|"What is the value, for life, of spirituality as a secular discipline? Martin’s art sustains that question, an American preoccupation since the New England transcendentalists, which became newly acute, in art, with Rothko, Newman, and Reinhardt."
LIFE WORK by PETER SCHJELDAHL
Two shows from Agnes Martin.
Can spirituality be a secular discipline? As with art, you can ask whether it has any value at all. Once upon a time (or to put it another way “in the beginning…”) art and spirituality were pretty much the same thing. Evidence of either is regarded as evidence of human status as such, marking the boundary between paleontology and archeology. The oldest evidence we have is of attention to burial (unknown in “lower” animals.) Graves were decorated with red ocher: was that a spiritual or an artistic gesture? Millennia later, ocher is still used for artists pigments, and priests are still burying people. One of my (admittedly untenable) pet theories is that, far from being filler for the vacuum of ignorance, god and religion seemed just as ridiculous to the original people as to us, but they found that if they went along with the weird (visionary?) notions, if they took the trip, so to speak, their lives were somehow enhanced and transformed. And the same with art, to the point that we now consider these behaviors to be the hallmarks of humanity; constants of culture, even though they arguably have no utilitarian value. Things have fractured, our habits expanding and separating like the universe itself, but we don’t appear to be ready to dispense with art or spirituality, at least not until we become something other than human. Through some power resembling the “spooky action at a distance” that Einstein doubted, art and spirituality remain ineluctably linked, not least when they appear opposed. Our modern distaste for religion doesn’t render the connection “secular,” it just makes the whole thing harder to talk about.