Saturday, August 7, 2010

Praying as Art - Art as Prayer

Entitled "It's Up to You" -
find the artist, Jill Berry and more from this delightful lady who's a blogger as well here

This post focuses mostly on painting and visual art as actual practice along with prayer. Yet of course there are natural connections to other kinds of art and "seeing" as well.

Again the following combines others' reflections with my own. I will try to use full quotes surrounding the full quote where verbatim and full and/or single quotation marks where they have my own additions, changes...

I want to start with a friend's practice and within here there are samples of how both fast and slow painting can embellish prayer:

The artist-friend said: "...I have experienced that movement really brings out catharsis. I personally use this tool by way of drawing in very fast movements of hand and just in ten minutes of this speedy drawing I find a focused and relaxed mood that usually comes after a long meditation or a concentrated prayer."

I have painted batiks (wax on cloth then put in dye baths) and found similar effects with a slower type of art. Later, I learned later that Batiking has traditionally been a prayer "method" for decades if not centuries...

Here is another inspiration for this post from an online discovery:

"When my family gave me a watercolor painting set for my birthday, little did I realize that I would start painting at my age, much less suspect that painting would have an impact on my prayer life...

'To paint is to immerse oneself totally in the activity at hand and to become oblivious to all else. Time seems to stand still as one is more and more caught up in the creative process and tries to give outward form to an inner vision or idea. To be sure, techniques may help, but they cannot replace imagination and creativity.

'We are ... meant to tap the creative energies within us...(to become) totally immersed.

And here is my last full entry for this post:

"Until I started painting I don't think I ever viewed reality in this way at all. It is not enough to focus only on what is in front of one's eyes, but what is in the imagination. One needs to see both positive as well as negative space and be more concerned with an overall view rather than specific details. That is why the advice for the beginner is to use a "big" brush and broad strokes before even thinking of doing detail work with a rigger brush.

'According to Maurice Grosser in The Painter's Eye, "The painter draws with his eyes, not his hands. Whatever he sees, IF HE SEES IT CLEAR, he can put down."

Frederick Franck expresses the same idea when he talks about drawing as a discipline by which he constantly rediscovers the world. "It is in order to really see, to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive," he tells us, " that I draw what the Chinese call 'The Ten Thousand Things' around me... I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle."

'Art tends to show not only what we are trying to portray but also to reveal ourselves. Paradoxically, the more clearly we can perceive and draw or paint what we see in the external world, the more clearly the viewer can see us, and the more we come to know ourselves. Prayer not only reveals God to us but ourselves as well."

With art, we have to take the plunge...to immerse...

"...The same is true of prayer...(a saint expressed it this way) "...before entering on prayer," he writes, "let the mind repose a little (make a) composition of place"-- seeing with the eyes of the imagination the physical place where the thing I wish to contemplate is found. We are asked to put ourselves at the scene of the subject matter of our meditation and try to visualize everything around us as well as all the persons involved.

'Most artists, when they face the blank canvas, have at least some idea of what they intend to paint. They can visualize it already there. So too we cannot come to prayer in a vacuum without some focus--a passage from scripture, a word, an idea--to get us started. We need to prepare ourselves, to dispose ourselves for prayer in much the same way as the painter prepares to paint. Without some preparation our mind tends to wander and we lose concentration and focus very quickly.

'Artists like Klee and Miro urge us to paint like little children, not to be concerned about the end product but to be wrapped up in the process itself...To watch a child at play is to learn a great deal about prayer.

'Through painting I have learned to be more observant of nature and am more awestruck by colorful clouds or a glowing sunset. I began to notice hues and tones and color values where before they all seemed to blend into a dull gray...

'Painting...has taught me many lessons...one of the most important perhaps is patience! Once you have laid down a wash (in watercolor and in the more intentional, longer prayer) it is not wise to rush ahead until the color has had a chance to dry. I have muddied many a painting by trying to "finish" it before its time. The water colorist needs to let the color and paper do their work too, as we need to let the Spirit guide us in prayer. Just as there is a temptation in painting to overwork one area or to under-develop another, so too in prayer we have a tendency to follow every whim or distraction that takes us away from the act of praying itself.

'Each of us is an artist when we pray, for each work of art expresses outwardly the artist's personal understanding of the world. Our prayer as individuals is unique too. We bring to it our own special gifts and talents and take from it what is most helpful to our spiritual lives. Just as the creative act is many-sided, so too is our experience of God. It takes many different shapes and forms and varies with every stage and circumstance of our lives. Every painting, every prayer, is a new experience and deepens our understanding...

'Prayer and painting, then, have a lot in common and both demand a lot of practice. No matter how artistic we may be, we cannot become paint-ers or pray-ers simply by reading books (or articles like this) on the subject. We learn to paint by painting and we learn prayer by praying."

