Devotional Art and the Question of Audience

Nov 27, 2022
by Poeta Immortalis 

As a devotional and clearly spiritual artist there are some obvious questions to ask: Who exactly is the audience of this work? And what are the differences between me and a mundane artist? How can audiences change over time? Well, in fact there can be different goals and causes behind what I do. That's why for these questions it is mandatory to first differentiate between different types of holy art.

The first category of devotional works I produce are icons and statuettes. They are the most sacred art form and made as a vessel for the Ba of the depicted Netjer and therefore I begin the work by seeking contact with the goddess or god and working in a close exchange, more clearly in a relationship with them. This may also involve divination, dream oracles and spirit journeys. After the artistic work is finished, the real ritualistic work begins with an extended purification. For this examination I will skip the details and rush forward to the point. The icon becomes a gift and earthly vessel for the deity, so the audience for this perspective is clear. The other side of the coin is that it is now also an important ritual object for the devotees and the art should be also pleasing for them in a tertiary way. Mostly icons are not made for a wider audience. Only if the goddess or the god allows to make this work more public, which may also benefit the deity, because it could let it have more direct influence on a wide range of people. Showing the image from afar or on the internet is often no problem at all. The Netjeru may also like to invite more people to experience them and their beauty. But at all times the purity of the icon is very important and it may require extensive precautions to maintain it. Or sometimes it is possible to desecrate an icon, making it into a normal image to open it up to a wide audience. But also afterwards it needs to be handled with respect. This may be the case after extended use of an icon and replacement with another (better) one. You see, there are many steps to take, a mundane artist would never even think of.

The second category of art is dream and/or vision related. This may include works which may look like icons but aren't, because they are more like an email in a foreign language with several attached and deciphered files I received from the goddesses and gods which I decided to decipher and "print out" to make it more accessible. There may be cleansing and blessing involved, but the messages are usually so cryptic, that only initiated persons can read and understand what is meant. It is like a big painted door with following rooms full of wisdom and a wide audience can stand in front of it, without noticing anything behind. To open this kind of portal requires that the involved deity allows it actively or enables the person seeing it to use it properly. This makes further precautions unnecessary, even if the message was forwarded only to me to understand. Only if the Netjeru give their clear veto, I wouldn't exhibit vision and dream related works. But that's an exception. 

In the third art category, which I would call "stela type", the main purpose is to enhance prayers or simply deepen the connection to a Netjer. They often show attributes or even literally prayers or thankful words. I prefer to write the intended words directly on the canvas or paper, but this may also be something added only by spoken words in a ritual. For this type the audience is therefore clearly nonhuman. Like the vision and dream related holy art, the stela type is very personal and may be restricted to be shown to other humans. To function properly they need to be specially cared for in the sense of ritual purity. That's why other humans who are not involved in the kemetic ritual should not touch them. However some goddesses or gods may allow you to show this kind of work to a wider audience, if you maintain the proper respect and purity of it. The message of the prayer could be easily understandable for everyone, if it is written in english or may be cryptic due to the use of hieroglyphs or hieratic. Does it even need an explanation? I think not, because it is not addressed to any humans. Why should you even show this to anyone else? If the prayer is related to a bigger community or group of people it may give them some extra support and inner strength or may enable others to join the prayer for a common goal. 

In conclusion I would say that in strict contrast to mundane art, devotional art is made for a clear ritual or spiritual function in the first place and for a special kind of holy work to unfold, to connect and deepen godly relationships or even to have deeper insights in holy wisdom and mysteries. Not until the main purpose is served the audience may change to a connected community or unrelated people who are simply interested in art per se, similar to the democratisation of holy texts and objects in ancient egypt. May it spread joy amongst them!

Poeta Immortalis is a German Kemetic polytheist and painter with an interest in occult images and ritualized artistic technique. He lives in Germany.

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