Sublime Art — Part 1

By on February 1, 2023

Many Anglicans these days are drawn to icons as objects of art, and for some, as objects of worship. For most Anglicans, icons represent “tradition,” which is one of the legs of Richard Hooker’s three-legged stool of Anglicanism: scripture, tradition, and reason. In the same way we appreciate the art of icons, we also appreciate the Art of the Renaissance; and in more recent times, the art of the Pre-Raphaelites. But what about Modern Art?

I remember, as an art student, going to Coventry Cathedral and seeing some powerful modern art there that had been commissioned after the cathedral was bombed during WWII.

The question is: can art bring us closer to God? And what is it that makes art sublime?

Truth is that Anglican women are renowned for creating beautiful altar frontal pieces and banners. And their offerings have as much artistic contemplation in their production, as any other form of art. But are they sublime? …They can be.

One way to look at “High Art” is that it can evoke “The Sublime” in the viewer. Here is where intention is paramount. Is the frontal altar cloth created as a piece of handiwork, or is it created as the result of contemplation? And can others see that intention in the handiwork?

There are occasions when we touch the sublime in our worship service, at the Eucharist for example. Sometimes a powerful feeling of reverence floods over us after receiving communion. Even if for some people, the Eucharist is merely a metaphor, others feel that their intellect (reason) is put aside for a moment, and the sublime touches them. Obviously, this is not the experience of everyone.

Even though we might see sacred objects as metaphors, we are attracted to “the ancient.” This is because we feel ancient sacred objects represent something which is closer to “Source,” closer to TRUTH. We are attracted to those things that have survived the eroding process of time. And in that way, we are attracted to the “Sublime.”

According to the Tate Museum in London, “the sublime (in art) has long been understood to mean a quality of greatness or grandeur that inspires awe and wonder.”

“This definition is usually applied to art from the seventeenth century onwards. The concept and the emotions that sublime art inspires have been a source of inspiration for artists and writers, particularly in relation to the natural landscape.”

So it would seem that some art, especially art that represents the power of nature, has the ability to lift our spirit toward God. When we see the sublime in icons, however, we are experiencing something other than nature.

For some, the sublime when seen in an icon is an experience that brings them closer to the “Divine.” Whether or not the viewer is a person of faith, I believe that art can evoke a religious experience.

In a series of articles, I will be exploring “The Sublime in Art”: how it can be recognized, appreciated, and how it might bring us closer to the “Divine.”


Skip to content