Spiritual expression has long been part of the subject matter for fine art. In many cultures, the communication of a religious or spiritual feeling has informed works of art. Some of the best known works by great Masters are those which touch on the artistic manifestation of an intense personal inner experience. Not matter what the viewer’s own outlook might be, there is no denying that the artist felt deeply about the subject matter.
Even when a piece has been commissioned from an artist, much thought and feeling can go into the resulting work. Raphael’s “Transfiguration” is one such piece.
Raphael conveys the startling spiritual experience for the disciples of this moment, by having them lying on the ground (one might even say “grounded”), while the figure of Jesus seems to dance in the air with Moses and Elijah. A lightness in color surrounds the upper three figures, apparently emanating from Jesus, which contrasts with the shadows that surround the other figures. Raphael has used color and the placement in his composition to convey the emotional uplifting nature of the event.
Other artists turn to other means in order to present their complex responses to spiritual matters.
Salvador Dali and Spirituality
Salvador Dali, renowned for his provoking surrealist paintings completed a number of religious works late in his career. But even in these works, his idiosyncratic approach brought new challenges to those who viewed his works. In his 1954 work “Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)”, Dali defies the viewer’s expectations by presenting a cross that floats in the air on its own, disconnected from the ground or the eerie landscape of the distant horizon. The cross itself is inspired by a hypercube, an unfolding tesseract, with the crucified Christ is positioned with it, but not attached to it.
Dali uses the mind-stretching implications of the tesseract to suggest the deeper meanings he connected with the crucifixion. He draws the viewer to look beyond the traditional appearance and imagine the infinite and eternal aspects that the Christian faith proclaims. As the artist, he brought his mind and imagination to the task of portraying this crucial moment of his faith.
Abstract Expression of Spirituality
When an artist indicates that a piece connects somehow to such deep and intense personal experiences and outlooks, the viewer should pay attention. What does the artist want to convey? What do we experience when we look at it? Even when the art that is viewed is categorized as Abstract, there may still be something that can connect with the viewer’s own deeper experiences.
Diana Hobson’s “Glory Be” uses a strong yellow shape in the background to sweep the eye upward on the canvas. Cutting across part of that yellow shape, a dark block draws the eye back downward. In the middle of this, a shape of passionate red falls counter to both of the other two primary shapes. The color choices provoke various reactions in the viewer, but because the work is abstract, we are allowed to make our own associations with what they might signify. Whatever conclusion the viewer comes to, there is no denying that something intense was felt by the artist at the time the work was composed. And that is the purpose of all art, to provoke a recognition or response.
“Transfiguration” by Raphael, 1520, located at the Pinacoteca Vaticana in Vatican City. Artwork is in public domain.
“Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)” by Salvador Dali, 1954, located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Image used under Fair Use for purposes of instruction.
“Glory Be” by Diana Hobson. Copyright Diana Hobson. Used by permission.