Does Scientology Offer Spirituality to the Arts? Yes, answer some artists who are Scientologists.
by Massimo Introvin
Article 8 of 8. Read Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5, Article 6 and Article 7.
Some (but not all) Scientology artists are interested in esoteric discourse. Before she met Scientology, Pom Heppner was introduced to Anthroposophy by studying at the Steiner School. Roerig used the Tarot as well as the Zodiac. He explains that he does not believe in the content of astrology or the Tarot, as “they are effects and as a Scientologist you try to be the cause”, but they provide a widely shared language and are “a very good communication tool”. Other Scientologist artists take a similar approach to Eastern spirituality. For example, Marlene Rose’s glass sculptures often feature Buddha. Rose is one of the artists who decided to live in Clearwater, Florida, near the headquarters of the Church of Scientology. The area offers a favorable environment for artists working with glass, and in April 2017, near St. Petersburg, the Imagine museum opened, dedicated to this artistic medium, with the participation of Marlene Rose in the opening exhibition.
“We were a hundred students doing the same thing [Scientology] course. Suddenly the room took on the most beautiful features. Everything became magical. I became more me. The room didn’t change, but the way I perceived it changed,” reported Susana Díaz-Rivera, a Mexican Scientologist artist. Several artists have recounted how the “static” experience, which in Scientology parlance means awareness of your thetan nature, completely changed the way they perceived the world.
Then “art is to duplicate what you perceive. Perception is communication,” as sculptor Yoshikawa Wright told me. Díaz-Rivera struggled to reclaim and express this perception of herself as a thetan. She tried both painting and photography in various locations, including Rome and Los Angeles, and using mirrors. “The spiritual part, she said, appears through the mirrors.”
Scientology, artists who have taken its courses report, offers the artist a number of suggestions aimed at “putting them back in the driver’s seat” (Peter Greene) of their lives, debunking the “myth” of the dysfunctional, starving artist. Scientology also creates and cultivates a community of artists and does more than offer practical advice. By internalizing the gnostic narrative of the thetan, artists learn to perceive the physical universe differently. They then try to share this perception through communication, with a variety of different techniques and styles, inviting the audience to enhance their works with additional meanings.
Sixty-two sculptures in the Grand Atrium of the new Flag Building in Clearwater, Florida, opened in 2013, illustrate the basic concepts of Scientology. The fact that these concepts had to be explained to the artists, none of whom are Scientologists, is significant. Artists who are Scientologists usually draw inspiration from Scientology in their work, but prefer not to “preach” or explicitly illustrate its doctrines. On the other hand, although not realized by Scientologists, the flag sculpture complex is an integral part of the art inspired by Hubbard and Scientology.
In 2008, Los Angeles magazine Ange described the circle of young artists who are Scientologists, including artist and writer Mercedes Helnwein (daughter of Gottfried Helnwein) and up-and-coming abstract artist Vanessa Prager as “the first generation of casual Scientologists” whose religious affiliation caused less controversy. The visual arts seem to offer an ideal window for discussing Scientology’s worldview and multiple influences, regardless of the usual legal and other controversies.
Although neglected by critics, aesthetic theory appears to be an important part of Hubbard’s system. The founder of Scientology left his religion with a full set of theoretical tools for art, art techniques and art history. They help explain why Scientology’s impact on visual artists has been significant, and why post-Hubbard Scientologists still devote considerable time to spreading their founder’s ideas about the arts to artists, something that goes far beyond recruiting celebrities for relationship purposes with the public.
After all, Hubbard sees the lives of successful individuals as works of art themselves: “Living in itself is an art form.” Writing in 1976, he began, not without humor, by mentioning the art of appearance and dress: “One sets up a model. It doesn’t happen by accident. A man should know how to wash his nylon shirts, and girls should know what mascara runs and that too much candy spoils the silhouette, except for the pancreas. (…) Even beards and baggy trousers require a certain art if they are to be adequate expertise to evoke an emotional impact.”
However, he soon became very serious: “Some people are a work of art in themselves because they have mastered the little practical techniques of life which give them a quality suitable for emotional impact even before anyone knows their name or what they do . “
Although he does not mention it explicitly, here one can follow Hugh Urban, a scholar otherwise critical of Scientology, in thinking that Hubbard simultaneously cultivated the romantic ideal of living his life, both as a thinker and religious founder and as an artist, the ultimate a work of art and perceived by its followers (among others) as the physical embodiment of what art is.
Hubbard rarely mentions the word “beauty” in his writings on the arts. However, it is very much implied there that the ultimate beauty that Scientology has to offer is the enlightened life of the conscious individual, from the lucid to the acting thetan, of which Hubbard himself is held to be the model. That the good life is the highest work of art has been proclaimed by several religions, old and new. The Roman Catholic Church presented this doctrine in a 2006 document on beauty.
However, there is a significant difference that is crucial to understanding the essence of Scientology. The beauty of the holy life in the 2006 Vatican document does not derive from technique, but from a personal relationship with God incarnate as Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic Church reiterated in 2018 in the doctrinal letter “Placuit Deo” that its spirituality is very different from Gnosticism, where salvation (and beauty) is achieved through knowledge and techniques. Scientology remains modern Gnosticism, and Hubbard’s proposition is a religious technology that, when properly applied, will unfailingly produce happiness for people and the world, as well as beauty and effective communication through art.
I conclude this series with a polyptych created by Berga (Mario Bernier), a Scientologist artist from Quebec City and a specialist in painting on cement, for the Church of Scientology in Quebec there. This is art by a Scientologist for Scientology illustrating the main activities of the church. Yet when I met Berga in 2022, it became clear to me that painting for him was precisely a spiritual experience, a way of expressing and communicating as a Scientologist.