“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable”- George Bernard Shaw. The above quote by the famous Irish playwright makes an absolute sense as the reality of the world is unbearable indeed and it is an art that offers the much needed solace to mankind. Art as a form of expression of emotions has the power to evoke strong feelings like joy, sorrow, disgust, love, horror, devotion and many more to say. Many look upon the universe as a work of art by the omnipresent God as the beauty that lies in the nature is enigmatic and often becomes the first inspiration for an artist. This is because the pre-historic cave paintings or drawings all depict elements of nature. Coleman has echoed the belief by stating that “Divine creation is traditionally the model for artistic creativity, because God and the artist wring order out of chaos; both bring about new universes, and both infuse life or animation into what was useless” (155). Thus, art has a quintessential bond with religion which is mainly defined as a collection of beliefs, views, practices and deals with the relationship of humanity with the divine power. Both being the cultural components, exert influence on each other in which artists often accuse religion to impose limitations in their creativity. However, here the emphasis is on the discussion of the influence of art on religion and how it adds spirituality into people’s lives across various cultures.
Art has various forms like paintings, sculpture, literature, music, architecture, etc. When we talk about art, cave paintings are perhaps the oldest work of arts that we can discuss. These cave paintings depicting human figures, animals, etc are not mere paintings and gives us an insight of the imaginations of our ancestors. For example, a drawing of a burial site or animal gods makes it clear that our ancestors do have a subtle religious attitude and a notion of life after death. It is often the religious feelings that get reflected in various artifacts. It will be a mistake to believe that grand cathedrals or beautiful temples were built with much labor only as symbols of faith because these artifacts indeed make appear a religion more powerful than the other. This is one of the foremost reason due to which churches and cathedrals were built extensively throughout Europe keeping an equal pace with the spread of Christianity. In almost every religion, art in its various forms has been used to exert a powerful influence on the minds of public to make them appear more divine or powerful. It must be noted that the Emperor Asoka of the Mauryan dynasty alone has built 84,000 stupas across his empire to propagate the teachings of Buddhism in the Indian sub-continent and definitely these beautiful circular structures have played a key role in sustaining the popularity of Buddhism as a prominent religion in the East. It is truth that art that receives the patronage from the ruling kings or emperors are the ones that flourish most and become able to exist even after centuries. Clearly, had art has no influence on religion; emperors have never bothered to spend a huge amount of labor and money on the same.
Art also has the potential to add spirituality in other’s lives as Coleman has righty pointed out that “Even the worst art manifests something of the human spirit and, if humans are sparks of the divine, such art manifests some degree of spirituality as well” (15). In many cases, it has been noticed that a child interested in spirituality may take recourse in learning music or any visual art to get completely immersed in spirituality at a later stage of his or her life. Many churches have incorporated music in their prayers as relation between music and spirituality is widely acknowledged. According to Wuthnow, “As people pursue their artistic interests, their attraction to certain expressions of spirituality increases, and this interest, in turn , promotes involvement in faith communities” (20). Not only Christianity, in other religions also music is believed to act as a catalyst to attain spirituality. For example in many Hindu temples, offering prayers along with playing musical instruments like Veena or playing conch shells is a widespread practice. In India, the Carnatic form of music is solely intended to please the divine power and is best to enjoy in temple premises only. This classical branch if music is believed to have its origin in temples of South India. Music is a part and parcel of many cultures. In many eastern and middle-eastern cultures, a distinctive sound is made by people to ward off the evil spirits during any auspicious event like marriage, religious event, etc. Be it warding off evil spirits or to attain spiritualism, music has always remain the foremost choice of people across many cultures. However, the most important aspect to understand how art add spirituality in people’s lives is first to understand what actually spirituality is. Spirituality is invisible and can be only experienced. It does not have any physical form so is hard to define. Bjorklund cleverly defines the same as “Spirituality, because it has to do with what (whom) is important to us is closely related to values, priorities, goals and preoccupationsA spiritual issue could be anything that makes our relationships with others more or less loving and caring”(4). Not only music, dance also has the power to add spirituality in people’s lives.
The metaphysical relationship between dance and spirituality transcends all cultural boundaries. For example in Oddissi dance, popular in India, the dancer’s body is considered to be a temple. Hence, for a person learning this dance form or presenting it before an audience is a matter of getting close to spirituality. There are also many Indian folk dances in which the rhythmic movement of the body and the intricate footwork transports the performers as well as the audience into another world devoid of any worldly worries. Such dance forms are practiced usually during marriages, birthdays, etc. Similarly, Stomp dance is an art form practiced by the Cherokee community in the United States considered immensely spiritual and therefore is practiced only during any religious community event. Even there are many dance forms in Brazil which are extremely spiritual in their true sense. There are also dance forms in various other prominent cultures like Kagura, a Shinto ritual dance and middle-eastern belly dance that all have one or more spiritual element. Belly dance is now largely seen as a sensual dance form as presented by the popular media in spite of the fact that there has been found many evidences that clearly links this dance form of the Arabian culture with spirituality. However, people having a taste of art or devoted to any art form never fails to appreciate the good elements of an art, be it dance, music, poetry or a painting. Thus, art relates to spirituality across the boundaries of any culture.
- Coleman, J. Earle. Creativity and Spirituality: Bonds between Art and Religion. United States of America: State University of New, 1998. Print.
- Wuthnow, Robert. All in Sync: How Music and Art are Revitalizing American Religion. London: University of California Press, 2003. Print.
- Bjorklund, Paul. What is Spirituality? United States of America: Hazelden Foundation, 1983. Print.