So many artists, including myself, claim art is like a religion or a religious experience. What is it about art that provides salvation for so many? Is it the beauty? The honesty? The fantasy? The actuality of being able to bring forth something that was not previously in existence? How do colors, lines, forms and shapes act as a savior when an actual savior cannot seem to provide comfort? I have heard and read of artists throughout history up until present time, known and unknown, abstract artists and figurative artists, tell of how art was capable of bringing them to a higher plane of existence, to a spiritual state, a religious enlightenment. What happens between eye and brain and soul when one looks at a painting that produces these astounding emotions?
Artists throughout time spoke about the spirituality that art can engulf the viewer or creator with. Mark Rothko once said, "Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and the creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for anyone experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need."
Images are miraculous and have even been known to bring those standing before them to a state of frenzied madness. There is an actual name for this, it is called Stendhal Syndrome, named after a French author who wrote about his feelings of overwhelming emotions when he gazed upon Renaissance masterpieces. It causes rapid heartbeat, tears, confusion and even hallucinations. When I heard about this I was fascinated because I had always thought I was one of the only ones who felt this way when looking at certain paintings whether they were my own or a great masterpiece.
Art and spirituality are inseparable for some artists. Composer John Cage’s work was greatly inspired by the teachings and philosophies of Zen Buddhism. He studied Zen in the mid 1940s and it deeply affected his outlook on life and music. Cage explained his beliefs, "The attitude that I take is that everyday life is more interesting than forms of celebration [art] when we become aware of it..." To him, art was everywhere, everyday life was art and every sound we hear was music or had the potential to be and these daily sights and sounds were more interesting to him than the accepted forms of art and music. Cage thought that art should be concerned with equivalency of values instead of elevating artistic experiences from everyday experiences - "in this way art becomes important as a means to make one aware of one's actual environment." This comes directly from Buddhist teachings on the importance of being aware of every moment and present in every moment in life. Every second is significant and one should always have the awareness of that. When this is applied to art or music then one is always aware that every object, act or sound can potentially be art. Cage was very influential on many of the Fluxus and Happenings artists who were also concerned with Zen as a part of art or of art and Zen practices being one in the same.
When I first read about John Cage I felt so excited I thought I was going to burst - someone had already put into words what I had always felt. But, in addition to the whole Zen side of things and that strange enlightened state I can reach when looking at great art there is also the aspect of creating it - when I am creating it it is like being in another world. It is something that I have only been able relate to other artists and sometimes musicians. NOTHING is better therapy than making art for me. NOTHING can even compare. I can only describe it as crawling into your imagination and hanging out there. You can put down an emotion with a color that words could never describe, you can make a new world or a new you on a canvas, you can rid yourself of fear and be God-like.
But I suppose art has to be like that, otherwise who would be dedicating their lives to creating it?