Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Creativity & Spirituality

This is a revision of a commentary piece originally printed in the January 2006 issue of Artist Quarterly, the Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, & Mississippi Regional e-mail newsletter of SAQA
(Studio Art Quilt Associates)

The journey is begun…

How many times have you been to an exhibit and simply moved from one piece to another without feeling anything. When viewing a work of “art” that does not move you in any way, is it because it seems to have been created passionless, without feeling or meaning, without “soul”??? Is the presence or absence of a sense of spirituality important? Is or is not the creation of a dialogue or the eliciting of emotion or some type of reaction or response from the viewer an essential ingredient in whether or not the work is truly art? In other words what, if any, is the relationship between creativity and spirituality?

What exactly is creativity? There must be at least 6 zillion definitions – just do a search on Google and see how many “hits” are returned (91,000,000 the last time I checked). I personally find it most useful to primarily think of creativity as being the process through which an inner vision becomes translated into an external reality (e.g., producing a work of art, rearranging furniture, tinkering with a recipe – these are all activities through which creativity finds expression).

Funded by a $40,000 grant, nine women (including myself) began in September, 2005 a two-year exploration which took us deep into examination of the interrelationship(s) between creativity and spirituality; personally as well as generally. Half of this group was cleric, the rest of us were lay and together we represented seven faith traditions: Judaism, Islam, Unitarian-Universalism, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal.

For me personally, this exploration was truly “a journey” since at that time I was not yet completely comfortable with thinking of myself as a spiritual being. I had, in fact, always considered myself to be one of the least spiritual people around since dogma, rituals, highly structured and formalized religious services had long been anathema to me. So I was always somewhat “taken up short” whenever someone commented about the spirituality of my art. And it was that “spirituality” which prompted the invitation to be extended for me to join this dynamic group of women to develop and submit the proposal for funding.

Comments about the spirituality of my art occurs frequently enough to make me have to stop and think – to reevaluate what is transpiring when I work; to ponder what drives me to create. I.e., to think deeply about what is the wellspring through which my creativity is funneled and expressed. It all related to what this group wanted to explore – the intersections, the connections, and the correlations between spirituality and creativity. Because clearly there was a lot more involved than just having the desire to create.

One task I set for myself over that two year period was to try and define from my own perspective just what the concept of “spirituality” means. I now clearly understand that for me, “spirituality” is a much broader concept than mere religious belief or commitment although it certainly can be the vehicle for the expression of one’s faith. I know that for me it has much to do with the awareness of and with having a sense of connection – with trying to figure out just how I connect with the universe. For me personally, spirituality is bound inexorably not only to my past as an individual, but also to my cultural heritage. It also is tied to the legacy, tangible as well as intangible, that I will one day leave behind.

Although there are color studies and abstracts among my work to which viewers are inexorably drawn, I believe it is in the narrative work that my spirituality becomes most evident. In musing about this, I have come to the conclusion this may be because when working within this particular genre, I am fully aware of my desire and of my need to communicate something that is coming deep from the depths of my being; from the inner core of my self. This is when I usually am trying to speak for those who have no voices or whose voices have been stilled because of death, fear, or terror; whose voices have been stilled because of their position of caste, class, and/or economic status; whose voices have been stilled because of the role played by race and racism in our society.

It is through this work that I am able to feel a direct connection with the universe, with something greater than myself, and find the ability to communicate and express these experiences, emotions, feelings. It is this work to which viewers appear to have the strongest response, most often positive; sometimes negative – but one way or another, they do respond.

While searching for resources about the creativity/spirituality connection, I visited the QuietSpaces website. On it I came across the following quote: “The important thing is to bring a conscious, ongoing awareness into your chosen activity, acknowledging that it forms a part of your spiritual path. This intent, this consciousness, helps to stabilize and deepen your experience.” I think that more than just a kernel of truth has been captured in these few words.

With my colleagues I embarked upon a search for understanding and to the best of my ability brought to it an open mind. Throughout the two-year period I found myself immersed in and confronted with (sometimes confounded by) many questions and issues that were not readily apparent to me when we began. The journey was difficult at times and joyous at others. It is impacting my work in both overt as well as in subtle dimensions. The journey has still only just begun.

Some questions to ponder:
  1. What is your personal definition of spirituality? Of creativity?
  2. What drives you to be creative? Is creativity equally pervasive throughout all facets of your life? Why or why not? How and to what extent do you think this has an impact on your art? Positive or negative?
  3. Does spirituality play a role in your creative life? If so, how – i.e., are you consciously aware of its presence during the conceptualization and/or execution of your art? If so, do you find this to be meaningful, and in what way(s)? If not, to what extent do you think this is significant or irrelevant?
  4. There are those who consider the process and/or expression of their creativity to be a spiritual practice in and of itself as a form of meditation and/or prayer. Do you?
  5. To what degree is your spirituality expressed through your art – in most or all of your work; in only some? If the latter, are there any aspects of your art in which you feel your spirituality is more readily apparent than in others (e.g., the subject matter, the genre, the medium, etc.)? Is it subtle or more openly expressed? Does it matter?
  6. Has there ever been a time in which you felt that you “lost or yielded control” of the work – that you were no longer the sole guide of the process or determinant of the product? If so, do you think that the final outcome was a more powerful or stronger work than it would have been if you had persisted in developing your original concept?
  7. How do your creativity and/or spirituality affect the way you view and/or interact with the world; how does it influence those areas of your life that exist beyond the boundaries of your studio?


Julie aka "Quilt Diva" said...

So much to digest and SO think about. Thanks for another wonderful post! I do so enjoy reading your blog...

Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Thanks, Julie. I'm glad it struck a responsive chord. Be sure to read the quotations I just posted of artists speaking about the role spirituality plays in their work.