Asian Spiritual Art Exhibition 2001

By Sumartono, an art critic live in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Asian Spiritual Art Exhibition 2001 carried out at Affandi Museum was an important event which must be welcomed. This even was so rare in Indonesia because most of the art exhibitions that have been carried out recently almost never used spiritual themes. Those exhibitions were more suitably regarded as a place for buying and selling art works so that the works of art themselves were not attractive anymore. Therefore, the spiritual art involving some artists from some other countries is so interesting.
The meaning of spiritual art itself possibly needs more explanation because some of the works in this exhibition showed religious themes. This might cause misunderstanding among the audience who ever thought that spiritual art is similar to religious art. Religious art is actually a spiritual one but not all of spiritual art can be regarded as religious art. One work of spiritual art may exist from spiritual experiences of an artist personally, but it is not related to religion. There is another meanings existing from the correlation between art and spirituality. Some artists and art thinkers believed that each work of art has spiritual value. Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), a maestro of painting art had stated that one work of art that was autonomic would have spiritual value. In addition, a maestro of sculpture art Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) stated also that one great work had vitality which was neither as physical nor attribute of that work but as a spiritual power in it. In this case, works of art with any themes can have spiritual power.
Technological achievement has failed to bring the modern human beings into happy life. In some developed and prosperous countries, many people have lost their ways of life. Material abundance has taken their life away from God and made them isolated from spiritual experiences. They feel isolated in their lives which is full of prosperity and material abundance. In fact, they face multi-dimensional crises which may cause the emergence of New Age Movement emphasizing greatly in spiritual doctrines which comes not only from Western but also from Eastern countries. In his book, The Many Ways of Being, Stephen Annett mentioned the presence of spiritual groups in England which was over fifty groups. One of them has an Indonesian teacher whose one of their activities was creating art work inspired by their own spiritual experiences.
The efforts to have dialogs among the religious faith leaders searching for the central points in their religion especially for the most important religions in the world had been developing recently. The thinking approaching this perennial philosophy had tried to emphasize the awareness for the same reality in each religion. Religions can only live together peacefully through such ways and try to solve problems they face together. Of course, this is a great and complex agenda which needs time to manifest it.
Nowadays there has been an effort to manifest the perennial art, which has eternal values and can be adapted by most people. Such kinds of art serve not only to religious needs but also to humanity. Asian Spiritual Art Exhibition 2001 is one of activities directing towards that purpose.
Having a collective exhibition involving works of art with different religious or spiritual backgrounds is not an easy agenda. Having exhibition together is easy but how to accept this togetherness honestly by all classes of the religious followers or the spiritual groups is a complicated one. The problem is not only how to bring the particular religious art closer to other religious art but also how to bring art closer to religion, because art and religion proved to have long historical conflicts which have not been finished until now or may not be finished.
Oral and written discourses on the relationship among religions have always been carried out without having any problems. The efforts emphasizing the similarities over the differences was successful enough. Hopefully it will influence all of the religious followers. However, this is the area of thinking which involve much non-visual languages which was absolutely different from art practice involving much visual languages; languages which have sensitive meaning in religious art context. The existing problems are always on the figurative and iconic art (especially drawings, paintings, or sculptures) used for religious needs. Not all of religious leaders agreed on the figurative art and not all of religions allowed iconic art. Historically, there was a difference between art developed in Christianity and that in Islam. In the beginning, these two religions rejected the depiction of human creatures in art used for religious needs. But, there had been a great penetration in art towards these two great religions. In fact, the penetration towards Christianity was so stronger that paintings and sculptures depicting the human creatures had become inseparable part of the church building. In Islamic world, art illustrating human creatures is not permitted to decorate the mosques. The use of animal paintings in the mosque decoration had certain restriction. In Mantingan Mosque located in the northern beach of Central Java, for example, had an animal decoration (animal picture) but it is hidden in the form of plants. In Islamic world, art depicting human creature can only be used outside the mosques.
On a certain occasion, art and artists can become threat towards the religion. Works of art created (and then exhibited) without morality can become threat towards the religion. The artists who claimed themselves as religious artists but dedicated their life fully to their art are also threat to religion. Such artists treat art as their own religion. This is actually not a new phenomenon. It is not exaggerating if it is stated that art has often become a new religion. People may consider art similar to religion because religion itself has loose meaning.
The conflicts between art and religion are not a total conflict because religion doesn't forbid all kinds of art works. In fact, there is a particular work of art which become problems for particular religious leaders but not for other leaders. However, these conflicts will exist continuously because both of art and religion have loose meaning, even though the meaning of art is much looser that that of religion. Sand and stones arranged on the ground or corns formed in such kinds of ways can also be regarded as installation art if the artists meant it to do so. This is an example of daily life esthetics stated by Mike Featherstone.
The conflicts between art and religion are neither open conflict nor physical conflict. However, if the conflicts are becoming extreme, physical conflicts may arise involving conflicts among religious leaders. In Indonesia, these conflicts turned to be an inner conflict. There
could be regarded as an art. In such way, daily life esthetics has been existing which also cause value clash between art and religious values.
As mentioned before that threat towards religion comes from modern art. However, this is only in art context. In global art context, the most enormous threat comes from the art of film and music. In relation to modern art, all forms of modern art do not always become threat towards religion; the most enormous threat is the art created freely. But sometimes, we face complicated problems relating to political authorities. If the powers, through politics, forbid the modern art exhibition because of pornography, they may not realize that the film posters in movies are more vulgar. These posters are not forbidden because of the large benefit the country may get from it.
After experiencing crises in 1970s, the awareness for various art among various culture an d spirituality then existed. Universal esthetics from modern art as the sole and legal esthetics in the world does not persist anymore. In fact, it is opposed by the followers of postmodern and multicultural esthetics. The orientation of art judgement is based not only on Western esthetics but also on multicultural esthetics. There had been a wrong interpretation towards the opinion stating that the greatest works of art only existed in western-Westerners often treated works of art in developing countries merely as a second class work. Their works exhibited in Western are only put at ethnography museum. However, the art development is not similar to that of technological achievement. The countries having sophisticated technology and the unsophisticated one can be distinguished but how about art? Art is the expression of the inner part of human. No inner feeling of particular human which is more sophisticated than that of other humans. As a physical phenomenon, there are no differences in the treatment between modern art in Western and art created in developing countries.
Although it is not easy to manifest it, the effort to bring particular spiritual art closer to other spiritual art through exhibition is still regarded as a positive step. From this exhibition, the audience will get various visual experiences. The art exhibition can involve artists affiliated with particular religion or spiritual groups by creating spiritual experiences bases. Spiritual art exhibition representing spirituality will certainly become an interesting event.
The art exhibition is not the end of art. Some of developing countries in Asia, including Indonesia, have shown art decadence recently. These signs marked the decreasing appreciation towards art and the developing attitudes among the artists creating works of art for the sake of money. They do not dedicate their works to art but only to the collectors. In most cases, this will determine the art taste. Because of that, the development of spiritual art should not be directed towards it.
The development of spiritual art should be directed not only towards its creation but also towards the development of written discourses either in the form of art critics or in researches. Nowadays, critics and researches on arts in Asian countries have not developed well. However, no reason for spiritual art for not following the drum rhythm, no reason for not developing written discourses.


© ACAA - Asian Christian Art Association