Are Art and Mysticism Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Carl McColman | 12/4/2018 | Staff
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I’ve been thinking about the relationship between contemplation and creativity.

This is inspired in part by the many contemplatives who are also artists. We see this in the past — think of William Blake, or Johann Sebastian Bach, or of course poets like John of the Cross and Thomas Merton. It often seems that a contemplative personality or philosophy goes hand in hand with a gift for one more forms of creative expression.

Mysticism - Adventures - Point - View - Art

Mysticism, the most romantic of adventures, from one point of view the art of arts, their source and also their end, finds naturally enough its closest correspondences in the most purely artistic and most deeply significant of all forms of expression.

Underhill very much had a neo-Platonic world-view: God is the fountain and source of all goodness, truth, and beauty; therefore any art that deserves the name must in some way be drawing its meaning and splendor and value from this Divine fountain — even if the artist is an atheist. Mysticism, “the art of arts” simply represents those individuals who most fully and consciously are immersed in that sacred source. An artist, to Underhill, was a “partial mystic” — someone who became immersed in the Divine for the purpose of expression or creativity.

Century - Bit - Underhill - Art - Mysticism

A century later, I think we can be a bit less chauvinistic than Underhill and celebrate art and mysticism — contemplation and creativity — not in a hierarchical way, quibbling over which is the “higher,” but rather acknowledging that they both reach deep into the heart of God to bring inspiration, purpose, vocation, and expression into the life of mortals. The pure contemplative is rather like Mary, perpetually rapt at the feet of Christ, whereas the pure artist is rather like Martha, no less in relationship with the Lord but living that relationship in terms of outward...
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