Art as Prayer

CREATING ART AS AN ACT OF PRAYER
by Erika Hastings

In 2003 I completed my research and thesis for my master’s degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. The following is a summary of my thesis entitled, Creating Art as an Act of Prayer.

WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION?

My journey with the topic of creating art as prayer began with a quote that I read from Abdu’l-Bahá, an important figure in the Baha’í Faith, where he describes the act of creating art as worship and prayer. “In this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paint brush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple.” Every time I read this quote, I marveled at its sheer contrast to 20th Century thinking. What does this look like? I thought to myself. What does this feel like? How could I create this act of prayer through my art? These were questions that burrowed into my brain like a tick and would not leave.

I went to art school during the postmodern push, where art was not a spiritual or emotional act, but rather a primarily conceptual, intellectual pursuit. My process of creating art seemed to differ so greatly from what I was taught that I felt like an outsider. It is only as I studied the connection of the spiritual with art that I realized that in fact I was not an outsider, but that thousands of artists over the centuries attested to a deep spiritual pull that they felt as they created art. It was something that guided and inspired them.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN “TO CREATE ART AS PRAYER”?

Creating art as an act of prayer is an embodied, active prayer. It recognizes that every thought and action that we undertake, if it is done with a spiritual awareness, will have a spiritual effect. In this light, creating art is the channel through which an artist’s prayers are manifested. Art is not prayer because of a particular imagery or symbolism that is used. Art as prayer is a conscious connection to the Creator. As described by one artist, “when I go into my studio, I tell myself, this is my temple. This is where I worship. I am always conscious of striving to perfect my art and in the process of this striving, I am coming closer to God.” In an artist’s attempt to perfect their work, they slowly perfect their life in the process and bring their work and their life one step closer to reflecting the divine.

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE?

Creating art as an act of prayer is often accompanied by several experiences. Physical sensations can take over the body such as shivers, goosebumps, tingles, tears or a swelling of emotions in the heart and chest. A sense of time can become distorted where hours can feel like minutes. Self-consciousness and the fear of failure often disappear. Effort, endurance, focus, concentration and patience come easily. There is release of control where there feels like no separation between the art and the artist – as if the music plays itself or the painting paints itself. This often brings about a feeling of oneness with all creation and a heightened sense of joy, hope and peace.

HOW IS IT SEEN AROUND THE WORLD?

Several religious and cultural groups have, for centuries, practiced art as a vehicle for communicating with God. The Navajo Native Americans created sandpaintings as a ritualistic healing and cleansing of evil spirits. In fact, the word for art in most Native American languages is synonymous with the word prayer. The Australian Aborigines created sandpaintings and dot paintings in ritual ceremonies to reproduce and pass on sacred knowledge and spiritual power. Tibetan Buddhists also created sandpaintings, paintings, sculpture and music as acts of prayer whereby they would reproduce sacred objects and visions that served as tools to access their Creator.

Shodo, the ancient practice of Zen calligraphy which means ‘the way of the brush,’ is an active meditation through which the artist releases control of the ego, self, desire, and personal will in order to let the art flow through him. In Mexico ex-voto paintings, meaning dedicated gifts, were created and offered as protection from illness or thanksgiving for miracles that happened. Within these specific traditions, art was – and in many places still is – used as a direct tool for prayer and spiritual communion with the Creator where the person becomes the channel through which the divine inspiration flows.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES WITH CREATING ART AS AN ACT OF PRAYER?

Anything that comes from our lower/ego self, such as fear, depression, lack of confidence or self-criticism has the power to take us away from remembering our Creator and creates a barrier to making art as prayer.

WHAT ENHANCES THE PROCESS?

Simply all those things that help us to focus and remember our spiritual reality. Each person treads a different path and will find inspiration and guidance through different means. Some examples are:

− Prayer and meditation
− Developing skills to a level of excellence
− Letting go of expectations and control
− Creating a sacred space
– Being in nature
− Making it a routine
− Confidence and joy

WHAT ARE YOUR RESEARCH FINDINGS?

