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Promise Resting,16-x-20-oil-on-canvas by Terrill Welch 2014

Art points to something beyond itself, toward “something more,” something that we sense in things and reveal through our pen or brushes, in our music or dance or writing.

What is this thing we glimpse in nature, in life itself, that so excites and inspires and compels us to re-create what we see in a form that we can share with others? Some see what art evokes, or points a finger toward, as the mystery in the midst of things.

“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” -Rene Magritte.

“The artist’s function is to love the enigma. All art is this: love which has been poured out over enigmas – and all works of art are enigmas surrounded and adorned by love.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” -Francis Bacon

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; It is the source of all true art and science.” – Albert Einstein

We don’t have to be artists to see it and respond to it. But artists are those who try to capture it in such a way that others see it, and feel it, too.

An example is the painting at the top of this page by Terrill Welch. She blogs about her art and the creative process at Creative Potager, and generously allowed me to use her artwork here. The painting above was inspired by following scene shown here in a photograph.


Photo by Terrill Welch

The artist’s painting brings to the surface something that had lain dormant within the natural scene that the photograph captures. It points to something beyond the original, to something more, something the artist sensed, and the receptive viewer can also sense though her work. We may each interpret what this “something more” is in different ways.

Perhaps we perceive a hushed tranquility, or wondrous luminosity not apparent in the original scene. Perhaps the colors of the sky and sea in the painting, the way they blend together and echo each other, elicit an underlying sense of unity or connectedness. Or the gently flowing lines of the hills and those rounds of dark isles lying beneath evoke a soothing sense of sympathy.

Or perhaps we see something more tumultuous going on. Perhaps the tumbling texture of the brush strokes, each unique, each saturated with hues that complement and oppose each other, reveal an intricacy and liveliness that lies beneath what seems to be so simple and still.

Perhaps we see how all of this—the unity and sympathy and complexity–plays together, and we see in that something of the mystery in the midst of things.

Making art, or responding to it, takes us out of ourselves, our ordinary perceptions of reality, while at the same time, deepening what it means to truly be ourselves.

Carl Jung calls it “the state of ‘participation mystique.” He writes: “The secret of artistic creation and the effectiveness of art is to be found in a return to the state of ‘participation mystique’ – to that level of experience at which it is man who lives, and not the individual.”

Joseph Campbell explains further: “The agony of breaking through personal limitations is the agony of spiritual growth. Art, literature, myth and cult, philosophy, and ascetic disciplines are instruments to help the individual past his limiting horizons into spheres of ever-expanding realization.”

Art does that—it breaks through, as with an ice-ax, what Franz Kafka once called “the frozen sea inside us.” And doing so, it sets us free to explore that “something more” we seek, or the mystery within the midst of things.