I just cancelled the internet service at my house, because it was the special kind of slow that makes you want to throw your computer at the wall. So, today I got up and, with an odd mix of laziness and resolution, headed to my favorite coffee shop in Echo Park. Amidst eating some oatmeal and trying to get work done, I’m also finding time to be nosy.
In my case, I’m peering over the screen of my laptop, reading the English 103 paper of some guy sitting across from me. In it, he is examining the benefit and good of religious belief. Cue: segue to the main point of this article (I hope you aren’t disappointed that it isn’t about slow internet and eavesdropping).
I was raised in a religious household in the South, which makes me a part of a very particular culture within a very particular culture. I made my way to Los Angeles a little over five years ago to attend graduate school at a seminary, and since then, I’ve found myself calling Southern California home. Add that to the fact that I spent a handful of my younger years as a touring musician, my current experience as a working poet and a recent career switch this year to full-time writing, and you’ve got a recipe for someone who has an intense fascination with art and spiritual expression and an equally large desire to talk about it.
Growing up, there wasn’t much diversity in my world. For the most part, everything and everyone looked the same. When I went off to college at a small liberal arts university in East Tennessee, I started thinking more about people who looked and thought differently than I did, but I was still learning and reflecting in a fairly homogeneous context where it seemed we all “looked” alike. But, when I got to Los Angeles, I was amazed at how many unique and intriguing people I had the chance to meet, especially as I began to get more connected in the art world(s) through poetry.
People in LA will admit that the city has a certain way about it, a creative buzz and seemingly endless amount of avenues to be and do what excites and compels you. Though perhaps overshadowed at times by the intimidating entertainment industry, there is a vibrant world of artists here who focus on different crafts where this feeling is no less true. There are hosts of visual arts galleries, literary readings, live performances and more. And all of these individuals come from different places, families, cultures, belief systems – the list goes on and on. What is most wonderful is the spirit of camaraderie that exists among people who make any sort of art. Maybe it’s because we are all building our castles in the shadow of the big-movie empire, but it still feels wonderful to interact with people who see a win for anyone as a win for everyone.
What would it be like to get all these people in one room to talk?
A few months back, I started thinking of how I could create a space to highlight the wealth of perspectives and insights by emerging and establishing artists working in a variety of mediums and through the lens of their respective spiritual traditions. I ended up deciding to launch the experiment, titled “Allegory: Art & Spirituality Today,” on Beacon, a crowdfunding site for journalistic projects.
If you’ll allow me to briefly step back into the world of poetry, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “the poem is a confession of faith.” Looking over the history of humanity, there has always been a strong connection between transcendence and art, and the human enterprise of theological speculation is nothing less than a wrestling with this transcendence – something that feels at once internal and Other. And, the grappling hasn’t stopped, because the questions don’t stop and we keep coming along. People are born, people live, people die, and a new batch of us find ourselves on this planet with the same questions, joys, frustrations and curiosities.
However, the history of humanity is also one of misrepresentation, unfair treatment, violence and creating “others” based on their understanding of the Other. This breaks my heart, and, as someone coming from a faith tradition that is the cause of much violence, division and hate, I have much to say and do by way of apology. I would like to think that, as a society, we could be more civil than we act much of the time. Spirituality and art are two of the most essential elements of the human experience, yet they are also two of the most overlooked or undervalued. During times of great tragedy or celebration, it is to these that we turn, and by no accident.
That is what this project is about, creating a microcosm of the rich diversity of the artistic and spiritual landscape of our world in order to learn from one other, because it is much easier to hate a caricature than a real person. I’ll be sitting down with artists like Jim Shaw, Jennifer Moon (winner of the Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A.” Public Recognition Award), Leigh Adams (artist in residence at LA County Arboretum), Will Deutsch, Khadija Anderson and more to talk about how spirituality feeds their art and life.
As it stands, “Allegory: Art & Spirituality Today” is 41% funded, having raised $1,645. In order for this project to launch, it needs to get $4,000 worth of backing by December 23. If you’re interested in the good of art, spirituality or open and honest conversation, then you can be a part of bringing this big city a little closer together.
Art in Context is a continuing column on the usage and impact of art, artists, and the business of art in building, and sometimes exploiting, communities around the world. Edited and curated by Chiwan Choi.