Fragments of Light

Art is a path which leads to God

“Art is the experience of universality. It cannot be merely an object or a means. It is the primitive word, primitive in the sense that it comes first and underlies every other word. It is the word of the origin which examines, beyond the immediacy of experience, the first and ultimate meaning of life. It is knowledge translated into lines, images and sounds—symbols that concepts are able to recognize as projections upon the mystery of life, beyond the limits that concepts cannot surpass: openings, therefore, upon the depths, the heights, the ineffability of existence, paths that keep humans free for mystery and translate their intense emotion regarding it that can be expressed with no other words. Art is thus religious, because it leads humans to an awareness of that restlessness which lies at the depths of their being and which neither science, with the objective formality of its laws, nor technology, will ever succeed in satisfying . . . art is a path which leads to God.”

—Pope John Paul II, address to artists at the La Fenice Theater, Venice, Sunday, June 16, 1985. Quoted in the dedication to Marko Ivan Rupnik’s book, The Color of Light.

It is interesting to consider how His Holiness sets out the artist’s work here:
Making symbols – openings upon “the depths, the heights, the ineffability of existence;” traveling those paths which “keep us free for mystery;” translating our “intense emotion” in the face of those mysteries to bring us all to “an awareness of that restlessness which lies at the depths of our being.”

How do you think of creative work?  Comments welcome.

10 thoughts on “Art is a path which leads to God

  1. In every respect, save one, I respond grinning and nodding to these observations from Pope John Paul II. The one tweak is, perhaps, evidence of my own longstanding discomfort with the concept of knowledge bumping up against what is exceedingly beyond our knowing, and my discomfort is compounded by the beloved Pope’s characterizing art as “knowledge translated into lines, images, and sounds.” The true artist knows that he is not simply making public his keen insights; the true artists knows that she is pressing the matter of her making—the words, music, pigment, clay, wood, metal that is the stuff of her art—into serving up a glimpse of what is beyond her ken. He is not simply using these things to refer to what he already knows (or thinks he knows), but is trusting these tools of his vocation to deliver revelation.

    1. Ah yes. Reminds me of sailing off beyond the limits of the known world. Also, our translation of His Holiness’ words could use a little hel​p​​, I think ( the original Italian is available on line). Might we regard art as “projections ” beyond the limitations of what we can conceptualize?

  2. What do I think of creative work? If feel giddy at the thought of God, spending the six days creating our world, the thousands upon thousands of species of birds, animals, fish and trees and all flowers. Flowers, my love in life….and when I look at nature I picture God making, drawing, coloring, creating! It makes me feel a rush of wonder! Mystery! Who is He? Why is He? When is He? How is He?
    The Creator, and He condescends to allow us to share in “creating”….

  3. Is art a path that leads to God? Short answer: Yes—I think. About 40 years ago, I read a poem by Wallace Stevens containing the line “We say God and the imagination are one…” Being youthful then, I concluded this meant God was contained in the imagination, and therefore a human construct. Now, being unyouthful, I have decided Mr. Stevens was profound beyond my understanding: they are one thing, neither contained in the other… but involved in “the intensest rendezvous” as he says. For me, I can conceive God only though imagination, and through imagination, I can express my conception only through art, through creative making.

  4. Created in the image of God, we might make note of the language of scripture – The Septuagint translates the Hebrew verb of Genesis 1:1 using the Greek verb that supplies the root for “poem” and “poetry,” and John begins his Gospel with “In the beginning was the Word.” My art, then, I find sacred. And poetry, anthropologists believe, in the beginning was religious, liturgy and the telling of the sacred story. Even Robert Graves, pagan as he wrote, suggested that the poet remained priest.

    Any creation mankind produces pales in comparison to that of God – we create in shallow imitation, and yet we recognize creativity as the highest exercise of the human mind.

    Scripture tells us; nature eggs us on. Visual art, music, the written arts, dance, the insights that give advances in math and science, all creative endeavor allows God’s remarkable creation, the human race, to demonstrate ourselves His sons and daughters, chips off the Old Block, possessed of the same divine spark. The creative act allows us to marvel at the power of our Creator.

  5. If art is “the experience of universality,” it generally happens–or happens most vividly and memorably–in the way artists engage the particular. The poets we remember do not write generally about love, but about particular experiences of love–or hate, or any other human emotion. And not all poetry, or art, reaches “universality.” But it may gesture toward a common experience, and bring us perhaps to the verge of another kind of presence. And when that happens, we experience something we find in few other ways: a sense of an epiphany of sorts, or what George Steiner refers to as a “shining through” of a presence that is ours and more than ours.

  6. Do I believe that art leads to God? Yes, just as I believe that the birth of a child, the death of a parent or a serious illness leads to God. I believe everyone is hard-wired to believe in God but it takes faith to ignite that spark. I believe that there is a time in every artist’s life when they have to become the person that they are meant to become. The shedding of the old skin and the growing of the new skin takes courage and can be quite painful. I believe that without the wisdom of God, this transformation can not take place. It is because of this transformation that true art is born. When we are free, we soar. A divine energy is released, vibrating throughout the world like a wave in the ocean.

  7. I think of Art (both the creating it and the appreciation of it) in the way His Holiness has stated, as leading us to “an awareness of the restlessness that lies at the depths of our beings”. For me, inspired Art reaches into, touches, intermingles with one’s existential angst (“restlessness”) in a way ordinary conceptual thinking and language does not. I see this as a path to one’s spiritual self and to God.

  8. Penso che l’arte non è necessariamente profonda, ma come alcuni semplici enigmi matematici hanno la stessa personalità, semplice ma non banale, la maggior parte delle persone non credo che le cose, ma al di là sorpresa

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