Art as a Spiritual Practice

Lent started a couple weeks ago.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s 40 days where Catholics (and I know for sure Lutheran, but I don’t know so much about other sects of Christianity), commemorate the 40 days Jesus was in the desert. We usually give up something (typically something diet related) or we add a good spiritual habit. There’s much more to it than that, but that’s the jist.

I gave up coffee and alcohol, and for my “extra thing” I’m trying to make a gilded painting of a saint. The current one I’m working on is St./Queen Margaret of Scotland.

Why Margaret of Scotland?

I think it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good leader.

When St. Margaret (who was an exiled princess from Hungary) married the king of Scotland, she was upset that her dinner guests would just up and leave right when they’re done eating rather than wait for the after-dinner blessing.

“This is fine,” She probably thought, “That’s just how they do things here… nope. Nope! This is not fine. It’s terribly rude of them to do that, I’m going to have to do something about this…”

The next evening, she told everyone, “You’re free to get up and leave when you’re done eating, but anyone who stays for the after-dinner blessing will get a glass of my best wine.” Or something along those lines.

So, to me, I think she embodies an important element of what a good leader should be: someone who doesn’t whine or demand or throw tantrums when she doesn’t get her way, but with gentleness and kindness, leads her people by meeting them where they’re at.

The blue halo is actually painter’s tape. I’m going to gild that area with 23 kt. gold.

Art and Spirituality

Prayer and meditation is something I use to help manage my anxiety, but, unlike people taking medications, I will fall into this vicious cycle where I feel “cured” then stop doing it for a while.

I found myself falling into that trap this week. I would say a prayer, then work on this painting for 15 minutes in the morning before going to work (which, like I imagine for everyone, is the current greatest cause of my anxiety), and just start the day with this feeling that no matter what malevolent forces I face today, there’s someone greater and more terrifying, but kind, watching my back.

For the past year, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between art and spirituality. Just about every artist I’ve ever met is ruled by a strong, spiritual belief in some form or another, and while I do art every day, I find I’m usually happier and much more fulfilled if I’m making a painting that pertains to my faith.

I gave an art museum tour to a bunch of scout children a couple weeks ago, and one of the moms asked me a very good question: Is the reason why the middle ages has so much religious art preserved is because people made more of it, or if perhaps secular art was made, but the religious art is what ended up being preserved? I have my suspicions, but I honestly don’t know, and I don’t think anyone does.

But yes, for the past couple weeks, I’ve been slowly working on this small painting, but then my “weekend” would come and then I wouldn’t do it, because I don’t have that anxiety that comes with anticipating the workday.

It’s kind of sad though. It’s like only calling a friend when you’re feeling down, but never caring enough to call them when things are going well.


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