If religion was to again appear in the visual arts

By Harry Croghan Contributing Columnist

February 27, 2014

If religion was to again appear in the visual arts, it might come about in this art form. I have never painted a landscape that I didn’t have the feeling that there was more than just what I was seeing. It was in nature as a teen that I rediscovered God. It was on a park bench on a warm fall day and the leaves were slowly making their way to the ground. I picked up one and started to examine it. Yes, I took biology in high school and I knew from my studies that each leaf had a very complex yet simple mechanism for making and transforming energy then sending it down to the roots to be ready for next year’s growth. I looked around and saw many plants doing the same thing. Literally millions of leaves all doing their job to ensure this growth. I knew that it would take most of a lifetime to accurately show what was going on in one leaf.

At that point, I had no doubt of God’s existence. On a park bench many years before I was born another artist sat and wrote, “Who knows what God knows, His hand He never shows; yet what miracles are wrought even with a thought.” The artist is readily recognized by his painting called “Death on a Pale Horse,” not Albert Ryder’s title but one that has been popularized. It was his commentary on losing a good friend who lost all he had at the racetrack and then in ultimate despair took his own life. The painting was not at all what it seemed to be.

If art was to again become a spiritual gift, I feel that I am at the doorstep of how it could reenter our hearts, minds and souls. I am calling my next art show “Sacred Landscapes” because I see God’s influence in every one of them from the simple sketch to the mural size reflection of what I see and how I feel about what I see. This show will also illustrate a progression from painting exterior landscapes to interior landscapes, a move from symbols that are familiar to emotionally oriented art. Art that draws upon a deeper influence where the science of psychology blends easily with the artist and his art while using a lifetime of stored symbols, techniques and acquired knowledge about color. They are mixed all together in a soup of sacredness where learning meets understanding and understanding goes beyond the physical and into the realm of the spiritual.

Art, a long, long time ago, helped the people understand or at least grasp partial knowledge of the spiritual realm before most could read. It might help explain some concepts when “words are not enough.” Art could possibly reveal understanding on a very different level, a work that speaks directly to the heart and then touches the mind instead of the other way around. At one time art carried the message of religious belief, philosophy, and a lot of our history. Today it has been relegated to commercial sales or just home and office decoration. It seems that it has slipped a long way in the importance in our lives. Anymore, very little in art really inspires people to create. Art is hidden under a bushel along with the candle of truth and does not light our path as it once did.

I see my art, hopefully, as signposts pointing the way to all that is beautiful outside in our natural world but will go a step further and appeal to an understanding and appreciation of all that can be inside a spiritually-oriented soul. At best I will be a glorified sign painter painting our way to a different world. A world where God is recognized as the ultimate purpose in life.

Harry Croghan is an artist, photographer, writer and teacher. He can be reached at (740) 852-4906 or by e-mail at