On January 23 and March 27, you’re invited to join Krista Tippett for On Being Live at the MIA. Held in conjunction with the museum’s Sacred exhibition, she’ll tape her radio show before a live audience for later broadcast, speaking with artists Ann Hamilton (January 23) and Dario Robleto (March 27) on art and spirituality. In the following essay, a special edition of our Art Inspires series, she explores the inspiration for these shows—the ancient intersection of art, science, and spirituality, and how our thinking about their confluence has changed and is changing again:
Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art, his landmark 1912 book on the non-material dimensions of art, speaks to me: “Art belongs to the spiritual life and is one of its mightiest elements.” The abstract painter evocatively describes a relationship between color, form, and the soul; between the “inner necessity” of the artist and the spiritual evolution of humanity.
This makes deeper sense the older I grow, and as I take in my conversations with thinkers and actors across the spectrum of human endeavor. I love the notion I learned first from Muslim conversation partners, of beauty as a core moral value. I love the passion with which mathematicians look to beauty and elegance in an equation as a proof of its truth. Einstein was intrigued by the common heart of science, the arts, and religion—a reverence for mystery, a capacity for wonder, he said, which joined these ostensibly disparate endeavors at their best.
It’s so important to remember that these spheres didn’t always appear disparate. That was a post-Enlightenment invention of the West. Its poles were framed by science, art and religion at their most strident, with suspicion and disdain flowing every direction. It was one aspect of a broader cultural move that equated secular with civilized and sought to compartmentalize the primitive sacred.
We succeeded only in dividing ourselves from the inside.
Now a new, lived discourse in many disciplines has begun to reclaim the reality that reason and spirit synergistically form human lives and societies. Sacred traditions, rituals and ideas both anchor and respond to unfolding human complexity. MIA’s Sacred exhibition brings this vigorously into relief.
It’s true that the arts over time have been alternately captive to religious authority and served as a counterpoint and antidote to religious rigidity and excess. But I like to imagine that dynamic turned inside out. Kandinsky said that “every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions.” Could the arts be a force in the reframing, unfolding in our own time, of the very meaning of spiritual life?
I’m so looking forward to interviewing two bearers of this possibility at the MIA this year. Ann Hamilton and Dario Robleto take on spirituality directly and indirectly, in exuberant, unexpected ways. In so doing, they start to make us whole again, in all of our strangeness and beauty and searching, as human and cultural beings.