Sumartono, an art critic live in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
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
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
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
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
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.