Importance of Art in Religious and Spiritual Life

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Philip James Bailey’s words “Art is Man’s Nature”, is a true reflection of the deep intense and serene movements in which art is created. Art is a soul of an artist from where his desires immerse various facets of man’s nature, his emotions and his appeal towards the world. Plato never visualized the art the way it is seen now. He had both relationship of love and hate with art. He saw art only as an imitation of real life and this idea was very much prominent during Renaissance when Vasari claimed in his “Lives of the Painters” that “Painting is just the imitation of all the living things of nature with their colors and designs just as they are in

nature” 1 and for many still, the art is only replica of something real. But the form of art not only replicates but is a communicator, reflects many facets of divine attributes giving the feeling of tranquility within our soul. The following essay will be delved into the importance that various forms of art reflect in our religious and spiritual life.

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In the Republic, Plato said that art imitates the objects and events of an ordinary life. In other words, a work of art is a copy of a form. For them, work of art is an illusion and an experience so ordinary. It was on one hand best for entertainment and on the other hand a dangerous proposition but Plato’s symposium revealed his love for beauty, his dialogues were full of love for beautiful bodies and beautiful souls but many ancient, medieval, modern artists and aestheticians do feel the divine inspiration in their creation. The same feeling is being felt in the later Classical Greek art forms towards the Renaissance and among the artists of today like among the twentieth century sculptures of Constantin Brancusi, the paintings of Piet Mondrian, and the combinations of Vasily Kandinsky and the Blue Rider (der Blaue Reiter) group. 2 Art bequeathed within ourselves the power to make us close to the divine power.

Overall, art performs three important roles to entertain, give emotional touch, and also act as a psychotherapist, but most important it communicates and manifests various aspects of our human lives –our beliefs, values, attitudes and feelings and creates everlasting effect on the human spirit. Art forms constitute broadly into two types: The one that touches the soul is known as Occident or fine arts and the other which envisages into the worldly plane are the architects, design arts and crafts. But now these two art forms are known by the terms: Seraffic arts and Seraffo-donnic arts.1 Serraffic arts give us life and foster in us essence of spiritual fulfillment.  Serrafic art form constitutes music, poetry, painting, drama, dance, puppetry, film, sculpture, photography, wall mosaics, hung tapestry, and others whereas on the other hand, Seraffo-donnic touches both spiritual as well as materialistic world of ours.

Fine arts are in themselves manifestation of the divinity. This does not mean if a person is not an artist, he cannot attain spirituality but it is also true that a person cannot be an artist if he is not able to involve himself completely in the essence of higher form and this makes them creative. If we think of creativity in an arena of poetry, the names of Shakespeare, Goethe Lope de Vega and various others immediately come in our mind. Their creative powers immensely flew from their souls. William Wordsworth in his preface to lyrical ballads said, “Poetry is the

spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” 2 In the field of music, the names of Bach, Handel, Haydin, Mozart immensely come in our mind and in an arena of paintings Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, are few among the greatest names. Paintings of Titian celebrate the feast of God. His Structure of “Assunta” is a pictorial description of Earth and Heaven reflecting the incense of temporal and infinite.3 The upper


1      Ludwig Tuman, “Networking our Vision of the Core Concepts of Art”. Internet.(2007) Available: , May 27, 2008.

2.       Shawn Rider, “Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion, Imagination and Complexity”, Internet. Available:, May 27, 2008

3.     Esther Singleton, “Great Pictures As Seen and Described by Famous Writers” (Read Books, 2007) 120

portion of the painting which is arched depicts Paradise and Glory and as Spanish says in their ascetic language, “Garlands of angles floating and submerged in a wave of light of uncalculable depth, stars scintillating in the flames, and brighter glints of the everlasting light from the aureole of the Father, who arrives from the depths of the infinite with the action of a hovering eagle, accompanied by an archangel and a seraph whose hands support the crown and the nimbus.” 1

The liberal arts during Middle Ages represented the seven forms, first depicted in the form of stone carvings on the Chartres Cathedral in twelfth century. In the paintings such as the in fourteenth century, Fresco of Thomas Aquinas depicted Aquinas amidst crowd with figures of saints, the virtues, the patriarchs, and seven liberal arts. We can still see this fresco amidst the walls of a Dominican convent in Florence. Towards the logic of Seven Liberal Arts, when James Anderson gave its first publication of the Constitutions of Freemasons in 1725, he wrote these statements: “Adam, our first parent, created after the Image of God, the great Architect of the

