I'm giving two talks this week and need to brainstorm about them. The first one is on Work, Art and Life and how those things connect, in particular, with my nearly 20-year inner conversation with the work of poet and artist David Jones. The main thing about Jones is that he sees art as a "sacramental" practice. That is, whenever we make a work of art we are also "showing forth" our nature as people who make signs, who say " look: this thing I'm holding up IS something else, too -- it has more meaning than simply itself, and yet is also itself. This has the effect of always pointing toward what Rowan Williams has called an "excess of meaning." That is what art and poetry do -- they remind us that there is more meaning than we apprehended, always more to know and explore in the mystery of life. That is also why art implies the sacred, according to David Jones -- and that is something I have long believed. Viewing a work of art, we are seeing the experience of a human being engaging with something greater than him/herself. Reading a poem, we get a concentration of experience that somehow catches fire and illuminates our own experience. That is my experience with both making and enjoying works of art. 4 other points that I make when I talk about creativity and sacramental life are
1. The artist is a creator, participating in the work of her Creator. Part of how we know we are in the "image of God" is by this urge to create, which we share with the One who created us. So when I'm engaged on writing a poem, or making a work of art, I am in a special kind of companionship with the divine life. I love this idea. I've experienced it myself but I also find it in writings by Dorothy Sayers, Madeleine L'Engle, and David Jones.
2. There is something sacramental about any work we make, because we are using "material" (paint, stone, words) to point beyond themselves to an "other" that always contains more meaning than we can capture. "A sign must be significant of something," David Jones writes, so of some 'reality', so of something that is 'sacred.' That is why I think the notion of sign implies the sacred.
3. Each work of art is a new thing with a life of its own. Part of what I learn as a poet is to let my words go their own way, take on their own shape. I know a poem is finished when it "talks back to me," says something that I didn't know I was saying.
4. A finished work of art is a deep communication between human beings, sharing the mystery of our common experience and of our uniqueness: it is the language of the heart, unmediated. The response of a viewer to a finished piece of art is, "Yes, I see now -- something more than I saw before. "
I think it is also true, for artists, that art is a spiritual discipline: the way we work with our materials also affects how we deal with life.
Enough of this for now. These are the ideas I keep coming back to when I'm asked to talk about art and creativity and what they have to do with the spiritual life.
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.