"Madonna of the Goldfinch," c. 1767/1770, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, oil on canvas, the gift of the Brown Foundation Inc., Houston; National Gallery of Art

Contemplations of the Spiritual in Art
Spirituality and Modernism

The content of the book explores that although the ideology of the modernist art movement is opposite to spirituality. The effect of modernism is to produce many new ways that visual art can express or spread a sense of spirit. Which means that there is a rubber band-like tension between the accurate representation of the physical world and the expression of spiritual thoughts, but they hold back each other. Therefore, the modernist movement inadvertently created a new way of expressing spirit by breaking away from realism.

In my view, the original purpose of art was to reproduce a specific subject realistically. However, the invention of photography made the realistic function of art dwarfed, and a new artistic line appeared. Artists began to experiment with various viewing methods, materials, opinions, etc. Artists’ works became more and more abstract. In other words, from the perspective of the artist, the concept of modern art intimately related to expressing or spreading a sense of spirit. It proves that an invisible tension between the depiction of the real world and the conveying of its spiritual level.

In this book, the writer talk about that If we begin with Christian tradition, and with its expression in European painting—evidence of this can found in both Christian and Jewish traditions, and perhaps others.  


Art critic Eric Newton said: if we imagine an artist commissioned to paint an altarpiece of a Madonna and Child and he wanted to perform the task:

1. Draw a set of shapes and colours to express his feelings about the theme of "Madonna and Child".

2. (But vaguely) reminds onlookers of a woman holding a baby.

3. Fill the required space happily

4. To reconcile the contradictory claims of these three sets of inventions, he must transform them into pigments applied to flat surfaces.'  

Newton continued to point out that the task of task 1 is impossible to achieve, to paint a picture of divine motherly tenderness, free from the bonds of space and time, and also to paint a picture of two persons with particular features and expressions, in a specific light and specific setting. Manifestly the thing is impossible.

Newton thinks that Madonna and Child by Tiepolo is 'a charming portrait of a lovely signora and her wonderful child': though presented as a religious picture, it is merely a portrait.

However, Newton's claim that spirituality and realism are incompatible unless there is at least a compromise is not indisputable.

On the other hand, can a person without faith also find spirituality in respect and gratitude for natural beauty? Indeed, the complexity discussed here is that "spirit" may mean much sense.

'If you get simple beauty and nought else, You get about the best thing God invents: That's somewhat: and you'll find the soul you have missed, Within yourself, when you return him thanks.'

- Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning

Whether human tenderness is itself something divine?

What is the difference between tenderness experienced as earthly and tenderness experienced as religious?   

Perhaps the answer seems to be that the first one is to appease the heart and the charm, and the second is to be awe-inspiring and to feel stable.

In my view, artists of all generations who painted Madonna and child (for example, Da Vinci and Raphael) tried to express the relationship between "the tenderness of the divine mother" and Madonna and child. I don't know how deep they felt when they were drawing this theme. However, the painting Madonna and child affected me and touched my inner emotions.As Newton said, Madonna and child are more concerned about the tenderness of the mother, rather than the actual specific mother and child.  

In conclusion, if we have many prejudices with reality to look at art, artists could not express his or her spirit, nor can he be revered in the audience. Therefore, if we get rid of realism, we will not automatically encourage spirituality in art. Instead, it will provide artists with a new opportunity to express creativity.

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Harry Lesser, edited by Rina Ary ,(2013)Contemplations of the Spiritual in Art ( Electronic document)., Bern,.Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften

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