Universe, must have had the Liberal Sciences, particularly Geometry, written on his Heart; for ever since the Fall, we find the Principles of it in the Heart of his Offspring.…” 2 Seven forms of liberal arts represent seven areas of our study – Grammar, rhetoric, logic, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy and within each layer lies the hidden Masonic meaning for us. The first is woodblock print from Germany in 1500 depicting Goddess holding in her hand a book and a rod. She is Sophia, a Goddess of Wisdom reflecting the “Philio of Sophia” which means philosophy. Wisdom has built herself a house and skewed for herself seven pillars. This leads to the second wooden print showing again Goddess of Wisdom showing in clear terms Seven Liberal Arts and


1 Esther Singleton, 120

2 Frances Amelia Yates, “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment” (New York & London: Routledge, 2004) 270

Sciences and once again a book and rod are held by three-headed winged Wisdom overlooking seven maidens. Artists’ third eye sees arts and crafts as maids, who flocked around Wisdom with the knowledge drawn within circle. The roots to visualize the depiction of the liberal Arts and Sciences as maids can be found in AD 420, when Marcianus Capella in Carthage began to depict an allegory of the Phoebus-Apollo, God of the Sun representing the Seven Liberal Arts as maids of his bride Philology, who is a lover of words. 1

These seven layers of liberal arts though are various fields of our knowledge and wisdom yet each layer of wisdom is depicted by divine figure depicting the depth-ness of our true self and soul. But Paul Tillich tapped the art form not only as depictions of something divine but also as an art form from whose texture and posture we always feel close to divinity. They are not religious in subject matter but religious in its own style with their uniqueness lying in capturing the nature and divine in its various vicissitude. Further Tillich says, “Religion is basically concerned about one’s self and one’s world, about its meaning, and its estrangement and its finitude.” 2

            In the above pages, what I talked about are the paintings, we still need to hear the voice of potters whose creativity split the process of their creation in their quest for as Rose Silvika said, “Deeper feeling for presence”. 3 To that, father Zosima added in the Brothers Karamazov, “In the rather large tasks of world salvation artists plays a modest but real role: to create epiphanies of beauty in the mundane surroundings of every day life”. 4 Further he said “The

life of art is not only a quest but a communication about the process of the quest for that deeper


1 Richard D. Marcus, “A Stroll Through The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences”, Internet. Available:, May 27, 2008.

2 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, “Art, Creativity, and the Sacred”,(New York & London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005) 311.

3 & 4 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, 11.

feeling of presence.” 1

            It was found that the classical mysticism brought to the notice of the beginners to capture their imaginary powers visually and in literal form in the first steps of prayer but later they found that these imaginations hindered the path of their spiritual growth. But Kedinsky in his works never rejected imagination except literal imagination and by pouring his imagination into the canvas, he forced his admirers to enter into the process of his strokes of brush, his medium and to look beneath the surface. For Kandinsky, “The paint is Sound.” 2 In other words, paints speak, take its admirers into the journey of the values of creator’s mental powers.

            Mircea Eliade too in her writings on religious encountered the similar spiritual essence. She said, “In the last part of the journey of the soul the soul must go over a bridge. This bridge is ‘as thin as thread and as sharp as a sword’”. 3 The goal beyond is the presence of divine and below this bridge are the demons of the underworld. The image also depicts artists’ power of decision making, underlying tensions and numerous temptations. These lines make us feel we are experiencing death and death is the thing we cannot forgo in-spite of all the temptations we carry with us. “Art resides in the soul and is the certain perfection of the soul. It is ….an inner quality…that raises the human subject….to higher degree of vital formation and energy.” 4 But there is also a struggle within the various aspects of imagination. As Dostovsky said, “The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. Good and Devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.” 5

All the art forms are a quest, or a journey of search of something invisible, something we cannot comprehend but which we can feel. Within each stroke of artist’s brush and words


1 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, 11.

2 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, 13.

3 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, 15.

4 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, 17

5 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, 18

immerses the intense desire of that search which culminates in the various forms of their creations bemoaning the various aspects of our lives. In the trial, Kafta used the image of long corridors, with doors and rooms going nowhere, attended by persons who could tell the accused nothing of charges. As said by Keats, “I compare human life to large mansions of many apartments, two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon       me.” 1

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a great Iranian philosopher gave a deep vision to the Islamic Art revealing among both the Western and Modern World how the Islamic art has never been a replica of the original in its outer appearance but from every piece flows the intense bond between the art, its creator and its admirer. His study revolves around the Islamic art and Islamic tradition including Calligraphy, painting, architecture, literature, music, and the plastic arts. All the form of art in the Islamic tradition has been playing a deep and intense role among the lives of individual Muslims and community as a whole. Whether it is in the great courtyard of the Delhi mosque or Qarawiyyin in Fez, there is a same feeling of essence of spirituality even although there are marked deviations in their structure, techniques and materials. In-spite of cross cultural influences like Sassanid and Byzantine techniques and models emulated in the early Muslim architecture and Roman ones in City Planning, Islamic art is not simply the cross cultured materials used but it is all about what the subject is cultivated, by the particular religious community, with the used materials. The same feeling is felt with the Byzantine Church in Greece or with the Greek temple even though actual stone blocks used by the Church were taken

from temple. The blocks have distinct unity depicting religious affinity, which is very different


