“Secular Prayers”: What ancient Japanese scrolls and motivational posters have in common


[© National Gallery of Victoria]

Using old Japanese “Zen” scrolls as an example, The Philosopher’s Mail inadvertently does a fabulous job of explaining the philosophy behind motivational posters:

By making words physically beautiful – through the elegance of the script and the soothing texture and proportions of the paper – a Zen scroll becomes a piece of decoration that helps wisdom become a part of us.

The world isn’t short of wisdom: it’s short of inventive techniques for making the wisdom we do have more prominent, and more readily available to us at moments of crisis.

On a similar note, earlier today I came across a lovely site called Be Happy, which sells cleanly-designed, hipsterish motivational posters and swag.

And then there’s the stuff I do; it’s all very related, of course.

It got me thinking, what do all of us have in common?

Answer: We’re all in the business of making “secular prayers”, in our own way.

People say prayers, not just because we’re hoping to get an omnipotent deity to intervene directly on our behalf, but because it also helps us concentrate our minds on the stuff that actually matters.

Whether we believe or don’t believe in God or Buddha or the grey-bearded sky fairy, art is still very good for helping us to “pray” to the deepest part of our own selves, of our own lives.

And if you can create work that does a good a job of helping do that for people, eh, it’s not  a bad thing to spend one’s life doing…

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