There is a slight difference between spirituality and art, because from its early beginning in the caves of prehistory, art has always been dealing with demons of all sorts and thus invoking the power of faith. Things have not changed, because in today’s world, artist have to negotiate with demons of other kinds: gallery, curators, collectors and critics. Perhaps these are not alien entities, but are extensions of his/her person – to be tamed through art.
Historically art was/is a means to invoke ideas and experiences that lie beyond our daily existence. Art becomes a vehicle with which to find and reach truth, which may be about our mundane lives or about matters of divinity. Thus in many cultures, the making of art is not a frivolous or self indulgent activity but a social responsibility, of being a mediator between mortals and gods.
Art was a tool to find truth, but in its course, there were many truths equally valid according to division of locations and distribution of ages. Yet in the age of modernity, art has become the embodiment of an eternal truth: of itself. Abstract painting by Wassily Kandinsky (along with his book Concerning the Spirituality in Art) and others are a few examples to denote that that (abstract) art making was not merely a formal exercise, but an attempt to facilitate and enrich the experience of transcendence through these canvases.
An idea that was extended in the works of New York School of abstract painting, in which artists such as Barnet Newman, Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko were trying to attain a level of sublime and share it with their viewers. One gets the similar kind of sensation on seeing woks of Tantric painting or Arabic calligraphy and from other traditional practices.
Because for a long time art was considered a sacred activity, and the idea of sacredness is translated in the form of certain practices, namely calligraphy, which over the years has gone through many transformations. Relating to ethics, economy and aesthetics, thus the practice of Arabic or Islamic calligraphy cannot be viewed merely as a spiritual endeavour anymore.
The distance between spirituality and art is measured by our writers for the July issue of ArtNow Pakistan, as both Julius John Alam and Sehr Jalil investigated the link between belief and art (art according to Pablo Picasso is a lie!). Both essays investigate the concerns of spirituality in art from different positions; a change of view that is visible in the photo-essay by Nashmia Haroon too.
In the present issue of ArtNow Pakistan, two artists who have been focusing on calligraphy are part of our Profile and Interview sections. Rasheed Arshad uses text as a texture to denote ideas about history, past and faith, and Ghulam Mohammad (recipient Jameel Prize 2016) explored the limitations and possibilities of written words.
When one talks about art and its audiences, the book review of this month – in its tongue and cheek manner, invokes the issue of art and its understanding. More so because now the only spiritual experience for some of us is not going to a religious place of worship, but visiting an art museum and gallery on weekly basis, religiously!