“A Question Of What’s Real”


In an interview with The Believer, artist Chris Martin shares his thoughts on how the idea of “spirituality” applies to his work:

BLVR: The term spirituality is mentioned a lot around your paintings and I’m curious whether you agree with that connection.

CM: I think the word spirit comes from the Latin word for “breath”—spiritu—and I think the origin of the word spirituality has to do with breath and life force, the mysteries of the ancients and all this. The word is very suspect in much of the art world—the Western art world, now. Certainly, spirituality has become divorced from religious.

BLVR: Some people talk about how the art world is comparable to religion. It has a community, a shared language about something ineffable, a sort of icon worship.

CM: When people have a hard time with the word spirituality they’re assuming spirituality is something extra-mystical on top of what we all know to be true.

But that’s just a big pile of steaming shit, because really what’s at stake here is a question of what’s real, and when one tries to engage with serious questions about what is real, then things can get very mysterious and spooky. I hate the word spirituality but I… um, sure, why not use that word? We can think about the breath rather than think about some kind of empirical, material, formal idea of what this society thinks is real. And the word mystical is an even worse word than spirituality—that artists take drugs, and then they add some crazy extra thing to what we all know is real. But our job as artists or as human beings is to investigate what we really think is real, and to come back to the tribe and say, this is what the world feels like to me.

(Photo of works by Chris Martin from his 2011 exhibition “Painting Big” by Elvert Barnes)