Art as Service — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Art as Service

Finding God in the Arts

Art as Service
Friday, August 20, 2021

Few of us feel called to be formal or fine artists, but all of us are called to be creators. Each of us is called to bring creativity, purpose, and passion to our vocation, no matter what it is. Artist and author Julia Cameron reminds us that we will know what is ours to do when we are open to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit in service to others. She writes:

In centuries past, art was made for the honor and glory of God. Viewed in this light, a career in the arts was a career of service, not egotism. There is a cue there for us.

The dedication of our work to a higher cause than our own self-promotion frees the work from preciousness. It becomes not about how good we are but about how good we can be in selfless service to something larger than ourselves. Sometimes we can dedicate a book to a person whom we wish to reach. Rilke’s classic letters to a young poet tapped his own inner reservoirs of wisdom and generosity.

Contemplating a piece of work, we do better to think Whom is this work for? Whom will it serve? rather than How will it serve me? Once we find a path for our work to be of service . . . then our work goes smoothly forward. It is not about “us” anymore. . . . [Richard here: I believe all work can be a work of art if done with both devotion and genuine creativity!]

We used to routinely call God “the creator.” We had a consciousness that our own creativity was a divine gift, an opening for God to work through us. When we enshrined ourselves and our individuality rather than our shared humanity at the center of our consciousness . . . we lost our proper understanding of art as service. We disenfranchised ourselves from our birthright as creators and we lost the understanding that art was an act of the soul and not of the ego. Whenever we take art back to the realm of the sacred, whenever we make it an act of service in any form . . . we again experience the ease of creative flow and the lessening of our creative doubts. When we ask to “listen,” we create works worthy of being heard and we ourselves hear the heartbeat of our common humanity, which is grounded in divinity. . . .

When we make our art in a spirit of service, it lightens the burden of our ego. It makes for clarity of focus, purity of intent, and follows a spiritual law that might be simply stated as “Form follows function.” When the “form” of our work is open to higher consciousness, its function is raised as well.

Art moves through us. . . . A piece of art may originate with us, but we originate somewhere larger ourselves. We are, each of us, more than we seem, more than the sum of our merely human components. There is a divine spark animating each of us, and that divine spark also animates our art.

Julia Cameron, Walking in This World: The Practical Art of Creativity (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam: 2002), 264–265, 268–269.

Story from Our Community:
In the ’50s my sister attended Mt. St. Joseph College in Cincinnati. She was a music major and I remember being so astonished at the performances—120 women singing four-part harmony—as one voice. The joy or the sorrow in the songs absolutely electrified the audience. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. When I entered the Mount as a freshman a few years later, I knew that I had to be a part of the joy of music, moving people, and spreading the message in one voice. —Gabrielle S.

Image Credit: Arthur Greenberg, In a Field (detail), 1973, photograph, Illinois, National Archives.
Image Inspiration: The texture of this image inspires us to know this grass better by running our hands through and allowing it to tickle our fingertips. Likewise, when we create art, we experience an embodied knowing of God.
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