The Spiritual in Art

Altamira Cave; Tikal Pyramid; Mystic Mill Capital in Vézelay

From images to inspire public prayer to the personal need to express ideas about what lies beyond, artists from all times and cultures have tackled the challenge of giving visual form to the unseen. Our earliest ancestors painted animals in the caves of Lascaux and made sculptures of fecund females such as the Venus of Willendorf, hoping to enlist higher powers to help them survive.

Shiva Nataraja; Wells Cathedral; Mark Rothko, Orange

As societies became more organized, magnificent structures such as Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, the Parthenon, Mayan temples, Chartres, and the Dome of the Rock arose to unite worshippers and express the divine. Artists such as Van Eyck, Michelangelo, Bernini, Van Gogh and the master sculptors of Chola India gave form to the sacred through paintings and sculpture, while calligraphy symbolizes the beauty and mystery of the divine in works such as the famous Blue Qu’ran.

Blue Qu'rn; Michelangelo, Creation of Adam; Van Gogh, Starry Night

Beginning in the late 19th century, traditional religious dogma and its imagery waned, yet the yearning for spiritual expression remained. Modern artists such as Vassily Kandinsky, Lawren Harris, Mark Rothko and Agnes Martin took up the challenge of manifesting the ineffable through abstract colour and line. Today artists such as Bill Viola and James Turrell use video, light and sound to evoke the spiritual, one of the art world’s most enduring themes.

This course is offered through the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies. Future dates will be announced when available.