“There’s a long-standing belief that art brings us closer to God. What do you think of that?” my colleague asked. I wasn’t sure at first if she meant the creation of art or the art itself – as in all the beautiful paintings of the Madonna and Child or sculptures of angels, etc. When I was younger, it was easy to see a beautiful piece of art and feel sure it was divinely inspired. Then I learned that many of the “holy works” we so admire were not created by choice, they were commissioned and required by patrons. The artists themselves would have preferred to work on something else. Other great works of art have been interpreted as celebrations of the Divine, whether the artist intended them that way or not. There have also been plenty of works of art that openly challenge or defy the belief in the Divine. Surely those works did not bring the artist or the audience closer to God, since that’s the opposite of what was intended. Or did they?
As viewers of art, we know it’s possible to feel closer to God while standing in a beautifully painted chapel or listening to a centuries-old hymn, despite what the artist intended. In fact, it’s even possible to feel closer to God when you’re looking at something that defies everything that is Divine. So, in that sense, yes, art itself can bring us closer to God if that is what we choose for it to do (and, yes, I realize my examples here are focused on the Judeo-Christian view of the Divine, which is only part of the puzzle).
The question, though, of whether the creation of art brings the artist closer to God is more interesting. I’ve been working in the arts for 28 years, and it’s been a roller coaster ride of success and discouragement. I often joke that I “quit this business” twice a year, but it’s probably more often than that. Working in the arts is never easy.
Through all the ups and downs, I’ve held steadfastly to the belief that my work matters. That I was put here for a reason and this art is the reason. I’ve held to the belief that when my work touches people, the vibration of the universe rises. I’ve never felt this was arrogant. Quite the opposite. I often feel unworthy to perform my work. I was never the smartest kid in class or the hardest working or the cleverest. I have many friends who are better writers than me and better business owners too. I’ve doubted myself plenty, but I’ve never doubted the work. I’ve always felt to my core that art is important, that recording the stories of ordinary people is important, that history is important, that encouraging others to pursue their art is important. Even in my moments of disappointment or fear or disillusionment, the one thing that has always pulled me back to the work is the belief that it is “holy,” however you define that.
Lately, though, something caused me to doubt whether my work is really holy, or whether I had just chosen to believe that all these years from a place of ego or personality. That doubt really turned my world upside down for a few days. If the work itself is not holy, then why should I persevere through all the challenges?
The only way I can answer that is to say that when I’m working on my art and pursuing my dreams, I feel at one with the universe. I feel a sense of purpose and promise and peace. I’m my best self when I’m pursuing my art, but not just in those moments. Because I’m pursuing my art, I’m a better, happier, kinder person overall. Because I’m pursuing my art, I have moments of epiphany that fill me with joy and wonder and excitement. Because I’m pursuing my art, I have moments when I feel despair and doubt and frustration. All of those experiences are real, and all of them keep me in the “now.” This art has made me more compassionate, more open-minded, more helpful, more intuitive, more appreciative, and more determined. This art keeps me growing, it keeps me striving, it keeps me hoping, it keeps me evolving.
So maybe it’s not that the art itself is holy, no matter how beautiful or important it is. Maybe it’s the pursuit of art that is holy, however you define your “art.” Does art bring us closer to the Divine? Yes, I believe it does.
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