Art is an integral part of any society – not only because of what it represents but also because of how it makes an individual feel. Art is the soul of many cultures and religions. To understand the depth of mystic principles and practices, art has been widely used around the world.
Mysticism and arts have always gone hand in hand. While it is true that the essence of mysticism does reside in arts, it is not that simple. A person needs extensive knowledge of both the subject matters to understand what is being discussed. Bernard McGinn, in his piece on mysticism and arts, said that mysticism and art have gone hand in hand in a strange manner because the conjunction is paradoxical and it involves a hidden and secret perception of God.
It is important to understand the contradictory nature of arts and mysticism. It is fairly easy to misinterpret one and the other. Mystics have wrestled with arts as history has shown- what may not be evident in words may become clear in arts. What a person sees, they are more likely to believe than what they hear. It is this significance of arts in mysticism that gives a physical presence to the meaning of mysticism.
In Christian mysticism, the cross is a very important symbol, it represents the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the redeeming benefits of his passion and death. The cross is thus a sign of both Christ himself and of the faith of Christians. Art in Christianity has played a bold and distinguished role. From ecstatic vision to theosis, arts in Christian mysticism dates back to the 2nd century. Scenes from the bible, the Virgin Mary, the life of Christ, and many other visual representations in Christian arts give visual essence to the historical events and give the overall religion a physical presence.
In Sufism the ritual of Sema or Sama, the whirling dance, is a form of art that presents the essence of God. The essence of His goodness, His beneficence, and His love for the people. Dhamaal, another representation, which is more common in Southeast Asia, is the act of spiritual cleansing. Calligraphy is also an expression of art in Islam that has become very famous as it provides a link between the religion and its followers of different cultures. Calligraphy is seen as the aesthetic expression of Allah’s messages. The origin of calligraphy can be traced back to the 7th century when it was used to write the Quran.
Art like mysticism, does not have any boundaries. Both promote peace and humanity. One concentrates on peace with oneself leading to peace among human diversity while the other promotes peace through the links it creates between mankind. Common art can be anything that looks beautiful but a true believer of the mystic values knows that there is no question that art truly is the visual essence of mystic language.