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One of my classes in the Women's Spirituality Master's Program that I'm taking is called "Art as Sacred Practice." It's a curious oddity of most Western religious traditions that the creation of art has lost its sacral nature. Instead we seem to consider the created object as sacred, most often based on its perceived perfection. This is particularly peculiar when you stop to think that many of these objects were created under duress, or for purely commercial reasons, or simply to impress. Michelangelo, for example, despised the Pope who hired him to paint the Sistine Chapel; while Leonardo da Vinci was distractingly hounded by the prior who'd hired him to paint the Last Supper. I would think such unpleasant circumstances, and the anger or frustration or desperation which accompanied them, would be reflected to some degree in the art — however technically perfect it might be.

I admit, considering the creation of art as the sacred process was a new idea to me when I stumbled across it several years ago in an anthropological study of Balinese religious practices. I was initially quite dubious — how could ugly things be religiously inspiring? Upon reflection, however, it started to make more sense to me. The art wasn't supposed to inspire onlookers of future generations to become more devout — that never really works anyway when the creator feels no love of the deities. This art was simply a worldly, physical result of already-existing religious inspiration. In that respect, it was potentially far more inspiring to me than admiration for material technical precision.

The class I took offered us a chance to create art in a sacral fashion. It was eye-opening; I had to struggle to maintain connection to that particular mindset, as I easily fall into a more technique-oriented style of thinking. I was fascinated to watch that conflict within myself, as well as observing the other students. Interestingly enough, I was not the only one who had trouble with maintaining a religious perspective; I think there were two who struggled mightily with portraying their inner visions, for whom the process broke down into a very secularly oriented battle with lack of proficiency.

I was amused as well to catch myself at one point assessing the various paintings from a modern aesthetic and secularly commercial perspective, rather than keeping in mind the art was created as an intensely personal expression of the sacred. Still, as the instructor pointed out, personal creation is of immense value, and this society ascribes financial prices to objects of value. We should, therefore, regard our creative efforts as being worthy of high prices. Also, the instructor had us all write a little of the internal "story" we heard or felt, concerning the deity or muse we saw within ourselves and had painted for our religious art.

I am not giving all of the information as to how the sacred art was accomplished, since I don't really feel qualified to do so. However, I'm willing to share the results. By the end of the weekend I was both exhausted and thrilled — and I had a painting!

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She leads you on, laughing. It's a shared joke between old friends who've just met. Like a teasing cat she darts forward, just out of reach — you'll have to be quicker than that to catch up! Look, we're headed towards something amazing — don't you want to see?

She carries the guiding golden star of internal culmination; the fires of determination crown her brow. Her eyes are a shifting blue/indigo, like the always-flowing waters of change, and her wings ruffle that flow into fog: the ever-shifting, disguising confusions of daily life. But look! Stepping neatly through the fog, light-footed and graceful, is the little black cat. It glances at you once and, knowing you'll follow your wise little guide, paces calmly onwards towards the light.

It's only when you're dancing through her streaming hair, laughing with her as you both dive along the shimmering Milky Way of stars, that you realize: she's vanished! She's not leading you any more! You are, in fact, leading yourself. It's her laughter — that infectious delight you can't help sharing — that tells you the truth. In the end, you don't need her, or anyone, to lead you. You lead yourself into change and growth just fine. In the end… you are her.

The photos were taken on the back of my car on a sunny day, which is why there's a little oddness in angle, and light glare off the painting. Things I'll change next time: more care taken with proportions between hand size and head size. Less glitter on the moons and the gold leaf on the star. Work more on getting mouths right! Maybe naturalize more, like painting the wing with barring like a hawk's wing, so it's more recognizable? Of course, the more subtle abstract is nice too… remember to actually sign the painting next time. :) Relax more when I'm painting, and let it flow naturally! Things I like about it: the kitty came out exactly the way I wanted! So did the swirl of her hair, along with the gold leaf — neat stuff! I'm really happy with finally getting the colors right.

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