Religion has been there since time immemorial and sacred art is one expression of its existence. Sacred art is defined as imagery intended to raise the mind to what is spiritual or to what is divine. We say something is sacred, basing it from how the article went, when an object is related to religion, and that when it is something that is greatly connected to faith and even redemption. The article written by Titus Burckhardt entitled ‘The Universality of Sacred Art’ delved on the different forms or types of sacred art belonging to different religions.
It mainly tackled the similarities and differences of expression of sacred art by Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. The author started the article with clarifying what makes sacred art ‘sacred’, he establishes the difference between what is sacred and non-sacred. He claims that ‘an art cannot be called sacred solely on the grounds that its subjects originate in a spiritual truth; its formal language must also bear witness to such an origin.
’From a personal viewpoint, I believe this is true, it is not just what people claims to be or what seems to be sacred art but the very reflection of the spirituality of the work’s religion. There has to be, as the author puts it, a spiritual vision finding its expression in a particular formal language and that if this language is forgotten, it follows that spiritual vision is lacking. The author goes by stating that every sacred art is founded on a science of forms or symbolism inherent in forms.
I also agree with the author when he said that Tradition plays a great role in sacred art, that it has in itself a secret force conveyed to an entire civilization. The author, in an attempt to clarify the matter of what makes sacred art ‘sacred’ stated that ‘the ultimate objective of sacred art, as the author tells us, is ‘not the evocation of feelings nor the communication of impressions; it is a symbolic art and as such it finds simple and primordial means sufficient; it could not in any case be anything more than allusive, its real object being ineffable.
It is of angelic origin, because its models reflect supra-formal realities. It recapitulates the creation — the ‘Divine Art’ — in parables, thus demonstrating the symbolical nature of the world, and delivering the human spirit from its attachment to crude and ephemeral ‘facts’. ’ When the author says, ‘of angelic origin’, sacred art, clearly, can only be attained through faith. A great pre-requisite for an artist who wants to create sacred art is the belief in a certain religion.
These statement makes me ask this question, ‘what about the non-believers? Do they not have this capacity or ability to make sacred art or simply, is sacred art just confined to the believers of certain religion?. ’ The analogy between human and divine art lies in ‘the realization of oneself by objectivation. If this objectivation is to have spiritual significance and not to be merely a vague introversion, its means of expression must spring from an essential vision.
In other words, it must not be the ‘I’, that root of illusion and of ignorance of oneself, which arbitrarily chooses those means; they must be borrowed from tradition, from the formal and ‘objective’ revelation of the supreme Being, who is the ‘Self’ of all beings. ’ Here, the author clearly puts it, the source of sacred art is of an Absolute nature since it is way beyond man’s mind. The Christian point of view of God is that He is similarly ‘artist’ in the most exalted sense of the word, because He created man ‘in His own image’.
The divine image of this religion, as it was stated by the author, ‘is the human form of Christ. ’ In the case of Islam, the article stated that the ‘Divine Art is in the first place the manifestation of the Divine Unity in the beauty and regularity of the cosmos. It claims that unity is reflected in the harmony of the multiple, in order and in equilibrium; beauty has all these aspects within itself’. In Buddhism, as mentioned by the same author, ‘Divine Art avoids all personification of the Absolute, it can be applied to the beauty of the Buddha, miraculously and mentally unfathomable as it is.
Whereas no doctrine concerned with God can escape, so far as its formulation is concerned, from the illusory character of mental processes, which attribute their own limits to the limitless and their own conjectural forms to the formless, the beauty of the Buddha radiates a state of being beyond the power of thought to define. ’ From the Taoist view of things, as the author discussed, ‘the Divine Art is essentially the art of transformation: the whole of nature is ceaselessly being transformed, always in accordance with the laws of the cycle, its contrasts revolving round a single centre which eludes apprehension.
’ Looking at how different religions define Divine Art, it is clear that the reason for its existence, is always man having a notion of what is supreme, an idea of a higher being and that that Supreme being is worthy of worship, not just because of the likeness or the very nature of being absolute, but the power to create. Divine art, as I see it, makes worship easier. It aides the imagination or even emotion in times of prayer. This is perhaps the reason why sacred art is necessary for every religion. Divine art is one way of showing human limitations and that man is dependent on his Creator.
In the article, the author had a lengthy discussion of the different expressions of sacred art in different religions. He discussed parallelisms and even uniqueness of sacred art in the general sense. From altar-making to the art involved in mosques. The author tried to establish a unifying concept or ground for the different religions, he provided explanations as well for the slight differences. He claimed that history and even the books of faith for each religion influences the manifestation of sacred art.
There was also a discussion of how an artist should go about before making sacred art, a good example for this is the preparation involved in the Orthodox church, the technique of icon painting requires that the artist should prepare through prayer and fasting, he must also meditate on the subject to be portrayed using canonical texts. Another example mentioned in the article is the requisites of Hindu sculptors, a sculptor must know the rules of the ritual dance, dancing is claimed to be the first of the figurative arts.
Sculpture here, is attached to two radically different arts: through the technique of the craft it is related to architecture which is essentially static and transforms time into space, whereas the dance transforms space into time by absorbing it into the continuity of the rhythm. As for Buddhist art, it basically ‘springs from Hindu art by way of a sort of alchemical transmutation, which ‘crystalizes’ the subtlest element in Hindu art, namely, the quasi-spiritual quality of the human body ennobled by the sacred dance, purified by the methods of Yoga and as it were saturated with a consciousness not limited by the mind.
’ These preparations tell us more about the ways of achieving sacred art, most religions claim that it is through meditation. Sacred art is not easy, not only does it deal with what is beyond human understanding, it also asks that artists should be believers as well. Making sacred art is not just a mere activity but the very expression of faith in a certain religion. It is indeed difficult to achieve a level of ‘sacredness’ if all that is in the work is profane or secular.
Sacred art taps the soul of the artist to create something out of faith with the help of the Divine being. There is a degree of mystery to it since it is a ‘collaboration’ of both human and divine powers. At the end of the article the author said, ‘a work of art, if it is to be of spiritual import, need not be a ‘work of genius’. I agree to this statement, simply because sacred art is not just about the ability of the human mind or human talent in art but the divine inspiration of the believer which he gets from the Supreme being.
It is not just the mind working on the artist but his very core, his soul. The reason why it is not just the mind involved is because sacred art is something beyond human understanding, it is something which the mind cannot fully grasp and therefore would require the soul, which is the manifestation of the ‘image and likeness’ of the absolute, of the Supreme being, of God. The author is perhaps right in saying that ‘sacred art should not be squandered in ‘breadth’ but refined and developed in ‘depth’.
Since this form of art is in itself a spiritual work of the artist. The author ended the article with this statement, ‘in art as in everything else man finds himself faced by the following alternatives: he must seek the Infinite in a relatively simple form, keeping within the limits of that form and working through its qualitative aspects while sacrificing some possible developments, or he must seek the Infinite in the apparent richness of diversity and change, though it must lead him in the end to dispersion and exhaustion.
’ Man as a finite being and his capacity to make sacred art, there always has to be something to be sacrificed. Sacred art, as I see it, is something necessary for man’s faith. It is an expression of man’s faith and the very divinity he shares with his Creator. It strengthens his awareness of both his humanity and divinity.
Additional source: -http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Sacred_art