Before we began developing this issue of SuperConsciousness Magazine, I was somewhat nonchalant about the subject of “Spiritual Art.” Intellectually I appreciated and was stimulated and inspired by the excellent works of those who had focused their artistic expressions in that direction, but I remained detached and was content to leave the many implications unexplored and safely tucked away in separate little memory spaces of data I refer to as “cool information.”
Yes, I previously understood that the thoughts I allowed myself to entertain bore a significant importance on the quality of my daily life. I understood the physiology – the neurological, biochemical and bioelectrical matrices that combine to form what I physically experience as life. I even understood the physics of color and light and the impact these forms of energy can have on our bodies. I understood all these things intellectually, but it wasn’t until I began to weave them together along with the study of spiritual art that I began to actually comprehend the greater implications.
For the past two months, I have surrounded myself with art that has been intentionally created to reflect and communicate spiritual communion. I have spoken with spiritual artists while standing in front of their artwork and/or watching their DVD’s. Essentially, I have given myself the supreme luxury of a long focus in which to contemplate the works of great historical and contemporary artists whose intent was to depict their mystical experiences - those deeply felt moments that can hardly be expressed with words.
Unexpectedly, this journey of wrapping my mind around the research for this issue, “Aspiring Art,” began to have a transformative impact on the way I interfaced with my world, and not just visually. I began to experience a heightened awareness of the significance visual stimulation was playing in my life. It was like a self-perpetuating loop: awareness begat more awareness. And interestingly enough, these changes were not occurring isolated on an island somewhere within my mental facilities separate from my intellectual acuity. Quite the contrary: my inner metamorphosis was entangling with and enhancing my understanding of existing scientific evidence.
There are many recent neurological discoveries that are now finding general scientific acceptance. One is that our brains are functionally and structurally quite “plastic,” adapting and changing to the continuous flood of new information – including what is perceived visually. Another is that the brain’s neurological highway is always either building new neurons, reinforcing existing neurons or taking up neurons no longer utilized. How does this neurological morphogenesis respond specifically to visual input?
Our brains continuously take in information, then change and adapt as a result of exposure to those extraordinary levels of sensory data, including visual imagery. Neurological functionality is then altered based on the information received. Further, the quality of the visual stimuli has been shown to have a marked affect on physiological response.
For instance, artist Alex Grey frequently references a study in which certain immunological markers have been measured in people both before and after they watched the film The Exorcist. Participants in that study showed a decrease in certain immunological functioning immediately after the film compared to levels measured just prior. Although a single experiment does not generate enough information for a conclusive argument, the evidence does show that emotionally depressing visual stimuli correlates with a depressed immune response. And when our immune system is not functioning well, it affects the quality of our health, which in turn affects the quality of our lives.
This kind of direct impact from visual data exposure is well beyond a mere interpretive response like “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Instead, the evidence suggests that because our brains are plastic, continuously adapting to and building new connections based on sensory data, then what we look at, what we expose ourselves to visually, does indeed impact the quality of our lives in ways we might not always be consciously aware. Based on my personal experiences these past months, I know this is true.
When I began to consider the broader implications, “spiritual art” took on an entirely new meaning for me and I became aware of something else: I had been unconsciously holding negative attitudes towards contemporary sacred art. Paintings that attempted to convey the idea that I am imbued with an untapped spiritual capacity, I reacted to as sacrilegious, or worse, with a judgment towards the picture that it was nonsensical mysticism.
I recognized that intellectually I had been holding myself separate from the very enjoyment of works of art created by people who were intentionally focused on expressing their intangible experiences. This realization was in sharp contrast to the fact that I had found my months of study and contemplating spiritual art both healing and integrative.
It is those kinds of long held, deep seated prejudices that hold back free thinking within communities of scientists, especially since scientific discoveries are only as progressive as the scientists who are initiating them. Instead, what should be encouraged in the training for our future scientists is unlimited exploration - that no arenas of inquiry are off limits, even those that have been marginalized for millennia as either heretical or illogical nonsense.
True scientific innovation occurs only when scientists boldly peer outside the box of well established and generally accepted parameters. Perhaps, then, the future of science holds that solutions to the complex problems we face today might very well emerge from the consideration of information that is attributable to mystical origins. We should at least stay open to that possibility.
About the Author:
How has spiritual works of art inspired or enhanced your life?