Exploring Spirituality
        in Art
Exploring Spirituality in Art is a more or less monthly discussion (blog) created by James Bennett (Bennecelli) about art which has a spiritual message. This includes all forms of art: painting, sculpture, poetry, drama, music, dance, crafts, etc.

                                  Meditation Art Bringing Together
                                  Elements of Nature, Music, and Dance

James Bennett, BFA, MFA, has worked with sacred texts extensively and has created a suite of 77 images based on the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh), and 24 images from the Christian New Testament. He is an award-winning artist and teacher and has written numerous how-to art books including Calligraphy For Dummies as well as several works of fiction. His current artwork, "Luminous Streams," brings together elements of nature, music, and dance and is spiritual in content. His abstract paintings are noted for their beautiful colors and value in meditation. His website is bennecelli.com

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Bennecelli Meditation Art Bringing
                                Together Elements of Nature, Music, and

Copyright, James Bennett, 2022

November 12, 2022 What Is Spirituality? Part 1

One of the clearest, most cogent descriptions of spirituality that I have found was written by Dr. Maya Spencer, PhD, professor at the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Great Britain. I'd like to quote sections from her monograph and add my comments.

She begins with the following statement:

"Spirituality involves the recognition of a feeling or sense or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience, and that the greater whole of which we are part is cosmic or divine in nature."

My reaction is positive from the beginning where she states that spirituality is related to "a feeling or sense or belief." I like the fact that she is leaving the door open for the individual to define the terms. It is clear to me that she understands the spiritual experience and the difficulty in describing it in words. (That's the reason I use art!)

She continues by telling us that she believes spirituality involves the recognition "
that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than sensory experience." Obviously she is writing about her personal experience which is in keeping with the subtitle of her monograph, A personal Exploration.

I am also impressed that she lets us know right from start that this experience is something that is beyond the realm of the five senses. That has been my experience, but it causes me to wonder if she will deal with the problem of how the spiritual experience defies scientific validation -- it cannot be proved or disproved. As we all know, many experts in the field of psychology contend that this experience is just a fabrication of the imagination. I believe that is a problem that needs to be addressed. I'm interested in learning her thoughts on the subject.

She continues, "Spirituality means knowing that our lives have significance in a context beyond a mundane everyday existence at the level of biological needs that drive selfishness and aggression. It means knowing that we are a significant part of a purposeful unfolding of Life in our universe."

This is a powerful statement. It connects the spiritual sense with all of life in the entire universe! It also says that this sense is "knowing" -- not just suspected or sensing, but actually knowing. She uses that word twice!

The third paragraph says: "Spirituality involves exploring certain universal themes – love, compassion, altruism, life after death, wisdom, and truth, with the knowledge that some people such as saints or enlightened individuals have achieved and manifested higher levels of development than the ordinary person. Aspiring to manifest the attributes of such inspirational examples often becomes an important part of the journey through life for spiritually inclined people."

Compelling statements. On the one hand, I know that I have had deep spiritual experiences, and I want to dive more deeply into spirituality, however, I do not feel that I qualify as a saint or a uniquely enlightened individual. I am certainly a spiritually inclined person, and I do aspire to manifest the attributes, but I don't see myself as being more advanced along this path than others.

I suppose we each have to find our own way while at the same time encouraging one another.

If you'd like to read her entire monograph, here is the link: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/docs/default-source/members/sigs/spirituality-spsig/what-is-spirituality-maya-spencer-x.pdf?sfvrsn=f28df052_2

I'd like to continue looking at Dr. Spencer's piece next time.

October 20, 2022 Spirituality - Creativity - Imagination

According to that great resource of knowledge, Wikipedia, the term “spiritual experience” (or “religious” or “mystical experience”) is a concept that originated in the 19th century and was popularized by the American philosopher, William James. James’s famous book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, is considered to be the classic work in the field.

These experiences can be powerfully moving and are often claimed to be personal encounters with God or gods, or real contact with higher-order realities of which humans are not ordinarily aware. However, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to describe these experiences. They are entirely visceral and beyond verbal description and frequently linked to creativity, invention, and artistic inspiration.

William James identified four characteristics of these experiences. They are:
Transient – the experience is temporary; the individual soon returns to a "normal" frame of mind. Feels outside normal perception of space and time.
Ineffable – the experience cannot be adequately put into words.
Noetic – the individual feels that he or she has learned something valuable from the experience. Feels to have gained knowledge that is normally hidden from human understanding.
Passive – the experience happens to the individual, largely without conscious control. Although there are activities, such as meditation (see below), that can make religious experience more likely, it is not something that can be turned on and off at will.

