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Dori Hartley Headshot

The Atheist Who Loves Angels

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I do not believe in God or religion, but I am a fanatic for religious and beatific art.

This love of mine started way back in art school when one of my assignments required that I recreate a famous painting from the Renaissance era. It was during the creation of this piece that I learned about devotional symbolism. I also learned about the artist whose work I was recreating, what he went through -- his life and death, how he created his paints and how his mind worked. And as I wept with awe at the sheer beauty of his creation, I saw more than just the surface of the canvas; I saw the meaning of human potential itself, and it was because of this that I knew we had greatness just beneath our surfaces, as well. Clearly, I was not only in love with talent -- I worshipped art.

Art is the Supreme Being in my life, and I am devout.

My adoration is not restricted to any particular style or time period, either. I love everything from the illuminated and highly designed manuscripts of the Quran, to the wildly colorful depictions of Hindu deities, all the way through the Medieval and Renaissance portrayals of the annunciation, Madonna and Child, the trials and tribulations of the saints. I even love the accoutrements that come with worship: the colored glass of the votive candles, the candlesticks, the incense. I love the goblets, crucifixes, scrolls, statues, bas-reliefs, japa malas. I adore the vibe and the aesthetic of churches, mosques, synagogues and temples.

As a child, I was fortunate to be surrounded by art all the time, and I was taken to museums on a frequent basis. So much richness, so much human potential made manifest as beauty. And yet, in spite of all the temperature-controlled, safely restored and superbly housed glory that was offered, the particular type of art that moved me most was not the kind that could be found inside.

What I love most can only be found in cemeteries. What I refer to, of course, are the cemetery angels; those stoic figures that guard or weep for or stand in honor of those who lay at permanent rest.

Now, I'm not an "angel lady," which means, no, I do not read angel cards or collect cute little statuettes from Hallmark, nor do I read Doreen Virtue's books- - not that there's anything wrong with them. I see the created forms of angels as winged human constructions, imagined and realized by artistic minds with the sole purpose of representing strength, beauty and wisdom. Like so much spiritual art, the object takes on "life" because he or she who views it pours their devotional energy into it.

I pour my energy into cemetery angels. I love how they stand there, year after year -- so majestic beneath their weathered exteriors. I love the way the sky seems to cry rain on them, and how their rotting textures only enhance their eternal beauty. I love their androgyny. And I love their sexiness -- yes, I find these statues intensely sexy, sexual and sensuous. Those smooth, perfect figures with their chiseled eyelids and pouty lips. All that power -- and wings, too!

Which is why I like my angels tall, male, long haired, large-winged and rock hard.

When I look at the angel statues, I know they were created for Christian graves. I know that those graves are filled with believers, and there is even a possibility that the sculptor might have been a believer. On the other hand, he or she might have been like so many commissioned artists of the past -- just get the gig and do what the client wants, no matter what you believe in. That's how the majority of religious art came into being -- through church commissions. I can both weep for the face of Christ portrayed and know in my heart that I am truly an atheist. It's the art, the story, the color -- the humanity is what brings tears to my eyes, the sheer goodness of realized potential. It doesn't take a belief in God to create or appreciate an outstanding work of beauty or to be moved by it to the point of transcendence.

What it does take is openness to being impacted by something so extraordinary that it changes your life -- just by looking at it. When I look at art -- the kind of art I enjoy most -- it enhances my life to such a degree that I feel liberated from my own human form. When I see a statue or a painting that draws me into it's gravitational pull, I no longer speak the language of the mundane -- there is no world, no computer, no finance, no distraction. The art communicates to me it's message in words unheard: I am all beautiful, sublime in my wisdom and worthy of your worship.

I bow to art, and it lifts me higher each time. Everything religion would have me feel, I feel ... but not because of any kind of faith in a deity. God does not make sense to me. Art does.

I am the atheist who loves angels, and I am risen.

If you are interested, I did my own painting of a cemetery angel. You can view it here.
"Elijah, the Angel of Renewal"