The Experience of Being Creative as a Spiritual Practice: A Hermeneutic-Phenomenological Study

By Barbara J. Thayer-Bacon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Contemporary
Art History
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF THE SPIRITUAL

In this chapter, I look at contemporary art history, focusing on the emergence of the spiritual within the tradition of 20th century Western painting. Because my research considers the experience of painters specifically, I begin with a short discussion of painting as a unique language of art and expression of the spiritual. Next, I look at the de-spiritualization of art in the Western tradition. This is followed by a discussion of the hidden spiritual history of contemporary art as expressed by European and American painters of the 19th and 20th century.

Painting itself is a language, the artist’s expression of experience beyond words. Maritain writes,

It is the object created, the poem, the painting, the symphony in its own existence
as a world of its own, which plays the part played in ordinary knowledge by the con-
cepts and judgments produced by the mind. [1953: 118]

Painting is a language that goes beyond the intellectual; it is a language of intuition.

At the root of the creative act there must be a quite particular intellectual process,
without parallel in logical reason, through which Things and the Self are grasped
together by means of a kind of experience or knowledge, which has no conceptual
expression and is expressed only in the artist’s work. [Maritain, 1953: 33]

The painter, Delacroix, has “observed that comprehension by means of grasping spoken or written words is replaced in painting with apprehension ‘at a single glance.’” [cited in Huyghe, 1962: 118] Because of its ability to communicate

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