasize this very individuality, uniqueness, this originality. However, often this overwhelming pursuit of originality becomes not as rewarding as one might initially think.
In most cases it happens that what was new and exciting to the mind, in due time becomes boring, uninteresting or unsatisfying. Wanting to run away from this, the mind tries to create something new to achieve, but the fact is that the only way to escape this boredom is to find a pause, an opening in this plane of the conceptual mind. Only by leaving this conceptual level and reaching a place where time stops, the mind becomes free and can find rest in its natural state.
So art – on an authentic, intuitive level – can provide a way for one to leave the conceptual plane of the mind and enter the natural state of pure awareness. Art can and should be a way to “kill the conceptual mind” – stop ones stream of thoughts and bring one to the state of silence, that natural state we are all longing for.
In this way, art and spiritual quest become one.