The Spiritual (Re)Turn: Session1


Krista Tippett

Host of public-radio program Speaking of Faith


Huma Bhabha

Artist, recipient of the 2008 Emerging Artist Award from the Aldrich Museum of Art

Louis A. Ruprecht Jr.

William M. Suttles Chair of Religious Studies at Georgia State University

Mark C. Taylor

Chair of the Department of Religion and co-director of the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University


Todd Barton wrote :

Hmmm. . . my reading of Kandinsky’s writings suggests that his concept of “the spiritual” was that which sparked an inner resonance in the soul/psyche of both the artist and audience. A “binding with” if you will which reminds me of the Latin, re-ligare, hence our word “religion.” In a sense, Kandinsky’s view of the spiritual was its essential connective experience devoid of any isms. The only ism he mentions in On The Spiritual in Art is materialism which he uses in contrast to the spiritual. I’d be interested in the panels’ views on Kandinsky’s use of the idea of the “spiritual”. What will our definition of “the spiritual” be for future discussions?
Todd Barton posted on 10/20/09
Carol Gerson wrote :

Starting at the top of the exhibit and winding my way downward, I especially enjoy the vibrant, colorful explosive paintings of the last years where he seems to take the "language" of images he has developed, and sprinkle them into works which seem to be filled with enthusiasm, humor and joy.
Carol Gerson posted on 10/20/09
Dr. SJG wrote :

I am a physician, self-trained art historian, and long-time art collector. As an enthusiastic fan of Kandinsky, I saw the Guggenheim exhibit twice in a week. It is among the most visually exciting and stunning paintings exhibitions I have ever seen; and the chronological display of selected paintings as he developed his style, coupled with the Museum's unique spaces, only added to the exceptional quality (and condition) of the paintings. Truthfully, I thought I knew his work, but I was happily introduced to a greater expanse of masterworks than I thought existed. Viewing his work from an artistic and scientific background, I found his visual references to music and physics enlightening. I am not certain I concur or understand the philosophic definitions of spirituality in Kandinsky's art. From my perspective, Kandinsky views and converts everything around him, including emotional influences, to abstract representational shapes, color, form, and in later works, texture. It is an ambitious and educational exhibition that emphasizes the mastery of one of the most individually influential artists of the 20th Century. I do not think that contemporary artists have abandoned Kandinsky's view of the aesthetics of science, technological evolution, and art. But they accept the impact of change with a lesser degree of awe and tend to dwell on what is being lost instead of what is being gained. Perhaps they are victims of their expectations of communication being instantaneous and the expectation that information is shared immediately. Kandinsky lived in a world where war and cataclysm was in his backyard instead of a headline elsewhere. Technology advanced in leaps and bounds to create radio and television. Science and medicine expanded exponentially to reveal the inner working of the universe. It's not to suggest that we do not advance as quickly today, if not more so, its just that today we seem jaded by even the newest and most outrageous creations or discoveries. There is no cynicism in Kandinsky's work. Contemporary artists are not quite as pure.
Dr. SJG posted on 10/19/09
Slor wrote :

Spirituality seems like an outdated term in a world that has given discussion to such ideas as psychoanalysis and poststructuralism. It is increasingly hard to believe that the existence of Homo sapiens is based on a teleological model. Where is all of this spirit going? I believe spirituality is better described in the contemporary world as a metaphor for energy.

If Kandinsky where alive today I believe he would be interested in the future of humanity and art as it effects artificial intelligence and the great Singularity.
Slor posted on 10/19/09
Jennifer A. Hill wrote :

Thanks for creating this discussion. Although I've known Kandinsky for many years I did not know his specific views on art and spirituality, but I'm not surprised. Art is the language of the soul and I am thankful to those who bravely assist these visions and perceptions to become images or other sensory mediums for all of us. Some of my most profound spiritual experiences have involved viewing art and artists often are able to negotiate the spiritual/real world with more facility due to the unique perspective they hold. Also consider the wide variety of taboo and holy topics that art encompasses - as wide as the human experience.

I like to think of artists as channeling the great multidimensional existence we call our lives, yes ourselves.
Jennifer A. Hill posted on 10/19/09
Hugo Hemmings wrote :

Thank you very much for taking on this important subject. As one who toils in the fields of contemporary art, I am always struck by this very question—how the religious/spiritual seem so daft when interpolated into art contexts, and why working with the spiritual is an automatic kiss of death in terms of artistic legitimacy. I may be exaggerating, of course, but if you look at major exhibitions in recent years, you’d find few artists whose work has a clear or even a buried spiritual aspect. Do any of you panelists have an explanation related to cultural/historical factors about why that might be the case—what occurred historically to dealing with god(s) and spirituality so anathema to the art establishment?
Hugo Hemmings posted on 10/19/09
gigi kracht wrote :

All the way from Zurich, Switzerland, I am delighted to a part of the Guggenheim Forum discussion. Will add my comments as i see fit. Meanwhile, continue to be a foremost in the world of Kandinsky and congratulations to the 50th year anniversaire.

gigi kracht posted on 10/19/09
Ambon Pereira wrote :

"Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit... --The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and wither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." JOHN, Chapter 3

An old poetry, this--the "spirit," a primal, animating essence, cleansing the soul, straight from God... etymologically, I understand that the word connotes a liquid being poured out, a priestly ablution or perhaps a blood sacrifice (and hence, the idea of "spirit" as intoxicating alcohol is perhaps more literally correct)... I suppose all of this ties in to an idea of "flow," a spectacle of experience untainted by the intermediaries of ritual, of ossified language and a superimposition of "signs."

However, what is being described in as the "spiritual" in art is still undoubtedly a mode of ritual... artist as prophet/shaman, critic/curator as priestly confessor and officiator of commemorative mass. But what shall be our covenant from this? That
the world exists, and existed hundreds and thousands of years ago, and that beauty
and the poetry of human thought have existed also, and coexist with us still?
Can the mere fact of being sustain us? No... of course, we still need the "spirit"...
the water and the wine, poured from one jar into another...

Ambon Pereira posted on 10/19/09

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