Talking Spirituality: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Half an Hour

by Natalie Grigson on August 14, 2013

Imagine sitting in a group, everyone is silent; meditating, and for miles, you’re surrounded only by grassy hills and forests. Imagine that the only sounds you hear are the birds calling to each other, somewhere off in the distance, and if you’re really still, perhaps the washing of the waves. Imagine that you can taste the slight hint of salt in the air; and that you feel truly connected with the group, the land, and the world around you.
Are you imagining it? Good. Because that’s about as close as I got to this as well.

See, I had planned on going to the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin for day long Monastic Day last Sunday morning—where I’d imagine they do monastic things like meditate on the rolling hills—but again, I’m just imagining, because clearly, I did not make it out there.

Because sometimes staying out late for karaoke on a Saturday night takes precedence over waking up early on a Sunday. What? That’s spiritual too.

Anyway, I was quickly able to change my plans, and therefore, the topic of today’s post.

Today, instead, I visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum in downtown San Francisco, where they are currently showing “Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art.”
Upon walking in, there are several quotes about art and spirituality; one of which goes something like this: “The creation of art is spiritual, yada, yada, yada, all art is ultimately spiritual.”
Okay, I’m paraphrasing a bit; but that’s the gist of it: Art is spiritual, because in creating it—when you get into that artistic, creative, meditative zone—you are connected with Source. I’ve even written a post about that very thing.

But his led me to wonder—if all art is spiritual, what is going to make this exhibit any different than any other? What’s to stop them from putting up a painting of a bird, a tree, or a big blue line on a canvas, and call it spiritual? Turns out: nothing.

The exhibit was filled with things like birds, trees, and big blue lines. Of course there were some more obviously “spiritual-themed” pieces—the gigantic prayer beads, the huge religious text adorned with swirls and splashes of color, and yes, even the oddly narcissistic Buddha who greets you at the entrance. But there were also paintings that I felt could have been included in any other gallery—and in fact, some big names like Jackson Pollock or Piet Mondrian, who I suspected of being labeled as “spiritual” to get some traffic through the door.

Don’t get me wrong—it is a wonderful exhibit—but don’t expect to walk in seeing very many paintings of angels, religious scenes, or happy Buddhas meditating. And in fact, when you walk out a mere forty-five minutes or so later (as the exhibit is actually quite small), you may not be very sure of what you were viewing at all (seriously—a giant blue line.)
So I’m curious—what do you consider to be “spiritual art?”

Send me your feedback—thoughts on the exhibit, questions, suggestions for what’s next! (The spiritual side of karaoke…?

Namaste, everybody.

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