The Six Heart Virtues and The Art of Life

by | May 10, 2024 | Virtues of the Heart

Art is generally described as the expression of ideas by humans using talent and imagination through a physical medium, such as painting, sculpture, film, dance, writing, photography, or theatre.

There is a power in art that can evoke emotion, spark thought, inspire, trigger creativity, and transcend cultural barriers and language. For example, art, such as music, can uplift the emotional state of vast audiences to elicit feelings of joy or raw emotion. Throughout history, art has been utilized by power brokers of religion, government, and other institutions to manipulate and control people.

Like anything, art can be used for the enhancement of humanity, or it can be used for deception, harm, or control.

When art is created to uplift, inspire, and expand limitations, its core is like a carrier wave of the artist’s original intention from the moment of creation. If the artist creates from that pure space of resonance with universal creative flow, it is imbued with a universal message that transcends culture and language. This is the beauty and power of art to change and inspire humanity. It is what the world needs more of now.

From this perspective, art can be seen as an entity with innate energy that is transmittable and can have an infinite lifespan.

When I observe art, especially the art of the great masters of history, such as paintings, sculpture, or music, it has the power to affect me. It can inspire me, change my thinking, inform me, scare me, fill me with emotion, give me insights, and expand my consciousness, which can change me in profound ways. Art is a change agent.

Artist as a Change Agent

I was fortunate to visit a show by the great seventeenth-century Italian master Gian Lorenzo Bernini several years ago. The National Gallery in Ottawa hosted the collection, which was one of only two locations in North America. It was a once-in-a-lifetime show consisting of an amazing collection of Bernini sculptures and art that I could not miss.

I remember standing inches away from some of the sculptures, mesmerized as my eyes searched every detail in the marble. Being a sculptor myself, I could appreciate the skill and effort that went into these works of art. But, at the same time, while staring at them, a question would emerge: How could he possibly do that? It seemed too far beyond my ability.

As I looked at the sculptures, I was flooded with feelings and what I can only describe as a transmission that seemed to be emanating from the sculpture. It was like the sculpture was alive and had multiple messages emanating out of the marble. One has to be open to receive these messages as intuition, feelings, and imagination for the transmission to be received. Words are inadequate.

Not only was Bernini a master at capturing the finest details of his subject, but he also captured subtle emotion and movement. The combination of those three elements; extreme detail, emotion, and movement (evoking story), collectively imbued his sculptures with a lifelike quality that made them seem alive. They told the story of an Individual who was alive, and Bernini saw the inner being as an integral part of the story. Indeed, it can be an uneasy experience to stare at one of his marble avatars up close.

This is the power of art to communicate, to motivate, to inspire, and to activate the imagination to break the walls of conformity.

Artwork at this level is embedded with the artist’s objectives in his creation. While Bernini was commissioned by various Popes and wealthy patrons for their own vanity and for validations of status, Bernini sculpted his subjects as personal observations. He saw beyond the physical form; he could read the emotional state of his subject. He could see the hidden inner world that was revealed on the face in ever so subtle details, the gesture, the eyes, the mouth, the vitality or lack of it, to the slight tilt of the head, that evoked a larger story that Bernini had to tell. He was not so interested in flattering his patrons as he was in revealing the person behind the mask. This set him apart from the other artists of his time. He was instrumental in ushering in the Baroque period. Many artists of the day were inspired by his work and began to follow his lead.

Bernini was a prime example of seeing and being open to the information that is being revealed to him. He was not only a technical master carver of marble, but he also used his heart to plumb the depths of emotions and he knew that to tell a story he needed to show motion, even if it was almost invisible, it was there for the subconscious to see it. He was capturing the life force, and he knew this would be transmitted.

He was a perfect example of someone who listened to his heart; he was open to feeling not only his emotions but also the emotions of his subjects. This is what made him a transformational artist.

The Art of Life

We are all artists; we create every day, and we are the co-creators of our life experiences. We can be complacent, feel powerless, and play the victim role, or we can be creative and take an active role in the theater of life or in other words, consciously sculpt our life experiences.

The heart is a means to add color, texture, or music to our lives metaphorically speaking. In other words, we can use the heart virtues as the brushes, colors, or hammer and chisel to create a more creative life. As a sculptor, I can shape my reality using the tools of the heart virtues: appreciation, compassion, forgiveness, humility, understanding, and valor.

Like all of us, I have built up certain patterns in my life that I repeat, even though they are not beneficial and limit me. They have become mostly invisible and normal. Continuing with our metaphor of the artist, these works of art (patterns) have no life; they have nothing positive to transmit, only limitation. I am unconsciously sleepwalking through much of my life. My focused awareness is not on them until they show their ugly head mostly in times of difficulty, problems, or conflict. Then I’m confronted with them, I see them, and want to make them disappear.

If I view all my manifestations as works of art, I can take responsibility for them. I can decide I don’t like some of my works of art (manifestations and embodiments). I can rework them, learn from them, and be creative with new works of art. I can make my life a dance with the universe as a co-creative partner.

To do this, I have to become aware of what is going on in my mind at any given moment. What am I spending my precious moments on, internally? What has my attention?

Awareness is always first.

Staying with the artist as creator, I can recognize my creations in my reality. I created them all, but many were created unconsciously and they are in conflict with my wellbeing, my expansion, and happiness.

In moments of awareness (presence), like Bernini, I can open my heart to more of what is available. I can apply compassion to myself and all my creations. Those creations that are considered problems or negative need understanding and maybe some forgiveness. As a creator of my reality, I don’t want to make anything bad or wrong, I want to apply love where it was absent. I want to see my errors with compassion and choose to change course. Becoming aware, and applying the heart virtues is the means to do that.

To be the artist of my life, starts with a question; am I aware of what is going on in my inner world now (my mind)? If it is filled with worry, judgment, fear, conflict, cravings, distractions, or thinking about the past or future, then I am doomed to repeat the same old artwork.

My next opportunity to express my creativity is right in front of me. It may be as simple as noticing a judgment and in that instant of awareness, seeing it as lifeless, selfish, and destructive. Then I can add shape, color, and texture of love (the six heart virtues) to it. Then the artist in me has created something beautiful, lasting, and meaningful imbued with love.

I am the artist of my life.

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