When we are in a state of "dryness" and without inspiration, with prayer and with art, the best thing we can do is to "keep on practicing".

'When all goes well, painting can be totally absorbing. This is also the best of prayer, when time seems to stand still as we are wrapped up in God's presence and do not want to leave..."

First long entry is taken from TheTurning.org here and second full item from intro to "Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God." (and there is a child's version of this book as well.)

Finally, as a little conclusion and preview for the next in my series on prayer...

As with visual art such as painting, there's also a connection with many other forms of art and expression including MUSIC...

When I was prayer-walking this morning, I remembered the unconventional life, compassion and prayers of Etty Hillesum to which I've turned many times, showed to others including my daughter and friends and especially found solace within her writings after 911.

Here are some "tid-bits" from a theologian's long reflection on her life
...
The last contains the bold affirmation, "We should be willing to act as balm for all wounds" (Diaries, 196). This will be the theme for my next post on Prayer as Balm for Others.

Etty Hillesum, her father, mother, and brother, Mischa, were placed on "transport" from Westerbork to Auschwitz on 7 September 1943,.

An International Red Cross report said Etty Hillesum died in Auschwitz on 30 November 1943 along with her parents and a beloved Mischa. And with them, we can assume burnt or buried, went the last of Etty Hillesum's diaries.

Yet, out of that train she threw a postcard, which was found and sent by farmers. On it she wrote:

"We left the camp singing" (Letters, 146).

For more on this last see the next post on prayer on this blogsite,One Heart for Peace, where I will follow more of Etty's life with Michael Downey who wrote: A Balm for All Wounds: The Spiritual Legacy of Etty Hillesum

7 comments:

urooj malik said...

Connie, you just gave us another master piece full of beautiful descriptions of a relation between art and prayer.

I am not an artist, just a writer and sometimes poet, but i have experienced some very similar feelings during this creative learning period and i will share it with you later on.

Thank you for giving me another beautiful gift.

Akhtar Wasim Dar said...

This is absolutely profound and classy, praying as an art and each one of us praying as an artist is so spot and true. There is so much in this one post that it can be indexed and separately used as a material for a BOOK OF PRAYER.
Yes art is not in the hands it is in the eyes of an artist, when he stares at a blank canvas and from that blankness emerges the space and rest fills up with shades and colors, turning an empty time into an active time. But there is something special about these hands, which makes art really work as a prayer. These hands which we use for holding pen or brush are the healing apparatus, when they hold someone with love, affection and sincerity they transforms the other person from inside to outside, so when we stroke the canvas with these hands an immense amount of negative energy is displaced and positive energy takes place. That positive energy was always lurking in the empty canvas and as the canvas is filled with colors most of that positive energy escapes from canvas and attracts the one who is filling that canvas. The residual positive energy emits slowly and attracts those who see these painted canvases with attention and appreciation. Painting works as a prayer, so does watching it also, but that depends on the concentration of the seer.

I will come back to write more….

Akhtar Wasim Dar said...

Why art works as a prayer?

Prayer needs a medium through which we can channelize feelings, emotions, thoughts, this can be done by various means but the most powerful means could only be the one which is the most powerful attribute of the Beloved. Love and creation are the two most powerful traits of God, so the most powerful way to pray and be in communication with Him is by way of loving and by way of creating. Love and creativity are those qualities which brings man close to fellow beings and by that way closer to God.

Connie L. Nash said...

Well, you Urooj, and you, Dar Sahib, are my "profound and classy" inspiration here.

Yes, Urooj, there are such similar feelings and dynamics during ANY artist or creative person's "learning period" that relate to one another, I have found - with and without prayer. Once I started a little circle of discussion among "artists" of all kinds. We found NO problem finding similar ground on EVERYTHING...be we painters, poets, journalists, etc. How reassuring to find we are not alone in this process.

Dar Sahib, friend, I want to come back to both of your lovely and supportive posts. With your reactions, I'm so glad I didn't try to shorten the piece. Right now I'm in the midst of a writing project and so plan to return InshaAllah tomorrow. Thanx SO much for coming by again! :)

Connie L. Nash said...

PS, Soon as I finished this post, all inspired, I want to local art store and bought some new and extra good water paints which I plan to use during some of my Ramzan prayers in private and have also asked my little neighbor artists to come over every Friday so we might share techniques! :)

urooj malik said...

Being very busy due to Ramadan and some other activities, i am not getting enough time to write and share some details but yes i am planing to post something on 14th August if it could be possible, but that would be surprise for you as well.

Connie L. Nash said...

Certainly be sure Ramzan and related activities come first :) I shall be happy to see your work whenever best to offer, Urooj...Ramzan Mubarak!