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  What is Sacred Art ? Back to the List of Slideshows

Head of the Buddha (Khmer, Cambodia, 12th century)

Burckhardt points out that such an image is "more in the nature of a symbol than a portrait." It is thus adaptable to peoples of varying racial types. What is essential is that the image vehicle a spiritual norm to a spectator, penetrating "the bodily consciousness of the man, and the man as it were projects himself into the image; having found in himself that of which the image is an expression, he transmits back to it a subtle power which then shines forth on others." This can be said of the artist or a collection of devotees.

    

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According to Frithjof Schuon, the purpose of sacred art is “to communicate, on the one hand, spiritual truths and, on the other hand, a celestial presence.” We should now reflect on the meaning of those seemingly simple words in respect to art as the modern world understands it:

The quote above assumes, as does all sacred art, that there is a vast eternal Truth that is at once beyond mankind but at the same time can be communicated, and that wishes to communicate Itself! This is incomprehensible to modern, secular art which seeks to communicate whatever very limited individuals decide they need to express of themselves. In one case, the central Reality of the universe speaks, and in the other a person's ego. Next, which artist can possibly communicate "a celestial presence" and through what means? Certainly not someone who rejects the existence of such a presence, nor even someone who can perceive that Reality but who lacks the formal 'language' adequate to the task, because not just any materials, be they words, movement, paint, nor just any random combination of them can bring about the 'magic' of expressing the Inexpressible.

We would be hard pressed to find any coherent function served by most modern art. In contrast, Schuon states simply that all sacred art acts to “enable the spirit of the central images to shine through a diverse imagery which rivets the movement of the mind by infusing into it the radiance of the Immutable, and which in so doing, imposes on the moving soul a tendency towards interiorization.” This profoundest of all effects upon those who experience art is the measure of all sacred art—does it lead to interiorization? Thus, the psyche should be calmed, thoughts collected, dispersion reversed, and, for a time, we can sense on a very deep level of consciousness that Reality communicating Itself.
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