There were several important findings from this research. First of all, creating art as an act of prayer changes the perception of the role and function of art. It provides new motivations for creating art and helps us to better understand the creative process and access our creativity more frequently. It gives us courage to shed our fears about creating art and seeking approval from others.

Creating art as an act of prayer also serves as a catalyst for personal transformation. It provides an opportunity to increase our capacity for reflection. It helps us to use our personal challenges as triggers for transformation and to develop new spiritual qualities. Creating art as prayer helps us to access a spiritual state and to create a connection with the Creator on a regular basis. This provides new insights into the role and function of prayer and meditation, which in turn helps us to overcome taboos around topics of spirituality, prayer and God.

COULD THIS HELP ME?

Yes! Practicing and reflecting on art as prayer is a unique and accessible tool for communicating with God that anyone can do. It can expand your ideas about the role and function of art, and affect the way that you view or teach art. It can also help to transform your life by bringing you closer to your Creator.

We all find the path to our spirit or to God in different places and in different ways. For many people, this journey begins and flourishes through the creative process. It will not be for everyone, but hopefully a continued sharing of experiences with art, prayer and the path toward the Creator will offer glimpses into our life experiences and enable us to better understand our spiritual journey.

33 thoughts on “Art as Prayer

  1. Allah u Abha, thanks so much for including the prayer to babies whispered in their ears. It’s difficult to find, you helped in a pinch. Enjoy the fast. Best- Rachel

  2. Your family is beautiful, you are a talented artist and an amazing and devoted wife and mother. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and I pray you and your family find Him.
    He’s real. Our time on earth is short.
    May He bless you and call you,
    Debbie

  3. Pingback: Why I love blogging « mud spice: mucking about in art and motherhood

  4. Pingback: Snowed in « mud spice: mucking about in art and motherhood

  5. I appreciate that you took the time to post such a wonderful bannana bread recipe. I am always looking for dairy free, gluten free food delights! Thanks for living a life inspired by internal light! Blessings.

  6. Hi Erica
    I left a phone message for you today, July 9 — I am wondering if you could contact me about some of your paintings .. mmfirth@gmail.com
    look forward to hearing from you
    michaeline firth

  7. Dear Erika,

    I was looking for tips on painting water colour birds when I came across your website. One of the first things I noticed was you belong to the Baha’í Faith and only a couple of days before my husband and I had been doing some research on it. I have read your article ‘CREATING ART AS AN ACT OF PRAYER’ and I feel very similar. Though when it comes to illustration I am only a beginner and have so much to learn; I am more of a poet than a painter.

    I was also looking for a vegan banana bread recipe, and low and behold you had one on your site. I will be trying shortly!

    I would love to talk to you about your faith. Like how long have you been a Baha’í, what made you choose it is a spiritual path etc, etc? We were once Born Again Christians, and then went on to be Catholics. However for a number of years we have been completely disillusioned with Christendom and have given up any hope of finding like minded people; we no longer believe Jesus is God but see him more as a wise prophetic brother. Blasphemy to many!

    Any way, your site is great and so encouraging.

    Peace and blessings upon you and your family,

    Sharon Richards.

  8. Dear Sharon,

    Thank you so much for your email, it brought me a lot of joy! I apologize that it took me several weeks to respond. We’ve had a busy, busy summer. Now my oldest has just started grade one, which is a whole new adventure!

    I looked on your website and love your photos. They are beautiful!

    My parents both became Baha’is before they got married, so I essentially grew up in a Baha’i home. Like any religion, at some point you have to take it on as your own religion, and not just follow it because that is what your parents believed. That happened for me when I was a teenager when I read a lot of Baha’i books and started to really understand on an intellectual level as well as an intuitive level that the Baha’i Faith was true for me and how I wanted to live my life. It has been a source of inspiration and guidance for me and given me a profound sense of hope and understanding in this crazy world of turmoil that we live in.

