The Theological Foundation for my Painting

I see a close link between art and religion in that both have their origins in our human experience of spirit, life and wonder.  We are moved, impacted by an intangible power, and filled with wonder and awe as we experience life in its depths. My aim in painting is to reflect our human experience of spirit, life and wonder.  That is what I believe all art should try to do.  If we delve beyond rituals and doctrine, creeds and clergy, systems and institutions, culture and tradition, we find all religion, at its heart, is the expression of our human experience of spirit, life and wonder.

The way art and religion merge together was expressed this way by W. H. Auden: “A poet feels the impulse to create a work of art when the passive awe provoked by an event is transformed into a desire to express that awe in a rite of worship.” Paul Tillich explained that both art and religion can give expression to an ultimate concern. It is the function of religion to do this overtly, but it is implicit in both art styles and sometimes in individual works of art.

Art is not religious because it deals with religious subjects.  All art has a spiritual dimension in so far as it reflects human experience of spirit and it has a religious dimension in so far as it reflects human experience of the creative Mystery underlying existence.

The thing is we are, from time to time, moved by something more than what we perceive with the senses. We become aware of a creative Ground behind it all, a Presence demanding a response.  It may call for faith or action on our part, commitment or change; and wonder may lead into worship. Like all experiences of spirit it does not originate with us; we speak of being overwhelmed, grabbed, or seized by it.  In the midst of the secular we are touched by the sacred. I call this God.

So, you see, I don’t think of God as being out there somewhere, a distant power that intervenes in our affairs from time to time.  God is in the midst of life.  Every human being has been God-breathed (Genesis 2:7).  Every human being reflects something of divinity: that’s what I understand ‘made in the image of God’ to mean. God is there in the depths of our experience, missed if we only paddle along in the shallows.

That creative power, the one who is Altogether Other yet embedded in the midst of life and of existence, takes on much clearer lines when it is accepted, as I do, that we see God most clearly and definitively in the Jewish man known in English by the name of Jesus.

That’s not to deny those who claim to see God reflected elsewhere, but I see God reflected in him more clearly than anywhere else and that influences all my experience of the divine.

So, instead of God being indifferent or distant, vengeful or angry, a god that has to be appeased or won over, I see God’s main characteristic to be other-directed, self-giving, creative, forgiving and renewing love.

I believe all creativity, both human and divine, arises out of this kind of love.

Love is the power that links one person to another or to an animal or even an inanimate object. But, as any biblical student knows, love comes in two major varieties: love that is attraction (eros) and love that creates attractiveness (agape).  Love of the first sort comes into play when a person is drawn to, captivated by a scene, a person, or a picture.  Creative love, on the other hand, creates something that did not exist before. It gives of itself for the sake of the other.

So to create a work of art the artist pours something of himself/herself into its creation. If there is something of beauty, inspiration, attractiveness, meaning, or significance in what is created, it is there because the artist has given time and effort, energy and skill, personality and training to it.

Just as a painting can reflect spirit, life and wonder, so God can be reflected in life, history, creation, and human experience. And just as an artist makes use of physical material to reflect spirit, life and wonder, so the great creative Artist turns the earthy things of this life into a sacramental reflection of that Presence.

It might say something about my age but the two writers whose books have most influenced my  theology of art are Paul Tillich and Martin Buber.