1 Diane Apostolos –Cappadona, 20.

from the ancient Greece. In the same way in Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, a sense of Islamic spirituality is felt. But of many aspects of architecture, the one which is most profoundly felt is the feeling of void as said by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “There is an aspect of nothingness or void which lies in the very nature of the whole created order.” 1

All the Muslim writers on Islamic art and spirituality suggest that Islamic art is always about the temporal; “The void then plays a positive role in both Islamic art and architecture by making transparent and revealing its impermanent nature…..” 2 The relation between the Islamic art and the Islamic revelation is borne out of the organic rapport between this art and Islamic worship, one of whose radiation is directly the sacred art of Islam and indirectly the whole of Islam. “The casual relation between the Islamic revelation and Islamic art, moreover, is borne out by the organic rapport between this art and Islamic worship between the contemplation of God as recommended in the Quran and the contemplative nature of this art, between the remembrance of God (dhikrallah), which is the final goal of all Islamic worship, and the role played by the Islamic art of both a plastic and so moral nature in the life of individual Muslims and the community or all ummah as a whole.”3 He further stated that this art form could not bring out the essence of divine revelation if the form and content do not correspond to the Islamic tradition. Some may relate the Islamic art to the social political conditions of the time created by Islam but Seyyed Hossein Nasr refutes this allegation for this concept reduces the sacred art to the point of external materialistic reasons and according to the Marxists historians, economic reasons. Even the metaphysical theorists look at the art as the most sacred, utmost divine.


1 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Islamic Art and Spirituality” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990) 185.

2 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 190.

3 Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 4. (Introduction)

Seyyed Hossein Nasr says, “The world consists of a continual flow or becoming, yet becoming is nothing but the reflection of Being and the immutable archetypes contained in the Divine Word or Intellect…the geometric element symbolizing the immutable patterns of masculine aspect while the arabesques, related to life and growth, represent the living, changing and maternal aspect of creation”. 1

The tradition of Islamic architecture is a noble blending of austere beauty and stability.

As said by Attilio Petruccioli, Muslims strongly believe in physical and metaphysical world, and therefore in their form, style and structure we can feel what is apparent and what is hidden. With the use of astronomy, geometry and metaphysical concepts in architecture, their works create an aura of metaphysical world around it. They follow what the Koran says, “Such as remember Allah standing, sitting, and reclining, and consider the creation of the heavens and the Earth, (and says), Our Lord! Thou createst nor this is in vain. (3: 191) In all the architectural buildings, there is a landscape where one can find oneself in paradisical environment.” 2

Not only Islam and Christianity but also the work of art among Jews, Hinduism and other faiths reflect their tradition and culture and bind the people to their roots. The words of the great poets and writers make us delve into its words and have us feeling of divine revelation. In many of the Greco-Roman (”pagan”) art, fish and other sea creatures owe lot of significance: they have astrological significance. Earlier Christians too laid more significance on fish, which are related to Christian mosaics uncovered at Megiddo. There are various stories of fish in Gospel and in one of these, Jesus is seen multiplying the fish to feed thousand of people.

There cannot be any doubt of the fact that art has since centuries exerted a great influence

in religious and spiritual life. Temples and Churches dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses can be


1   Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 28-29.

2   Attilio Petruccioli, Khalil K. Pirani & Aga Khan, “Understanding Islamic Architecture” (Routledge, 2002) 28.

found in almost all the religions and faiths. From several devotional songs, Gospels and rhythmic prayers, we can feel higher revelation. We cannot dissociate art and nature and our survival rests on both art and nature.


Apostolos –Cappadona, Diane. “Art, Creativity, and the Sacred”. New York & London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005.

Marcus, Richard D. “A Stroll Through The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences” Internet. Available: May 27, 2008.

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “Islamic Art and Spirituality”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Petruccioli, Attilio, Pirani, Khalil K. & Khan, Aga. “Understanding Islamic Architecture” Routledge, 2002.

“Plato”. Internet. Available:, May 27, 2008

Rider, Shawn. “Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion, Imagination and Complexity” Internet. Available:, May 27, 2008

Singleton, Esther. “Great Pictures As Seen and Described by Famous Writers” Read Books, 2007.

Tuman, Ludwig. “Networking our Vision of the Core Concepts of Art”. Internet.(2007) Available: , May 27, 2008.

Yates, Frances Amelia. “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment” New York & London: Routledge, 2004.

1 “Plato”, Online., May 27, 2008
2 “Plato”, Online.

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