I find that a line Louis wrote in his last posting points our way toward the closest we might come to a conclusion. It’s a question, which is an honest way of ending. “Is there a renewed sense of purpose emerging in the art world,” he said, “one that understands the political and religious stakes in the creative imagination, of imagining new ways of being in an uncertain world?”
In the course of our discussion, we’ve related our sense that art and religion/spirituality are moving back in a direction toward an organic kinship. But they are doing so by respectively innovating new forms—moving, in our fin de siècle moment, away from the blinders and boxes of the twentieth century. This shift is driven by many developments, including globalization, the promise and perils of technology, and the current economic crisis. Here’s one insight our live chat yesterday helped me articulate: a new quality of purpose, to echo Louis’s question—or a new sense of engaged attention to social need and social resonance, as I might state it—is one vivid thread (re)linking the emerging spiritual and artistic sensibilities of our time.
I was also intrigued by our attempts to imagine the meaning and place of beauty amid all of these concerns. The late Irish poet-philosopher John O’Donohue defined beauty in part by its effect on us. In the presence of beauty, he said, we feel more fully alive. This way of thinking is easier to work with than needing to agree on whether this painting or that painting, this life or that life is beautiful. Yet we couldn’t let the subject go in our live chat. A hunger for and calling to beauty seems to be another animating link between creativity and the spiritual. I’d add this important qualification that has also emerged in our discussions: a calling to beauty must be attentive to the darkness as well as the light of life. I would not go so far as Mark in saying that art that is serious should always disturb rather than reassure. But I believe that art and religion are dead if they cannot respond to and address, as Huma says she must, “a world of violence and barbarism, negotiating physical beauty and spiritual angst.”
Thanks to all who’ve participated in this discussion, and thanks especially to the Guggenheim for creating this forum, which has honored one of Vasily Kandinsky’s most challenging legacies. One of my favorite moments in the chat yesterday was when we talked about a particular role museums naturally play, in the most ecumenical sense possible, in human spiritual as well as aesthetic formation. A museum is a place of reflection, attention, presence—core disciplines of spiritual life, of the “inner necessity” that Kandinsky dares and inspires us to tend.