Some works of art, poetry, or music simply stop me in my tracks. They can even bring tears to my eyes: tears of joy, wonder, and sometimes of grief. The feeling they evoke is visceral, not cognitive. I tend to call these works soul-infused art. Recently, I’ve felt the need to sort out what I mean by this term.
I know that some people only think of a work of art as being soulful if it has a ‘spiritual’ message of some kind. Paintings that show mandalas, angels, or shamanic themes. Music with overlays of angelic choirs or Buddhist chanting. Photographs of commonly known animal totems (wolves, swans, etc.), preferably surrounded by ethereal light effects.
Photographs containing orbs or rays of light are often interpreted (and promoted) as photos of angels or spirits. In fact, the light effects are caused by the refractions of light passing through the camera lens in a certain way. It is a beautiful effect and can give an image an emotional charge that can be very soulful. But there is nothing supernatural about it and most trained photographers know how to create it.
So does the subject of a work of art make it soul-infused? I don’t think so, though I generally find art that is inspired by nature or the human condition to be more soulful than art that is simply clever or decorative.
Art (and I include poetry, literature, and music in this definition) also calls for a certain craftsmanship. Things like composition, technical skill, and the proper tools, often make the difference between an evocative work and a well-meant work that doesn’t evoke any emotion. There’s something about the democratization of art – and this is especially true of photography, now that everyone can take a photo – that entices people to say, if it’s about the right subject, it’s always good. This may appeal to the mind but, to me, it is not soulful.
Craftsmanship can elevate purely functional objects to be works of art. The elegance of a wooden Shaker chair or table shows the making of it to be an act of love.
But good craftsmanship certainly does not always make for soul-infused art! The world is full of technically perfect but soulless paintings, photographs, pieces of music, etc.
Is this a matter of taste? I suspect a lot of my readers are starting to feel restless. Thinking, She probably likes totally different things than I do. That has nothing to do with soul! No, I’m not confusing personal preferences with soulful. I’m sure there are many soulful works of art I cannot relate to because the style is too far from my frame of reference. Like not being able to appreciate a haiku in Japanese because I don’t understand the language.
To me, soul-infused art is possible when the maker feels intensely connected to the image he or she is re-creating. That sense of connection – that love – whether it be source of joy, wonder, or grief, shines through the work. The craftsmanship with which the photograph, the painting, or the poem is created enhances the way this love is communicated to the viewer.
For me, this connection must be grounded in nature. I recently committed myself to being an artist who reflects the beauty of the world back to the world, again and again, until the world accepts how beautiful it is. It is not an easy task. Soul-infused work is never easy. It requires me to be whole and step out of my smaller life into a life where I am an integral part of nature.
That is something almost too beautiful and terrible to bear. Like the Greek myth where the maiden took the mask off the face of her lover, the Sun God, and died because she couldn’t bear the sight of his beauty.
The alternative is mediocrity and an ego-centered life.
This is why we all need to tend to our wholeness with the same nurturing care we tend to our garden, in order to be able to bear the terrible beauty of the world. Only then can we step out of our smaller lives into a soul-infused life.