I am unapologetic about my faithless art. Or maybe it’s not really faithless if we can extricate religion from faith. Hmmm. That might require some imagination. But that’s exactly my point. My best art happens when I feel the same way I did as a child playing with paper dolls on the carpeted floor of my closet, letting my imagination lead, or, more recently, the feeling I get when I am creating an alternative existence with my paints and canvas. It’s because these activities are all about imagining and picturing myself somewhere else, somewhere chosen, a place completely and personally designed by me. I have wondered if that’s what faith is, after all, simply the ability to visualize beyond now, beyond the limits, beyond the obstacles, like some kind of ‘evidence of things unseen’.
So, for me, faith in art is more about imagination and less about religion. If I go with my understanding of ‘faith as imagining’, it follows that faith and art are a very hand-in-hand pairing.
I must confess that I can’t stand most art that comes from the realm of religion. Believe me, I have tried, but I can’t find my place in those settings nor do I WANT to find it. That’s because historically, religion has an agenda: to make me believe. It feels too much like someone telling me what to think, what to feel, what to reverence and what to fear. It feels cramped, as though there is no negative space. I paint in watercolours. Negative space is how we paint light. I get the feeling that religious art dictates the lines and colours; the shapes and its icons are exhibitionists so obvious and blatant. Inside I gag and cough them up as they get spooned (shoveled) down my throat. And I fidget. My exasperated breaths interrupt paradise and betray my unbelieving heart. You would not enjoy visiting a museum with me.
I would say religious art is more like a spelling dictation where you are supposed to have already understood an absolute, jotted it down enough times to commit it to memory, and avoid making a mistake in putting it down in writing. Religion is a rigid instructor, reading over your shoulder, demanding correctness, or, heaven forbid, you risk insulting God or the gods and, by default, going to hell.
Religion has wanted to edit its version of faith into art. One of my favourite songs is ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen. Have you heard the *cough* Christian edits? You see phrases like ‘revised Christian lyrics’ or ‘those lyrics however are not appropriate to Christian …’ and ‘I’ve always loved the melody to Cohen’s song but never thought the lyrics were truly Christian.’ One singer on YouTube put the tagline ‘a special version of Hallelujah with a Christian twist.’ A Christian twist?
Oh religion. You try too hard.
Faith in art, however, is a different Way, an actual place, where you and I can picture things other than what is and contemplate all that is beyond right now. We can envision different and other ‘heres’ and ‘nows’. One wise ancient thinker said that when we stop envisioning other heres and nows we lose our self and ultimately we perish.
Let’s not perish but continue creating from a place of faith-filled imaginings for ourselves and any who want to step into our images.
PATRICIA DEWITT is a tri-lingual Canadian living in Paris, France, married to Peter, mother to five grown children as well as the precious spouses they love, self-taught artist and illustrator, speaker, writer, certified lifecoach. Large cities are her comfort zone. Nature is God’s napkin doodle but people are the masterpiece. She has spent time living in Canada, Thailand, Germany, and France. You can find her on Facebook