On the BBC, there is a great series of Art documentaries entitled ‘Imagine’. Alan Yentob, a Television Executive, presents them and in the most recent, as of 18th Nov 2009, Yentob interviews and discusses the work of Anish Kapoor. People will recognise his sculptures without necessarily remembering his name, perhaps the height of fame for an artist. Having recently finished reading Givens’ ‘A People of Paradox’ I have been considering the relationship between Art and Spirituality and during this documentary Kapoor made some interesting comments which resonated with me.
Of his work, Kapoor says, ‘Just as you can’t set out to make something beautiful, you can’t set out to make something spiritual. What you can do is recognise that it may be there. It normally has something to do with not having too much to say. There seems to be space for the viewer, and is sometimes something we identify as being spiritual. And it is all about space.’
Kapoor is concerned with the community that art can generate. In fact the size of his later sculptures suggest a desire to encourage this shared experience. Think of Chicago’s ‘magic bean’. Or my favourite ‘The Farm’ in New Zealand. In my mind this something remarkably similar to what is ‘spiritual’ for me. It is in the sharing and simultaneous experience of love, spirit and honesty that binds people to another and to God.
Speaking about Kapoor’s work, Homi Bhabha has said that ‘you are always on the edge between what you know and what you don’t know’. Interestingly Kapoor believes his work captures something similar. He says that ‘making work is about daring to go where I don’t know and hoping that in going to where I don’t know, you, the viewer, can go somewhere you don’t know either’.
I don’t really get this type of art, to be honest I don’t really “get” contemporary art, although it starts to make more sense when you incorporate the community, perhaps art is not art until a community gets involved.
‘making work is about daring to go where I don’t know and hoping that in going to where I don’t know, you, the viewer, can go somewhere you don’t know either’.
This statement got me thinking about Joseph Smith, and how many of his later discourses seemed to be exploration and speculation.
I have to be honest. I don’t think I would have got it if I had not watched the documentary. But it was genuinely inspiring. Especially the farm, the bottom picture. This image does not do it justice at all.
I agree about the Joseph Smith connection. In fact I have writtena longer version of this article and sent in to the MR. I deal with this dichotomy in Mormonism between searching and certainty that Terryl Givens discusses. I think that it is a good thing that we do not have a codified theology. I believe that it gives us space to examine and explore our spirituality and our relationship with God.
“Just as you can’t set out to make something beautiful, you can’t set out to make something spiritual. What you can do is recognise that it may be there. It normally has something to do with not having too much to say. There seems to be space for the viewer, and is sometimes something we identify as being spiritual. And it is all about space.” This statement resonated with me as relates to Fast & Testimony meeting. I have often questioned the practical nature of spirituality – in Mormonspeak we say we “invite” the spirit to be there, and we “bear witness” when it is present. I think some of what happens in the F&T setting is people trying to ‘create’ spirituality (which doesn’t work) or to mimic it through pet phrases and sentimental stories or simply to fill the uncomfortable silence (the “space”). Yet I believe that spirituality can exist there and can be identified. Fast & Testimony meeting can feel forced and artificial as a result of its frequency, repetition and our own ineptitude.
I wouldn’t have “gotten” it either. Just like I didn’t “get” Christo until I saw the umbrellas in Los Angeles. Then I really became a fan of his turning everything — community organizing, finance, manufacturing, negotiation, etc. — into art on an enormous scale that is truly inspirational and an impactful direct experience for those who can “view” it
“‘Just as you can’t set out to make something beautiful, you can’t set out to make something spiritual. ”
This is a bizarre comment, many artists set out to achieve beauty and spirituality and they do succeed. Aesthetic and formal beauty are rather easy to achieve. As for the spiritual, it is more difficult but the great one’s such as Ozu, Bergman and Tarkovsky among others set out to create spiritual works and were often successful. If Kapoor is speaking about beauty or the spiritual in a more personal or unique way, that should be addressed. Granted many want to create spiritual works and fail but there is nothing intrinsic to art about such failure, its just what happens with average or flat out bad art.
‘you are always on the edge between what you know and what you don’t know’
As smart and innovative as H.K. Bhabha is, this is a fairly pedestrian comment. This is not unique to the artist under discussion, in one way or another any significant work is going to have this kind of impact on the viewer. Being on that edge is not, in itself as important as how the artist gets us there and what the impact of occupying that space is upon the viewer.
#5 — Agreed. I strongly suspect that a Correggio or a Vaughan Williams did, in fact, set out to create beauty. And succeeded in a way that the creator of that big red opened condom (third picture) did not.
Beauty, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean *comforting* beauty. A Kathe Kollwitz print or a Yeats poem can have a certain terrible beauty about it — because truth is beauty, even painful truth. And there is beauty in an artist’s skill, when the art requires it (which is why shooting cans of red paint at a concrete wall leaves me relatively cold).
Thanks for the comments.
3 – I like your idea. I remember a comment made on here some time ago about quaker meetings that seem to work on the opposite idea, they are comfortable with the space. I think that a balance between the two might be appropriate.
#5 – I think your comment raises important points. I suspect that what is his speaking about here reflects his position on the spiritual and the beautiful. I believe that he sees them as something which is something like a ‘collective unconscious’ in which the artist seeks to connect. you therefore do not create beauty it is already there, preceding you. I think he would argue that successful artists (i.e. those who create beautiful or spiritual work, are those who manage to connect with that ‘unconscious’). Moreover, my tidbit did no Bhabha justice, he does speak about Kapoor quite a bit more. I just took that one line because I felt it encapsulated something that i felt about kapoor’s work. on an aside I bought Levinas entre nous on your recommendation about useless suffering. I have been meaning to get round to reading him, thanks for the prod.
#6 – I am also not a big fan of that image, except seeing it and being able to move around it is a completely different experience. I am going to his exhibition at the royal academy tomorrow so I will let you know about the red paint, but I sense that it will be quite a powerful image.