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Exploring the Divine: A Journey into Art and Spirituality

Art has always been a profound medium through which humans express their deepest beliefs and spiritual insights. For practicing Christian artists participating in this research project, artistic expression becomes a powerful vehicle to represent the 'divine' and 'faith'. These concepts, often abstract and deeply personal, find a tangible form through various artistic practices, whether it be through painting, sculpture, textile, or other media.

Exploring the Nature of Thought and Perception

In contemplating how we represent these profound ideas, one might ask: Do we think in words or images? Or is there another form of imagery yet to be explored? Before we articulate abstract ideas, how are they perceived? Do they manifest as shapes, colours, patterns, or directions in our minds, or as entities waiting to be named?

These questions have driven my creative research projects. I am testing the hypothesis that we initially perceive ideas as images, forming our understanding before we can express it verbally. To explore this, I chose to collaborate with visual artists because who else is better positioned to be attentive to the pre-verbal imagery? Artists manipulate these initial forms, much like we manipulate words to express our thoughts and emotions.

The Journey Starts Here

My journey into this intersection of art and spirituality stems from my long-lasting engagement as both a visual artist and a religious sister. This dual path has shaped my identity and inspired me to delve deeper into how these two fields, art and spirituality or theology intersect.

In my doctoral research, titled Art as a Living Theology: Exploring Artists’ Vocation, I explored the concept of living as a creative being who participates in the act of creation alongside the Divine, although not in the same way. This journey helped me realise that art and spirituality are not just practices but a way of living and experiencing the world. This realisation led me to invite others on this creative journey, to share, replicate, and enhance these insights.

Embodied Art and Spirituality

The core aim of my project is to understand how individuals experience and express the 'divine' and 'faith' through art (in both directions). While the divine is often perceived as transcendent and beyond us, faith is intimately connected to our personal experiences. This duality means that people express their connection to these concepts in various ways, yet closely relating.

During initial interviews with participating artists, they often described their perceptions of the divine and faith in visual and spatial terms, highlighting their differences and connections. The concept of embodiment was a recurring theme, with several artists exploring the materiality and physicality of the body. Another topic, in fact, the most persistent one, was motherhood or fatherhood for those who have experienced it. This is perhaps unsurprising, given Christianity's emphasis on the Incarnation, where the divine becomes human.

What next?

The confluence of art, theology, and cognitive science offers a rich terrain for exploration and discovery. Engaging in this project has been a source of constant excitement and intellectual engagement for me. It reaffirms that our understanding of perception and creative thinking is still evolving.

This collaborative project provides a pathway to delve deeper into these processes, where creativity acts as a compass guiding us through the intertwined worlds of art, theology, and spirituality. This is just the beginning. I invite you to join me on this journey, where we explore how these domains converge and how art can illuminate our understanding of the divine and our place within it.

Featured artwork and images by Martyn Smith.


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