    I would love to discuss more with you or I could try to put you in touch with other Baha’is who live in your area. This is the official Baha’i website as well: http://www.bahai.org/

    Warm regards,
    Erika

  9. Dearest Erika!!! How delighted I am to discover and to read ALL your blog posts and to enjoy your art! I have shared your site to my FB page and will look forward to reading more of your adventures in motherhood! I specially love your daily affirmation and using the language of the virtues in your attachment parenting. I also loved the earplug idea! Your fluid writing and beautiful pictures has captivated my full attention with joy! Thanks for sharing! Loveeeeeee, Delaram Hakiman-Adyani (mother of 2)

    Ps I enjoyed your Art as Prayer page as I too am studying about the Spiritual Power of Art – A branch course of the Ruhi institude here in Portland, Oregon. http://www.wingstothespirit.org/wingsHome.cfm

  10. I enjoyed reading your writing about art as prayer. It is something I truly believe and encrouage as well. I became aware of your site when I saw the image of the service tree that came up with “thankfulness” images on google. Thank you for sharing, it’s been fun and interesting.
    Colette George

  11. Erika,
    Using my Art to Praise the Lord is what it’s all about! My friend came upon your site looking for your bread recipe, saw your Art as prayer, and thought of me. I love to do murals and worship paintings. . .and have worked with children, praising Jesus with our paint brushes.
    I especially love your beautiful acrylics. . .
    Kristin

  12. Interesting reflection on art as prayer. I think you would do well to look into Asian Christianity and the ancient practice of iconography. Many good books on the theology of the icon…I know a couple of Eastern Orthodox iconographers and they have to be deeply contemplative to carry on the sacred tradition of creating windows into the spiritual world.

  13. I’m in the process of writing a presentation for an art/faith retreat, on the topic of Art as Prayer. I was so pleased to come across your site and even though my presentation’s almost written I will definitely quote you at least once (-:
    Thanks for sharing it.

  14. Pingback: Purposefully Self-Absorbed | Breastfeeding Moms Unite

  15. Hi Erika,

    Thankyou for posting the quote by Abdu’l Baha. I’ve never read that one, but love it. It resonates deeply with my soul. Although I’m not a visual artist, there are many other things that work as my Temple.

    And I can see, by the beauty of your work, that it truly is your inner Temple.

    Warm greetings from Australia,
    Erin

  16. Erika, thanks SO much for sharing this, its really beautiful. It puts words to how I have felt about creating art. So much of art-making, for me, is about an experience of the divine.

    I also think its SO great that you did an academic thesis on this topic. I just, well, I just love it. You are brave and brilliant!

    Kind regards,
    Sarah
    Olympia, WA

    PS In your cupcake recipe, does it called for powdered or liquid stevia? :)

  17. Thank you, Sarah! It’s wonderful for me as well to find other people out there that feel the same as I do!

  18. I came across your blog looking for a gluten free rice bread recipe and found something so much deeper. I too paint as a prayer and found joy in reading about your thesis and personal experience of art as divine. Your words reminded me of the yoga I study whereby your way of life, like the postures in yoga are a moving, livable prayer. Many blessing to you on your path & thanks for sharing!

    With Aloha,
    Andrea

  19. Happily may you walk.
    May it be beautiful before you.
    May it be beautiful behind you.
    May it be beautiful below you.
    May it be beautiful above you.
    May it be beautiful all around you.
    In beauty it is finished.
    –Navajo Night Chant

    Blessings!
    Kurt

  20. Hi,
    My name is Dimitri Tishler. I am a composer and writer currently living in Melbourne Australia.
    I have recently created a new website and blog which explores different aspects of art and spirituality. Please
    peruse the new site at your convenience.

    You will find music, writing and posts on different aspects of writing, art and spirituality:
    http://dimitritishler.com/

    My blog is here:
    http://dimitritishler.com/blog/

    Here you will find a few articles on God and spirituality:
    http://dimitritishler.com/blog/2011/09/18/journey-of-the-universe/
    http://dimitritishler.com/blog/2011/09/16/consciousness/

    Thank you for your time

    Kind regards Dimitri

  21. Hi Erika,
    Great to see the creativity and all the effort with the kids activities! Perhaps you could link your page to another one where you put some of your lovely prints for sale
    Allah’u’abha Chloe

  22. Wonderful blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics discussed
    here? I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get responses from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Bless you!

  23. When some one searches for his essential thing, so he/she desires to be available that in detail, so
    that thing is maintained over here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s