Folk Artist: Art as Spiritual Expression

My life as a Sister is spent as an artist who paints in a style of folk art. (You can see much of my art on my website:

The “bigger picture” for me is how art is also a spiritual tool for the artist. Many times the buying public sees art as a purchase for a gift to another person or to “look great” in their own home. But art is also sensitivity and relationship to what is sacred. I see my skills as an artist related to religious ministry with other people.

In Church history the artist showed spiritual truths through inspired stained glass windows which were Biblical stories of both the Hebrew scripture and the New Testament life of Jesus. Centuries before the printing press provided written copies of the Bible, people learned spiritual truths from the stained glass windows in churches and cathedrals. Priests preached about the window truths from the pulpit during Mass.

Peaceable KingdomThe artist’s familiarity with scripture can be seen in some art that renews the book of Genesis and its creation stories. My art can draw hearts to both beauty in the natural world or a painting of the Peaceable Kingdom.

What must the artist do to accomplish such a religious ministry? There is original skill and continual practice of working with materials of paint and paper. There is discipline to “keep at it” and develop my human spirit so that the painting will have “soul”. The artist creates a climate for transcendence of the human spirit in the art work. I work so that others will feel the presence of God in my work.

I have a large studio area in which to work. The location used to be where the Sister-faculty of our high school lived. When the teaching faculty became fewer Sisters, it became the art studio and gallery of the Sisters. Guests who visit the gallery often say, “This is such a peaceful place. This is a place where I feel God is at work.”

Jordan CardI love the acknowledgement that the works of artists have their origin in God and God is felt in the skill of the artists! It indicates belief in the wisdom and beauty of the gallery’s surroundings, and sales of Sisters’ artwork sustain the many other works of the community. In the studio our guests talk about their spiritual journey. They too are oriented, as is the artist, to the sacred that is happening in their lives. Walking through the doors of the gallery seems to “finely tune” the human spirit. It enlarges the capacity for beauty, a belief in the mystery of God, and greater trust in the sacred experience of lives.

What has been true in a visit to the art gallery can move into other parts of our lives. Here are a few ways to experiment with exploring beauty in your life:

  • Buy or find a library book that has quality art illustrations and give yourself time to reflect on its pages.
  • Look around your home or office to see what “climate” is reflected to those who visit. Are there piles of unfinished projects? Does your space welcome others or project the message, “You’ll have to wait for attention”? Could beauty be more apparent in your personal space?
  • Is there a skill, good taste or creative imagination you are willing to invest in your surroundings? Who might you ask to help you make the changes?
  • Are you inclined to focus… even pray where you spend your time? Is peace, beauty and a sense of your personal commitment visible in your space?

Many of us are artists in different ways. You may not have an art studio, but your home and work place can give you new satisfaction if beautiful work is more evident. Think of yourself as a “guest” in your space and see what could convey your spiritual life. I don’t think it will be a new religious art piece as much as it will be a natural seasonal “gift” you can move into more visibility. The few stones you picked up on the summer beach tells a friend you enjoy the simplicity of outdoors; the colorful quilt made by an aunt or grandmother laid over the back of a chair shows that you value being loved; a beautiful greeting card sent by a friend shows others you want to be inspired by friendship. Now you begin to realize your own creativity and imagination. Use those gifts from the Holy Spirit!

by Sister Karlyn Cauley

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