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Elaborating Meaning Through Artistic Creation

Interactive infographics


As a result of the hermeneutic analysis of the diaries, philosophical dialogues, and autoethnographies produced by LAS artists, we constructed a model that accounts for the ways in which artistic creation generates understanding of spiritual experience. We understand understanding to be a process of gradual discovery and expansion of meaning that goes beyond the intellectual use of information. This process moves through different interpretative moments (Loci of understanding) and involves diverse mechanisms of meaning-making.


Interpretive moments or Loci:


Locus 1. Experience (L1). All experience is already a form of understanding, that is, a way of grasping meaning and acting meaningfully. Our ways of living and being in the world express our understanding of it, which goes embodied in our practices and ways of coping with reality. But when it comes to spiritual experience the link with understanding is much stronger, for in it we feel that we discover the deep meaning of ourselves and existence. 


Locus 2. Creative process (L2). The glimpses of significance that are given in experience are further developed through the explorations of the creative process, in order to discover new aspects and nuances of meaning. At this level, understanding can unfold in various ways: sometimes it is a matter of re-signifying past experiences in the light of what the experience being explored reveals. At other times, the very exploration of the technical resources and materials of an artistic discipline produces a kind of revelation about the subject being worked on. In the LAE it was frequent to find that the creative process becomes a spiritual experience for the artists.


Locus 3. Work (L3). The elaboration of meaning acquires here a level of independence. The work is an autonomous universe of meaning that no longer belongs to the artist. It is open to the multiple interpretations of the spectators, who discover new shades of meaning. The artist, as the first spectator, has here the opportunity to continue expanding the understanding worked on during the creation.


Locus 4. Artist’s Life (L4). Artistic understanding generates transformations in the artist's way of thinking, feeling, and living. At this level, artists describe how their preconceptions are strengthened, enlarged, or challenged. In this way, self-knowledge is deepened, as well as the ability to identify calls to modify certain habits and ways of life in response to the unfolding understanding.


Meaning-making processes:


In each of the above loci we identify five ways of discovering and elaborating meaning, each of which allows us to grasp different aspects of significance. 


Perception: To perceive is to grasp meaning. Frequently, meaning manifests itself to the senses as a diffuse intuition that catches the artist's attention, as an aesthetic sensation that seems to convey a message that requires elaboration through the creative process. In addition to the production of works, art is a way of perceiving the world. 


Know-how: Before producing ideas or concepts, to understand is to be able to do something, to know how to behave correctly in a situation. Here meaning is shown in what we do, without the need to formulate it in language. This embodied understanding is proper both to technical mastery in an artistic discipline, and to the skills that develop spiritual practices and the habits of a way of life.  


Emotional understanding: There are meanings that we can only grasp through emotions. This is proper to spiritual understanding that discovers love, compassion, or fullness as features of the fundamental reality. Expressing these emotions overflows the capacities of ordinary language and motivates artistic creation. 


Seeing-as: Ideas and concepts also have a place in spiritual understanding achieved through artistic creation. On the one hand, artists' previous beliefs can guide the interpretation of their experiences and their creative process; on the other hand, new ways of seeing emerge from artistic and spiritual experiences, unexpected relationships are established, and even original concepts are formulated to account for the meaning that has been discovered.  


Perceiving mystery: Spiritual experience is characterized by intense moments in which artists feel the revelation of the profound meaning of existence. This process is like a form of perception through which the presence of the divine is discovered in reality and inner life. As this direct intuition of the transcendent sometimes occurs during artistic creation, it gives the feeling that the artist is "a channel" to convey a meaning that comes from beyond him/herself. 


The following interactive infographics show how these processes work in the unfolding of understanding in some cases described by LAE artists.

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