It is entirely appropriate that artists should be producing work that is spiritually inspired. After all, it seems entirely clear to me that imagination, creativity, and spirituality are somehow inextricably linked together. Don’t you agree?

At least, that seems to be the conclusion of the psychologists who have studied these phenomena. It appears that when you find evidence of one, you’ll find the other two are present as well. And, contrary-wise, where one attribute is somehow suppressed, all three are suppressed.

I use the word “suppressed” because I believe everyone possesses imagination, creativity, and spirituality. The trouble is there are many instances where people have difficulty expressing these attributes because something in their experience (discouragement, ridicule, etc.) has caused them to suppress these natural abilities.

This causes me to wonder if there are influences at work in our culture today that suppress these attributes -- especially among the young people.

Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., co-founder of The Abbey of the Arts, observed that “We live in a time when our capacity for imagining is being thwarted by television programs and video games that encourage us to tune out of life and become passive consumers rather than active imaginers. We have become paralyzed by our own busyness. Everything about our culture encourages us to keep busy. We do not slow down enough to really contemplate things and listen to the ways we are being drawn to live in response. The news gives us 30-second sound-bites that render us feeling helpless, rather than empowering us to act. Yet we live in a time desperately hungry for new ideas and visions, new possibilities in a world gone awry with war and ecological destruction.”

I think that spirituality is present in all works of true, creative art. I believe that artists of all types working in various media, are the ones who can best show the way to a better and fuller awareness of our existence and role within this wonderful, multi-dimenisional ecosystem.

Let me know what you think.

October 17, 2022 Launching Our Expedition

A few days ago, I wrote the following statement on my facebook, What’s on your mind, Jim? feed. Within a couple days, it had received over a dozen likes and generated a series of very thought-provoking comments.

“With the focus on materialism in our society for the past hundred years or more, spirituality in art has largely been shunned. However, recently there seems to be something of a resurgence in this area. I have noticed increasing examples of abstract art with a spiritual message. I see spiritual elements not only in the visual arts but also in music and dance. In fact, my own art has taken a definite turn toward more spiritual, more meditative content. I think this is a good thing, but I am curious to know how others feel about this. I even wonder if this is a subject that interests others as much as it does me.”

Everyone who commented expressed a genuine interest in encouraging spirituality in art.

I thought that the conversation was worth continuing. And so, this blog was born.

To begin, I believe that two questions should be answered: What exactly is the purpose and scope of this blog? And, what are my credentials for presenting it?

The Purpose and Scope

I hope that the title, “Exploring Spirituality in Art” is a pretty good general description of what we are all about. However, I  suspect that some further clarification would be appropriate.

For one, I prefer that we stick to the topic of spirituality as it pertains to art, without getting sidetracked into talk about organized religions. Indeed, spirituality and religion, although related, are two distinctly different things.

My interest is art which communicates on a viceral level, evoking a purely spiritual experience which goes beyond words. People describe this experience as feeling the presence of an eternal oneness with all that is.

For me, non-representational art does this most effectively. For example, I experience a sense of spirituality in the sculpture of Isamu Noguchi that is quite powerful. However, please don’t assume that I only want to consider abstract art. I want to be open to looking at all genres regardless of our personal preferences.

In terms of scope, I would like to take a broad view of the arts, encompassing poetry, music, dance, and drama as well as the visual arts. I don’t want to limit this blog to just one area; I think spirituality in art is too important a subject to put limits on it. In fact, I’m hoping that artists from diverse areas will contribute to this discussion by telling us about their work.

My Credentials

I feel thoroughly qualified to lead this discussion. I not only have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Fine Arts and have been a working artist/teacher all my adult  life, but I have been interested in the spiritual side of reality since I was a child. I have explored in depth a variety of spiritual practices from the occult to Buddhism to Judaism and Christianity. I am entirely familiar with Anthroposophy and Theosophy, having taught for two years in a Waldorf school. I have created over 100 works based on the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. I have attended charismatic Christian churches and have witnessed speaking in tongues, prophecy,  and other “works of the Spirit.” I have experienced explainable, miraculous occurances throughout my life.

I have also been a prolific writer, having written over twenty books, as well as creator of several websites.

I believe that the spiritual is a vitally important facet of reality – perhaps the most important area for us at this time when our thinking has been shaped so much by science and by the allure of materialism. I believe that the arts are the best means for exploring, learning about, and communicating this important part of reality.

I believe that all religions are evidence of mankind’s spiritual searching, and they all contain truths which lead us to understand that we are all one. They falter when they engage in dividing people into separate groups.

My own paintings, having been inspired through a dream and created in a meditative state, have a strong spiritual message.

Please stay in touch – let me know your thoughts. I look forward to a very lively discussion.


Copyright Jim Bennett, 2022